EYE ON THE MEDIA: Desperately seeking the Temple Mount (from the
By Andrea Levin
(July 10) Nothing betokens the power of the media like its ability to push
peripheral issues onto center stage and relegate profound stories to
In the case of Israel,the capriciousness is especially striking. While the
country is subjected to intensive scrutiny of its daily conduct in every
imaginable arena, there are also stark omissions.
Thus the New York Times' Deborah Sontag chooses to include gay issues in
Israel ("Matan Has Two Mommies, and Israel Is Talking," June 4)
and, along with the Los Angeles Times' Tracy Wilkinson and others, to cover
alleged tree-planting irregularities by the Jewish National Fund.
But no American mass media outlet has provided serious coverage of the
occurrences now under way on the Temple Mount. The Moslem Wakf, which
administers the Mount, has launched far-reaching, unilateral, unauthorized
alterations of the most sacred site in Judaism, the place where both the
ancient Jewish Temples stood and where, according to religious belief, the
Holy of Holies exists.
Israel's press, including English-language media read by American
journalists, has been filled with coverage of the activity. Nadav Shragai,
reporting for Ha'aretz, wrote on June 18th : "The most blatant
violation of the status quo on the mount so far since 1967 is the
preparation of the area known as Solomon's Stables for the construction of a
mosque - the third on the Temple Mount and the first for the past 1,000
years. In addition, the huge underground area under the Al Aksa Mosque,
known as 'Ancient Al Aksa,' has been cleared for prayer."
He described how the action unfolded.
"Four months ago, the Wakf made a mockery of the laws of the State of
Israel. Wakf officials
requested and received a permit to open an emergency exit in the new mosque
in Solomon's Stables. In fact, the Wakf tried to break through four of the
underground arches in the northern part of Solomon's Stables. To do so, it
dug a huge hole 60 meters long and 25 meters wide in the earth of the Temple
Mount. For the first time since 1967, bulldozers and trucks were put to work
on the Temple Mount, and 6,000 tons of earth was removed. Some of it was
scattered at dumpsites. Some was dumped in the Kidron River. Antiquities
dating back to a number of periods [including the first and second Temple
eras] were tossed on garbage heaps.
"The Antiquities Authority managed to salvage but a small part of all
The reaction in Israel to this plundering of one of the most important
historical, archeological and religious sites in the world was bipartisan
shock. The director of the Antiquities Authority, Amir Drori, called it
"an archeological crime." Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein
denounced it as an assault on Jewish history. Two hundred prominent Israelis
from every sector of academic and political life deplored the ravaging by
Thus were Meretz Knesset members and Left-leaning authors like Amos Oz and
AB Yehoshua joined with Likud MKs, Israel Prize winners and university heads
in nearly unprecedented unity.
But American journalists, who regularly pick up stories from their Israeli
counterparts, were studiously uninterested.
How different it was in the fall of 1996, when Israel opened a small exit
onto the Via Dolorosa from an existing archeological tunnel that abuts the
Western Wall. Although the action touched no Islamic religious site and
entailed only minor physical alteration of the area, Israel was excoriated
in a fusillade of news reports and editorials that routinely distorted the
locale of the tunnel and its exit, the history of the Mount, the motives of
the Israelis and the role of the Palestinian Authority.
Israel was accused of outrageous provocation, and its officials were
subjected to relentless questioning about the affront to Islam allegedly
perpetrated. CNN repeatedly recounted the anger and "frustration"
of Palestinians. Yet there is a calculated, ongoing Muslim assault against
Judaism's holiest site, but for the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CNN
and the rest of the media, the irreversible desecration is simply not
The writer is Executive Director of CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in
Middle East Reporting in America.
THE TEMPLE INSTITUTE JERUSALEM