Special Report: Making Sense of the Jerusalem Crisis

A look at the key context and realities behind a US-Israeli dispute over Jerusalem.

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The past week has witnessed a flurry of media reports as Jerusalem finds itself in the eye of a diplomatic and political storm.

A poorly timed announcement on the part of the Israeli Interior Ministry during US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit has escalated into a diplomatic spat between the Israeli and US governments.

Taking advantage of the already existing tensions in Jerusalem, the Palestinians have actively encouraged rioting to keep the flames burning. Events that would normally be ignored by the world media, such as the rededication of the Old City’s Hurva Synagogue, have become flashpoints while other stories such as the dedication of a West Bank town square in memory of a Palestinian terrorist have been barely covered.

Not to mention the debate that is now taking place in the US and international media, asking questions of the special relationship between Israel and the US – with some enemies of Israel actively calling into question the very relationship itself.

With so many interwoven threads forming this major story, many media outlets have, either deliberately or simply due to ignorance, left out key context, thus contributing to the confusion and misinformation. Here, HonestReporting attempts to clear up some of that confusion, recentering where the media should have been focused.

Ramat Shlomo: The Obstacle to Peace?

Undoubtedly, the announcement during US VP Biden’s visit of plans to build 1600 homes in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo was poorly timed and embarrassing for Biden and the Israeli government.

But were it not for the timing, would Ramat Shlomo have made international headlines and threatened to derail prospects for peace negotiations? Probably not.

Forgotten or ignored by the very same media that reported it at the time is the fact that Benjamin Netanyahu’s ten month building moratorium in the West Bank specifically excluded Jerusalem. This was accepted by the US and to a lesser extent an unhappy Palestinian side. At no time did the Israeli government agree to modify its policy on Jerusalem and the decision on Ramat Shlomo was in keeping with this stance.

In addition, some media wrongly and misleadingly started to scream about “new settlements” appearing in eastern Jerusalem. In fact, Ramat Shlomo, founded in 1995 and populated primarily by ultra-Orthodox residents, is located in north Jerusalem adjacent to other Jewish neighborhoods such as Ramot and Har Hotzvim. It is within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries despite its location just beyond the 1967 Green Line.

There is an overwhelming Israeli consensus that neighborhoods such as Ramat Shlomo are an integral part of Israel and it was widely accepted by all sides that they would remain so even in the event that Jerusalem was ever subject to any territorial changes.

Honoring a Terrorist

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While the Ramat Shlomo announcement was deemed to be “provocative” and damaging to peace, the Palestinian Authority sought to avoid an embarrassing situation for itself, and, judging by the lack of coverage, succeeded.

Postponed until after Biden left the region, a public square was dedicated in honor of Palestinian terrorist Dalal Mughrabi, a Fatah woman who led a 1978 terror attack, the worst in Israel’s history, in which 37 Israeli civilians and an American photographer were killed, and 71 were wounded.

(Click here to see a timeline of Palestinian Media Watch reports and other news stories related to the postponement of the official ceremony.)

Mainstream media coverage was extremely thin on the ground as the New York Times was the only paper of note that covered the story in its news section. The LA Times did feature an op-ed penned by three Israelis who had lost children in terror attacks while Richard Cohen commented in the Washington Post:

Still, 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. I dare say the Brits would have reacted differently if a square in Belfast had been named for some IRA terrorist.

Referring to those who single out Israel for allegedly killing civilians in violation of all the rules of warfare, Cohen says that “Hypocrisy Square would be its appropriate name”.

Isn’t it hypocrisy for the media to deem the construction of Jewish houses as a provocation or incitement while ignoring very real incitement on the Palestinian side? As Cohen says: “If the term “confidence-building measure” is employed, what confidence can Israelis have in a people and their leaders who honor the 1978 murder of innocents, particularly children?”  

The Hurva Synagogue: A Reason to Riot?

There is no more effective way for Hamas, Islamic extremists, as well as the Palestinian Authority itself to mobilize Palestinians and the wider Muslim world than to create the false charge that Israel is endangering or undermining the al-Aqsa Mosque.

The latest excuse for deploying this libel was the rededication of the Hurva Synagogue, located in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. The Hurva, which dates back to 1700, has been twice destroyed and twice rebuilt. After the Jordanians destroyed it in the 1948 War of Independence, the Hurva stood desolate, even after the Old City was retaken by Israel in 1967. Only today, after many years of planning has the synagogue been restored to its former glory.

Its rededication does nothing to alter the delicate fabric of life or the existing status quo in the Old City.

Some media have, however, quoted Palestinian claims to the contrary despite the clear lack of evidence. To be clear, the Hurva is not directly next to the Temple Mount or the al-Aqsa Mosque and there is simply no basis for claims that the reconstruction of the Hurva could have any physical effect on the Mosque or its surroundings. (Click on the image below to expand.)

In addition, in the event of any discussions surrounding the status of Jerusalem, it has been accepted by all sides that Israel would, at a minimum, maintain control over the Old City’s Jewish Quarter where the Hurva stands.

Or is Palestinian protest against the rededication simply another attempt to undermine Jewish historical and religious ties to Jerusalem? The current spat between the US and Israeli governments has, understandably, been the source of much media commentary and analysis. Politics and policies have been examined, some media supportive of the Obama Administration, others critical. Some media have also chosen to examine the overall state of US-Israeli relations and the wider implications of this dispute.

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Of course, this is perfectly legitimate. However, this has also seen the reappearance of accusations of nefarious designs by the “Israel Lobby” of control over US foreign policy. This and other similar charges were laid out in Walt and Mearsheimer’s infamous book that was roundly criticized at the time of its publication.

Some of Israel’s enemies have taken advantage of the current situation to attempt to drive a permanent wedge between two stalwart allies, despite the fact that a recent poll carried out by The Israel Project found that Americans continue to overwhelmingly support Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians. Fully 57 percent of respondents believe the United States should take Israel’s side in the conflict; only 7 percent think the United States should back the Palestinians.

Asked why they side with Israel, many respondents noted the country’s democratic government. Many others noted that Israel is an ally of the United States. Could this be why US politicians continue to value the special relationship with Israel?

For more on US-Israel relations, see:

Keep an eye on your local media. Is it reporting on these events accurately and with the appropriate context? Or is it contributing fuel to the fire by removing key context and helping spread misinformation?

Contact details for many major media outlets can be found here.


US-Israeli Relations Under the Spotlight

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