The Wall Street Journal is typically considered a source of solid, accurate coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict. However, readers opening that newspaper on Nov. 20 found a story (“Checkpoints Splinter Palestinian Economy”) focused on checkpoints in the West Bank so biased against Israeli perspectives it could have been taken from a propaganda tract.
According to reporter Cam Simpson, checkpoints in the West Bank are ruining the Palestinian economy, and it’s all Israel’s fault. Yes, there was a Palestinian intifada marked by attacks against Israeli civilians, the report acknowledges; but that, too, is all Israel’s fault — a Palestinian “answer” to Israeli provocations.
At almost 2,300 words, the article is long on certain kinds of details, but very short on others. Along with some relevant facts, such as the number of checkpoints in the West Bank, readers learn how the prayer beads are wrapped around the gearshift in an Arab man’s Subaru; the country where this man’s cigarettes were manufactured; the type of trees his family grew in the 1940s; the approximate date of construction of the Al Aqsa Mosque; and so on.
On the other hand, when it comes to essential context about why Israel feels compelled to erect checkpoints — to defend its population from Palestinian infiltrators who have reached into every corner of the nation and murdered men, women and children — the article has very little to say. In an article supposedly about the effects of checkpoints, there was no information about the many terrorist attacks thwarted by the checkpoints or even one single detailed description of one such terrorist stopped from murdering innocent Israelis.
The scant “context” that is provided casts Israel — the victim of Palestinian violence — as the cause of the violence.
Here is Simpson’s warped account of the Palestinians’ “second intifada”:
But Palestinian prosperity ended in late 2000. In September, Ariel Sharon, then Israel’s right-wing opposition leader, marched to what is widely recognized as the third-holiest site for Muslims, the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, built about 13 centuries ago atop Judaism’s most sacred site, the Temple Mount. Many Palestinians saw it as a deliberate provocation in the midst of peace talks. Protests erupted, turning into riots. Israel responded with tanks, helicopter gunships and thousands of security forces, killing dozens of Palestinians. Within weeks, Palestinian militants answered with car bombs and suicide attacks against civilian targets inside Israel.
The entire paragraph is skewed toward the Palestinian narrative. According to Simpson, Ariel Sharon provoked Palestinians, who then protested and rioted. These “riots” were met by overwhelming force by Israel. Palestinians “answered” this seemingly heavy-handed response by attacking Israeli civilians.
The idea that Palestinian violence was a spontaneous reaction to Sharon’s Temple Mount visit has long been disproved. Yet Simpson repeats the discredited canards, ignoring the fact that numerous Palestinian officials have acknowledged the violence was pre-planned.
• On March 3, 2001, the Lebanese Al-Safir newspaper quoted Palestinian Communications Minister Imad Faluji admitting:
Whoever thinks that the intifada broke out because of the despised Sharon’s visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, is wrong…This intifada was planned in advance, ever since President Arafat’s return from the Camp David negotiations, where he turned the table upside down on President Clinton… [Arafat] rejected the American terms and he did it in the heart of the U.S. (Translated by MEMRI, Special Dispatch No. 194 -PA, March 9, 2001. See also Associated Press, March 2, 2001, “Palestinian Cabinet minister says Palestinian uprising was planned.”)
• And Marwan Barghouti, a senior Palestinian official at the time, said:
The explosion would have happened anyway. It was necessary in order to protect Palestinian rights. But Sharon provided a good excuse. He is a hated man. (New Yorker, Jan. 29, 2001).
• Mamdouh Nofal, a former adviser to Yasir Arafat, spoke with journalist David Samuels about the days leading up to the Palestinian “intifada,” how a strategic decision was made by the Palestinians to bring diplomatic pressure on the Israelis by provoking a fight, and how Sharon’s visit was just a convenient pretext for this already planned fight. Samuels later recounted the conversation in the July 25, 2005 Atlantic Monthly:
The second intifada … began with the intention of provoking the Israelis and subjecting them to diplomatic pressure. Only this time Arafat went for broke. As a member of the High Security Council of Fatah, the key decision-making and organizational body that dealt with military questions at the beginning of the intifada, Nofal has firsthand knowledge of Arafat’s intentions and decisions during the months before and after Camp David. “He told us, ‘Now we are going to the fight, so we must be ready,”‘ Nofal remembers. Nofal says that when Barak did not prevent Ariel Sharon from making his controversial visit to the plaza in front of al-Aqsa, the mosque that was built on the site of the ancient Jewish temples, Arafat said, “Okay, it’s time to work.”
• Nofal and Faluji’s assertions are corroborated by other Palestinian statements. On July 30, 2000, two months before the Palestinians’ launched the self-declared “Al-Aqsa intifada”, the official Palestinian Authority publication Al-Sabah announced: “We will advance and declare a general intifada for Jerusalem. The time for the intifada has arrived, the time for jihad has arrived.” Sakher Habash, an official in Arafat’s Fatah party, said on Dec. 7, 2000 that “after the Camp David Summit [July 2000] it became clear to the Fatah movement, as brother Abu Ammar Arafat had warned, that the next phase requires us to prepare for conflict with Israel …” (Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, qtd. in the Jerusalem Post, September 19, 2002)
• Israeli Arab journalist Khaled Abu Toameh also recounted other evidence of planning for war by the Palestinians before the explosion of September 2000. He wrote that “according to reports from Gaza in mid-August, some of the PA’s paramilitary forces were holding battalion-level training exercises.” In addition, “Palestinians started feeling the tension when members of Force 17, Arafat’s elite presidential guard, were seen digging trenches and heavily reinforcing their positions with sandbags. Within days, most of the PA police stations and bases looked like military fortresses. As the Camp David summit was underway, Arafat’s Fatah organization, the biggest faction of the PLO, started training Palestinian teenagers for the upcoming violence in 40 training camps throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip.” In sum, “the atmosphere in the Palest inian street was one of ‘the eve of war.'” Furthermore, as a Boston Globe reporter Charles Sennott observed, the Palestinian leader Faisal Husseini directly controlled the Palestinian attacks in and around the Temple Mount – the violence started and stopped at his signal:
A senior Palestinian official acknowledged that yesterday’s protest was orchestrated. The rock-throwing youths, whose flag-raising directly challenged Israel’s assertion of sovereignty over the [Temple Mount], quit the protest quickly after a request to do so by the same Palestinian official who encouraged them to demonstrate…
Israeli officials … insist the violence is being fueled by the Palestinian leadership to exact concessions in the final negotiations aimed at ending the conflict. There was evidence of this yesterday.
All day, rock throwers – referred to in Arabic as “shebab,” or “the boys” – were provided with wheelbarrows full of rocks that came from inside the Al Aqsa compound. And the rock throwers stopped in unison at almost precisely 5 p.m. In a matter of minutes, they disappeared into locations around the Old City.
Husseini was seen walking away just then. Confronted with questions about what appeared to be highly orchestrated rock throwing, Husseini replied, “We asked the shebab to pull back.”
… Husseini was admitting that he turned off the rioting in a matter of minutes. (Boston Globe, October 7, 2000; emphasis added)
Several Israeli military assessments also deemed that the Palestinian violence was planned and not spontaneous.
It should also be remembered that there was a Palestinian bomb attack against Jews the day before Sharon visited the Temple Mount. Palestinian terrorists detonated a pipe bomb as several civilian cars, escorted by an army jeep, drove by Netzarim in the Gaza Strip. When the Israelis soldiers got out of their jeep to check on the civilians, the terrorists detonated their second bomb, killing Sgt. David Biri.
Snipers are not Rioters
The article also falsely suggested that Israel attacked “protests” and “riots” with tanks and helicopter gunships.
Sharon visited the Temple Mount during normal visiting hours for approximately 30 minutes, and Palestinians did throw stones at the Israeli police, but it was relatively limited. Later that day, elsewhere in Jerusalem, Palestinians hurled firebombs at Israeli troops. Israel responded to these attacks with rubber-coated bullets. The following day, after further incitement from Palestinian leaders, Palestinians stoned policemen as well as Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall, and a Palestinian soldier shot and killed his Israeli colleague on a joint patrol. Then, Palestinians, including Palestinian policemen, used live ammunition in their battles with Israeli troops. On the fourth day of fighting, the New York Times described some of the fighting as looking “more like war than rioting.” Palestinian snipers took aim at Israeli troops from rooftops, and Palestinian gunmen, again including Palestinian Authority policemen, besieged Israeli soldiers guarding Joseph’s Tomb in the West Bank. Israel used combat helicopters during a failed attempt to save the life of an Israeli soldier who bled to death there, and in an attempt to silence the snipers. The term “rioters” is not generally understood to refer to snipers and insurgent policemen attacking troops.
This skewed account of Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount was virtually the only reference to the Palestinian violence that the checkpoints are meant to prevent. The newspaper also gave the false impression that, even though Israeli roadblocks remain, Palestinian violence is no longer an issue. “Fighting abated, but movement restrictions didn’t,” Simpson reports. And, “Despite the peace … barrier numbers started going up again” this summer.
Readers have no way of knowing that anti-Israel violence continues, or that checkpoints are effective at thwarting even more violence. In 2006, Israel prevented 71 attempted suicide bombings. Most of those bombers already had the explosives strapped to their bodies. Many were stopped at roadblocks. Four bombers, however, found there way into Israel, killing 15 and wounding 144.
There were also 608 shooting attacks in the West Bank last year against Israeli troops and civilians.
And on the evening before the Wall Street Journal article was published, an Israeli civilian was murdered by Palestinian fire in the West Bank.
In another example of context ignored, the article details security restrictions around the Palestinian town of Jenin since the outbreak of Palestinian violence, but completely excludes the fact that the town was known as the “terror capital” because it produced so many suicide bombers.
It is certainly fair for the Wall Street Journal or any other newspaper to report on Israeli checkpoints and other security measures in the West Bank. But ethical journalism requires the picture not be distorted by downplaying the context of Palestinian terrorism, by omitting any anecdote or statistic showing that these roadblocks have saved lives, and perhaps worst of all, by relaying an overtly pro-Palestinian account of the escalation of violence in October 2000.