In the NY Times, It’s a “Contest” for Al Aqsa

Al Aqsa Mosque, once a firmly Muslim house of worship, has now become a “contested holy site” in The New York Times. Both the online headline and the lead paragraph of a story today use this phrase, which hints ominously at the threat of future Palestinian loss.

“Contested” or “disputed” are terms the Israeli government uses when it is taking over West Bank land. Fields that were formerly Palestinian become “disputed” when settlers begin to move in, and they eventually become settlement territory after the apparent “dispute” is decided within the Israeli courts or bureaucracy.

Here it refers to Israel’s move to temporarily close the mosque compound after the attempted assassination of an activist rabbi, and by using this word so prominently, the Times is supporting the efforts of Israeli activists and government officials who are pressing for a change in status at the site.

So it is no surprise that the story by Isabel Kershner and Jodi Rudoren presents the current conflict as stemming from a benign-sounding goal: to allow Jews the right to pray at the Al Aqsa compound, the site considered to have once held the First and Second Temples. Extremist Jewish aspirations, however, call for something more: the ultimate destruction of the mosque, a revered site in the world of Islam and a notable landmark of Jerusalem.

It is also no surprise that the story glosses over another aspect of the latest crisis: the police killing of a man suspected of shooting the rabbi. The Times account varies greatly from other media reports.

From the beginning of the article, the Times fails to tell readers that it is the extremist threat that is fueling Palestinian protests. It also makes no mention of the fact that Yehuda Glick, the rabbi who survived the assassination attempt, is part of this movement to build a third temple on the site of the present mosque.

Glick is the former executive director of Temple Institute, which holds as its ultimate aim the restoration of Jewish control at the Al Aqsa site, with a new temple built on the compound. Rudoren and Kershner, however, say only that Glick is “a leading agitator for increased Jewish access to the site.” (For information on government collusion with activists such as Glick, see the TimesWarp post of Oct. 15.)

Times readers hear nothing about Glick’s ultimate aim; they also hear nothing of reports that throw doubt on police actions during the confrontation with the man suspected of shooting him, Mutaz Hijazi, 32, who was killed on the rooftop of his home  just hours after Glick was shot.

The Times is brief in its account of Hijazi’s killing but leaves the impression that there was a shootout between Israeli police and the suspect. Readers, however, can find detailed reports elsewhere with eyewitness accounts claiming that Hijazi was unarmed at the time of his death. Witnesses also say that Israeli forces broke into his home and went to the rooftop only after he was shot and unable to move.

“He was on the roof, so the police could have captured him but they didn’t want to. They wanted to kill him,” said one neighbor.

Another neighbor described how after riddling Hijazi’s body with bullets, Israeli police swooped in to deliver one final shot to his head at point-blank range to “confirm the kill.”

Adding further suspicion to Hijazi’s death was news that Israeli intelligence agents stopped a Red Crescent ambulance carrying Hijazi’s body and whisked his corpse away for “medical testing.”

Times readers will also find no mention of questions surrounding the identity of Glick’s shooter, but some may be interested in Ali Abunimah’s story it the Electronic Intifada in which he speculates that Glick could have deliberately provoked the shooting..

The Times story today supports Israeli claims in its language and omissions, in tagging Al Aqsa as a “contested” site and in failing to clarify two major elements: the threats to the present status of Al Aqsa Mosque and the competing narratives about police action that left a Palestinian man dead. The Times betrays its readers once again, refusing to tell the story in full.

Barbara Erickson

(with Ryan Erickson)

No Room for Dissent: The Times Hews to the Israeli Line

One is a bizarre and improbable story: A Jordanian judge goes berserk at a border crossing and grabs a soldier’s gun. He has to be shot dead on the spot.

The other is a story recycled for propaganda effect: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu displays arms seized from a ship last week, repeating his charge that the rockets were bound for Gaza and sent by Iran.

The New York Times has them both today, the first by Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren and the second by Isabel Kershner. Both of them fail in the same way, discarding details that fall outside the official Israeli narrative.

According to Rudoren’s account, a 38-year-old Jordanian judge of Palestinian descent tried to grab a soldier’s gun at the Allenby Bridge crossing on Monday before seizing a metal bar and shouting “Allahu akbar (God is great).” She quotes Col. Yaron Beit-On as saying, “The soldiers understood they had no way to handle him; they used a gun and they shot him. They were in danger.”

Rudoren does not explain how the man threatened the soldiers or why they could not incapacitate him otherwise. She acknowledges that “Palestinian and Jordanian officials questioned the Israeli account,” but she dismisses their concerns in one sentence: “Colonel Beit-On said it was based on interviews with witnesses, including the Jordanian bus driver.”

So much for the other side of the story. She goes no further than the Israeli army spokesman, even when the killing involves a Jordanian judge from the magistrate court in Amman. The fact that Netanyahu apologized today for the killing throws even more doubt on the official account.

Times readers will have to look elsewhere for the competing narrative. The Los Angeles Times cites Jordanian reports that the judge, Raed Zeiter, reached for a metal detector as he was being searched and made no effort to seize a gun. Al Jazeera states that witnesses described nothing but a verbal altercation between Zeiter and a soldier. (Also see an extensive eyewitness account at this site.)

Al Jazeera, the Los Angeles Times and other outlets also place the killing in context, noting that Amnesty International recently released a report on “trigger happy” Israeli soldiers who killed 41 civilians between January 2011and December 2013. None of them posed any threat to the soldiers, the report said. The Times, however, makes no mention of this report.

The Kershner story on Iranian arms runs above the article about the judge’s killing. It comes with a photo of Netanyahu inspecting rockets and missiles in Eilat on Monday, and it describes the event as “a public relations spectacle” designed to expose “the true face of Iran” to the world.

Although Kershner calls the event a spectacle, this is the only note of irony or skepticism in the story. It then goes on to quote the prime minister on his anger at the “hypocrisy” of the international community for engaging in talks with Iran. It also quotes Israelis who support his version of events.

Missing from her story are the denials from officials in Iran and Gaza that the weapons either originated in Iran or were bound for Hamas in Gaza. Other media outlets follow normal journalistic procedures and include these denials. (See Reuters, for instance, and BBC.)

Kershner’s story also ignores other takes on the arms shipment seizure, such as that by blogger Richard Silverstein, who notes that even if arms came from Iran, this is no proof that they were supplied by the government. Her article stays well within the official Israeli narrative and never quotes Iranian officials, Hamas or any of the international players who come under fire from the prime minister.

Moreover, there is a third story tucked into the pages of the Times today, an add-on at the end of the article about the Jordanian judge. Rudoren tells us in one paragraph that the Israeli army also killed Saji Sayel Darwish, 20, on Monday when soldiers opened fire on a group throwing rocks at vehicles near the settlement of Beit El.

Rudoren again fails to include any comments beyond those emanating from the army itself when, in fact, other accounts dispute the army’s claims. Yahoo news reports that the man’s family said he was herding goats at the time he was shot. Yahoo quotes an official source, Laila Ghannam, Palestinian governor of nearby Ramallah: “There were no signs of clashes in the area and it was clear by the man’s clothes he was there to take care of the goats.”

The murdered judge Raed Zeiter, young Saji Darwish, Iranian officials and Hamas officials never receive their due in the pages of the Times. Israeli soldiers, responsible for two killings, are allowed to give their explanations in full. The Israeli prime minister receives the attention he demands. Others are denied a voice.

Barbara Erickson