Updated: LA Times Minimizes Jewish Ties to Eastern Jerusalem

June 9 update follows.

June 7 — In a June 7 Los Angeles Times article dealing, to a large extent, with competing Arab and Jewish claims to Jerusalem, Los Angeles Times bureau chief Laura King repeatedly adopts tendentious language which wrongly minimizes Jewish ties to the city.

Traditionally Jewish eastern Jerusalem

In her article “Jerusalem Park Plan Imperils Arab Homes,” King inaccurately refers to “traditionally Arab East Jerusalem,” which is a common, though incomplete description. While there is certainly an Arab tradition in the eastern portion of the city, the Jewish tradition is equally (if not more) worthy of mention. There has been a Jewish presence in eastern Jerusalem for thousands of years. The City of David (which sits in the Silwan Valley), the ancient Jewish Quarter, the 2000 year old Jewish cemetery on the Mt. of Olives, and institutions such as Hadassah Hospital and Hebrew University are all in eastern Jerusalem. The Temple Mount and Western Wall, Judaism’s most sacred religious sites, are located in eastern Jerusalem.

During the 1948 war, the Jordanians killed or expelled all the Jews who had been living in eastern Jerusalem. For 19 years, until the city was reunited after the 1967 Six Day War, there were no Jews in eastern Jerusalem. This lack of Jews was an exception and certainly not a long historical tradition.

And while today there is parity population-wise in the eastern part of the city, this area has a long tradition of Jewish plurality. Reforms that came with Egyptian rule over Jerusalem in 1831, and continued with the Ottoman reconquest in 1840, improved the status of non-Muslims and allowed the Jews to become the largest religious group in Jerusalem. Thus, according to Yehoshua Ben-Arieh, “In the second half of the nineteenth century and at the end of that century, Jews comprised the majority of the population of the Old City …” (Jerusalem in the Nineteenth Century). Martin Gilbert states that in 1838 there were 6,000 Jews in Jerusalem, compared to 5,000 Muslims and 3,000 Christians (Jerusalem: Rebirth of a City). Encyclopaedia Britannica of 1853 “assessed the Jewish population of Jerusalem in 1844 at 7,120, making them the biggest single religious group in the city” (Terence Prittie, Whose Jerusalem). Until about 1860, Jerusalem residents lived almost exclusively within the wal ls of the Old City, in eastern Jerusalem.

Jews as Interlopers in eastern Jerusalem

King further conceals historic Jewish ties to this part of the city, and portrays any Jews there as interlopers when she writes:

Jewish groups and figures including American millionaire Irving Moskowitz, with the tacit backing of the Israeli government, have bankrolled the building of a string of fortified enclaves for Jewish families in East Jerusalem, seeking to challenge its mainly Palestinian character. About two dozen such miniature “settlements” dot the Silwan valley, with blue and white flags fluttering from roofs and watchtowers.

Any article discussing competing Jewish and Arab claims to eastern Jerusalem, and in particular, in this case, Silwan, should not leave out historic Jewish ownership in the area. According to Israel Kimhi of the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies and Jerusalem historian Professor Shaul Sapir of Hebrew University, Yemenite Jewish families lived in Silwan as early as 1882, and later on, additional Jewish families from various countries joined them. Silwan’s Jewish residents were forced to leave during the Arab attacks on Jewish settlements in the late 1920s. The City of David, situated in the Silwan valley, is 60 percent Jewish-owned, including the area bought by Baron de Rothschild in the early 1900s.

Holy Shrine

King goes on to minimize the Temple Mount’s sacred status in Jerusalem. She writes:

Those passions boiled over into a brief but ugly clash at the Old City’s most politically explosive venue, the raised plateau known to Muslims as the Al Aqsa mosque compound and revered by Jews as the Temple Mount.

She elaborates on the site’s status in Islam, referring to “the Al Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third-holiest shrine.”

Why does she mention that the Temple Mount/Al Aqsa compound is Islam’s third holy site while ignoring the fact that it is the holiest site for Jews? The Temple Mount’s holiness for Jews predates the First Jewish (Solomonic) Temple, which was built, according to Jewish tradition, on the Even Hashtiya, the foundation stone upon which the world was created. According to Jewish belief, this is the epicenter of Judaism, where the biblical Isaac was brought for sacrifice, where the Holy of Holies and Ark of the Covenant housing the Ten Commandments once stood, and where the Temple was rebuilt before being destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE.

UPDATE: June 9, 2005

On June 8, the Los Angeles Times again singles out the Temple Mount/Al Aqsa’s compound as holy to Muslims, despite the fact that it is the most sacred site for Jews. Ken Ellingwood wrote:

The militant groups said they were answering the fatal Kabatiya raid and a scuffle a day earlier between Israeli police and Muslim worshipers at the Al Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem’s walled Old City. The mosque, Islam’s third-holiest shrine, is on a site sacred to Jews and Muslims and has been a tinderbox for violence.

Again, why is the fact that the site is the third-holiest in Islam apparently worthy of mention, while the fact that it is the most sacred in Judaism is not?

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