Christian Science Monitor Contributors Stack the Ethnic Deck

To learn what “bias” means, you could flip through the pages of the Oxford English Dictionary and discover that it is “an inclination, leaning, tendency, bent; a preponderating disposition or propensity; predisposition towards; predilection; prejudice.”

Or, if you are the type who learns better from examples, you could turn to page 15 of the Aug. 9, 2010 Christian Science Monitor.

There you’d find, in the article “Why land disputes in Jerusalem turn epic” by contributors Omar Kasrawi and Sommer Saadi, a striking illustration of “inclination,” “leaning,” or “bent” about the source of ethnic/religious disputes in Israel.

The authors describe as “common” the tendency among both Jews and Palestinians “to deny the spirituality or the sanctity of the history of the other,” as George Mason University’s Marc Gopin put it in the article. But inexplicably and unfairly, their follow up paragraphs providing several purported examples of such a tendency finger the Jewish side alone as a perpetrator. This strikingly biased handling of the topic violates the Monitor‘s promise to readers to be “unrelenting but fair.”

The relevant section reads:

In Israel especially, place is connected to identity, making it a priority to protect the places that offer a sense of belonging. Any effort to remove evidence of historical ties is seen as an attack on identity. Just last week, Israeli authorities destroyed at least 15 tombstones in the Mamilla cemetery which it said were illegally built.

“There is a tendency in both communities to deny the spirituality or the sanctity or the history of the other on a certain spot,” says Marc Gopin, a rabbi and the director of George Mason University’s Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution.

Such tactics are common. This past March, a right-wing Israeli group sponsored ads on 200 buses that displayed fictitious posters of the Temple Mount, in which a Third Temple replaced the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

In 2000 Israeli leader Ariel Sharon set off the second intifada by visiting the Temple Mount and asserting permanent Israeli sovereignty over the compound. The violence lasted four years and claimed the lives of more than 5,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis.

But even lesser-known holy sites become part of the conflict if a community feels its presence being threatened.

Recently, the Israeli government named as heritage sites Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, which both Judaism and Islam claim as Abraham’s birthplace. By claiming sites in the Palestinian-controlled West Bank, Israel further blurred the lines of the ownership of land – and history.

It should first be noted that the claim “Ariel Sharon set off the second intifada” is both partisan and inaccurate, contradicted not only by Israeli intelligence sources but also by senior Palestinian officials. (Former Palestinian Communications Minister Imad Faluji, for example, was quoted in a Lebanese newspaper stating: “Whoever thinks that the Intifada broke out because of the despised Sharon’s visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, is wrong …. This Intifada was planned in advance, ever since President Arafat’s return from the Camp David negotiations …”) And although Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount was certainly a political statement, one intended to reaffirm longstanding Jewish rights to the holy site, it was not meant to “deny” Muslim spiritual or historical ties to the site.

Likewise, the authors’ dubious claim that Israel’s designation of shrines in Bethlehem and Hebron as heritage sites amounts to “blurring the lines of … history” is perhaps appropriate for an opinion column, but not an objective article in the news pages.

More outrageously, the article’s remarkably one-sided account of supposed Israeli “denial of the spirituality or the sanctity of the history of the other” omits any Palestinian responsibility for denial of Jewish heritage on the land, despite the extensive evidence of this troubling phenomenon. 

A glaring example is the explicit denial by Yasir Arafat and other Palestinian leaders of Jewish history in Jerusalem. As senior US diplomat Dennis Ross explained about Arafat, “all he did at Camp David was to repeat old mythologies and invent new ones, like, for example, that the Temple was not in Jerusalem but in Nablus. Denying the core of the other side’s faith is not the act of someone preparing himself to end a conflict.”

Current Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has similarly denied the existence of a Jewish temple in Jerusalem. A former Palestinian Authority-appointed mufti denied any Jewish connection to the Western Wall. And Palestinian religious official Tayseer Tamimi insisted that there are no Jewish holy sites in Jerusalem. (See details of the above here.)

Another relevant and serious example the authors could have cited is the haphazard destruction of priceless artifacts by the Palestinian Islamic Waqf during excavations on the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site. This destruction was denounced as an “archeological crime” by prominent Israeli intellectuals, officials and archeologists affiliated with The Committee for the Prevention of the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount.

And the list goes on — there is the destruction by Palestinians of “Joseph’s Tomb,” the incendiary, false claims by Palestinian religious leaders that Israel plans to destroy al Aqsa mosque, and so on.

It should finally be noted that Israel has also angered not only Muslims, but also ultra-orthodox Jews when building on or excavating land containing human bones. (See, e.g., here.) This relevant context, also ignored in the article, would have been necessary for readers to reach an informed conclusion about the allegation relayed in the article that the digging is motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment.

In light of the article’s unfairly one-sided list of examples, as well as its omission of key context, the newspaper should follow up with an article that focuses on the aggressive Palestinian campaign aimed at denying Jewish history and heritage in Israel and the West Bank.

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