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Media Analyses





Israel Bars Palestinian Arabs from Old City, Washington Post Bars Readers from Understanding Why


When a news report covers events in a way that makes them less understandable, when it erroneously implies Arab murder Jews for legitimate reasons, it's not news but rather mis-infotainment. The Washington Post's “Israel bars Palestinians from Old City; Jerusalem closure follows fatal stabbings, is set to last 48 hours” (Oct. 5, 2015 print edition) reported with just enough subtlety to fool an average reader.

The article, by Post Jerusalem Bureau Chief William Booth, failed:

To detail incitement by Palestinian leaders that preceded four murders of Jewish civilians or non-combatants in three days;

To identify as terrorist the Palestinian group with which one of the killers apparently was affiliated or to mention its backers;

To properly identify an organization of anti-Jewish Palestinian extremists or note its supporters.

In addition, it falsely branded a Jewish group as “dedicated to displacing Palestinians.”

“Israel bars Palestinians from Old City” quotes Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in a eulogy for one of those murdered in the Old City on October 3. Rivlin asserts, “we will reach the killers of the innocent and pure, and we will reach their inciters and their dispatchers and will deliver them a stinging blow.”

Who are “the inciters and their dispatchers”? The Post doesn't directly say. (The link is to a revised version of the article, “Two Palestinians killed as West Bank violence spikes,” posted later online.)

Pouring gasoline on a fire
 
But in covering another Rivlin eulogy just a day earlier for an Israeli couple shot dead in front of four of their children, the Associated Press (“Israel sends troops after settler couple killed,” The Baltimore Sun, October 3) reported that attack “followed a hard-line speech at the United Nations by [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas, the last of several that Israeli leaders have condemned as incitement. Abbas has said that Israelis desecrate a Jerusalem holy site [Temple Mosque and al-Aqsa mosque] with their ‘dirty feet' and charged that Israel was committed to the ‘ethnic cleansing' of his people.”
 
Does incitement work? The Post quoted an item from the Old City killer's Facebook page that suggested he was reacting “to Israeli provocations at the al-Aqsa mosque site.” But The Washington Post had reported no Israeli “provocations at al-Aqsa,” only previous Palestinian preparations for violence—including stockpiling firebombs in the mosque—and aggression. “Israel bars Palestinian from Old City” refers to that incompletely as “Israeli security forces and Palestinian youths have fought at the front door of al-Aqsa mosque in recent weeks, and Israeli authorities have restricted access to the mosque by age and gender.” There's no why here, and why—as in who, what, when, where, why and how—constitutes one of journalism's six elements.
 
Factually, the murderer reacted to alleged Israeli provocations. But The Post's Booth and/or his editors fell into the journalistic trap of echoing, unconsciously or not, the perspective and language of party to a conflict. They should have known better: CAMERA provided them with its background article, “Incitement over Temple Mount Leads to Palestinian Violence, Again”  weeks before the Old City's temporary closure.
 
The Post said the killer's siblings “hung a large banner of the Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian militant group, across the entrance of the family house ….” Palestinian Islamic Jihad is a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, backed by Iran and sometimes more “militant”—more itching to kill Jews—that Hamas, the larger, genocidally anti-Jewish movement that runs the Gaza Strip. But the dispatch did not tell readers that.
 
According to the newspaper, in addition to fighting with “Palestinian youths at the front door of al-Aqsa,” Israeli authorities “have also outlawed a Muslim organization that brought men and women to the mosque to stand guard and to harass Jewish visitors who enter the compound escorted by armed Israeli soldiers. The civilian guardians, known as Mourabitoun, or defenders of Islam, say they are there as volunteers to protect the site from Jewish extremists. But Israel says the guards [emphases added] have triggered clashes over the past two years.”
 
One “harass,” two “guard,” one “guardians.” But nothing about Mourabitoun except the superficial: It's “a Muslim organization” and the name means “defenders of Islam.”
 
What's really going on
 
However, as the Israeli daily Ha'aretz noted on September 9, reporting the defense minister's request to ban it and a partner group for women, “the activity is inflammatory and endangers tourists, visitors and worshippers at the site, leading to violence that could harm human life. The goal of Morabiton and Morabitat is to undermine Israeli authority on Temple Mount, alter reality and existing arrangements and restrict freedom of worship, and it is tied to the activity of hostile Islamist organizations and even directed by them” (“Israel Bans Two Muslim Activist Groups from Temple Mount”).
 
Not only that, but Mourabitoun and Mourabitat also are arms of the northern branch of Israel's Islamic Movement, which buses the “guardians” to Temple Mount and pays these “volunteers” roughly $700 to $1,000 a month, some of the money coming from Persian Gulf Arab states, according to Ha'aretz.
 
The Post described one of the men murdered in the Old City as “a married father of seven and leader of a Jewish religious school run by Ateret Cohanim, an organization dedicated to displacing Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the Old City and creating a Jewish majority there.” By its own description, Ateret Cohanim is dedicated to “rebuilding and securing” a united, Jewish Jerusalem, including “reestablishing thriving Jewish communities centered around educational institutes in and around the Old City of Jerusalem.”
 
“Reestablishing” because Arab riots and massacres of Jews in 1929 and 1936 and the Jordanian conquest and illegal occupation of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and eastern Jerusalem, including the Old City, after Israel's 1948 War of Independence “ethnically cleansed” the areas of Jews. After Israel's victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, Ateret Cohanim's predecessor organizations began to attempt to reverse those developments.
 
The group aggressively has sought property in eastern Jerusalem, built religious institutions and playgrounds and moved in Jewish families, sometimes in the face of violent Arab opposition. It does hope to re-create a Jewish majority in that part of the city but it is not “dedicated to displacing” Palestinian Arabs. In its vision, an Arab minority would live peaceably among a Jewish majority; Jews would not live in an Arab-free Jerusalem. The Post's “dedicated to displacing Palestinians” sounds like Palestinian propaganda.
 
The newspaper properly quotes the father of the Old City murderer, who stabbed to death two unarmed men, seriously wounded the wife of one and “lightly” wounded their toddler before being killed by police: “ ‘I am so proud of him. He defended the honor of 1.5 billion Muslims all over the world. He will be missed not only by me, but by every free, decent human being,' the father said.”
 
It also properly quotes the widowed mother: “ ‘I yelled ‘Please help me! And they just spat at me,' Adele Benita said of the surrounding Palestinian shopkeepers in an interview with the Israeli news site Ynet.”
 
It would have been a stretch for The Post at this point to have cited survivor and psychiatrist Victor Frankl who, in his landmark work, Man's Search for Meaning, wrote that after the Holocaust there are only two “races” of people, those who are decent, and those who are not. However, had it done so, the father's assertion that his killer son would be mourned “by every decent human being” would have been seen not only as psychological inversion, but also moral blasphemy.
 
But it would not have been a stretch for the newspaper not to give the closing quote (in the October 5 print edition) to Palestinian mouthpiece Hanan Ashrawi. Inaccurately described as a “leader”—she has no following or power—Ashrawi says “never has a people under foreign occupation accepted the systematic violation of their rights and freedoms.”
 
If this is what The Post wanted readers to remember from “Israel bars Palestinians from Old City,” it's as much an inversion as the father's homage to his dead son. Israel in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem is not “foreign” but rather represents the return and defense of the indigenous Jews to part of their ancient homeland. Neither has it “systematically violated” Arab rights and freedoms. But for restrictions meant to prevent murderous attacks like those reported in the article, Palestinian Arabs under Israeli jurisdiction enjoy more rights and freedoms than Arabs in almost any Arab state in the Middle East, states in which Ashrawi, a woman from a Christian minority, would rarely if ever be heard from.
 
The Washington Post's “Israel bars Palestinians from Old City” includes many facts and quotes from Israeli as well as Palestinian sources. But out of context, they don't amount to a news story.

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