The rumor about water supplies being poisoned apparently stemmed from an incident in which Israeli troops were reported to be urinating into a reservoir. A U.N. official said the water was subsequently tested and "it was not contaminated."
Soon after the Dec. 9 accident in which four Gazans were killed when their vehicle collided with an Israeli truck, the rumor spread here and to the West Bank that the crash had been intentional. It was said that the truck was an army vehicle and that the driver was related to an Israeli plastics merchant who had been stabbed to death here three days earlier--reports that informed Palestinian and army sources both deny.
In some cases, according to Israeli security sources, false rumors are deliberately spread by nationalistic Palestinians trying to foment trouble. More often, however, they appear to be a natural outgrowth of the situation in which the Palestinians find themselves.
They have lived for at least 40 years without a free press and therefore put little faith in what they read, said Yehuda Litani, the Arabic-speaking Middle East editor for the Jerusalem Post and a longtime reporter on life in the occupied territories.
Although Israel permits several Arabic-language newspapers to publish, they are strictly censored.
"Rumors are the main means to transfer information in such a society," Litani said.
Ironically, the unrest has spurred calls in Israel for a ban on free reporting of events in the occupied territories.
Israel has come under sharp criticism from the United States, France, Germany, the United Nations and others for its handling of the latest unrest, and some officials here blame it on the news media.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir conceded Tuesday that he had discussed with Chief of Staff Dan Shomron the idea of barring reporters from the territories, but Shamir's media adviser quickly explained that this had never been an "operational plan."
Nevertheless, the Foreign Press Assn. in Israel issued a statement that said: "Only undemocratic countries make it impossible for a journalist to do his job fully. Denial of access to journalists is denying the truth to the people."