One of the main obstacles in previous peace-making efforts has been Arab unwillingness to accept Israel as a Jewish state and Muslim denial of Judaism’s historical and religious ties to Jerusalem. U.S. negotiator Dennis Ross complained that during the July 2000 negotiations at Camp David, Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat’s only contribution was his refusal to acknowledge Jewish ties to Jerusalem, claiming the Jewish Temple never existed there. When talks resumed in Taba later that year, the Israelis agreed to full Palestinian sovereignty on the Temple Mount, but requested Palestinians acknowledge the sacredness of the place to Judaism. They refused. (See “The Battle Over Jerusalem and the Temple Mount“) Moreover, Palestinian leaders not only deny the existence of Jewish holy sites in Jerusalem, they falsely allege that Jews are trying to takeover or destroy Muslim holy sites there. In that way, they follow the lead of Jerusalem Mufti and Nazi sympathizer Haj Amin al Husseini who so successfully incited anti-Jewish rioting in the1920’s by making his battle cry “Defend Muslim Holy Sites.”
The efforts to delegitimize Israel’s claim to Jerusalem have generally been limited to Arab and Muslim leaders, but recently, international media outlets have jumped on board to support them. The latest one to join the fray is Lesley Stahl of CBS News’s “60 Minutes” in an October 17th segment produced by Shachar Bar-On, entitled “Controversy in Jerusalem: The City Of David.” Despite public outrage about the slanted segment, CBS thumbed its nose at viewers and rebroadcast it on June 6, 2011.
Ms. Stahl did not apparently bother to engage in serious journalism, the kind that involves research and fact-checking. She simply followed the playbook of Time Magazine, the Economist, and BBC’s “Panorama” with a “paint-by-numbers” exercise calling on the same cast of characters, repeating the same distorted claims and reading from the same overall script. Echoing colleagues at the aforementioned media outlets, Ms. Stahl demonstrated how to promote Arab political propaganda with shoddy and partisan journalism:
1) Characterize as “controversial” Israel’s publicizing of archeological findings of Israelite history in Jerusalem, discredit the field of biblical archeology and dismiss archeological excavations as something run by a “settler organization.”
According to Ms. Stahl:
It’s controversial that the City of David uses discoveries to try to confirm what’s in the Bible, particularly from the time of David, the king who made Jerusalem his capital…
…But for all the talk of King David, one thing is glaringly missing here at the City of David. There`s actually no evidence of David, right?
Ms. Stahl dismisses the field of biblical archeology, especially the City of David enterprise, by throwing out a red herring — that there is no archeological proof of a King David himself. But, while it is impossible to uncover archeological evidence of any single individual, there is strong archeological evidence not only of the existence of a Davidic Kingdom — in 1994, excavations in Tel Dan revealed a fragment of a victory monument (now in the Israel Museum) which refers the “House of David”— but of the City of David being the seat of that monarchy. Stahl omits mention, for instance, that in 2005, archeologist Eilat Mazar uncovered remnants of a massive palace in the City of David dating to the 10th century BCE which is believed to be King David’s palace.
It is unlikely that Ms. Stahl would ever challenge Palestinians about the existence of Mohammed, or whether she would question Christians about the existence of Jesus, based on lack of direct archeological proof of those individuals. Her approach, of course, supports attempts by Arab and Muslim leaders to erase any evidence of Jewish history in Jerusalem, whether through the Waqf’s unsupervised construction and dumping of artifacts, or whether through the riots that are incited whenever Israel excavates, builds or discovers evidence of its Jewish roots in Jerusalem’s holy basin.
Ms. Stahl studiously avoided mention of this issue. She also did not bother to note that City of David archeologists, who are respected internationally for their scholarly contributions to the field, carry out their work under the auspices of the well-regarded Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). Nor did she elaborate on the strict protocols which govern their work.
Excavations must be supervised by scholars associated with recognized institutes of archaeology, where there is an infrastructure for research, laboratory treatment, and processing. These scholars publish all of their finds (both Israelite and others) according to accepted scientific standards, and they conserve each uncovered layer of the excavated area as required by the Conservation Department of the IAA. But Ms. Stahl chose to smear the excavations as governed by a “settler organization.” According to the CBS reporter:
While a government agency oversees the excavations, the dig and the site are largely funded and run by something called El`Ad…which claims they`re not a settlers` organization, though, people we spoke to say they are.
2) Call it political “indoctrination” to teach Jews about their historical roots in Jerusalem.
According to Ms. Stahl:
Half a million tourists visit the site every year, with guides who try to bring King David to life. There’s an implicit message: that because David conquered the city for the Jews back then, Jerusalem belongs to the Jews today….and
…So archeology is being used as a political tool. I mean, I hate to use the word, but indoc trination…
Would Ms. Stahl similarly suggest that archeologists should avoid telling Arabs about their own history in the area? Should Americans not send their children to Washington to visit the Lincoln Memorial? By conveying the attitude that it is somehow sinister to strengthen Jewish knowledge about and connection to Jerusalem, Ms. Stahl reflects the Arab perspective where Muslim rights and connection to the Holy Basin are a given, while Jewish rights and connection to the area are considered dubious and an obstacle to peace.
Needless to say, Ms. Stahl does not mention anything about indoctrination by Arab leaders who deny that Jews have any history in the area.
3) Portray Silwan as an area that does or should belong to Arabs. Describe Jews as interlopers with no right to live or carry out excavations there and ignore “inconvenient” history – both of Jewish habitation there as well as Jordan’s illegal and racist occupation that ended it.
According to Ms. Stahl:
Another problem is an inconvenient truth that biblical Jerusalem is not located in the western half of the city. It`s right under the densely-populated Arab neighborhood of Silwan. And according to the Clinton parameters, Silwan should be part of a Palestinian state…
…organizations that move Jewish settlers into Arab areas have infiltrated Silwan…and
…El`Ad has raised tens of millions of dollars, half from the United States, and buys these homes on land the Palestinians claim for a future state……
What Ms. Stahl fails to report is that there was a community of Yemenite Jewish families in Silwan as early as 1882 in the neighborhood known as Kfar HaShiloach, and additional Jewish families from various countries joined them in the following years. In the early 1900’s Baron de Rothschild bought several acres of land there for the Jewish community. Silwan’s Jewish residents lived in the area until they were forced out by Arab attacks in the late 1920s. The City of David, situated in the Silwan valley, is still 60 percent Jewish-owned, including the area bought by Baron de Rothschild. And it is perfectly legal to continue to buy homes there.
The notion that this area must now be rendered Judenrein — free of Jewish habitation, with Jews prohibited from purchasing homes there — echoes the racist policies of Jordan’s 19-year illegal occupation of the area, something that Ms. Stahl assiduously avoids mentioning.
4) Gloss over, minimize or ignore “inconvenient truths” that show Arabs as interlopers in the area.
Ms. Stahl discusses the plans to create a tourist park in King’s Garden near the City of David, noting that this “requires demolishing twenty-two Arab homes in Silwan,” something she suggests would be an “explosive” action.
Ms. Stahl attributes to the mayor the argument that the “Arab houses were built illegally,” and that he plans to relocate them, but viewers are never informed that the land had been set aside as conservation parkland with residential building prohibited long before the Arab homes in question were illegally erected. Instead she concludes, “but the locals want to stay in their homes,” as if describing them as “locals” is reason enough for them to be allowed to defy the law governing this archeologically-rich area.
The missing “inconvenient truth” can be found in an article by Ha’aretz journalist Nadav Shragai:
Progress has brought troubles along with it to the King’s Valley. For hundreds of years floodwaters drained into the garden of the kings of Judea, east of the Shiloah Pool in Jerusalem. In winter it was a swamp, but in summer it became a blooming garden.
With a bit of imagination and with the help of varied historical sources it is possible to imagine King David strolling in the royal garden with its abundant greenery and water among the olive, fig, pomegranate and almond trees, singing Psalms.
According to one tradition, this is where the Book of Ecclesiastes was composed.
About 20 years ago, the Jerusalem municipality shored up the water runoff there, and in the open green area (al Bustan, in Arabic), which the Turks and the British took care to preserve for hundreds of years as a public area intended for preservation and development of parks and tourism, an illegal Palestinian outpost arose.
Within 18 years 88 buildings went up there, under the noses of mayors Teddy Kollek and now outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Under former mayor Uri Lupolianski, the construction was halted, after the municipality confiscated tractors and heavy machinery from the lawbreakers.
Last summer the director general of the Antiquities Authority, Shuka Dorfman, noted in a kind of “post mortem” that the construction in the King’s Garden caused significant and irreversible damage to antiquities.
Representatives of the municipality and Dorfman admitted that they had no good explanation for what has happened in this lovely garden, which is described in the Books of Nechemiah and Ecclesiastes, in midrashim (rabbinic Biblical homiletics) and in many historical sources. Dorfman stressed that together with Tel David, the garden constitutes the only complete archaeological garden of first-rate importance.
5) Challenge Israeli statements with Palestinian accusations.
Ms. Stahl gave up all pretense of journalistic objectivity when she took on the role of court prosecutor with Israeli interviewees. She challenged them by echoing Palestinian allegations:
LESLEY STAHL: So El Ad is doing archaeology and settlements?
DORON SPIELMAN: We are doing archaeology, and we are buying homes and buying land.
LESLEY STAHL: But is it El Ad`s goal to ease the Arabs away from right where we are right now?
DORON SPIELMAN: Put it this way, if there`s a home that an Arab wants to sell and I have the money to buy it and I can move, enable a Jewish family t o live there, and I can dig archaeologically underneath it, then I think that`s a wonderful thing to do.
LESLEY STAHL (voiceover): The Arabs say it`s a provocative thing to do.
LESLEY STAHL: I heard you wanted to evict people. Where are– where are those houses?
NIR BARKAT: That`s– that`s just not true. To accept–
LESLEY STAHL (overlapping): Well, wait, but if you make a park, then those houses can`t be there anymore.
NIR BARKAT: They mustn`t have been there in the first place.
LESLEY STAHL: Yeah, but so– so you will evict. You will evict.
NIR BARKAT: Not evict. When you improve their quality of life, the right word to say is that you`re dealing with improvement of quality of life.
LESLEY STAHL (voiceover): His park, he says, will upgrade the area, and he`ll allow the people who`ll be evicted to build new houses nearby. But locals tell us the only way to do that would be to build on top of other homes in Silwan…
…The European Union, the United Nations has criticized this plan to get rid of these twenty-two homes. Public opinion, especially while the peace talks are under way, is– is looking at this and saying you`re trying to get rid- – move Arabs out of Jerusalem.
NIR BARKAT (overlapping): That`s not true.
LESLEY STAHL: But that`s the way it looks.…..
6) Do not challenge or fact-check any Palestinian statements. Instead accept, repeat and endorse them.
In sharp contrast to her prosecutorial attitude toward Israeli interviewees, Stahl accepts Palestinian statements without challenge.
LESLEY STAHL (voiceover): Palestinian Jawad Siyam was born in [Silwan] and says he can trace his roots here back nine hundred thirty years. He`s pessimistic about the Palestinians ever having their own state….
LESLEY STAHL (voiceover): Jawad says that El`Ad uses the dig`s archeological prestige to hide its aim of moving the locals out. And he believes that the tunneling is a way for El`Ad to extend its reach deeper into Silwan…
LESLEY STAHL (voiceover): There`s a feeling of encroachment. The Arabs feel it…
LESLEY STAHL (voiceover): But as with the dig, the local Arabs see this as another attempt to gobble up their side of Jerusalem…
7) Avoid mention of anything that might portray Palestinians and Arab leaders in a poor light, or as an obstacle to peace.
There was no mention of Jordan’s ethnic cleansing of Jews from the region or their Judenrein policy during their illegal occupation, no mention of attempts by Palestinian and Muslim leaders to erase – both mentally (with denials) and physically (by destroying archeological remnants) Jewish history here. There is no mention of the deadly attacks by eastern Jerusalem Arabs against Jews both in eastern and western Jerusalem — a contributing factor to why Israel does not want Jerusalem divided.
While she mentions “escalating confrontations” near Silwan, Ms. Stahl focuses on one incident which she says “became violent” when a car driven by an Israeli who turned out to be “of all people, the head of Elad,” struck two masked Palestinian youths who had been throwing stones. Of course, the incident was violent from the start, as masked Palestinian youths and adults surrounded the car, hurling stones at it. Three people, two of them minors and one adult, were subsequently arrested for thowing stones and smashing the window of a car. There were also many questions about the incident itself, particularly, why so many photographers had converged at the site well before the Israeli driver had entered the scene. Had they been alerted in advance? Had they been told that there would be dramatic distubances or confrontations they might want to photograph? (See: “Silwan Distortions in the Israeli Press“) Needless to say, Ms. Stahl did not explore any of this, as it did not support the story she was telling.
8) Suggest instead that it is Israeli actions – whether archeological excavations, purchasing of homes, or enforcing municipal laws – that obstruct the possibility of peace.
According to Ms. Stahl:
Settlements have been a stumbling block in peace negotiations of the past. And …could become the stumbling block again.
A decade ago, Chairman President Mahmoud Abbas went on record challenging Jerusalem’s Jewish heritage and the existence of a Jewish Temple, adding that even if there were one, “we do not accept it, because it is not logical for someone who wants a practical peace.” (Kul Al-Arab, August 25, 2000; Translation: MEMRI) Today, he refuses to accept Israel as a Jewish state.
But to Ms. Stahl and CBS, the Palestinians’ refusal to recognize Israel and the attempt to erase Jerusalem’s Jewish heritage are not the story she wants to tell. To her, the only obstacle to peace is Israel’s commitment to its Jewish roots in Jerusalem.