NPR Promotes Palestinian Narrative on Jerusalem

CAMERA has recently pointed out the noticeable tilt in NPR’s Middle East reporting this summer. The public radio network obsessively focuses on the Palestinian narrative and grievances against Israel while Israel’s positions are marginalized, their context concealed.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in NPR’s coverage of Jerusalem. The media outlet aired two broadcasts and published an additional article during the month of July that focused entirely on the concerns of Palestinians who built illegally in the King’s Garden area of Silwan. The article and broadcasts highlighted their concern about their houses possibly being demolished by Israeli authorities but suppressed the fact that these structures were built on centuries-old conservation land not zoned for and therefore lacking the infrastructure for residential properties. Instead, the broadcasts and articles presented the false Palestinian claim that those who built illegally were forced to do so because Israel allegedly denies Palestinian construction permits as a form of ethnic cleansing from Jerusalem.

These misrepresentations about Israeli policy in Jerusalem were followed in August by an item that bolstered the Hamas pretext for rocketing population centers inside Israel – namely, the “defense” of Jerusalem and Al Aqsa.

The battle cries “Defend Al Aqsa!” “Defend Muslim holy sites!” and “Defend Jerusalem from the Jews!” have been used for almost a century as calls for violent jihad. They originated in the 1920’s with Amin al Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem from 1921-48, who established a successful strategy to consolidate Muslim support around him by pronouncing any attempt by Jews to exercise their religious or historical rights in Jerusalem a threat to Islam. The false charge that Jews were trying to take over the al Aqsa mosque was the pretext to foment the 1929 Hebron massacre which resulted in the deaths of dozens of Hebron’s Jewish residents and the end of its historic Jewish community there. Husseini and his followers portrayed themselves as defenders of the Muslim faith, using the defense of Muslim holy sites as a pretext to kill Jews in the name of Islam and garner a wider following in the larger Muslim world. Hamas has followed suit, invoking the “defense” of Jerusalem and Al Aqsa as the reason it was waging war against Israel, targeting population centers deep inside the country with rockets and missiles.

The August 9th broadcast (“In Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, Palestinians Find Respite, Sanctuary And Rallying Cry“) by Fatma Tanis, introduced by Ari Shapiro, did not address the use of the “al Aqsa mosque” as a pretext for deadly anti-Jewish violence. Instead, it implicitly validated the pretext by focusing on the importance of the Al Aqsa compound to Muslims as “a park, holy site and yes, a symbol of resistance” and, later in the broadcast, presenting the pretext itself while concealing the context:

Muslims worldwide were offended this spring by images of Israeli police charging into the mosque and firing tear gas and rubber bullets. They were chasing protesters who were throwing stones.

Omitted from the broadcast was that the so-called “resistance” of the “protesters” consisted of violent attacks on Jewish religious, historic and security rights in Jerusalem and on the Temple Mount (al Aqsa compound).

Tanis, instead, presented the Hamas narrative, that Palestinians were “resisting…Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza,” and that their violent actions were “a defense of the mosque itself” as if the bogus pretext that Jews are attempting to seize and take over the mosque was true or that Israeli security police exercising their responsibility for keeping the site safe constituted an illegitimate encroachment of Muslim rights there.

There was no mention of Hamas leaders having fomented this violence by falsely claiming throughout Ramadan that Israeli “settlers” were threatening to “break into” the Al Aqsa Mosque and by calling on Palestinians to defend Jerusalem and al Aqsa. Nothing was mentioned about the Palestinian rioters who had for weeks been heeding Hamas calls and attacking Israelis with stones, incendiary devices and bottles throughout Jerusalem’s Old City and at Israeli police patrolling the Temple Mount Compound, nothing about the several thousand Palestinians who had stockpiled rocks and other makeshift weapons, blocking doors and sabotaging security cameras.

There was nothing about the fact that Israel had banned Jews from visiting the Temple Mount on Jerusalem Day and had postponed the planned Flag Day parade in an attempt to lower tensions by appeasing the rioters who reject Jewish connections to and rights on the Temple Mount. And there was certainly no mention of the fact that despite Israel’s attempt to lower tensions, Hamas fired missiles into Jerusalem.

Similarly concealed was the fact that violent rioters had hurled rocks toward a police post and at the Mughrabi gate near the Western Wall, the only gate from which non-Muslims are allowed to enter the compound and that police who had entered the Temple Mount compound in order to stop the barrage of rocks and projectiles aimed at non-Muslims were attacked before responding with stun grenades. Nor was there any mention of the announcements from loudspeakers throughout the compound encouraging more Palestinians to join in the riots.

Most disturbing was suppression of the fact that the al Aqsa compound, or as it’s known to Jews, the Temple Mount is Judaism’s holiest site, the epicenter of Judaism.

Instead, the bulk of the broadcast was devoted to Muslim reverence for the site:

It’s revered around the world as religious ground. Muslims believe their prophet Muhammad prayed where the mosque is now and then ascended to heaven on a night journey from the rock under the golden dome.

Tanis introduced a professor of Islamic studies from al Quds University to underscore Muslim attachment to the site by declaring that “Al-Aqsa Mosque is at the center of everything” and that “It’s about the Muslim world. This space belongs to the 2 billion Muslims that exist today, and this is still their mosque.”

Less than one minute of the eight-minute broadcast was devoted to the importance of the Temple Mount to Jews—and much of that time was spent minimizing it. Jewish connection to the Temple Mount was simplistically reduced to the fact that it was “the site of an ancient temple destroyed 2,000 years ago.” And Israeli writer Pinhas Inbari was interviewed to say that non-religious Israeli Jews “don’t care about Jerusalem, not al-Aqsa.”

Of course, one might similarly indicate that non-observant Muslims are less attached to al-Aqsa than observant members of the faith, but Tanis did not do so.

Missing from the NPR story was that Jewish reverence for the site predates not only the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque (both of which were originally built in in the 7th century CE on the ruins of Judaism’s temples) but two Jewish Temples (the first of which was erected in 954 BCE and destroyed in 587 BCE, the second which was rebuilt in 515 BCE before being destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE), that according to Jewish tradition, the site lies on the Foundation Stone upon which the world was created, where the Divine Presence rests, where the biblical Isaac was brought for sacrifice, where the Holy of Holies and where the Ark of the Covenant housing the Ten Commandments once stood.

Also omitted from the story were the many centuries of Jewish pilgrimage from all over the world to the site to participate in worship and festivities, and that the site has remained the focus of Jewish longing, aspiration, and prayers. There was no mention of the fact that daily prayers (said while facing Jerusalem and the Temple Mount) and grace after meals include multiple supplications for the ultimate restoration of Jerusalem and its Jewish Temples., that Jews still maintain the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av, the date on which both the First and Second Temples were destroyed, as a day of mourning, that the Jewish wedding ceremony concludes with the chanting of the biblical phrase, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning,” and the breaking of a glass by the groom to commemorate the destruction of the Temples, and that Yom Kippur services and the Passover Seder conclude each year with the phrase “Next Year in Jerusalem.” All these facts were suppressed in a broadcast that was almost entirely devoted to the site’s importance to Muslims that served in effect as justification of Hamas’ pretext for war.

This implicit justification was perhaps best demonstrated by Tanis’ disingenuous conflation of Israeli Jews pushing for freedom of religion and the right for Jews to pray on the Temple Mount with the destruction and replacement of the Dome of the Rock with a new Jewish temple. She declared:

[Israeli Professor Pinhas Inbari] says those actually pressing for a change are small radical groups, but those groups have political backing and talk about building a new temple where the Dome of the Rock is. Palestinians see them praying on the compound more openly now in bigger numbers and worry they’ll take over.

Tanis’ implication was that there is political support in Israel for building a new Jewish temple to replace a Muslim mosque. In fact, there is no political support in Israel for this. Those with political support have pressed for a change in the status quo regarding prayer at the Temple Mount. They believe Jews should be allowed to pray at their holiest site alongside Muslims, not at the expense of Muslims. But by clearly reporting the facts, Tanis might have introduced doubt among listeners regarding the Hamas/Palestinian narrative that NPR is promoting.