LA Times Distorts Temple Mount History

Henry Chu’s Sept. 27 article about the Temple Mount is yet another example of the Los Angeles Times’ sloppy reporting and non-responsiveness to readers’ feedback concerning factual errors (“Faith and Rage Intersect at Jerusalem Holy Site”). It contains several factual problems. On the other hand, there are also some positive aspects in the coverage.

Errors and Oversights

Chu reports that the Temple Mount is Islam’s “third-holiest site, behind only Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.” In contrast, nowhere in the article does he mention that the site is Judaism’s holiest. (On Sept. 13, Henry Chu misidentified the Western Wall as the holiest site in Judaism (“Ousting Arafat Fraught with Risk for Israel”). At the time, CAMERA sent Readers Representative Jamie Gold information regarding the Temple Mount’s paramount sacred status in Judaism.) Chu does note that the site contains “the Holy of Holies, the temple’s inner sanctum, where the divine presence is said to have dwelt.” But he does not spell out that the spot is Judaism’s holiest site, a major oversight in an in-depth article on this highly controversial and politicized subject.

Chu reports: “. . . Israeli authorities routinely ban Palestinian men younger than 40 or from the West Bank from attending Friday prayers on the site.” However, it is not until 12 paragraphs later that Chu provides the context that Palestinians on the Mount sometimes lob rocks at Jewish worshipers below at the Western Wall.

The reporter rehashes the typically distorted take on how the Intifada started, blaming Ariel Sharon: “Three years ago Sunday, then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon paid a visit to the mount to assert Israeli claims to all of Jerusalem. The visit sparked riots that eventually coalesced into the ongoing Palestinian uprising. . . ” This position has been publicly repudiated by Palestinian leaders. PA Communications Minister Imad Faluji, for example, addressing a rally at the Ein Hilwe refugee camp in South Lebanon, stated that the new intifada had been in the planning for months:

Whoever thinks that the intifada broke out because of the despised Sharon’s visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, is wrong, even if this visit was the straw that broke the back of the Palestinian people. 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 US (MEMRI, Special Dispatch No. 194 – PA, March 9, 2001; emphasis added).

A similar assertion was made by senior Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti, who told an interviewer that: “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).

While Chu is quick to point out that Sharon, a prominent Israeli figure, sought to “assert Israeli claims to all of Jerusalem,” he covers up the fact that Palestinian leaders deny the historical presence of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. He whitewashes the role of the Palestinian Authority in promoting this falsehood with his use of the unclear “some Palestinians.”: “Many Israelis have been offended by claims by some Palestinians that the Jewish temples never stood on the site.” According to Dennis Ross, who was on President Clinton’s negotiation team during the summer 2000 Camp David talks, Arafat “did offer one new idea, which was that the Temple didn’t exist in Jerusalem, that it was in Nablus” (Jerusalem Post, May 15, 2002).

The Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Sabri, has said: “The Al-Buraq Wall [Western Wall] and its plaza are a Muslim religious property, and the Israeli government’s decisions do not affect it. . . . The Al-Buraq Wall is part of the Al Aqsa Mosque. The Jews have no relation to it” (Al Ayam, Nov. 22, 1997).

Walid Awad, director of Foreign Publications for the PLO’s Palestine Ministry of Information, said in an IMRA interview Dec. 25, 1996: “There is no tangible evidence of Jewish existence from the so-called ‘Temple Mount Era’. . . . The location of the Temple Mount is in question. . . . It might be in Jericho or somewhere else.”

Finally, Chu states as fact: “. . . the 36-acre plaza is also sacred to Muslims, who are the custodians of the site and call it the Noble Sanctuary, the place where Muhammad ascended to heaven for a glimpse of the divine” (emphasis added). Though many (but not all) religious Muslims believe that Muhammad ascended to heaven from this site, there is no historical data to support this belief. Therefore, an accurate description of the site would be “the place where some Muslims believe Muhammad ascended to heaven in a ‘Night Journey’ for a glimpse of the divine.” Muhammed, who died in 632 CE, never visited Jerusalem, which was conquered by the Muslim invasion six years later.

Chu omits mention of recent debate about the status of Jerusalem in the Islamic faith. A columnist for the Egyptian weekly Al-Qahira, which is published by the Egyptian Ministry of Culture, recently argued that Muhammed’s famous night journey mentioned in the Koran involved travel from Mecca to Medina, not Jerusalem. The verse in question is: “Praise be to Him who took His servant by nights from the Al-Haram Mosque [in Mecca] to the Al-Aqsa [literally, the ‘most distant’] Mosque.” The columnist, Ahmad Muhammad ‘Arafa, wrote Aug. 5, 2003:

But in Palestine during that time, there was no mosque at all that could have been the mosque ‘most distant’ from the Al-Haram Mosque. During that time, there were no people in [Palestine] who believed in Muhammad and would gather to pray in a specific place that served as a mosque. . . . The construction of the mosque situated today in Jerusalem and known as the Al-Aqsa Mosque began only in the year 66 of the Hijra of the Prophet–that is, during the era of the Omayyad state, not during the time of the Prophet nor that of any of the Righteous Caliphs. So much for the mosque. (Translated by MEMRI. To view the entire column, see

Chu does mention that “The site is revered by Jews as the spot where their first and second temples stood,” but he does not note that Jews believe that the Temple Mount is the spot where Jews believe Abraham bound Isaac and prepared to sacrifice him.

Well Done

Despite his shortingcomings in reporting history/religion and policy, Chu appears to be giving a fair account of what hewitnessed that day. For example, he suggests that Muslims seem alarmed by peaceful Jewish visitors to the site: “So did several Muslim men [converge on the site], who come running to protect the mosque from wha t they regarded as disrespectful encroachment by religious Jews, although most of the visitors were standing around quietly.” He provides multiple points of view, citing Muslim attitudes, but also quoting Jewish visitors to the site. For example, of Jewish visitor Ruthie Lieberman, he writes: “She said she respected Muslims’ reverence for the plaza but was disturbed that ‘this is not mutual.’ ” 

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