As the crisis between Israel and the US administration unfolded, an upsurge in Palestinian violence and public invective against the Jewish state was frequently distorted and minimized by the media.
On March 16, 2010, the Palestinian leadership –– Fatah as well as Hamas – called for a "day of rage," inciting their followers to riot after the dedication of the newly rebuilt Hurva synagogue in Jerusalem's Jewish Quarter. The synagogue had been destroyed in 1948 when Jordan seized the Jewish Quarter and expelled its residents. Following the historical pattern of their predecessors, the Palestinian leaders called for jihad in defense of Muslim holy sites, falsely claiming that the opening of the synagogue was the first step in Israel's plan to take over or destroy a Muslim shrine, the Al Aqsa mosque.
The New York Times article reporting on the rioting did not even bother to mention the Palestinian call to violence, nor was an anti-Semitic screed delivered in protest against the Hurva synagogue by Hamas reported. CNN's Newsroom, meanwhile blamed Palestinian violence on Israeli actions.
A few days earlier, the Palestinian Authority renamed a public square in Ramallah after Dalal al-Mughrabi, a Palestinian terrorist responsible for the 1978 Coastal Road Massacre, in which 38 civilians (including 13 children and an American photographer) were murdered and 71 wounded.
Much of the media, however, downplayed or ignored entirely this Palestinian incitement and glorification of terrorism. Instead, the focus was almost entirely on Israel's alleged "provocations" – the announcement that it would build new homes in Jewish neighborhoods in annexed Jerusalem. It was this stated intention by Israel, the public was informed, that threatened the possibility of peace negotiations. "One of the biggest obstacles to peace," the Financial Times declared, is the expansion of "settlements." Palestinian calls to kill Jews were not similarly labeled an "obstacle to peace.".
CNN’s "Newsroom" essentially absolved the Palestinian leadership from blame and even justified Palestinian rioting, arguing that it was Israel’s rededication of the Hurva synagogue, and not the falsehood-fueled calls to riot, that sent Palestinians "over the edge."
The March 16, 9 AM newscast featured Kyra Phillips explaining the source of tension in Israel’s capital, and in the process, revealing her ignorance of the history of Jerusalem:
Here's the crux of the battle. The U.S. wants Israel to nix construction plans for east Jerusalem that would integrate the predominantly Arab part of the holy city. And as you know for centuries, Palestinians have always wanted this land as their state...
...Palestinians already angry about those construction plans have been sent over the edge by the reopening of a synagogue in east Jerusalem...
...Hamas called the protests after -- or called for the protests, rather, after yesterday's reopening of a synagogue that was destroyed during the 1948 Arab/Israeli war. [emphasis added]
The idea that Palestinian nationalism is a "centuries-old" phenomenon is dubious at best. Historian James L. Gelvin points out that "Palestinian nationalism emerged during the interwar period in response to Zionist immigration and settlement," and that "Palestinian nationalism developed later than Zionism."
Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis notes that the very concept of a Palestinian nation "was unknown" through the Ottoman period that ended in 1919. Even "the concept of Arab nationalism" did not reach "significant proportions before the outbreak of World War I."
This viewpoint is shared by many Middle East experts.
CNN’s 10 AM newscast similarly had Paula Hancocks justifying the Palestinian incitement by explaining that it was "because of that announcement last week of these 1,600 new homes in east Jerusalem." She expanded her blame-Israel theme:
This will always wind the Palestinians up as they're worried that Israel will try to push Palestinians out of east Jerusalem and also because there was a synagogue that was re-opened just 300 meters or so from the Al Aqsa mosque on Monday night. And that has caused tensions to rise and Hamas, the leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, in Damascus called for a day of rage today.
Again, CNN falsely cast the rioting as a grassroots response to an Israeli provocation, without noting the Palestinian leadership lied about their mosque being in danger.
New York Times
Perhaps best typifying the focus on Israel while whitewashing the major Palestinian role in deepening the conflict was an article by Ethan Bronner in the March 17th edition of the New York Times, published the morning after the Palestinian "day of rage."
The article virtually ignored the Palestinian violence (which Ha’aretz analysts Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel described as "more serious than anything similar over the past two years ") as well as its most immediate cause.
Instead, its focus was on Israeli building. Nineteen of the article’s 26 paragraphs dealt with Israeli construction in disputed territory. Only two referenced the violence, which resulted in numerous injuries and included rock throwing and even live fire by Palestinians.)
The reporter didn’t bother to inform readers that the violence was largely a response to the incitement. For example, there was no mention in this article of this Hamas statement:
We call on the Palestinian people to regard Tuesday as a day of rage against the occupation's [Israel's] procedures in Jerusalem against al-Aqsa mosque.
As Reuters acknowledged in its reports about the violence, "Hamas and Palestinian officials affiliated with its rival Fatah movement have said the restoration work at the ancient Hurva synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's walled Old City endangered al-Aqsa, situated some 400 meters away."
But although an earlier story by Isabel Kershner (about the rededication of the Hurva Synagogue, but not about the violence) did reference Hamas’s claim about the alleged "destruction of the Al Aksa Mosque" and relayed the American characterization of such claims as "incitement," Bronner’s article mentioned nothing about the incitement to violence, and misleadingly focused on Israel by stating only that the Palestinian rioters were "protesting Israeli control and construction in East Jerusalem."
Neither New York Times story informed readers that it was not only Hamas, but also Mahmoud Abbas’s supposedly-moderate Fatah movement, that spread lies about the mosque. As Ha’aretz’s Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff put it,
the Palestinian Authority is playing a very dangerous game – perhaps the most dangerous of it all – over Jerusalem and specifically the Temple Mount. Mohammed Dahlan, who is not known for his religious fervor, Khatem Abdel Kader, who holds the Jerusalem portfolio in Fatah, and others called Sunday on Israeli Arabs and residents of East Jerusalem to go to the Temple Mount today to "protect it from the Jews."
Also ignored in both Times articles was the virulent anti-Jewish hate speech accompanying Hamas’s lies about the destruction of the mosque. Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar stated that the Jewish people were destined to be destroyed.
"You who are opening Hurva are heading towards ruin," Zahar is quoted saying on the Web sites of the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot and Hezbollah’s Al Manar.
"Wherever you have been you've been sent to your destruction. You've killed and murdered your prophets and you have always dealt in loan-sharking and destruction. You're destined to be destroyed. You've made a deal with the devil and with destruction itself – just like your synagogue."
By contrast, a March 16 column by Washington Post commentator Richard Cohen, who has not hesitated to criticize Israel in the past, criticizes the media’s one-sided blaming of Israel. After noting that editorialists have been slamming Israel for its construction plans, he asserts:
it would have been nice for those same editorialists to have paused in their anti-Israel jihad to wonder a bit about the virtually simultaneous Palestinian veneration of terrorists. In fact, the determination in the West, particularly Europe, not to hold Palestinians morally accountable for terrorism -- as well as their commonplace anti-Semitism -- is a repugnant form of neocolonial mentality in which, once again, the Palestinians are being patronized.