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Middle East Issues





The Media's Tunnel Vision


Media coverage of the recent disturbances in the West Bank and Gaza has been, with few exceptions, unremittingly hostile towards Israel. In many cases reporters and editorialists have uncritically accepted Palestinian allegations as fact. Starting from false premises, journalists have routinely portrayed Israel both as the instigator of the violence, and as obligated to make concessions in order to stop the violence. An extensive search reveals not a single instance of a Palestinian spokesman or official being asked by journalists to offer a concession or gesture to the Israelis.

Among the topics widely omitted or distorted:

Prior Threats by Palestinian Officials to use Armed Palestinian Forces Against Israel

Palestinian Authority Planning Minister Nabil Sha'ath, speaking in Nablus (Jerusalem Post, 3/15/96):

If the negotiations reach a dead end, we shall go back to the struggle and strife, as we did for 40 years. It is not beyond our capabilities ... As long as Israel goes forward (with the process) there are no problems, which is why we observe the agreements of peace and non-violence. But if and when Israel will say, 'That's it, we won't talk about Jerusalem, we won't return refugees, we won't dismantle settlements, and we won't retreat from borders,' then all acts of violence will return. Except that this time we'll have 30,000 armed Palestinian soldiers who will operate in areas in which we have unprecedented elements of freedom.

Hanan Ashrawi on Radio Monte Carlo 8/30/96, in reply to interviewer's question, “What means of retaliation and confrontation do the Palestinians possess?”:

Ashrawi: We have various means. Anyone who believes that we no longer have the capability to move or find alternatives is mistaken ... The basic issue is building a strong and real Palestinian identity to face external difficulties. In the Legislative Council we prepared an integral plan for this confrontation. We still have field capabilities ...

The Tunnel

The Hasmonean Tunnel has been portrayed by PA spokespersons and by the media as a threat to Islamic Holy Places, and as an attempt to "Judaize" Jerusalem.

Yasir Arafat stated:

  • This is a crime, a big crime, against our religious and holy places ... (Washington Post 9/25/96)
  • The most important thing we can't accept is the Judaization of Jerusalem. (Nightline 10/1/96)

PA Cabinet Minister Hanan Ashrawi stated that the opening of the tunnel:

  • ... symbolized Israeli attempts at distorting the reality and the history of Jerusalem ... (Nightline 9/26/96)
  • ... attempts to Judaize Jerusalem ... (London MBC Television in Arabic 9/27/96)

More inventively, PA Minister Sa'eb Erakat stated the real Israeli aim in opening the tunnel was:

  • .... to build a new temple now, in the place of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. (CNN 9/29/96)

This ignores crucial facts:

  • The Hasmonean Tunnel predates by approximately 800 years any Muslim presence in Jerusalem. Since it existed well before the Islamic Holy Sites were built, it can hardly "undermine" or threaten them in any way.
  • In any event, the new tunnel exit is more than 200 meters away from the Mosques on the Temple Mount.

As for the charge of "Judaization" of Jerusalem, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock were constructed on the Temple Mount precisely because this was the site of the Jewish Temples. In Jerusalem, and throughout the lands conquered by Islam, victorious Muslim armies regularly built mosques over the holy sites of their defeated foes. This is no less true on Jerusalem's Temple Mount, than, for example, in the Indian city of Ayodhya, where mosques were built atop Hindu shrines. The Economist (12/12/1992) described this history in covering the destruction of one such mosque by Hindu extremists:

... for many Hindus it is welcome revenge on the Muslim invaders who in their time demolished so many Hindu temples. The Babri Mosque, erected on the supposed birthplace of the Hindu god Ram, is but one of the ancient mosques built by the Moghuls on the sites of demolished Hindu temples.

Opening of New Tunnel Doorway Falsely Portrayed as Unilateral and Intentionally Provocative

The media has repeatedly and falsely portrayed the opening of the new tunnel doorway as unilateral and as an intentional affront to Palestinians. Thus, ABC's Peter Jennings (World News Tonight, 09/24/96):

In the Middle East today, the Israelis really touched a nerve. They have suddenly, finished, secretly, a very controversial project, a 500-yard tunnel that they had to know would enrage Muslims.

Ted Koppel, reproving Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert (Nightline, 9/26/96):

You knew that by opening it up, it would be controversial, and if they wanted to use it as a provocation, they would use it as such, and indeed, it has been used as such. It wasn't necessary.

Sheila MacVicar (World News Tonight, 10/1/96):

...that unilateral decision, taken by the highest levels of the Israeli government, is seen by Palestinians as a provocation that trespasses upon the surroundings of one of Islam's holiest mosques.

In fact, the decision was not unilateral. The Labor government and the Muslim authorities who control the Temple Mount agreed early in 1996 that in return for Muslim acceptance of the new doorway, Israel would not object to limited Muslim rights to worship in the area of Solomon's Stables, which lies within the Temple Mount (New York Times 9/26/96, Associated Press 9/24/96).

According to a report in Ha'aretz, Israel's leading newspaper, the Muslim Temple Mount authorities and Jordanian officials were notified on September 1 that the doorway was about to open (Nadav Shragai, Ha'aretz, 10/10/96).

Opening of New Tunnel Doorway Falsely Portrayed as a Violation of Oslo Accords

Palestinian spokesmen, and a compliant international media, have portrayed the opening of the new doorway as a violation of the Oslo accords. As pointed out by Daniel Taub of Israel's Ministry of Justice (Taub helped negotiate the accords):

  • Neither the Declaration of Principles nor the Interim Agreement place any strictures on Israel concerning Jerusalem. All questions concerning Jerusalem were left to the Permanent Status negotiations, which have yet to be held.
  • Even if the above agreements did apply to Jerusalem, archaeological activities were specifically excluded from them. Thus, even though according to Article XXXI.7 of the Interim Agreement the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip must not be changed by either party, the same agreement empowers the PA to protect, preserve and develop archaeological sites (Annex III, Appendix 1). That is, developing archaeological sites does not violate the agreements.

Desecration and Destruction of Jewish Holy Places

During the Jordanian occupation of East Jerusalem Jews were barred from visiting holy places including the Western Wall, a clear violation of paragraph 8 of the 1949 Armistice Agreement. Under Jordanian rule all but one of the Old City's 58 Jewish houses of worship were destroyed, including the historic Hurva Synagogue. Headstones from the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives were widely used by Jordanians as paving and building stones — in walls and homes, in army fortifications at Ras el-Azour and on Mount Zion, and even to line a pathway to a Jordanian army latrine.

Israel's Respect for Islamic Holy Places

Despite the desecration of Jewish holy sites under Muslim administration, following the Six Day War Israel allowed the Waqf (Muslim religious trust) to continue controlling Muslim holy sites. Significantly, this Israeli decision, taken so as not to offend Muslim sensibilities, allowed for no Jewish religious rights on the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism.

Muslim Authorities Destroy Remains of Jewish Temples on Temple Mount

While Israel has been falsely charged with plotting to destroy or undermine the Mosques of the Temple Mount by opening the new doorway to the Hasmonean Tunnel, the media has largely ignored the Muslim authority's destruction of remains of the Jewish Temples on the Temple Mount. According to Biblical Archaeological Review (Sept./Oct. 1991) the ancient remains, which predate Islam by thousands of years, included a "Herodian wall 16 feet long and 6 feet wide ... [which was partially] dismantled and the rest covered up" by the Muslim authorities. Other evidence of the Jews' presence on the Temple Mount was "covered up by dirt and plantings" or had been "covered by paving."

Incitement to Violence by Arafat and Palestinian Controlled Media

While Israel did not violate the accords by opening the new tunnel entrance, the PA and Yasir Arafat engaged in an egregious violation of the Interim Agreement's strictures against violence and incitement to violence. Article XV of the Interim Agreement requires that both sides:

... shall take all measures necessary in order to prevent acts of terrorism, crime, and hostilities directed against each other, against individuals falling under the other's authority ...

Article XXII requires that Israel and the Palestinians:

... foster mutual understanding and tolerance, and shall accordingly abstain from incitement, including hostile propaganda, against each other ...

On 24 September at a Gaza ceremony Yasir Arafat told Palestinian police (AP, 10/1/96):

  • Our blood is cheap for Jerusalem.

On 25 September, at a memorial service in Gaza, Mr. Arafat stated (New York Times, 10/4/96):

  • To the believers who fight for Allah, kill and are killed, heaven is promised.

Voice of Palestine radio broadcasts from Jericho monitored by the BBC included the following statements —

24 September, 1050 GMT:

  • The government of Israel committed an ugly crime last night when it opened the tunnel ...
  • This serious encroachment comes as part of the Zionist-Israeli plot to Judaize the Holy City and encroach on the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the rest of the Islamic and Christian Holy Places.
  • The Palestinian leadership ... appeals to our Palestinian people and Arab nation ... to move immediately and effectively to face this serious criminal scheme. We appeal to them all to shoulder their religious and national responsibilities in these serious circumstances and to confront these painful incidents and tragic dangers facing holy Jerusalem.
  • The Palestinian leadership appeals to our Palestinian people and Arab nation and to all Muslims and Christians to do what is required by these incidents, which encroach on our holy places in the holy city ...

24 September, 1145 GMT, attributed to the Palestinian Information Ministry:

  • The occupation authorities dug a tunnel last night along the western wall of the holy Al-Aqsa Mosque square.
  • This provocative and serious step is part of the new Netanyahu campaign to complete the Judaization of the Palestinian Arab city ...
  • These serious measures are considered a declaration of war against the Palestinian people and the peace process ...

25 September, 0600 GMT:

  • The Palestinian leadership ... called for organizing popular and student marches and activities to protest the recent Israeli violation represented by opening a tunnel below the holy Al-Aqsa Mosque.

25 September, 1350 GMT, attributed to the Culture and Information Ministry:

  • Since this morning, the soldiers of the Israeli occupation have committed a bloody massacre against the participants in the peaceful marches that overwhelmed all Palestinian cities and villages in protest of Israeli measures against Islamic and Christian holy shrines in the holy city of Jerusalem.
  • Today's massacre is only a beginning of a series of other massacres that may be committed by the occupation authorities.
  • The government of extremism and racism is still going ahead with all its measures, its provocations, and its fascist hostility, without showing any interest in the peace process.
  • It is also still insisting on declaring all-out war against the Palestinian people, their land, their sanctities and their national institutions.
  • We warn the government of extremism and racism that its insistence on this bloody policy will draw an appropriate response from the Palestinian people and the PNA.
  • We will confront these bloody massacres with all means of struggle to defend our land, our sanctities and our people until we regain all our inalienable, legitimate national rights.

According to Jon Immanuel writing in the 29 September Jerusalem Post, Arafat accused Israel of "killing our children," and "did not give orders to the police to cease fire, to push civilians back or even declare a curfew ..." Immanuel wrote that, Arafat "justified the failure of the police to withdraw by saying they could use their weapons to defend their lives. Since the Palestinians considered the IDF soldiers to be the initiators of the shooting, the qualification was an invitation to continue shooting."

Immanuel continued, "Palestinian Television, which is under Arafat's direct control, inflamed passions by broadcasting film clips of corpses and describing the riots as an Israeli 'massacre,' as did Arafat himself."

How the Disturbances Began

Graham Usher, writing in the pro-Palestinian Middle East International (10/4/96), reported that Arafat:

... used the emotionally charged issue of the sanctity of al-Aqsa to rally his people ... [calling] on Palestinians throughout the West Bank and Gaza to protest against 'the Judaisation of Jerusalem.' He didn't say how they should protest; he didn't need to.

On 25 September, under instructions from the PNA and Fatah, several busloads of Palestinian students from Bir Zeit University confronted an Israeli checkpoint on the road to Jerusalem. The army repulsed them using tear gas and rubber bullets. The students replied with stones and Molotov cocktails. Several hundred PNA security personnel stood idly by, until, due to an incendiary mix of popular incitement and incursions by the army across the checkpoints (and so into Palestinian-controlled area) they returned fire.

Disturbances Spontaneous or Controlled by Arafat and other Palestinian Officials?

According to Hanan Ashrawi, discussing a Hamas call for a new intifada, Palestinians "do not react emotionally" and wait "for a signal from the leadership." Crediting her analysis strongly implies the disturbances were not spontaneous:

Palestinians do not react emotionally like that. They have a political leadership which is extremely responsible. They are also a highly politicized people, and quite aware of what's happening. So they will not react immediately or jump into an emotional mode and say, "that's it." I think the Palestinians are waiting for a signal from the leadership. (CNN 10/2/96)

Israel's Rights under the Agreements to Protect Israeli Communities and Soldiers

The media, parroting Palestinian spokespersons, has portrayed Israeli actions to protect its troops and citizens as somehow violating the Oslo Accords. In fact, according to those accords Israel has wide latitude to undertake such protective actions, even inside the autonomy.

Thus, Article X, Section 4 of the Interim Agreement (September 28, 1995) states:

Israel shall continue to carry the responsibility for external security, as well as the responsibility for overall security of Israelis for the purpose of safeguarding their internal security and public order.

Article XII, Section 1 states:

Israel shall continue to carry the responsibility for ... overall security of Israelis and Settlements, for the purpose of safeguarding their internal security and public order, and will have all the powers to take steps necessary to meet this responsibility.

Annex I, Article III(3)(j) states:

Any event involving injury to Israelis, at any location within the West Bank or Gaza Strip, shall be immediately reported to Israel through the relevant DCO [a Palestinian-Israeli coordinating office established by the accords]. Israel may employ any means necessary for the evacuation and treatment of such injured persons, and will coordinate such activity through the relevant DCO.

Annex I, Article XI(3)(b) states:

Within the territory under the security responsibility of the Council, in places where Israeli authorities exercise their security functions in accordance with this Annex, and in their immediate vicinities, the Israeli authorities may carry out engagement steps in cases where an act or incident requires such action. In such cases, the Israeli authorities will take any measures necessary to bring to an end such an act or incident ...

That is, in order to insure the security of its soldiers and communities, Israel has the right to act throughout the West Bank and Gaza, including the large Palestinian cities of Nablus, Ramallah, etc.

Referring specifically to Area B (Palestinian towns and villages) Article XIII, Section 2(a) states:

Israel shall have the overriding responsibility for security for the purpose of protecting Israelis and confronting the threat of terrorism.



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