Over the past few days, my Facebook and Twitter feeds have been flooded (sorry) with reports of Israel opening up dams and causing flooding in various Gaza towns. These reports showed flooding in Gaza and desperate Gazans fleeing from their homes.  Naomi Wolf, a prominent Facebook poster who has more than 110,000 followers (groupies), posted report after report, Tweet after Tweet, about this story. More importantly, various international newspapers (Al Jazeera, The Daily Mail, Press TV, Xinhua) also reported the story. Most invited an Israeli spokesman to deny the reports.

Many articles showed just how ridiculous the story really is. I am not here to disprove the story. Two other issues trouble me greatly.  First, why do people simply turn off their brains and believe a story like this? No one, but no one, showed any dam gates being opened.  Neither was there any video footage showing flood waters entering Gaza from Israel.  Palestinian spokesmen made an accusation and people all over the world believed it. To prove that Israel does indeed have dams in the area, “citizen journalists” (Wolf’s term, not mine) went on a desperate Google search to finds dams and rivers. At the end of the day, they found a few small reservoirs and the Besor Stream (or Besor River as they like to call it).  None of these bodies of water contain anywhere near the amount of water needed to cause that type of flooding. I’ve been to the Besor; it is a medium sized stream and that’s it. Remember, the water had to get from these reservoirs to Gaza. Flooding water spreads out. I’m not a geologist but it doesn’t take a PhD in geology to understand the numbers involved.

These “citizen journalists” are nothing of the sort. What happened here was simply mob justice.  A presumption of guilt, a few scraps of “evidence”, a complete lack of questions, and the conviction is made.  Add in plenty of anti-Israeli venom (you had to read the comments to believe them) and one is ready to prepare an auto-da-fe.

One could say that these people have an excuse: they are simply trying, from their living rooms and coffee shops, to figure out what is going on yet are limited in their ability to gather facts. Newspapers that printed this story don’t have that privilege.  These papers have reporters here. The area in question is a 60 minute drive from Tel Aviv. What was stopping any of these journalists from driving to the Besor and having a look around? Yet none of them made this minimal effort to figure out what was going on. In addition, what editor runs an unsubstantiated story when it can be so easily proven or disproved?

Over the past couple of years I’ve read a few editorials lamenting how the Internet and blogging is killing journalism. If this bursting dam episode is any indication, the problem isn’t just bloggers. The problem is that the journalism isn’t providing any added value.  I want to believe that people can distinguish between real investigative journalism and Wolf’s mobs. Is there what to distinguish?

One last point: I read scores of the responses to Wolf’s postings. While there were plenty of calls to punish Israel, I didn’t see anyone suggesting how people could actually help the Gazans. One wonders how many people would post talk-backs if each post meant giving one dollar to charity.