When events, especially violent ones, transpire, the press should be there. All
the more so when the site where these events happen is a known flashpoint
affecting Israel-Arab peace. What happened, how it happened and why are of
sufficient importance to necessitate that media consumers be informed. In-depth
articles and interviews are to be expected. Coverage should be appropriate to
the importance of the event and, of course, the possible ramifications of the
story on each the society’s political, economic or cultural life should be
During this past Succot, Jews were arrested or detained, as
were Arabs. The Jews were detained for either praying, attempting to pray or
being presumed guilty of praying on the Temple Mount. The Arabs were arrested
for trying to prevent those Jews from doing so. And last Friday, police entered
the Temple Mount compound to forcefully disperse rioting, rock-throwing
Following up on our previous observations on media behavior
regarding the Temple Mount in these pages on August 16, one may ask: has the
media’s performance in this regard improved, deteriorated or remained the same
(i.e. apathetic and disinterested)? The week’s events could have been
straightforwardly reported as Jews being prevented from exercising their human
rights as legally sanctioned by the Law of the Protection of Holy Places, 1967,
which reads: “Whosoever desecrates or otherwise violates a Holy Place shall be
liable to imprisonment for a term of seven years; Whosoever does anything likely
to violate the freedom of access of the members of the different religions to
the places sacred to them or their feelings with regard to those places shall be
liable to imprisonment for a term of five years.”
According to the law,
in this case the Arab rioters should receive stiff jail sentences, while the
police’s job was to ensure that the rights of Jews to visit and pray on the
Mount were protected.
A New York Times report provides a basis for
comparison with the Israeli media – as well as insight into media
They published a story on October 6 entitled, “New Clashes at Site
in Jerusalem Holy to Both Muslims and Jews.” While the arrest of Jews, among
them politician Moshe Feiglin, is duly noted, a most interesting item is
missing, namely that Judge Malka Aviv expressed her personal opinion regarding
prayer on and access to the Temple Mount, writing, “There is room to allow for
Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount,” adding that “the [police] explanation that
Muslims don’t approve of Jews praying on the Temple Mount cannot, in and of
itself, prevent Jews from fulfilling their religious obligations and praying on
the Temple Mount.”
Interesting? How about remarkable and very
Their long-term significance could be extremely great. But
they were not reported. The Israeli media, on the other hand, did provide its
consumers with the content of Judge Aviv’s decision.
The New York Times
did, however, include two elements that jarred. According to its story,
“religious Jews revere the site.” Is the implication here that secular Jews do
not revere it? Do any Jews deny that the two Temples ever existed? Secondly, the
story asserts that “the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, was set off in
2000 by a visit to the site by Ariel Sharon,” thus repeating a stock calumny.
Not only was the first Israeli casualty of the intifada, 19-yearold Sgt. David
Biri, killed in a bombing near Netzarim the previous day, but it is well
documented that the violence was Arab-initiated, the visit but an
The Temple Mount story as reported in the Israeli media, for the
most part, was lacking in perspective. Why were there no reports on the
increasing level of Muslim fabrications concerning the Jewish presence on the
Mount? These have included chemical attacks on al- Aqsa’s foundations,
underground excavations, falling trees due to Jews, incitement and threats of
violence. The Palestinian Temple Denial campaign is in full swing.
the campaign of incitement intended to deny Jews rights while mobilizing
violence is somehow “understood” and “accepted” by the press. Israeli Arab
leaders were not called upon to condemn the Arab violence.
The leaders of
B’tselem, the citizen rights movement, and the Israeli Democracy Institute were
not asked what their position is on this fundamental violation of Jewish human
On the other hand, a demonstration of less than 30 people and the
exhortations of extremist Meretz MK Nitzan Horovitz against the date of change
of daylight savings time received major headlines, opened the radio news the
following morning and led to long discussions on talk shows.
What is more
important, DST or the implications of Jewish-Arab confrontation and violations
of human rights on the Temple Mount? But the picture is not all bleak. Weeks of
preparation led to the publication in Haaretz of a profile on Jews who ascend to
the Temple Mount. Shany Litman’s magazinelength story, “mounting tension,” was
fair. It followed those who actively seek the rebuilding of the Temple, with a
special angle on women, even secular women, who are involved. They were given a
voice without heavy editorial intercession.
The readers could judge for
themselves whether these activists were extremists or no worse – or perhaps even
better than – other groups of social activists. The story provided its readers
with new insight, which is, after all, what a newspaper or other news outlet is
supposed to do. It even led to an interview of Litman on Channel 2’s morning
television program, in which she recounted her experiences with the group, which
mostly were positive.
Due credit should be given in this case to Haaretz,
which made the effort and sent their correspondent to the scene to gain
first-hand knowledge of what is really happening on the Temple Mount.
comparison, the Galatz army radio station mostly mouthed the press releases of
the police, without publicizing at the same time the press releases of the Jews
wanting to enter the Mount.
Another piece, by Kalman Liebskind in
Ma’ariv, “The Temple Mount in Their Hands,” based on documentary research,
revealed the apparently negligent aspect of police behavior in the courtrooms.
According to Liebskind, police prosecutors regularly rely on a government
decision, No. 761 from 1967, when informing judges that prayer is not permitted.
However, government minutes indicate that this was a one-time decision, directed
at the intention of the late IDF chief rabbi Shlomo Goren to conduct services
with a proper quorum on Tisha Be’av that summer, with ministers explicitly
saying at the time it should not be considered a permanent condition.
addition to these we note that the right-wing media, such as Israel National
News (also known as Arutz 7), the daily Makor Rishon, the News 1 website and the
Galei Yisrael radio station did give the Temple Mount issue ample space and
The bottom line then is that yes, the coverage has
somewhat improved. However, it has not reached the attention level of other
issues whose import is certainly not greater, such as disgusting “price tag”
graffiti on churches and mosques.
The true missing element is, as usual,
in-depth attempts to cover the events, rather than just repeating police
statements. Haaretz understood how important it is to send a reporter to check
events on the spot. Channel 2 provided a one-on-one interview. One would hope
that the issue of Jews on the Temple Mount calms down, but if not, the least the
media should do is be there on the spot to know what is really happening and
provide the public with the in-depth coverage it needs and deserves.
authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch