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by Richard H. Shulman


How does the media report Temple Mount clashes in Jerusalem? Does it narrate in the traditional order of summary before detail, for readers' convenience? Does it specify who, what, where, when, and why, with background last? I checked the same story in the NY Times and Wall St. Journal of October 25, 2009, for samples.

Headlines matter, because they set context, and some people don't read beyond them.

Those presentations are misleading. The NY Times headline is the worst of the three, because it makes the police seem at fault. The story, however, shows that Arabs put out a call for protest. [Since their protests usually are violent] Police took up positions to keep the peace or at least protect innocent people. Israeli police do not initiate violence against Arabs [though they do so against non-violent Israeli religious or nationalist demonstrators, however legally assembled].

The headline should start with this meaning if not wording,
"Arabs Throw Rocks At Israeli Police, Some Arrested."
That shows who did what to whom. It is accurate. It gives readers the facts.

THE JOURNAL REPORTED THAT ARABS THREW AT LEAST ONE MOLOTOV COCKTAIL at police. The Times did not. I wasn't there, but people who throw firebombs must have come with gasoline and intent. That puts a darker light upon their protest.

The Journal reported that police occupied and closed the "mosque compound" temporarily, but did not occupy the mosque, itself. The Times reiterated the police report that they entered twice to back up police on patrol there, when Arabs threw rocks at them. Both newspapers' paragraphs there show the facts, which make it obvious that the Times headline is misleading.

Unclear is what the Journal means by "mosque compound." Usually, police close off the whole Mount. That includes Muslim buildings and an open area where Judaism permits Jews who have undergone purification rites to go and pray.

For political correctness, the Times usually is awkward about what to call the Temple Mount. It usually states the name Israel has for it plus the translated name the Muslims have for it. It would be fair to say it is holy to some Muslims [there is a tradition among Muslims that Mohammed did not dream he was there]. But only the ruling power has the right to assign an official name. That power is the government of Israel, which annexed the Old City.

The Times rarely forbears to give the false impression that Israel took the Old City away from the Arabs improperly. And so it says that it now is in "contested territory that Israel took from Jordan in the 1967 war." Without explanation, its seizure sounds improper. Actually, Jordan had no right to it, having seized it by aggression. Nor was the area part of an established state. Hence, when Israel acquired it by self-defense in 1967, it did so properly and not by taking away what the Arabs might have had legitimately.

Then Israel annexed it, which is legal under international law, both to protect from further aggression and because it was unallocated territory of the Palestine Mandate for a Jewish national home, to which Israel is the primary heir. Therefore it isn't right to call the area contested, after it was legally annexed. The rest of the Territories remain may fairly be called "contested," because they still are unallocated and there are multiple claimants for them.

In many news stories, the Times quotes Arab accusations and somewhat of an Israeli explanation, leaving the accusations hardly challenged, though they usually are false. This time, the newspaper gave the readers more of the truth. Here are its two paragraphs which, however, I think should have been reversed:

"A police spokesman said that no Jewish groups had tried to enter the compound.'

"Palestinians insisted that they were defending the mosque from 'Jewish settlers' wanting to upset the delicate status quo."

The Arabs use the term, "settlers" for its negative connotation. The newspaper might advise readers of that and that the Arabs consider all Israelis "settlers." If the Times did, however, readers would realize that the territorial concessions that the publisher wants Israel to make to the Arabs would not bring peace, because the Arab feel entitled to Israel, too.

The Wall St. Journal used more pejorative language in its explanation.

"The recent flare-ups in Jerusalem stem at least in part from agitation by extremists on both sides of the conflict. Jewish hard-line groups dedicated to rebuilding the Second Temple — Judaism's holiest site, which occupied the same area as the al-Aqsa Mosque until it was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70 — have called for Jews to pray there. One such prayer was called for Sunday night."

There are just a few of the Temple Mount faithful, and police watch and would restrain them. I asked my source, Prof. Steven Plaut, about where the Jews were going to pray. He replied that it was on the open ground. That should not concern the Muslim Arabs if they were tolerant and wanted peace.

If Jews pray at their holiest site and not at the mosque, they would not be interfering with Muslim freedom of religion and should not be called hard-line. Indeed, there is no need for adjectives. Let journalists describe what participants did and want! If those would-be Temple re-builders mean to pray on the mosque grounds, then they would be offensive.

Neither paper mentioned that the Arabs have been raising false alarms about Jewish raids on the mosque for decades. The Arab record is useful in evaluating their current reliability. Neither paper mentioned that when Jews do attempt to pray, in an area away from the mosque, Arabs attack them physically. Despite a court order permitting Jews to pray there, police bar them, to avoid Arab riots. Arab threats of riot trump the law in that country.

Neither paper mentioned that the Muslim Arabs believe that they alone have rights to the Temple Mount and to the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

The Wall St. Journal goes on to attribute the violence to frustration with the stalled negotiations It also mentioned a Palestinian Authority statement about a prior war, without explaining that Marwan Barghouti admitted deliberately having incited his people into the second Intifada, using Ariel Sharon's visit, again, not near the mosque, as a pretext for incitement to riot and war.

One may read certain newspaper accounts of the Arab-Israel conflict and become less informed than before.

Richard Shulman is a veteran defender of Israel on several web-based forums. His comments and analyses appear often on Think-Israel. He provides cool information and right-on-target overviews. He distributes his essays by email. To subscribe, write him at and visit his website:


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