Tensions are running high at Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque, and The New York Times can tell us where to place the blame: It’s not the fault of extremists who plan to destroy the landmark, according to the Times, nor is it recent Israeli moves to restrict Muslim access to the site; it is the fault of hot-headed Palestinian youth.
In a story today and in a similar article last July Isabel Kershner points directly to these young people as the source of trouble in clashes with police. This is how the police have framed the issue, and Kershner gives prominence to their claims.
The Times story contrasts with reports from international media and Palestinian sources. From these accounts we learn that the youths were volunteer guards helping defend the holy site against Israeli incursions and that police stormed the mosque while Muslims were inside, beating and injuring worshippers and damaging prayer rugs and other articles. We also learn that these actions prompted even Arab nations on good terms with Israel to speak out in protest.
Kershner quotes Palestinian Liberation Organization secretary Saeb Erekat and a Hamas spokesman who condemn the Israel invasion of the mosque, but she fails to tell readers that both Jordan and Egypt, two nations friendly to Israel, also protested, along with the Arab League and the United Nations representative for peace talks.
The Al Aqsa Mosque has stood at its site in Jerusalem for a thousand years and is revered by Muslims everywhere, but Jews also consider the area as holy ground, where the Second Temple once stood. Extremists openly call for the destruction of both Al Aqsa and the even more ancient Dome of the Rock, which dominates the Jerusalem skyline. They plan to raze the edifices and replace them with a Third Temple.
The Times story fails to acknowledge these real threats that cause anguish among the followers of Islam. It has also neglected to report on Israel’s numerous efforts to restrict Muslim prayer at the mosque and the increasing presence of Jewish worshippers, who are protected by troops when they visit the compound.
Muslims know that another holy site, the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, has been divided between a Muslim and a Jewish section, and that Israeli officials often choose to ban Muslims from entering altogether. This month, worshippers have been excluded from the Hebron mosque for six entire days.
Kershner reports that Muslims charge Israel with plans to divide the Al Aqsa compound, but she says that this is “an assertion vehemently denied by Israel.” Missing from her article is the history of Hebron and the restrictions Israeli authorities frequently impose on Muslim worshippers in both sites.
In recent weeks, for instance, Israel has prevented women from entering the Al Aqsa area, retained the identify cards of worshippers, allowed Jewish extremists to enter the mosque compound for “tours,” restricted the entry of students attending schools in the Al Aqsa compound and confiscated land in an Islamic cemetery next to the mosque.
After the latest incursion, the director of the mosque compound, Sheikh Omar al-Kiswani, said that Israel occupation authorities “have imposed their sovereignty over [the mosque compound] by power of force.” Israel controls who enters and exists, he said, and officials use force against anyone who challenges them.
This is a cry of alarm from a site revered by millions of Muslims throughout the world, but it found no mention in the Times. Instead, we receive the Israeli spin on this tragic saga as the newspaper glosses over the expansionist aims of a Zionist state.