Eye on the Middle East Feb/Mar 2000

JERUSALEM—In an attempt to enlarge an exit to an underground mosque, the Muslim Wakf has been illegally excavating underneath the Temple Mount and dumping the dirt by the truckload into the Kidron Valley. Israeli archaeologists and other officials have protested loudly, calling the excavation a blatant violation of the law. Their protests, however, have been ignored. Some have gone so far as to accuse Israeli Jerusalem police of looking the other way and have demanded court action be taken against them.

It is a well-established fact that no piece of real estate in the world has more potential for inciting violence than does that approximately 30-acre plateau in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem. Consequently, violations of the sanctity of the place always threaten a major confrontation between Israel and the Muslim world. This was the case not too many months ago when Israel opened a door at the end of the Rabbinical Tunnel that runs along the base of the Western Wall. The door was opened to provide egress from the extremely narrow tunnel and allow visitors to exit the passageway safely without doubling back.

This simple, common-sense decision to open an exit sparked a worldwide firestorm of controversy. In the middle of the fray were Western journalists, who joined the verbal stone-throwers in pillaging Israel and the Jerusalem authority. With about as much respect as is shown grave robbers, the news reporters and commentators dourly cited Israel for contempt of Islamic sacred places. They claimed that Israeli authorities had excavated under the Temple Mount at the risk of weakening the foundation of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

The fact is, however, that no digging took place anywhere near the mosque. Never was the Western Wall breached. The tunnel, which was opened many years ago, runs outside the wall and away from the Muslim sanctuary. But these details did not stand in the way of the intercontinental condemnatory commentary against Israeli leaders. No one, it seems, bothered to look at the geography of the Temple Mount.

Yet the media have been virtually mute regarding what the Muslim Wakf has done in removing massive amounts of earth from under the Temple platform. The dirt, dumped into the Kidron Valley, was taken from an area that might have contained artifacts from the time of the Byzantine Empire and, quite possibly, the Second Temple. Israeli archaeologists were not allowed to examine the earth while it was being excavated. Rather, they were reduced to digging through the rubble after it was dumped, with little hope of finding anything worth the effort.

Did they complain? Indeed they did. Was anyone listening? Was there international outrage? No indeed. As a matter of fact, there has not been one proverbial peep from the men and women of the press, who are on the scene. Where are these people when newsworthy events take place that may reflect poorly on Israel’s adversaries? And can we believe them when they tell us that they are fair, even-handed, and have no personal agendas in reporting the news? As has been repeatedly documented by those who are in touch with some of the controversial issues on the ground these days, we have good cause to question the validity of what we hear—or do not hear—emanating from the hallowed halls of liberal, secular journalism.

The point is to remind us all to be prepared for what might lie in store for us if and when we fall into disfavor with segments of the Fourth Estate. And perhaps we should also reserve passing judgment on some who are being beleaguered by the media until we are sure that we are listening to reliable sources.

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