Al-Jazeera America “Inside Story” Misreports Jerusalem Violence

Ray Suarez and Aziz Abu Sarah

The “Inside Story” half-hour report “Will Jerusalem ever be shared by Palestinians and Israelis?,” a panel discussion which aired from the Al-Jazeera America New York studios on Nov. 26, 2014 at 5:00 p.m. (repeated on Nov. 27 at 9:30 a.m.), presented a highly flawed analysis. The problem started with discussion host Ray Suarez who had spent most of his career at PBS and NPR where he was often dismissive of Israel’s positions on issues. In 1996 he had even denigrated Judaism, portraying the Jewish religion as it would be portrayed by antisemites.

The panel consisted of two Jewish Israelis and a Palestinian Arab Muslim. Panelist Aziz Abu Sarah, George Mason University (director of Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution), is a partisan Palestinian Arab representing the standard anti-Israel Palestinian position (no other positions are tolerated by the Palestinian Authority). Ofer Zalzberg (speaking from Israel) is a senior analyst with International Crisis Group (ICG). Dan Arbell is scholar in residence, Center for Israeli Studies, American University. Zalzberg’s employer is anti-Israel billionaire George Soros, ICG’s owner/operator. ICG has included as a member of its board of trustees, Prince Turki al-Feisal, a former Saudi ambassador to the United States and author of a vicious anti-Israel screed. Arbell in October 2011 was Israel’s deputy ambassador to the United States before he was fired by the Netanyahu administration for leaking classified material to the media. Suarez, with leading questions and loaded remarks, more than made up for any deficiency of the two Israeli panelists in bashing Israel.
Suarez’ problematic introductory remarks

And then there is Jerusalem itself. The long sought after would be capital of two nations has been riveted in tit-for-tat violence in recent weeks. One of the world’s most renowned religious sites, the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Temple Mount in the heart of old Jerusalem have become a focal point of tension. Palestinians are angered at what they had see as an attempt by right wing Jews to limit their access to the site. Some have lashed out in violence. Five Israelis, including four rabbis, were killed last week in an attack on a synagogue in west Jerusalem. In retaliation, [Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu destroyed the homes of the attackers reviving a policy that had been on hold for a year. The prime minister is blaming Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian authority, saying he is inciting the violence.

So, Suarez claims that the murderous attacks by Palestinians, including the murder of five Jews in a synagogue, was “tit-for-tat violence” because Palestinians were understandably angered by actions (asserting the right to pray on the Temple Mount) of “right wing Jews.” Here, typically, Al-Jazeera America has mischaracterized and distorted events. A CAMERA report (“NPR’s On Point Misleads About the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict;” Dec. 4, 2014; Hollander) sets the record straight:

The story of a heinous terrorist attack against blameless Jewish worshipers was turned into a false narrative of bilateral violence provoked by Israelis.


[there was a failure to explore] the climate of incitement that prompted the recent wave of Palestinian terrorist attacks, including the synagogue massacre. Instead, the situation was reversed as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was condemned for criticizing Palestinian President Abbas who had fomented the violence.


But it was not just that the Palestinian president did not speak out forcefully against attacks. He actively encouraged them. On Oct. 17, just before the latest wave of terrorism in Jerusalem, President Abbas, speaking at a Ramallah conference, called upon Palestinians to defend the Temple Mount (al Aqsa compound) from the Jews “using all means.” Palestinians, he said, must be united “to protect Jerusalem„” and the Muslim sanctuaries.

The following day, he reiterated his call to defend Muslim holy places from the Jews, whom he deceivingly denigrated as “settlers” and dehumanized as “cattle herds.” He accused Jews of defiling Muslim mosques by visiting the Temple Mount. His mendacious call was evocative of many such calls to violent jihad used repeatedly by Arab leaders, beginning in 1929 when Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin Al Husseini fomented attacks and massacres with a call to “defend Islam’s holy places” from the Jews.

This was amplified in ensuing days by PA’s official television network, other PA media and various groups (reported here, here, here, here and here).

Suarez continued, “The animosity engulfing the city right now underscores what many are calling the ‘myth of a unified Jerusalem,’ and as things simmer, the Palestinian Authority ups the ante by seeking international recognition and support for its effort to establish a state. Netanyahu appears to be moving further right politically, promising harsh retaliations to any further attacks, and his government continues to build settlements across the West Bank.”

Here, Suarez warns of Israeli “harsh [unwarranted] retaliations.” Does he mean temporary roadblocks o
r destruction of terrorists’ domiciles or what? He doesn’t say. Suarez voices a common propagandistic complaint that the Israeli government continues to build settlements across the West Bank. But for anti-Israel polemists, facts are to be ignored when they are at odds with cherished narratives. Israel has not built settlements for more than a decade and isn’t building new ones now. Any planned construction involves additional homes within existing settlements on Jewish-owned land.
Suarez turns to panelist Aziz Abu Sarah
“But are there differences in the attempts to create new neighborhoods in the attempts to change what had been tense but long settled lines of demarcation between communities? Are there attempts to, in effect, rewrite the map of Jerusalem that have put an edge on this?”

Abu Sarah responds,

Yes, there is the trigger of it that has been happening now. But this has been going on for a while. In 2008, almost 5,000 Palestinians lost their Jerusalem residency [this number, seemingly a gross exaggeration, is not verified by any reputable sources]. 85 percent of Palestinian kids in Jerusalem live under the poverty line. They’re missing 1,000 classes of classrooms. This has been going on for a while for Palestinians in Jerusalem. It’s becoming more visible because the anger is not possible to contain. People are getting to the point that they can’t take it even more. This is way too much humiliation and you can’t have a normal life like this. For the Israelis, they don’t hear about this. For Israelis, it’s all new stuff. But for most of my family who live in east Jerusalem, this is the day-to-day life that has been going on for the last 20-30-40 years.

But Abu Sarah conveniently overlooks pertinent facts: If the situation is so dire that Arab residents of Jerusalem demand that they live either under the rule of a Palestinian state bereft of Jews or under a single state that encompasses all Palestinian Arabs outnumbering Jewish Israelis, how does he account for facts such as these:
• Jerusalem Arabs can opt for full Israeli citizenship and in fact thousands have done so. The only obstacle is the fear of adverse consequences resulting from approbation and retribution from fellow Arabs who continue to cherish, well above quality-of-life issues, the hope of destroying the Jewish state.
• Most Jerusalem Arabs prefer Israeli rule to PA rule and citizenship.
• Riman Barakat, the Co-Director of the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI), wrote about the affinity of many Arabs in Jerusalem for Israeli societal features:

As an East Jerusalem resident, I am struck by a recent trend: many of my friends and acquaintances who hold Jerusalem identification cards – documents of permanent residency rather than Israeli citizenship – are quietly applying for and obtaining Israeli passports. It’s not immediately clear why. Current residents of East Jerusalem – numbering over 350,000, or 38 pecent of the city’s total population – already go about their daily lives, shop at Israeli malls, use Israeli services, frequent Israeli restaurants and bars, send their children to study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and receive Israeli social and health benefits.

Later Suarez prompts Abu Sarah, “The visions that both the Palestinian polity in its largest sense, but also the elected representatives who sit in the Palestinian parliament, members of the PA. What are the sticking points that have them, when these offers come [from Israel]. that have them say ‘No, I’m sorry, we can’t do that.’ What does it contain, especially when it comes to Jerusalem. What is contained in these offers that has people saying, ‘No, we just can’t accept that?’”

Abu Sarah responds, underlining the claim of justifiable anger with the “78 percent” myth:

There are multiple things. But the main thing is if you have no sovereignty, there is no point in having a state — a Palestinian state that has no control over its air space, no control over its holy sites, no control of how the city is going to run. It’s not really a Palestinian state in general. It’s not only in Jerusalem but elsewhere also. If we’re not going to have something meaningful, then it’s better not to have it, and go for one state. Originally Palestinians until 1988 have went for one state, and the one state would have been both Arab and Jewish state which is rejected by Israel. Going for two states is giving away 78 percent of what we believed was Palestine. But giving away 78 percent and then having to give away other percentages and other controls and border controls and now Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is talking about the main junctions, the main roads, the Jordan valley, so many things that makes that two-state solution impossible for Palestinians the way it’s being presented. Alternatively though, I don’t see the Palestinian leadership is offering a good alternative for Palestinians, which is leading to a lot of frustration. Most Palestinians are tired of the whole talks about negotiations which are leading to a whole lot of action and anger, and unfortunately leads to attacks like the ones we’ve seen in the synagogue, which I think is extremely terrible. But it does not help the Palestinians in any way. The only thing it does is to portray Palestinians as inhumane. One thing we have to keep holding on to humanity even as we lose other things.

Abu Sarah complained that the Arabs – in putative negotiations – were “giving away 78 percent [of the land to Israel] of what we believed to be Palestinian.” This falsehood was not corrected by either host or other panelists. This “78 percent of Palestine went to the Jews” charge recurs often in anti-Israel propaganda. Israel in 1948—after five invading Arab countries and Palestinian Arab “irregulars” failed to destroy the new Jewish state envisioned by the U.N.’s 1947 Palestine partition plan—comprised 78 percent of the land west of the Jordan River. But that was only 17 percent of the territory originally meant for the Jews, according to the League of Nations Palestine Mandate after World War I. Great Britain, the mandatory power, unilaterally established the Arab country of Trans-Jordan, today’s Jordan, on 77 percent of mandate lands. Today’s West Bank and Gaza
Strip are the remaining, as-yet unallocated six percent. The tendentious invocation of “78 percent of Palestine,” if not caught by one of the panelists, should have been countered by a knowledgeable, balanced host.

Abu Sarah complains that Israel offers a Palestinian state that “has no control over its air space …” But Israel considers it too high a risk to acquiesce to the demand that a future Palestinian Arab state should have an airport – because, based on the history of Arab attacks upon Israel, the aiport would pose an existential threat to Israel.
Needed history lesson not supplied by the network
The Arab countries and Palestinian Arab forces that invaded Israel in May, 1948 were not trying to save the remnants of Arab lands. Rather, they were trying to strangle the Jewish state in its infancy. They failed. In failing, they lost additional territory the 1947 U.N. partition plan had assigned to the putative second Arab state in Palestine (Jordan being the first). Being the aggressors, the loss was theirs. As invaders, they not only were attempting to destroy Israel, but also to prevent a new Arab state. Hence Egypt ended in possession of the Gaza Strip and Jordan of Judea and Samaria, which it renamed the West Bank – and no one between 1948 and 1967 called for a Palestinian Arab state in those territories. The Arabs already had several large countries and territories created and/or guided for them by the Europeans out of the debris of the Ottoman Empire, and would gain more in the post-colonial era. What they, including the Palestinian Arabs, could not bear was a Jewish state of any size. Hence the declaration of a “war of extermination” and a massacre of historic proportions by Arab leaders in 1948 and of wiping Israel off the map and throwing the Jews into the sea in 1967. Hence their repeated rejections of partition and peace offers, including Israel’s post-1967 proposal to return virtually all the territories gained in the Six-Day War – the Sinai Peninsula, Golan Heights, Gaza Strip and West Bank, but not the eastern portion of reunified Jerusalem – in exchange for peace.
Has there any been any change in the attitude of the Palestinian dominant culture in the West Bank toward living peacefully with its Jewish neighbors? No. Incitement to hate Jews is incessant from mosques and propagated daily from Palestinian Authority media and classrooms. This brainwashing is internalized by the population at large and often manifested in violent protests and terrorism.
Suarez has somewhat less success with the Israeli panelists
Turning to Zalzberg, “With people buying land and buying in neighborhoods where they wouldn’t normally go if they were a member of a certain community, is there a tension, where for a long time people observed those lines, that is making some of this more difficult than it needs to be?”

Zalzberg responds, “Yes, but I wouldn’t overstate it. I think it is possible to have two capitals in Jerusalem. I don’t think that settlement construction automatically changes the situation. Since 2008, American pressure has been very effective in preventing construction in E1, the section of land that really ends the possibility of linking up and forcing the Palestinian capital to be in the West bank. There is a very problematic settlement, Har Homa, in which there was reality disagreement between negotiators today, and it is one specific area. I don’t fully share the view that settlers who live within Arab neighborhoods are rendering such a position as impossible…”
Suarez asks Arbell, “Does Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu face anything internally that make it hard for him to cut a deal around Jerusalem?” Arbell accepted the cue, “I agree that politics playing is a very important role on both sides. It’s in Prime Minister’s Netanyahu’s considerations. When you talk about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, you have to start with the departure point. It’s a consensual issue. Most support a unified Jerusalem as capitol of the Jewish state, and so on. Now these recent moves that we’ve seen in recent weeks of different attempts of going onto the Temple Mount – they are clearly politically motivated. The different statements coming out of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are also politically motivated…”
The game plan for Al-Jazeera America

Al-Jazeera America TV network isn’t much interested in profits, according to its CEO. The Wall Street Journal reported in 2013: “Al Jazeera, which is backed by oil and gas-rich Qatar, says profits aren’t a priority. Interim CEO Ehab Al Shihabi told The Wall Street Journal this summer: ‘That is the difference that will allow us to maintain our journalistic identity.’” Translation: Unlike its commercial competitors (including ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, MSNBC and NBC), the network doesn’t care that much about how many viewers it has or how much advertising it sells. Rather, it’s in the game to influence the opinion makers – teachers, journalists, other “news junkie” public opinion molders and government officials – on a number of issues – high on this list is defaming Israel.

What would they say?
What might the response of cable/satellite executives – who air Al-Jazeera America – be to this, “Please be aware of Al-Jazeera America network’s journalistic malpractice related to coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Is there a journalistic malpractice line that once crossed by the network becomes a serious problem for you, especially if the offending practice continues? If so, what might that line be? On what side of that line does Al-Jazeera America’s chronic anti-Israel miscoverage fall?”

Cable/satellite executives – [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]

What might the response of Al-Jazeera America executives, anchors and correspondents be to this, “Are you aware of, and if aware, concerned about Al-Jazeera America’s pattern of anti-Israel propagandistic reports? The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics declares that journalism should be ‘accurate and fair’ as well as ‘provide context.’ Do you believe Al-Jazeera America meets these standards with its reporting on the Arab-Israeli conflict? As journalists, you strive to report the truth but Al Jazeera America’s owner/operator Qatar has a different agenda. For example, Al-Jazeera America is a de facto mouthpiece for the Qatari-sponsored terrorist group Hamas.”

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