By Tamar Sternthal
“10 things to know before visiting Israel, the West Bank and Gaza” is CNN’s Sept. 12 article by Matthew Teller meant to promote a broadcast this weekend called “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown,” featuring the acclaimed author and chef on location in Israel and the West Bank. It is unfortunate that the piece, intended to educate about basic information on the region, is chock full of factual errors and distortions. CAMERA, in turn, presents the 10 things that CNN needs to fix in Teller’s piece and the accompanying graphics and captions.
Teller rightly observes: “To some, the chunk of territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is all Israel. To others, it’s all Palestine.”
It’s too bad, then, that CNN further muddies the terms. Instead of clarifying, CNN gets bogged down in incorrect nomenclature with this map:
As the article itself acknowledges the state of “Palestine” does not yet exist, and labeling the West Bank “Palestine” is inaccurate and misleading. It should be deleted.
2) Manipulated Historical Narratives, ‘biblical Palestine’
Reflecting further on the Israel versus Palestine terminology, Teller writes: “For most — as is true so often in this region of shifting truths and manipulated historical narratives — it’s a bit of both.”
Instead of offering readers solid factual ground, Teller takes manipulated historical narratives to a whole new level with the heading for his ninth item: “When you visit Israel, you’re also visiting biblical Palestine.”
We don’t have a clue as to what he means by “biblical Palestine” given that the Romans renamed the Holy Land Palestine in 135 CE, after the events described in the later Christian Bible had already concluded.
The photo caption for the third photo in the slide show at the top of the article inaccurately describes the Western Wall as “the last structure remaining from the Jewish Temple.”
Likewise, in his article, Teller himself refers to the site as “the last structure remaining from the Jewish Temple.” In fact, the Western Wall is not a remnant of the temple itself. Rather, it is a remnant of the western retaining wall of the Temple Mount, the plaza upon which the first and second Jewish temples once stood.
4) Western Wall, One of Many Remnants
Moreover, the Western Wall is not the last remaining remnant of the Temple Mount compound. The southern, eastern, and northern retaining walls are also still extant. Surviving features abutting the southern walls include a broad stairway leading up to the Temple Mount’s entrance and two gates, known as the Huldah Gates, which provided access to the Temple Mount (Hershel Shanks, Jerusalem: An Archaeological Biography, p. 143). Some of the interior part of the Herodian Double Gate (which is one of the Huldah Gates) is also still intact. There are also surviving underground remnants of the Temple complex, including the area known as Solomon’s Stables. In addition, an area called “Robinson’s Arch,” in the southwestern corner of the Temple complex, still remains. In his book, Shanks provides details concerning numerous other remnants. The Los Angeles Times published a correction on this topic Sept. 24, 2004, stating:
“Western Wall – An article in Monday’s Section A about a visit to Jerusalem by pop star Madonna described the Western Wall in the Old City as the sole remnant of Jews’ Second Temple. It is the principal remnant of the temple complex accessible to worshipers, but other archeological elements survive.”
5) The Al-Aqsa Mosque – It’s Complicated
In another problematic claim about the Temple Mount compound, Teller asserts that the al-Aqsa mosque is “mentioned in the Quran.” In fact, it is not at all clear that the Jerusalem holy site is mentioned in the Quran, the sacred Islamic holy book which does not mention Jerusalem even once. As scholar Daniel Pipes argues, the Quran (17:1) refers to “the furthest mosque,” but this was a “turn of phrase, not a place.” He writes: “Some early Muslims understood it as metaphorical or as a place in heaven. And if the ‘furthest mosque’ did exist on earth, Palestine would seem an unlikely location.” Pipes details the evidence that the Quranic reference to “al-Aqsa” does not refer to the Jerusalem mosque, which was not yet built when the Quran was written. (Indeed, not a single mosque existed in Palestine when the Quran was written.)
6) The Security Barrier Item Is Worth Correcting
In the section labeled “The security barrier is worth seeing,” Teller also inaccurately misrepresents Israel’s security barrier as follows:
“This 8-meter-high (26 feet) wall of concrete was built to keep Palestinians from moving freely between the West Bank and Israel proper. Israelis believe its construction has stopped suicide bombers from getting to Israel.”
First, the vast majority of the barrier consists of wire fencing, and not a concrete wall. According to the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 61 km out of a total of 708 km, or 8.6 percent of the barrier, consists of a concrete mall 8-9 meters high. More than 90 percent “consists of fences, ditches, razor wire, groomed sand paths, an electronic monitoring system, patrol roads, and a buffer zone” (OCHA “Barrier Update July 2011”).
Why does Teller refer to the barrier in its entirety as an 8-meter-high concrete wall when most of it is not that? On the other hand, Teller doesn’t hesitate to be clear that “Most of the barrier runs inside West Bank territory.” Where is the consistency? Why did he not write that “Most of the barrier is a wire fence?”
7) The Security Barrier Is For Security
In addition, contrary to Teller, the barrier was not built “to keep Palestinians from moving freely between the West Bank and Israel proper.” As the Ministry of Defense states on its Web site, “The sole purpose of the Security Fence, as stated in the Israeli Government decision of July 23, 2001, is to provide security.”
8) Not Just an Israeli Belief
Moreover, not only Israelis “believe” that the barrier cut down suicide bombings. So does Ramadan Abdallah Salah, a leader of Islamic Jihad, who admitted: “[T]hey built a separation fence in the West Bank. We do not deny that it limits the ability of the resistance [i.e., the terrorist organizations] to arrive deep within [Israeli territory] to carry out suicide bombing attacks, but the resistance has not surrendered or become helpless, and is looking for other ways to cope with the requirements of every stage [of the intifada]…” (Al-Sharq, March 23, 2008). Likewise, Hamas’ Mousa Abu Marzouq has said: “[carrying out] such attacks is made difficult by the security fence and the gates surrounding West Bank residents” (Abd al-Muaz Muhammad, Ikhwan Online, the Muslim Brotherhood Website, June 2, 2007, ibid). And, of course, there is no shortage of statistics pointing to a drop in suicide bombings following the construction of the fact, indicating that its effectiveness is more than just an Israeli belief.
9) Negev Inhabitants – It’s a Long Story
Teller grossly misrepresents by suggesting that Bedouin are the “original inhabitants” of the Negev desert. He writes: “Despite the camels and the tents, few of the Negev’s hippyish ecotours have much to do with the original inhabitants of this desert.”
Bedouin Hospitality – a social enterprise founded by civil rights activists – offers a chance to hear Bedouin stories in person, hosted among Bedouin tribes.
While Bedouin tribes have lived in the Negev for several generations, they are surely not the “original inhabitants.” A kingdom of Israel encompassing the Negev was established some 3,000 years ago, and the southern part (in the Negev) later split off as the kingdom of Judah. It fell in the sixth century BCE to the Babylonians. As Middle East Quarterly wrote: The Babylonian Empire was soon, thereafter, conquered by the Persians, who allowed the exiled Jews to return to their homeland in 538 B.C.E. In addition to the returning Jews, the land was peopled at this time by Idumeans (Edomites), the remnant of the Philistines, Samaritans (a mixture of Israelites and Assyrian colonists), and some Arab groups, likely the ancestors of those who would come to be called the Nabateans.
Of course, the most famous historic Jewish site in the Negev is Masada, a Jewish settlement conquered by the Romans in 73 CE, hundreds of years before the arrival of the Bedouin.
10) Most Palestinians Live Under Palestinian Rule
Teller misleads about the status of the West Bank, some 40 percent of which is fully under Palestinian Authority control. He writes that since 1967 “Israel has effectively annexed East Jerusalem, putting it and other adjacent areas in the West Bank under full Israeli government control, while greatly expanding Israeli settlements in the West Bank. At the same time, it unilaterally pulled its military and settlers out of Gaza, but has maintained control over the area’s borders (with the exception of the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt).”
The international community deems Israel’s presence in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as an illegal occupation.
Nowhere does he state that as a result of the Oslo accords, Israel withdrew from the major population centers of the West Bank, leaving over 95 percent of Palestinians under full Palestinian Authority control. Why does he obscure this critical information?
Tamar Sternthal is a writer with the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), www.camera.org.