Jodi Rudoren this week reports on clashes and tensions at the revered Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and lays the blame squarely on Palestinians. Her story omits the recent history of extremist Jewish efforts to take over the site and government support for their incendiary cause.
In an article titled “U.N. Denounces ‘Provocations’ at Holy Sites in Jerusalem,” Rudoren quotes United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as saying that he was “deeply concerned by repeated provocations” at the compound encompassing Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, two ancient and revered Islamic sites in the heart of Jerusalem.
Ban does not say who is responsible for the provocations, but Rudoren implies that he was aiming at Palestinians. She reports Israeli police who said that they thwarted a riot at the mosque on Monday by locking a group of armed Palestinians inside.
Palestinians gave a different account, but their response to the charges comes far down in the story. There Rudoren quotes a Palestinian radio report that Israeli forces fired rubber bullets and tear gas inside the mosque. (She is quick to include the police refutation of this accusation.)
Her story grants 12 paragraphs to Israeli charges and commentary and a mere two paragraphs to Palestinians. She thus attempts to blame Palestinians as the instigators even as she omits the provocative history of religious Zionists who want to gain control of the site, destroy the Muslim presence and replace it with a Jewish temple.
When Israel occupied Jerusalem in 1967, the Al Aqsa compound was left in the hands of Muslims, and Jews were forbidden from praying there. But from the beginning of the occupation, extremists have pressed for a takeover of the site (known as the Temple Mount in Judaism), and these efforts have gained strength in recent years.
One of these extremists is Knesset deputy speaker Moshe Feiglin, who was at the site on Monday. He has called for the destruction of Al Aqsa and is so inflammatory he has been banned from the United Kingdom, but Rudoren’s description of him falls short. She says only that he is “an ultranationalist” and “a right-wing Israeli lawmaker, whose prior pilgrimages to the site have been a focal point for clashes.”
Readers deserve more. They should be informed that Feiglin has made statements like this: “The Temple Mount must be thoroughly cleared of the wild rabble. They should not be allowed to step foot on the Mount and should not be able to seek refuge in their ‘holy’ places.”
The Times should also make it clear that Feiglin is not a lone voice in the Israeli government and that the Knesset has been considering new laws, which would erode the Islamic presence at Al Aqsa.
Over the past year the Israeli parliament has debated lifting the prohibition on Jewish prayer at the compound, opening a second gate for Jewish worshippers to the Temple Mount and dividing Al Aqsa Mosque into two sections, one for Jews and another for Muslims (as is the case at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron).
The seemingly innocuous call for the right to pray is often something more insidious, according to Nicholas Saidel, writing in 972 Magazine: “Many of the provocative calls to prayer are made by a messianic organization called the Temple Institute, whose mission is to rebuild the ancient Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount grounds – thereby destroying both the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque.”
A report by two Israeli monitoring groups, Ir Amin and Keshev, demonstrates that the Israeli government supports these efforts. The report calls the collaboration between the government and Temple movements a “dangerous liaison” and states that “senior politicians from the heart of the establishment, rabbis who serve in public offices, officials in the Ministry of Education and educators provide sponsorship for the Temple movements and help to promote their message.”
The report concludes that this support could lead to “severe ramifications …on the security of Israel and the lives of Jews and non-Jews in the region and throughout the world.” In other words, Keshev and Ir Amin say, the government and Temple groups are playing with fire.
Rudoren fails to inform readers of this “dangerous liaison.” Instead, she quotes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who insists that “Muslim extremists” are spreading “false and baseless rumors that we are threatening the holy places.” Readers hear nothing of the facts that throw doubt on Netanyahu’s statement—the Knesset bills, the Temple Mount movements and the collusion of the government.
The Times should inform readers that the Knesset debates and the incendiary statements of Temple advocates raise grave concerns among Palestinians, who have already lost land, resources and the right to move freely under Israeli rule. Recent moves to allow more and more Jewish worshippers to access the site and to restrict Palestinians have added to these fears
These moves have intensified throughout this year and last as Israel allowed settlers, tourists and security forces to enter the compound, while it has prevented Muslim men under the age of 50 and all Muslim women from worshipping there. (See here and here.)
From the Palestinian point of view, these developments are an ominous sign that Israel will some day destroy the 1,000-year-old Al Aqsa Mosque and the glittering, 1,300-year-old Dome of the Rock to make way for Jewish claims on the site.
Rudoren alludes to these fears only in quoting Netanyahu’s words about “baseless rumors.” The Times should do much more. Readers need to hear about the Temple movements, the government debates and the increasing restrictions on Palestinian access. They need to know the context of the recent “tension and violence” to understand that Palestinian protests have a basis in concrete events. This, in truth, is the news that is “fit to print.’