The photograph chosen to open an article headlined “Israeli police and Palestinians clash on Temple Mount” which appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website on February 25th is captioned as follows:
“Palestinians scuffled with Israeli police officers when denied entry to the site after the morning’s unrest”
In the absence of any clarification regarding “the morning’s unrest”, reasonable readers might well mistakenly conclude that the “clash” mentioned in the headline was brought about as a result of Palestinians being “denied entry to the site”.
The opening lines of the report which appears underneath the photograph do little to dispel that mistaken impression.
“Israeli police have clashed with Palestinian protesters on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
A police spokesman said about 20 youths threw stones and fireworks at officers from the holy site, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary).
Police then entered the compound and arrested three people, he added.”
In fact, readers have to continue right down to the eleventh and twelfth paragraphs (out of a total of sixteen) in order to understand the sequence of events.
“When Israeli police arrived to open the Moughrabi, or Moors’, Gate just after 07:30 (05:30 GMT), they were attacked by the protesters, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
The officers responded by storming the compound and firing stun grenades and tear gas.”
From Ha’aretz we learn that, as is not uncommon, the rioters had spent the night on Temple Mount – presumably with the knowledge of the Waqf.
“Some 50 protesters camped out overnight at the compound after rumors that ultra-Orthodox Jews planned to hoist the Israeli flag on the platform.
When Israeli police arrived in the morning to open a gate for tourists, they were confronted by the Palestinian protesters, who threw rocks and firecrackers, said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.”
In other words, the neutral-sounding “clash” – as it is presented by the BBC – was the result of a pre-planned attack by rioters on security personnel engaged in routine activity at the region’s most volatile site and the photograph and its caption actually relate to later incidents at a different location which are not covered in the report.
Such pre-planned violence is unfortunately not rare (see, for example, reports of other recent incidents here and here) but it is only intermittently reported by the BBC. This isolated article does nothing to inform audiences of the organized nature of such events and the elements which lie behind that planning.
“One of the most active groups on the Temple Mount in recent months is known as Al-Shabab Al-Aqsa. This group of young men is most often recruited by members of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement (lead by Sheikh Raed Salah) in order to “protect Al-Aqsa.” This means physically preventing Jews from attempting to pray on the Temple Mount or to cause damage to the site. These activists are Arabs from Israel and East Jerusalem who are paid for each “shift” that they work.
Alongside them is the “Women’s Corps,” with the same assignment. These women are generally poor, divorced or widows and are recruited by the Islamic Movement, which pays their salaries and organizes their transportation to the mount. These provocateurs occasionally shout insults and “Allah Akhbar” at non-Muslim visitors, but usually just stand guard.
Activists affiliated with Hamas can often be found on the mount as well. After the June 2013 coup in Egypt, Hamas supporters hung posters of ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi on the Temple Mount, drawing harsh criticism for using the Al-Aqsa Mosque for political purposes — despite the fact that every known Palestinian movement uses Haram a-Sharif for political gain.”
The article does, however, inform readers that:
“The unrest came as the Israeli parliament prepared to debate a motion calling on Israel to “realise its sovereignty over the Temple Mount”.
Moshe Feiglin, a right-wing member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party who tabled the motion, wants restrictions on Jewish visitors to be lifted. They are currently barred from praying or engaging in other religious activities there.”
“The Palestinian protesters were said to have gathered at the site on Tuesday morning because of rumours that Jewish extremists were planning to raise the Israeli flag there.”
The presentation of the latest in a long series of pre-planned violent incidents as though it were the spontaneous reaction of “protesters” to “rumours” of unknown origin, together with the omission of crucial background information regarding the parties behind the organization of this riot and others, is clearly not an adequate representation of the entire picture. The BBC cannot claim to meet its purpose to “[e]nable individuals to participate in the global debate on significant international issues” if it satisfies itself with telling only particular selected portions of a story.