CAMERA Op-Ed: The Washington Post Rewrites History on the Temple Mount and Terrorism

“Those who don’t learn history,” the philosopher George Santayana famously intoned, “are doomed to repeat it.” This includes The Washington Post, which seems determined to repeat its historical revisionism about Israel.

A Jan. 3, 2023 dispatch, “Right-wing Israeli minister challenges own government with visit to Temple Mount,” contained misleading omissions and falsehoods. Reporter Shira Rubin detailed Israeli politician Itamar Ben-Gvir’s recent visit to the Temple Mount, noting that it prompted “objections” by the prime minister’s office and “senior security officials,” as well as criticism from both the United States and Arab nations.

The Post described the Temple Mount merely as a “sensitive holy site in Jerusalem.” But this fails to properly denote the centrality of the site to the Jewish faith. In fact, the Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism. Despite this fact, Jewish access to the site is severely restricted — particularly when compared to the access granted to Muslims. The Temple Mount also houses what some consider to be the third-holiest mosque in Islam, the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

As Ricki Hollander, a senior research analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA) has detailed, the Temple Mount has been revered by Jews “for millennia,” and “is the focus of their prayers and the site of Jewish pilgrimage, just as Mecca is Islam’s holiest site and the site of Muslim pilgrimage.”

The Temple Mount’s centrality to Judaism has made it a focal point for those who seek to deny Jewish political and social equality in the Jewish people’s ancestral homeland. Indeed, for this very reason, it has become a battleground — a place to contest not only Jewish rights but the very history of Judaism itself.

As the historian Daniel Pipes has persuasively argued, the Al-Aqsa Mosque had languished in the latter part of Jerusalem’s rule by the Ottoman Empire (1517-1917). Only in recent decades has the mosque come to be described as the “third-holiest” site in Islam.

Fatah, the movement that controls the Palestinian Authority (PA), calls its terrorist wing “al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade” and terrorists the world over, from Hamas in the Gaza Strip to the ruling theocrats in Tehran, have used the mosque as a staple of their propaganda.

Indeed, as CAMERA has documented, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the umbrella organization that includes Fatah and other movements, has even issued “guidelines” to reporters that encourage minimizing the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount. Ditto for Hamas, Fatah’s rival.

Palestinian Arab rulers have also used the religious site to incite anti-Jewish violence, by claiming that Jews seek to “destroy” or “desecrate” Al-Aqsa and upend the status quo. As the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) noted in an exhaustive report on the subject, “’Al-Aqsa is in danger’ is a classic libel that was embroidered in the first half of the twentieth century against the Jewish people, the Zionist movement, and eventually the state of Israel.”

Unfortunately, the Washington Post’s description of the Temple Mount doesn’t convey this important history. Indeed, the Post simply describes the Temple Mount as “revered in Judaism,” while noting that it is “also revered” by Muslims.

Worse still, the newspaper incorrectly asserts that “a visit to the site by Ariel Sharon, then opposition leader, in 2000 with an army of security guards set off the years of fighting of the second intifada.”

The Second Intifada was a five-year-long terror war, in which thousands of Israelis were murdered and maimed in a coordinated assault by Palestinian terrorists.

This narrative about the start of the Second Intifada is common. It also has the implicit “benefit” of blaming Jews for the violence that is meted out against them — a staple of antisemitism. It also infantilizes Palestinians, portraying them as merely reacting to Israeli actions. And as CAMERA has documented, this lie has been roundly debunked.

In fact, Yasser Arafat planned the Second Intifada long before Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount. Arafat was the longtime head of both the Fatah movement and the PLO until his death in 2005. His widow, Suha Arafat, admitted in a 2012 interview that her husband planned to launch the Second Intifada months before Sharon’s September 2000 visit.

In July 2000, the PLO head told his wife, “You should remain in Paris… because I’m going to start an Intifada.” At the time, Arafat was engaged in peace talks with Israeli and US officials at Camp David. Arafat would reject the Israeli offer for a Palestinian state in exchange for peace with and recognition of Israel. Instead of peace he chose war — a decision that Suha hailed in her 2012 interview with Dubai TV.

Others have also confirmed Suha Arafat’s comments.

In a January 2020 interview with Palestine TV, Fatah operative Abd Elah al-Atira said, “When he [Arafat] went to Camp David and saw that Jerusalem, or part of it, wasn’t part of the deal, he came back and hinted to us to start the Second Intifada.” And, as the Times of Israel has reported, “A senior Hamas member said in 2014 that Arafat gave the terror group arms following the breakdown of the Camp David talks in July 2000.”

Mamdouh Nawfal, a senior adviser to Arafat, told Al-Hayat newspaper in 2005 that “one could say with complete objectivity that Arafat exploited Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount and the people’s hatred of the occupation to bring about the outburst.” In a Feb. 3, 2009, interview with Al Jazeera, Nawfal acknowledged that Arafat planned the terror wave prior to Sharon’s visit. Importantly, English language translations of these interviews have been available for years. Entire articles have been written about them — just not by the Post.

Indeed, as CAMERA has noted, documents seized by Israeli officials during counter-terror raids prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Arafat was extensively involved in planning and financing the Second Intifada.

Documents seized during an Aug. 20, 2001, raid showed that Arafat even personally signed checks for terrorists, many of whom sent in itemized receipts, listing the cost of each component and how many bombs per week the organization planned to use. The evidence also proved that the PA’s security services “helped recruit, arm, and dispatch terrorists for attacks inside Israel.”

The documents, including a letter to the late PLO apparatchik Faisal Husseini, showed that the intifada itself was pre-planned — contravening the commonly repeated narrative of a “spontaneous uprising.” The evidence seized formed the basis for a successful lawsuit brought by victims of the terrorist attacks. In July 2019, the PA was held liable by the Jerusalem District Court for civil damages for a series of attacks carried out mostly during the Second Intifada.

The Post, however, ignored this abundance of evidence, preferring to minimize both the culpability of Palestinian leaders and the Jewish people’s historical and religious ties to the land. As CAMERA has documented, this is part of a longstanding pattern in the Post’s coverage of Israel.

Indeed, the Post also claimed that “in May 2021, Ben Gvir’s support of settlers in an East Jerusalem neighborhood near the entrance to the Temple Mount was among the catalysts of an 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas.” Yet, that war was premeditated by Iran, which armed its Palestinian proxies and gave them the greenlight. Iranian officials have acknowledged as much in interviews that have been translated into English and are publicly available. An entire book, entitled “Gaza Conflict 2021,” has been written showing Iran’s role.

Of course, there is little need to engage in research or reading when one can just rely on narrative instead. Those who ignore history aren’t just doomed to repeat it; they’re often, it seems, inclined to be journalists at The Washington Post.

(Note: A slightly different version of this article appeared as an op-ed in the Algemeiner on Jan. 6, 2023)

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