NPR’s Second Intifada

In the final segment of its seven part series on Middle East history, National Public Radio covered the so-called second Palestinian Intifada, which began in September of 2000 after the failure in August of the Camp David talks between President Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat. As in the previous segments, NPR once again offered up a highly skewed lineup of experts, with critics of Israel heavily represented and pro-Israel voices virtually absent. Featured prominently were the noted Palestinian propagandist-academics Edward Said, Rashid Khalidi and Yezid Sayegh, the pro-Palestinian academic William Quandt, and the Israeli revisionist historians Avi Shlaim and Benny Morris. The only mainstream Israeli voice was once again historian Anita Shapira, who was afforded a mere 51 words. (Strangely enough, this was also the number of words spoken by Shapira in the previous segment of the series.)

The “facts” presented by most of these guests and by host Mike Shuster were also highly skewed in favor of the Palestinian side. Shuster, for example, began the segment by claiming the eruption of Palestinian violence in September was a spontaneous reaction to Ariel Sharon’s supposedly provocative visit to the Temple Mount:

SHUSTER: On September 28, 2000, Ariel Sharon visited the most disputed piece of real estate in the world: the Temple Mount as the Jews call it, the Haram As-Sharif in Arab eyes. Inside the Old City of Jerusalem, it is the location of the Western Wall, what is left of the ancient Jewish temples, built by Solomon and Herod. It is also where the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosques stand. … The Likud is here with a message of peace, Sharon said that day, surrounded by Israeli police. The Palestinians didn’t see it that way; they viewed the visit as a calculated provocation. Moments after Sharon left, several hundred Palestinian men started throwing stones at Israeli police. The violence hasn’t ended yet.

In fact, while Shuster uses the phrase “calculated provocation,” it is once more his inaccurate reporting that seems calculated to mislead listeners. For Shuster keeps from his audience numerous statements by Palestinian leaders admitting that the violence was pre- planned rather than spontaneous, and that Sharon’s visit was more a pretext than a provocation. 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)

Shuster ignored Faluji’s damning admission, and also ignored a similar assertion 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, January 29, 2001)

Barghouti reinforced this point half a year later:

The intifada did not start because of Sharon’s visit to Al-Aqsa, although that was the last straw. The intifada began because of the desire to put an end to the occupation and because the Palestinians did not approve of the peace process in its previous form. (Jerusalem Times, June 8, 2001)

Shuster ignored that too, just as he ignored statements by Palestinian leaders explaining they had chosen a strategy of violence, even before the Camp David summit failed. Speaking on July 23, 2000, for example, Palestinian Authority official Abu Ali Mustafa said:

The issues of Jerusalem, the refugees, and sovereignty will be decided on the ground and not in negotiations. At this point it is important to prepare Palestinian society for the next step because we will undoubtedly find ourselves in confrontation with Israel in order to create new facts on the ground. … I believe that the situation in the future will be more violent than the [first] intifada. (quoted in First Statement to the Sharm el-Sheikh Fact-Finding Committee, December 28, 2000, Government of Israel; emphasis added)

And more recently, Brigadier Mazen Izz Al Din, Chief of Political Indoctrination of the Palestine National Security Forces, told a rally in Gaza:

We have to be truthful and honest and spell it out. One day history will expose the fact that the whole intifada and its instructions came from Brother Commander Yasir Arafat. (As quoted in IMRA, May 28, 2002)

If these Palestinian statements admitting their choice to go to war against Israel were not enough, there is also corroboration from the former senior US peace envoy, Dennis Ross. Interviewed on Fox News, Ambassador Ross revealed that Arafat betrayed the U.S over the Sharon visit, first promising he would prevent any violence, then doing nothing:

… we asked him to intervene to ensure there wouldn’t be violence after the Sharon visit, the day after. He said he would. He didn’t lift a finger. (FoxNews, April 21, 2002)

But Shuster ignored Ross’s revelation, just as he ignored direct eyewitness evidence proving that Palestinian leaders were orchestrating the continuing violence. As a Boston Globe reporter observed, Palestinian leader Faisal Husseini directly controlled the Palestinian attacks in and around the Temple Mount – the violence started and stopped at his signal:

A senior Palestinian official acknowledged that yesterday’s protest was orchestrated. The rock-throwing youths, whose flag-raising directly challenged Israel’s assertion of sovereignty over the [Temple Mount], quit the protest quickly after a request to do so by the same Palestinian official who encouraged them to demonstrate…

Israeli officials … insist the violence is being fueled by the Palestinian leadership to exact concessions in the final negotiations aimed at ending the conflict. There was evidence of this yesterday.

All day, rock throwers – referred to in Arabic as “shebab,” or “the boys” – were provided with wheelbarrows full of rocks that came from inside the Al Aqsa compound. And the rock throwers stopped in unison at almost precisely 5 p.m. In a matter of minutes, they disappeared into locations around the Old City.

Hus seini was seen walking away just then. Confronted with questions about what appeared to be highly orchestrated rock throwing, Husseini replied, “We asked the shebab to pull back.”

Husseini was admitting that he turned off the rioting in a matter of minutes. (Boston Globe, October 7, 2000; emphasis added)

Any one of these statements, in isolation, would be enough to discredit Shuster’s assertion that Sharon and Israel were to blame for the violence. That he ignored all of this evidence suggests that Shuster was guided by an agenda rather than the facts.

Shuster misled his audience in other ways as well. For example, by asserting that the Western Wall is the foremost Jewish holy site in the area – as he puts it, “what is left of the ancient Jewish temples, built by Solomon and Herod” – Shuster undoubtedly led some listeners, if not most, to believe that the areas on the Temple Mount around the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque are purely Islamic, making Sharon’s presence there seem indeed intrusive and provocative.

But contrary to Shuster, the Jewish Temples were on the Temple Mount itself (that is why it is called the Temple Mount), where the Dome and the Mosque stand today. And the Western Wall is not “what is left of the ancient Jewish Temples,” for the very simple reason that it was never part of the Temples. It is merely a retaining wall built (with three other retaining walls) in King Herod’s day to extend and flatten the Temple Mount itself, as part of the construction of the Second Temple.

According to tradition “the divine spirit never left” the western wall of the Temple, and consequently the western retaining wall below it eventually became an object of veneration and a site of prayer. The retaining wall is not, nor has it ever been, the holiest site in Judaism, a designation reserved for the Temple Mount itself, where there are indeed remains and remnants of the Biblical Temples. (eg, Biblical Archaeology Review, September- October 1991)

It might also have been noted by NPR that in an act of exceptional Israeli accommodation, upon regaining sovereignty over the Temple Mount in 1967 during the Six Day War, Israel allowed the Muslim trustees (or Waqf) to continue to control the area – thus allowing Muslim rule to continue over the single holiest site in Judaism. This goodwill gesture, like so many others by Israel, has always been ignored by NPR.

What is rarely ignored by NPR, however, is an anti-Israel charge from Edward Said. In this segment, for example, Shuster allowed Edward Said to claim that Israel failed to turn over land to the Palestinians:

EDWARD SAID: By the time the latest intifada broke out, the Palestinians had gained only 18 percent of the West Bank — 18 percent. The balance was held by Israel in a series of, through settlements and through military areas …

In fact, contrary to Said, at the outbreak of the intifadah the Palestinian Authority controlled 42 percent of the West Bank, as was recently affirmed by Arafat’s senior deputy Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), in a speech in Gaza:

[The goal of] the Oslo [Accords] was to complete the peace process … [The completion] of the goal began with ‘Gaza and Jericho First’; it extended to the West Bank cities, and then reached 42 percent of the territory of the West Bank … under Palestinian control. (Al-Hayat [London], November 26, 2002, as translated by MEMRI, December 15, 2002)

Rather than challenge Said’s blatantly false statements, Shuster and his other guests instead amplified them. William Quandt, for example, claimed that the election of the Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu marked the death of the peace process:

When Likud came to power in 1996 Oslo was essentially over. We didn’t declare its demise at that point because people remained hopeful. But the whole dynamic of Oslo turned around. You had a prime minister in Israel who didn’t believe in it.

Rather than asking whether there was a Palestinian leader who believed in Oslo, Shuster instead echoed Quandt’s misleading assertion, adding a few of his own:

SHUSTER: Netanyahu paid lip service to the Oslo process, but he suspended the phased Israeli withdrawal from the occupied West Bank. And he sped up the construction of Israeli settlements there.

In fact, far from suspending the phased withdrawals, Netanyahu pushed them forward. Thus, in 1997 it was Netanyahu who implemented the Hebron withdrawal (New York Times, January 15, 1997), which Prime Minister Peres had failed to do. And it was Netanyahu who carried out Phase 1 of the further withdrawal he negotiated during the Wye Accords (New York Times, November 20, 1998), boosting full Palestinian control over territory in the West Bank (known as Area A in the Oslo process) from 3 percent to 10.1 percent. That is, Netanyahu tripled the amount of West Bank land under full Palestinian control. After the Netanyahu withdrawals the Palestinian side also had civil control (Area B) over a further 18.6 percent of the West Bank. Only in the face of massive Palestinian violations of the agreements did Netanyahu finally suspend further re-deployments.

Rather than acknowledge these undeniable facts, Shuster instead once again misled listeners by claiming that after Wye, Netanyahu “dug in his heels, blaming the Palestinians for failing to fulfill the bargain.” Shuster here not only falsely blamed Netanyahu for the demise of the agreements, he also turned material Palestinian violations of the Wye and Oslo agreements into mere Netanyahu charges.

Unfortunately Shuster and his guests were just as misleading about the peacemaking efforts of Netanyahu’s successor, Ehud Barak. Shuster, for example, presented as fact the Palestinian version of the Camp David negotiations, the attempt under President Clinton to settle final status issues, which took place in the summer of 2000:

SHUSTER: For the first time, the negotiations addressed the big issues – Jerusalem settlers, security. Barak made an offer that many consider Israel’s best ever, but when he unfolded a map that showed a Palestinian state made up of several unconnected cantons, surrounded by Israeli troops, Arafat walked away.

The account by Israeli negotiators is very different, and was omitted by NPR. Had Shuster, for example, interviewed Israel’s then-Foreign Minister, Shlomo Ben-Ami, listeners might have learned that Israel’s initial offer at Camp David was all of the Gaza Strip and 88 percent of the West Bank, with Israel retaining only three settlement blocs which were contiguous with Israel – near Etzion, Ariel and Jerusalem, and a very narrow strip along the Jordan River. Israel also proposed a 20 year security position in the Jordan Valley, near the Jordan River. (Ha’aretz, September 14, 2001)

But rather than present this Israeli version, Shuster instead turned once again to Edward Said, who claimed that Israel’s Camp David proposal was meant:

… as a final offer, leaving out questions of what happened in 1948, Israel’s responsibility, the return of the refugees or compensation for them. Or even acknowledging that they exist. And Arafat should have returned, not just by refusing but by saying, look here’s what we will accept. He had neither the courage, nor the foresight, nor the intelligence to do that.

Concerning the refugee issue, Mr. Said portrays Israel as having expelled the Palestinians in 1948 and as therefore responsible for the Palestinian refugee problem. While Mr. Said is certainly free to hold such views, NPR once again failed to provide any balance by including mainstream Israeli voices on this topic, such as Professor Anita Shapira, who was briefly interviewed in the segment, or Professor Efraim Karsh, or Shabtai Teveth. Karsh, for example, might have pointed out that, in fact, the great majority of Palestinians were not expelled, and that most, like Professor Said and his family, chose to leave. (See for example, Karsh’s “Were the Palestinians Expelled” in Commentary, July-August 2000; Justus Reid Weiner, ” ‘My Beautiful Old House’ and other Fabrications by Edward Said,” Commentary, September 1999 )

Serious as all these errors and misrepresentations are, perhaps the most deeply deceptive element of the entire segment was Said’s unchallenged and false claim that the Israeli proposal at Camp David was a “final offer.”

One can assert this only by ignoring all that happened after Camp David, culminating in the Taba talks, at which Barak offered the Palestinians all of Gaza and most of the West Bank, no Israeli control over the border with Jordan or the adjacent Jordan Valley, a small Israeli annexation around three settlement blocs balanced by an equivalent area of Israeli territory that would have been ceded to the Palestinians. As chief US negotiator Ambassador Dennis Ross put it:

… the Palestinians would have in the West Bank an area that was contiguous. Those who say there were cantons, completely untrue. It was contiguous… And to connect Gaza with the West Bank, there would have been an elevated highway, an elevated railroad, to ensure that there would be not just safe passage for the Palestinians, but free passage. (Fox News, April 21, 2002)

The Palestinian rejection of all these proposals, and their barely hidden decision to launch a war of terror against Israel, were simply airbrushed out by Shuster. In the place of facts and genuine context, NPR instead portrayed an – at best – morally equivalent cycle of Palestinian “guerrilla attacks” and “suicide bombings,” and Israeli “escalation,” employing “tanks, helicopter gunships, and jet fighters, leaving many Palestinian civilians and gunmen dead.” Apparently in the NPR lexicon only Israel engages in “escalation,” and the network makes no mention here of the many Israeli civilians specifically targeted and killed by Palestinian attackers.

In the NPR portrayal, Sharon was elected and then just attacked the Palestinians:

SHUSTER: … Ariel Sharon, possibly the Israeli politician most hated by the Palestinians, was elected prime minister. In late March, Sharon launched a full-scale invasion of Palestinian territories. Much of that territory remains occupied.

NPR did not remind listeners, however, of what exactly happened in March that might have triggered the Israeli action. Here are just some of the attacks which Shuster managed to omit, and which might have provided a modicum of context for the eventual Israeli “invasion”:

• March 2: A Palestinian suicide bomber kills 11 people and wounds more than 50; the bomber detonated himself near a group of women waiting with their baby carriages outside a synagogue after a Bar Mitzvah celebration. Among those killed were Shlomo and Gafnit Nehmad and their daughters Shiraz, age 7, and Liran, age 3; Lidor Ilan, age 12, and his sister Oriah, 18 months; Tzofia Eliyahu and her son Yaakov Avraham, age 7 months. Yasir Arafat’s Al Asqa Martyr’s Brigades takes responsibility for the attack.

• March 3: A Palestinian gunman kills 10 Israelis; again, Arafat’s Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigades takes responsibility.

• March 9: Palestinians using assault rifles and grenades kill Avia Malka, 9 months, and Israel Yihye, and wound about 50 in Netanya; again, Arafat’s Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigades takes responsibility.

• March 9: A Palestinian suicide bomber kills 11 people and wounds 54 when he detonates himself in a crowded café in Jerusalem. Hamas takes responsibility.

• March 12: Gunmen kill 6 Israelis when they attack Israeli cars traveling near the border with Lebanon.

• March 20: A Palestinian suicide bomber kills 7 Israelis and wounds 30 in an attack on a bus. Islamic Jihad claims responsibility.

• March 21: A Palestinian suicide bomber kills Gadi and Tzipi Shemesh, and Yitzhak Cohen, and wounds 86 people, when he detonates himself in a crowded shopping area on Jerusalem’s King George Street. Arafat’s Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigades takes responsibility.

• March 27: A Palestinian suicide bomber kills 29 people and wounds 140 when he detonates himself in the middle of a crowded Passover celebration in the Park Hotel in Netanya. Hamas takes responsibility.

In less than one month – from the beginning of March to the Passover massacre, Palestinian attackers killed 105 Israelis, but all Shuster can manage to say is that, for some apparently mysterious reason, “Sharon launched a full-scale invasion of Palestinian territories.”

From the network’s doctored version of events, listeners would find it impossible to understand any of this history, and would also find it difficult to appreciate what Ambassador Ross so clearly stated in the Fox interview: that Mr. Arafat simply didn’t want to make peace:

.. fundamentally I do not believe he can end the conflict. We had one critical clause in this agreement, and that clause was, this is the end of the conflict. Arafat’s whole life has been governed by struggle and a cause… for him to end the conflict is to end himself.

.. Barak was able to reposition Israel internationally. Israel was seen as having demonstrated unmistakably it wanted peace, and the reason it wasn’t … achievable was because Arafat wouldn’t accept it.

Arafat needed to re-establish the Palestinians as victims, and unfortunately they are a victim, and we see it now in a terrible way.

And Ross is far from the only observer to reach such conclusions. Even Benny Morris, the revisionist historian who is one of the most prominently featured guests in the NPR series, finally agreed that Arafat chose war over peace, and conflict over settlement. Writing in the Guardian, Morris explained that:

In 2000, turning his back on the Oslo process, Arafat rejected yet another historic compromise, that offered by Barak at Camp David in July and subsequently improved upon in President Bill Clinton’s proposals (endorsed by Barak) in December. Instead, the Palestinians, in September, resorted to arms and launched the current mini-war or intifada …

It is the Palestinian leadership’s rejection of the Barak-Clinton peace proposals of July-December 2000, the launching of the intifada, and the demand ever since that Israel accept the “right of return” that has persuaded me that the Palestinians, at least in this generation, do not intend peace: they do not want, merely, an end to the occupation – that is what was offered back in July-December 2000, and they rejected the deal. They want all of Palestine and as few Jews in it as possible…

I don’t believe that Arafat and his colleagues mean or want peace – only a staggered chipping away at the Jewish state – and I don’t believe that a permanent two-state solution will emerge. (Guardian, February 21, 2002)

Morris, of course, was interviewed by NPR in this segment, but his voice is not heard on the crucial question of Camp David and its aftermath. This is despite the fact that Morris’s Guardian op-ed was certainly one of his most controversial and widely-discussed essays in many years. It seems that when Morris is critical of Israel, the welcome mat is out at NPR. But when Morris contradicts NPR’s version of history – which always places Israel in the dock – his opinions are suddenly shunned.

If NPR really wanted to present a factual, truthful history of Israeli/Palestinian attempts at peacemaking, wouldn’t the network have interviewed Dennis Ross, who, after all, led the negotiations during three presidential terms? Wouldn’t the network have asked Morris about his sorrowful conclusion that Arafat never wanted to make peace with Israel? Wouldn’t the network have at least mentioned the hatred against Israel that is so prevalent in Palestinian schools, textbooks, newspapers and official television and radio stations? (See for example,

Many informed observers, including Ross, believe that the PA’s determined inculcation of hatred for Jews and Israel, virtually since the beginning of Oslo, was what doomed the peace process. By ignoring this Palestinian hate-mongering, and by ignoring or twisting so many other facts which contradicted its preconceived notions, NPR unfortunately turned its history series into an object lesson in bias.

For more of CAMERA’s critique on the series, click here.

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