CNN.com, one of the top-ranked Internet news sites with over 15,000 users daily, includes a permanent “Special Report” on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which appears in a box alongside articles about the Middle East. It includes both an “Interactive Timeline” and an in-depth feature entitled “Mideast Land of Conflict.” The feature consists of short background articles relating to the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and purporting to present the issues from both perspectives.
CAMERA has been in contact with CNN about the feature’s inaccuracies, omissions, and improper editorializing. Some sections were subsequently revised to enhance their accuracy, but numerous articles continue to misinform.
The feature on the “Status of Jerusalem” is especially distorted. The feature – made up of a short overview and history followed by a paragraph each on the Israeli and Palestinian viewpoints – adopts an inappropriate partisan stance, twisting the historical facts, omitting information essential to understanding the issues, and misrepresenting the Israeli viewpoint.
The overview states:
The terms of the U.N. partition of 1947 call for Jerusalem to be an international city shared between a Jewish and Palestinian state. But Israel annexed West Jerusalem after its war of independence and East Jerusalem–which includes the Dome of the Rock–in 1967.
Blaming Israel for allegedly contravening the United Nations partition resolution turns history on its head.
The Jews accepted partition while the Arabs rejected it. Jordan invaded and blockaded Jerusalem in May 1948 when the Jews, endorsing the U.N. plan, declared independence.
The U.N. partition plan called for Jerusalem to become a corpus separatum for an interval of 10 years, after which the city’s status was to be redetermined in a referendum. While the Jewish Agency reluctantly accepted this as a short-term option, the Arabs rejected the entire plan including Jerusalem’s internationalization.
In May 1948 Jordan attempted to capture the entire city of Jerusalem, shelling it and cutting off its Jewish residents from the coastal plain. Western portions of Jerusalem came under Israel’s control only after Arabs laid siege to the city. In the first four weeks of Arab attacks, 200 Jewish civilians were killed and over 1,000 were wounded in Jerusalem. But, defending themselves, Israeli forces managed to capture some suburbs and villages from the Arabs.
The Israeli defenders were not as successful in protecting the Jewish community of eastern Jerusalem. On May 28, 1948, the Jewish quarter of the Old City fell to the Jordanians. After 10 months of fighting, an armistice agreement was signed on April 3, 1949, dividing Jerusalem along the November 1948 ceasefire lines of Israeli and Transjordanian forces, with several areas of no-man’s land. The armistice line served as a temporary border between what had formerly been two mixed communities.
Upon capturing eastern Jerusalem, Jordan killed or expelled its Jewish residents and desecrated and destroyed Jewish holy sites.
During the Jordanian occupation of eastern Jerusalem from 1948 to 1967, Jews were forbidden access to their holy sites–including the Western Wall of the Temple Mount—and to the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives, in use from ancient times to the present. Christians were subject to many restrictions, both during pilgrimages to their holy places and in administering their institutions. When the city was recaptured and reunited by the Israelis in 1967, Israel annulled the discriminatory laws, allowing access for all religions to their holy sites, and granted the Islamic Wakf (religious trust) civil authority on the Temple Mount.
• Arab rejection of the U.N. partition plan and the entirety of Jordan’s 19-year occupation (during which Jews were barred from Jordanian-controlled areas) are omitted from the article, as is the sharp contrast between Israeli and Jordanian administration of the holy places.
• The denial by Palestinian and other Arab authorities of any Jewish connection to the holy sites, another important aspect of the conflict over Jerusalem, is ignored as well. For example, Ikrima Sabri, the Mufti of Jerusalem appointed by Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority, asserted in Die Welt (January 2001):
There is not [even] the smallest indication of the existence of a Jewish temple on this place in the past. In the whole city, there is not even a single stone indicating Jewish History… There is not a single stone in the Wailing-Wall relating to Jewish History. The Jews cannot legitimately claim this wall, neither religiously nor historically.
And Palestinian Authority Minister for International Planning and Cooperation Nabil Sha’ath has insisted that, “Israel demands control of the Temple Mount based on its claim that its fictitious temple stood there” (Al-Ayyam, July 27, 2000).
• The article suppresses another widely reported manifestation of Arab-Islamic intolerance—the vast, unauthorized construction work of the Wakf on the Temple Mount. Using heavy equipment, without knowledgeable supervision, and without agreement from proper Israeli government authorities – all in violation of standard archaeological practice – the Wakf’s excavations are believed to have damaged or destroyed archaeological remains from the First and Second Temple periods. The Israeli government has been reluctant to insist on its authority over the activity because of the sensitivity of Islamic-Jewish relations on Temple Mount. Nevertheless, Israeli archaeologists, historians and others have protested the Wakf’s desecrations.
• The overview notes only that the Temple Mount, called Haram al-Sharif in Arabic, is Islam’s third holiest site but ignores that it has always been Judaism’s holiest site. CNN mentions only that it “is believed to contain the ruins of Judaism’s holiest temple.”
Misrepresentation of Viewpoints
The paragraph on “Palestinian viewpoint” presents as fact a Palestinian “historic territorial claim on Jerusalem’s Old City.” At the same time, it omits the 3,000-year-old Jewish historic and religious claim on Jerusalem and the fact that Jews constituted the majority of Jerusalem’s population since the first modern census in the mid-nineteenth century.
The “Israeli viewpoint,” with its implication that Israel refuses to give up possession of something to which it has no right (“Ceding control even over the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, or the Old City, is a red line for many Israelis…” ), is also misrepresented. Without the context that several of these neighborhoods were inhabited by Jews before Jordan expelled them or that recent history supports Israel’s fear that Jews will again be denied access to their holy sites—not to mention the security and municipal nightmare of parts of Israel’s capital being controlled by hostile forces—this article implies causeless Israeli intransigence.
Also notable is the difference in language used to bolster Islamic claims (“..the presence there of the Islamic holy sites makes the issue a red line not only for Palestinians but for the entire Arab and Muslim world”) over the Jewish one (“They [Israelis] want to ensure that they maintain access to sites they consider sacred.”). Not only is the Temple Mount central to Jews everywhere, but Christians and many Muslims too recognize the Temple Mount as the holy site of the First and Second Temples.
CNN excludes issues crucial to understanding the status of Jerusalem. Instead, readers are presented a one-sided account that ignores key historical facts and de-emphasizes the centrality of Jerusalem in Judaism.
For CAMERA’s critique on the CNN Timeline, please see, “CNN’s ‘Interactive Timeline’Misleads”