Excavating The Washington Post’s Narrative on the Israel-Islamist Conflict

A Jan. 27, 2019 Washington Post report, “Dig for ancient road unsettles Palestinians,” offered a glimpse at the problems plaguing the newspaper’s coverage of Israel. The article, by Jerusalem bureau chief Loveday Morris and reporter Ruth Eglash, relied on questionable sources and revealed the paper’s preference for narrative-based reporting.

The Post’s 1,181-word dispatch, replete with several photographs, described Israeli archaeological work in ominous terms. The newspaper highlighted excavations near the present day Arab neighborhood of Wadi Hilweh in eastern Jerusalem. Israeli archaeologists believe that the digs will uncover “an important thoroughfare used by worshipers some 2,000 years ago to reach the Jewish holy temple.”

The newspaper noted, “Developers envisage an archaeological attraction that would lure millions of visitors keen to walk the same stones as ancient pilgrims, or perhaps even Jesus.” Private donors and the Israeli government have contributed to the project, which is organized by the City of David Foundation.

The Post, however, warned: “But in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, in which land and each side’s historical connection to it is front and center, the endeavor is inevitably mired in controversy. Palestinian officials say it is an attempt to literally pull their hopes for a future capital in East Jerusalem from under their feet.”

Palestinian officials—none of whom are specifically cited in the report—might very well make such claims. But The Post failed to inform readers that they’re transparently disingenuous.

In fact, Palestinian leaders have rejected numerous U.S. and Israeli offers for a Palestinian state—several of which included a capital in eastern Jerusalem. A 2008 Israeli offer, for example, included 94% of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and proposed eastern Jerusalem for a capital. Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas failed to respond to the offer. The 2008 offer formed the basis for U.S. proposals for Palestinian statehood in 2014 and 2016—but PA officials rebuffed them those, as well.

The Post itself noted that the archaeological dig near Wadi Hilweh had been ongoing “for five years.” In other words: “Palestinians officials” rejected the opportunity to have a state with a capital in eastern Jerusalem while the dig was occurring—further illustrating how empty their unattributed claims are.

The newspaper’s decision to omit this pertinent information is unsurprising; in two years and dozens of relevant reports, The Post’s Jerusalem bureau hasn’t once mentioned the PA’s several rejections of statehood for peace. Not once.

Indeed, many Palestinian officials—including Abbas himself—have claimed that all of Jerusalem is theirs. In a Jan. 17, 2018 speech on official PA TV, Abbas exhorted, “Jerusalem has always been a Palestinian, Arab, Islamic, and Christian city. And it is the eternal capital of the State of Palestine, and without it there cannot be peace in the region nor in the entire world – as long as Jerusalem is not liberated in all of its borders that we want from the Israeli occupation (for the full speech see Palestinian Media Watch, “PA and Fatah Personalities: Mahmoud Abbas”).”

Further, The Post’s claim that the “conflict” between Israel and Palestinians is about “land,” lacks specificity. A more detailed and thorough explanation can be found in the comments of Palestinian officials themselves.

As CAMERA has highlighted, PA leaders routinely deny the Jewish people’s connection to their ancestral homeland. In a Jan. 24, 2018 speech before the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) Central Council, Abbas traced Jewish history in the Middle East to 1653 and the English ruler Oliver Cromwell, who came up with the idea of “transferring the Jews from Europe to the Middle East … because they wanted this region to become an advanced outpost (“Washington Post Provides Cover for Palestinian Antisemitism,” Algemeiner, Jan. 18, 2018).” At the time, The Washington Post failed to fully detail Abbas’s remarks, which the newspaper merely described as “brimming with colorful insults.”

Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), a non-profit organization that monitors Arab media in eastern Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, has detailed numerous other instances of Palestinian Arabs denying that there was a Jewish presence in the area which predated—by thousands of years—the Arab/Islamic conquest of the 7th century. And numerous historians, including, most recently, Benny Morris in his 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War, have documented the role that Islamic supremacism played in the conflict since its inception.

In sum: the conflict is less about “land” than it is about Palestinian denial of Jewish history and rights. And this too might explain why some anonymous Palestinian officials are objecting to a historical dig that will likely unearth more evidence of the latter.

Yet, somehow—in an article that ran more than one thousand words—The Post failed to address the obvious. Rather, the newspaper seems more comfortable embracing, if implicitly, the narrative that the conflict is merely territorial; that the lack of a Palestinian state is its casus belli.

Elsewhere in the report, The Post uncritically quotes two NGOs, Emek Shaveh and the Wadi Hilweh Information Center, both of which oppose the archaeological digs. However, Emek Shaveh “promotes distorted facts and unsubstantiated positions that promote the Palestinian narrative of victimization and sole Israeli aggression,” according to NGO Monitor, an organization that monitors non-governmental groups.

NGO Monitor also noted that Emek Shaveh is almost entirely reliant on foreign funding—much of it from governments and organizations that are hypercritical of Israel. NGO Monitor’s profile on the organization highlighted that Emek Shaveh “utilizes highly biased and politicized rhetoric” and routinely accuses Israel of seeking “to demolish Palestinian village on ‘archaeological’ grounds.” Outrageously, in a 2014 interview with +972 Magazine, Emek Shaveh officials even compared Israeli archaeological digs to the terror tunnels used by Hamas to kidnap and murder Israelis. This record of bias and politicization, however, goes unmentioned by The Post. By contrast, the newspaper sneeringly describes—without explanation—the City of David Foundation as “nationalist.”

Archaeological digs are about uncovering history and truth—not narrative. It is no wonder that those who deny the Jewish people’s connection to the land would find them objectionable and inconvenient. The Washington Post, however, should take a cue from the archaeologists and dig deeper.