The Temple Mount
To the Editor:
On no occasion has David Bar-Illan bothered to contact us about the charges he has made in his various articles about our report on the Temple Mount killings [“60 Minutes & the Temple Mount,” February]. This from an individual who takes us to task for a failure of journalistic integrity.
The main point we made in our report was: the killing of at least 17 Palestinians that occurred on October 8, 1990 on the Temple Mount was not—as the Israeli government was to claim—the result of an unprovoked attack by a huge mob of rock-throwing Palestinians against thousands of Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall, nor were the Palestinians acting on behalf of Saddam Hussein. Instead, the deaths were a product of panic on the part of Israeli police, plus years of mutual fear and distrust between Palestinians and Jews.
Mr. Bar-Illan does his best to cloud the issue with many spurious charges; few of them deal with the factual points we raised. None of them presents any solid evidence to refute our conclusions.
He charges us with presenting a press conference given by Deputy Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu “on the day of the riot” and with not interviewing him ourselves. First of all, that statement by Netanyahu was made a week after the killings. Second, we had no reason to suspect that Mr. Netanyahu would have changed his views in the interim. To the contrary, Israeli representatives to the UN continued to claim that Saddam Hussein was behind the whole affair more than a month after the killings occurred.
Mr. Bar-Illan charges us with not having “asked a single Israeli to answer the many charges made by the Arabs in the show.” That is simply not so. We repeatedly asked the Government Information Office and the police spokesman for interviews with anyone who had direct knowledge of the events. Particularly, we were trying to talk with members of the Zamir Commission, or the police or military who were involved in the action. The members of the Zamir Commission declined to talk; the police declined as well, citing an ongoing inquest. But in fact, some of the police had given earlier interviews to the press.
Mr. Bar-Illan continues to insist that we misquoted Teddy Kollek. He claims that we “spliced bits of Kollek” in an “underhanded” manner. Mr. Bar-Illan makes these charges without the benefit of the transcript of the Kollek interview. He did not contact us first to find out if his charges were true. That is not Mr. Bar-Illan’s journalistic style.
For instance, Mr. Bar-Illan charges specifically that the following Kollek-Wallace exchange was not as reported:
Wallace: The Israeli government tried to persuade the world that this was a riot, an unprovoked riot on the part of the Palestinians.
Kollek: We have in the government . . . that is, an ideological government, and I think whenever you have ideological governments you run into trouble.
Mr. Bar-Illan says that this Kollek reply was “not given as an answer to his [Wallace's] question. It was part of a long exchange during the interview in which Kollek, as is his wont, expressed his blunt opinion of the government.”
The fact is that that exchange is exactly as reported in our broadcast. Indeed, Mr. Kollek went on to add the following:
I think wherever you have ideological governments you run into trouble . . . and so do we. I wish we would have a more pragmatic government. Many things would have been different. But look, we have come back after 2,000 years and we haven’t learned yet a great deal of statecraft. You know it takes time.
As for Mr. Bar-Illan’s interpretation of the other portions of the Kollek interview we presented, the Mayor made no indication whatsoever, anywhere in the interview, that he was referring to the Israeli police shooting after they had been chased away from the Temple Mount by the mob. None whatsoever. And we were not relying on Mayor Kollek for that chronology. We interviewed several eyewitnesses to the shootings, who had been on the Temple Mount, or observing it. The conclusion that the first fatal shootings occurred prior to the Israeli police being forced from the Mount was also reached by the London Sunday Times, in its own investigation.
As to whether or not the Palestinians had, as they saw it, a legitimate reason to gather on the Temple Mount that day, in a portion of the interview never used, Mayor Kollek acknowledged that the Palestinians still feared that the radical Temple Mount Faithful group would try to come up to the Mount despite the Israeli court’s decision to bar them:
“They had an exaggerated fear . . . ,” said Mayor Kollek. “People who feel themselves occupied naturally have an exaggerated opinion of what’s happening on the other side.”
Mr. Bar-Illan also refers to a videotape which was “offered to Mike Wallace in the El Al King David Lounge.” The tape apparently “shows the 15-minute barrage,” and shows that there were “no policemen present anywhere near the stones’ trajectory.” This, we take it, is the same tape referred to in Mr. Bar-Illan’s diatribes in the Jerusalem Post, which contained “clear evidence that during the 15-minute rock barrage on the worshippers in the Plaza, not a single policeman was on the Wall.”
In a letter sent to Mr. Bar-Illan on January 7, 1991, producer Barry Lando wrote: “If you have such a videotape, we would be delighted if you would send us a copy. I wager a dinner at whatever Jerusalem restaurant you choose, that such a tape does not exist.” Lando has yet to receive a reply. Which is interesting, since that same tape would also show whether or not Jewish worshippers were being pelted with rocks during the barrage.
As proof of his journalistic integrity, we ask Mr. Bar-Illan to come up with the tape that he describes. This is simply to repeat the same challenge made to him in a memo sent him last December.
We do have tapes which show policemen present near the stones’ trajectories. Indeed, they show very clearly that the police in question were being targeted by the stone throwers, and we broadcast a segment of such a tape in our piece. Perhaps Mr. Bar-Illan has never bothered actually to view our report.
In his vituperative conclusion, Mr. Bar-Illan charges us with having given “an American stamp of approval to an Islamic fundamentalist blood libel.”
We suggest he read articles from the London Sunday Times and the Chicago Tribune, which also strongly contest the official Israeli version of events. Not, mind you, that he will find their reportage any more palatable than ours. He is the captive of misapprehensions about the methods and the motives of any and all reporters who fail to follow the line he sets down. A difference of opinion is fair game, but to republish his ad-hominem slanders is beneath the standard of COMMENTARY.
After the flurry raised by our report, the Chicago Tribune set out itself to look into the Temple Mount killings. Its report, published toward the end of December, came to virtually the same conclusion as we did:
Many of the statements Netanyahu and others made were unfounded. And the version of events that he and others described was misleading, exaggerated, or utterly false.
Timothy McNulty, who wrote the article, examined one Israeli allegation after another and demolished the government’s official position:
They condoned the actions of Israeli police, contending that thousands of innocent Jewish worshippers were in mortal danger. That was not true. Their explanations also served to obscure and shifted the focus away from the fact that at least 17 unarmed people were killed and as many as 150 people were wounded.
Israeli reports claimed justification for the shootings because the Palestinians were armed with knives, chains, and even swords. No such weapons were ever discovered, according to police files.
As for the issue of whether or not any Jewish worshippers were seriously injured at the Wall, McNulty quotes an Israeli attorney involved in the subsequent inquest to the effect that “None have come forward (in the coroner’s inquest) to say they were hit and none were injured enough to be hospitalized.” About 20 police were hit by stones. (We showed, by the way, in our report, a policeman being led away for medical treatment.)
In a phone conversation last December, we asked Mr. Bar-Illan if the Jerusalem Post had itself investigated the Temple Mount affair. Mr. Bar-Illan replied that, unfortunately, the paper did not have the resources, or the staff, or the time, to embark on such an undertaking.
Interestingly enough, they did have the resources, and Mr. Bar-Illan did have the time, to write three lengthy articles for the Post—and one for COMMENTARY—about our report.
Most of us know that the Jerusalem Post, which used to be an excellent source of information on what occurs in Israel, no longer is. Articles like Mr. Bar-Illan’s explain why.
New York City
To the Editor:
“60 Minutes & the Temple Mount” by David Bar-Illan was worse than disappointing. . . . I look to COMMENTARY for thoughtful discussions of issues characterized by accuracy and reasoned interpretation of the facts. I may disagree with an author’s interpretation, but seldom fail to respect the integrity and appropriateness of the presentation. With Mr. BarIllan’s article, I soon discovered I was in the unusual position of agreeing in general with the author’s interpretation but deploring the presentation, the outraged tone, the overwhelmingly ad-hominem prosecutorial emphasis of the article, the gratuitous relating of events unrelated to the Temple Mount incident from the author’s store of past grievances. . . .
The intelligent but uninformed observer would be likely to give a higher “truth” rating to Mr. Wallace’s deceitful Temple Mount program than to Mr. Bar-Illan’s unfortunate diatribe. Those who employ the methods of yellow journalism discredit the causes they set out to defend. . . .
Charles R. Kelley
To the Editor:
After Mike Wallace’s report of the events on the Temple Mount was broadcast on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” I wrote a note of protest which was aired the following week. I stand by what I wrote then:
What happened on October 8 was a tragically violent chain of mutual provocations and overreactions. I regret that Mike Wallace deliberately used me to build the credibility of a series of partial truths he presented as final judgment. The situation is delicate enough; it is not served by editing the truth and rushing to assign blame.
Beyond the issue of how accurately the program portrayed what happened on that fateful morning, there is a larger point which was not made by Wallace or any other journalist whose reports I have read. I refer here to the historical context of the events on the Temple Mount which neither explains nor excuses what happened on October 8, but counterpoises an aberration with a policy respected for 23 years.
In June 1967, after an unprovoked war, a victorious army handed its government the greatest prize the Jewish people could dream of: “The Temple Mount is in our hands.” This is Zion itself, the core of 2,000 years of longing to return. Yet the Israeli government, out of respect for the shrines of another faith that had been in place for 1,200 years, decided not only to leave the mosques untouched, but also to leave the administration of the site in the hands of Muslim religious authorities. I do not know of any precedent in history for such a gesture.
Certainly there is no precedent in Jerusalem’s history. When the Crusaders came, they changed mosques into churches. Saladdin and his followers did just the opposite. While Jordan occupied Jerusalem’s walled city (1948-67), 58 synagogues were destroyed. Nor were Jews allowed to pray at the Western Wall, the one remnant of the Temple still extant, despite armistice agreements guaranteeing that privilege. Traditionally every new ruler here has destroyed the monuments of his predecessor’s rule. Israel’s policy on archeology—preserving the remains of all periods and all peoples in Jerusalem’s history—like our policy regarding the Temple Mount, is a sign of a very different attitude on our part.
Some of the policies and programs of various Israeli governments have had grave faults which I have not hesitated to criticize, as David Bar-Illan rightly noted, but I do not think our virtues should be taken for granted.
Office of the Mayor
To the Editor:
Allow me to add my own applause to that of many of your readers who are pleased with your publication of “60 Minutes & the Temple Mount” by David Bar-Illan.
Simon H. Rifkind
New York City
To the Editor:
Israel was not the only small state to be the victim of 60 Minutes. In Rhode Island we are still nursing our wounds from a Wallace-Hewitt-Lando hatchet job. Even though we knew the record of that program in dealing with Jewish interests, we were not prepared for the distortions and hostility 60 Minutes focused on a Jewish candidate and Jewish political activity during the 1988 campaign for the U.S. Senate in Rhode Island.
Two-term Lieutenant Governor of Rhode Island Richard Licht was the Democratic candidate, opposing incumbent Republican junior Senator, John Chafee, who had served since 1976. Richard Licht, graduate of Harvard and its law school, had served in the Rhode Island Senate for ten years before becoming Lieutenant Governor. He had a spotless reputation and, in addition, with his work for Israel Bonds and the Young Leadership Division of the United Jewish Appeal, he had developed a national constituency in the North American Jewish community.
It was as natural for American Jews to support forty-year-old Richard Licht as one of their “best and brightest” as it was for American Greeks to support Michael Dukakis and Paul Sarbanes or for Italian Americans to support Mario Cuomo. Yet 60 Minutes pretended to view the Licht campaign as a sinister plot of the “pro-Israel lobby” to unseat Senator Chafee.
To Senator Chafee’s credit, he did not cooperate with 60 Minutes‘s effort to delegitimize the Licht campaign. He refused to respond to the loaded questions of the star of the show. That did not stop Mike Wallace from conjuring up a nationwide conspiracy to subvert the American electoral process.
To dramatize the malign influence of Jews in American politics, the program went on to allege that pro-Israel political action committees (PAC’s) had defeated Senator Walter Huddleston in the 1984 Kentucky Senate race. The records of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) show that, on the contrary, several pro-Israel PAC’s in fact contributed to Huddleston, while the one pro-Israel PAC that contributed to his opponent, Mitch McConnell, donated $300. The 60 Minutes program also claimed that the pro-Israel community worked to defeat Congressman Pete McCloskey of California in his run for the U.S. Senate in 1982. That was another lie. In fact, McCloskey resigned from his seat in the House in order to run for the Republican senatorial nomination in a three-way primary, in which he lost. Examination of the 1982 FEC records fails to reveal any contribution to McCloskey’s primary opponents by any PAC that could be described as “pro-Israel.” . . .
Out of all the 1988 races for the United States Congress, Wallace, Hewitt, and Lando selected one in which they could make the ethnicity of the candidate the issue—not his record, not his ability, not his integrity, but his Jewishness. This was the sole attribute of Richard Licht on which they focused, and this was the one they selected to derail his campaign by methods resembling the Willie Horton commercial.
The 60 Minutes segment ran on October 23, 1988, two weeks before the election. It is not hard to imagine the impact on the Rhode Island electorate of what Wallace modestly describes as “the most watched and among the most respected news series on American television.” Senator Chafee won, 53 percent to 47 percent, and most political observers believe that, even in the tolerant state of Rhode Island (which now has the only Jewish governor in the nation), 60 Minutes played a significant role in the defeat of the program’s target.
Robert A. Riesman
Providence, Rhode Island
To the Editor:
David Bar-Illan performs a public service in exposing the unprofessional character of 60 Minutes‘s coverage of Israeli matters. Mike Wallace pretends to cover those subjects as a journalist, when he is a mere propagandist. My own experience with Mike Wallace confirms Mr. Bar-Illan’s portrait of a man incorrigibly prejudiced against the state of Israel and American Zionism. When he came to Rhode Island to cover the Licht-Chafee Senate race in 1988, it was to show how the “Zionist lobby” had “targeted” John Chafee. As a Republican and Chafee supporter, I was called, and, in an offhand way, remarked that our side was not getting the Jewish support I hoped we could merit. The magic word the interviewer wanted to hear was “targeted,” and many times over, she asked me whether I thought Senator Chafee was “targeted” by pro-Israel forces. Asked to go on camera, I checked with AIPAC and other sources and found no evidence whatsoever of a systematic campaign against Cha-fee under their auspices or auspices known to them. Other inquiries, in Washington, New York City, and Rhode Island, yielded the same result. On camera, Wallace tried every possible way to get me to use the magic word, “targeted,” and, disappointed, treated with contempt my contrary claim that we Jewish Republicans had written to Jewish PAC’s and gotten some (modest) return. When in the Washington Jewish Week I later commented that Wallace had his script written before he ever set foot in Rhode Island, he accused me of being miffed because I didn’t get my face on 60 Minutes. I suppose, for him, in the end that is what is at stake.
All parties to that campaign on both sides unanimously rejected Wallace’s claim that Senator Cha-fee was a victim of a Jewish or Zionist conspiracy. The only one who ever thought so was Wallace himself. That did not stop him from presenting his private fantasy as investigative journalism. Mr. Bar-Illan has now shown that Wallace’s Jew-baiting is a nasty habit of his. . . .
University of South Florida
To the Editor:
David Bar-Illan notes that some of the Israeli human-rights activists who had a hand in the 60 Minutes segment about the Temple Mount “work closely with parallel Palestinian groups like Al Haq.”
At first glance, the fact that such groups work together hardly seems objectionable. But a closer look at Al Haq reveals that its leaders are prepared to play fast and loose with the facts when it suits their political interests—something which every sincere Israeli human-rights activist should utterly reject.
Typical of Al Haq’s behavior is the claim made by Al Haq founder Raja Shehadeh—in an interview with Edward Grossman of the Jerusalem Post—that the Israeli military order banning the harvest of wild thyme in the administered territories is intended “to deprive the Palestinian population of access to an herb which, through the many allusions to it in Palestinian literature, has come to symbolize the attachment of Palestinians to their land.” The truth, as Grossman noted, is that the order came at the impetus of the Israel Nature Reserves Authority, which feared “that enterprising Arabs, harvesting zataar (thyme) and shipping it over the Allenby Bridge for sale in Jordan and elsewhere, might strip the country of this distinctive plant.”
If truth is the first casualty of war, it is also the first casualty of the Arab propaganda war against Israel.
Bertram Korn, Jr.
Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America
To the Editor:
We commend David Bar-Illan on his incisive exposé of Mike Wallace’s underhanded and outright deceptive practices in his pursuit of investigative journalism, which hit rock bottom in the sleazy report on the Temple Mount tragedy. Ironically, this segment of 60 Minutes, which aired on December 2, 1990, has turned into a watershed signaling the determination of thousands of viewers that such malicious manipulations will no longer be tolerated. The hundreds of protest letters sent to Don Hewitt, the program’s executive producer, attest to this emerging resolve.
We have formed a committee whose goal is to discredit those individuals in the media who engage in such biased mischief and have sent letters with over 200 signatures to Mr. Hewitt, reminding him of the grave responsibilities of broadcast journalism and of the public’s insistence on complete honesty. In addition, we reproached 60 Minutues for its failure to go after stories like the buildup of Saddam Hussein’s chemical and biological arsenal by numerous German corporations, largely ignored by most of the news media over a span of many years.1 Had this buildup been exposed at an early stage, it could have altered the course of events in the gulf. . . .
We fully agree with Mr. Bar-Illan that news broadcasters must be held accountable for the far-reaching impact that their presentations have on viewers worldwide. . . .
Committee for Responsible Media
Bayside, New York
To the Editor:
COMMENTARY can always be relied upon in the crunch to set the record straight. The article exposing the inversion of the truth by CBS’s reporting on the Temple Mount incident is a message to the media that false reporting of news regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict will not go unanswered.
Miami Beach, Florida
To the Editor:
David Bar-Illan’s exposé of 60 Minutes and Mike Wallace reinforces my hopes that there are still Davids out there willing to take on modern-day Goliaths. . . .
Brooklyn, New York
To the Editor:
David Bar-Illan calls Mike Wallace a fitting heir to Walter Duranty, the New York Times reporter who falsified reports of the famine in the Ukraine in the early 30′s. He might also call him a fitting heir to Senator Joseph McCarthy. The latter cropped photographs; Wallace “crops” TV interviews. . . .
Brooklyn, New York
To the Editor:
David Bar-Illan’s article on 60 Minutes is very timely. Mike Wallace . . . epitomizes the liberal reporter: the man who does not give us the factual news but the news as he wants us to interpret it. . . .
Ramsey, New Jersey
To the Editor:
I read David Bar-Illan’s article with great fascination. In the piece, Mr. Bar-Illan calls attention to our film, In the Shadows: The Tragedy of Syrian Jews. We are very proud of this film, which is on videotape. . . .
Judy Feld Carr
National Task Force for Syrian Jews
Canadian Jewish Congress
Willowdale, Ontario, Canada
To the Editor:
It was timely and thoughtful of COMMENTARY to publish “60 Minutes & the Temple Mount.”
It is unfortunate that only when there is a lawsuit, as in the case of Ariel Sharon vs. Time magazine, does anti-Israel bias in the media receive national exposure in the U. S.
Sometimes I get the impression that the media—the press and the TV networks—shy away from criticizing each other, probably because each has significant holes in its woodwork.
The only saving grace about Jewish journalists like Mike Wallace and Anthony Lewis who frequently bad-mouth Israel and its people is that Israelis develop and implement national-security policies with negligible concern for the bad public relations that media people like them create. . . .
Lawrence I. Gould
To the Editor:
. . . I saw the 60 Minutes broadcast and recognized it for a hatchet job. Mr. Bar-Illan’s report tells me much I did not know about both the Temple Mount affair and 60 Minutes.
New York City
To the Editor:
What can I say that expresses my enthusiasm for the article on Mike Wallace and 60 Minutes in the February issue? Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. . . .
Harvey B. Schechter
Western States Director
Los Angeles, California
To the Editor:
In connection with David BarIllan’s article in your February issue, I would like to call your readers’ attention to the following account of the Temple Mount incident, which appeared in the October 9, 1990 Backgrounder Report of Bridges for Peace, a Christian nonprofit organization based in Jerusalem:
On the morning of October 8, 1990, as 20,000 Jewish pilgrims and tourists (including Christians) were praying at the Western Wall on the most sacred of the intermediate days of Sukkot, rocks, bottles, sharp metal objects, and bricks came raining on their heads from Muslim rioters on the Temple Mount above them, site of the Muslim Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque. As Jewish men and women pray separately, the confusion of people fleeing the scene made it almost impossible for family members to find one another and ensure that all were safe. Elderly people had to be helped to safety.
The rioters claimed extremist Jews were attempting to take over the mosque area. While the Temple Mount Faithful had declared their intentions to try to lay the cornerstone of the Third Temple for a second time, this effort was overruled by Israel’s High Court of Justice. Teddy Kollek, Mayor of Jerusalem, placed paid ads in all Arab dailies stating that an injunction had been secured by the courts, and the respect and integrity of the Muslim site were secure. He did this in an effort to prevent such an incident. The Muslim Wakf (administrators of the Mount) knew this fact, yet they did nothing to stop the rumor. (In fact, at Friday’s prayers at the mosque [October 5, 1990], an announcement was made over the loudspeakers for volunteers to come and “defend the mosque” on Monday [October 8]. It was not a Muslim holy day, or a day for prayer. The 3,000 Muslim men came for a purpose.) The Temple Mount Faithful did appear outside the mosque area, as they do every pilgrimage holiday, and after a brief declaration, left the area via the Dung Gate. Only after they left the scene did the Arab assault on the Sukkot pilgrims begin.
The assault was a well-organized attack of 3,000 Muslim rioters on the Temple Mount. As a Muslim official began crying “Allahu Akhbar” (“God is great”) from a mosque loudspeaker, the assault began simultaneously at three points while rioters rolled boulders onto the access road leading to the Mount. The rioters had been recruited, and the rocks, bricks, and boulders had been brought to the scene beforehand. “We found piles of stones, barrels full of nails, bottles, and bits of iron,” declared Police Inspector-General Ya’acov Terner. It was not a spontaneous event, but orchestrated by the intifada leaders well in advance.
The rioters were urged on by repeated cries of “jihad” (holy war) from the mosque and went on to burn the police outpost on the Mount, and, for a time, the police completely lost control of the site. In an effort to gain entrance into this fortress-like compound, the police counterattacked with tear gas and rubber bullets, which were ineffective. The inflamed mob fought back with axes and chains. Surrounded by the violent mob, with their lives in peril, the police used the only recourse to protect themselves, live ammunition.
The entire incident lasted 45 minutes. The toll was 21 Arabs killed [later reduced to 17—Ed.], 125 Arabs and 19 Jews injured. This has been assessed as the worst incident since 1967, and certainly the worst in the three-year-old intifada.
The world press has not reported the whole story as to what precipitated this tragic incident. Most reports began by stating that “Israeli police killed 21 Arabs” without making it clear that it was the Arab riot which resulted in the tragic killing of Arabs. . . .
Clarence H. Wagner, Jr.
Bridges for Peace
David Bar-illan writes:
That television producers believe a reviewer of their work should “get their side of the story” before criticizing it is a measure of their penchant for confusing historical events with their shows about those events. No critic need ask how a show was concocted. In fact, it may be unethical to do so. It would be instructive to see all the out-takes of what purports to be a documentary. But CBS will not release them. As it is, I doubt that any daily newspaper reviewer would publish in full a long rebuttal to his critique, giving it, as I did with Mike Wallace’s first letter, equal space and placing. No such fairness exists in television news. I am still awaiting CBS’s reply to my request that they grant equal time for a professionally made 18-minute show on what really occurred at the Temple Mount.
It so happens that I did have a half-hour conversation with Mike Wallace (at his initiative) about his own Temple Mount show before writing about it. What struck me most was his incredulousness when I contended that the Israeli police returned to the Temple Mount on that fateful day—even though the worshippers at the Western Wall were by then out of danger—not only to subdue the mob of rioters, but because they were concerned about the fate of two policemen who had remained on the Mount. “Do you know,” he asked, “who those men were? One was an Arab record keeper and the other some kind of janitor!” That the Israeli police would risk their own lives to rescue such “nonentities,” and Arabs to boot, was obviously beyond his comprehension. There was more in that sentence to betray his misunderstanding of Israel than anything else he had done.
Mike Wallace and Barry Lando deliberately distort my objection to the use of the canned Binyamin Netanyahu press conference. Whether the press conference was held on the day of the riot or six days later is immaterial, and my objection had nothing to do with the possibility that Netanyahu might have changed his view by the time 60 Minutes filmed the program. I charged that by inserting an unrelated interview, without even stating that it was canned goods, they created the impression that Netanyahu was evading allegations made on the program. Mr. Wallace and Mr. Lando still claim that they sought Israeli interviewees, but they do not, nor can they, answer the charge that they refused to interview Netanyahu on the subjects raised in their show, or that they did not bother locating easily accessible English-speaking men, women, and children who were victims of the stoning at the Western Wall. They kept insisting on talking only to members of the Zamir Commission and to police officers, knowing that these officials were proscribed from testifying so long as the investigation was in progress.
As I clearly indicated in the Postscript of my article, I cannot actually prove that the tape with Teddy Kollek was spliced. Unfortunately, Kollek did not record the interview himself, as an experienced public man like him should have done. But there is no question that his criticism of the government as “ideological” was not provided as an explanation for the riot, which is how 60 Minutes presented it, but as part of a description of the general atmosphere in Jerusalem. (He was not told that the program was specifically about the Temple Mount.) Nor can there be any question that when he referred to “the most unfortunate thing that happened in 22 years” he was talking about the killing of 17 people (at the time he thought the number was 21). Yet 60 Minutes ran his remark before describing the stoning, thus leading viewers to believe that Kollek had confirmed the Al Haq-Village Voice-CBS thesis: that the stoning of the worshippers occurred only in response to the killings by the police. That is why Kollek, who yields to no one in his aversion for the Likud government, protested to CBS about the way he was used by the program. To aver, as has Don Hewitt, the executive producer of 60 Minutes, that Kollek was pressured into doing this by the Likud is not only preposterous, it is yet another display of the media’s arrant ignorance about Israel, matched by characteristic arrogance.
I appreciate Mr. Lando’s offer of a free dinner if I can produce the videocassette of the stone-barrage over the Wall with no police in the line of the trajectories. The cassette’s owner, who still naively believes he can put unvarnished truth to commercial purposes, will gladly show it to Mr. Lando’s representative in Jerusalem. He will not allow it to be copied.
Mr. Lando and Mr. Wallace no longer say that they could not get a list of the injured, because by obtaining such a list after making one phone call, I proved they never seriously tried. Now they say only that there were no serious injuries. That is correct, and that is the sort of thing Jews are never forgiven for. As the wave of sympathy for Israel after the Scud attacks demonstrated, there is an infinite attraction in Jews as victims. During the Temple Mount riot, injuries were minimized by the fast warning of the border police and the quick scattering of the already dispersing worshippers to nearby shelters. As Mike Wallace himself said to me, it would have been easier to defend Israel’s position had there been a few Jewish deaths. It brings to mind an essay by the satirist Ephraim Kishon after the Six-Day War entitled “Forgive Us for Winning.” Perhaps Israel should apologize for the fact that no one was killed by the boulder barrage.
The Lando-Wallace letter is short on answering specific charges and long on citing publications which agree with CBS’s conclusions. Surprisingly, they fail to cite the virulently anti-Israel Village Voice, on whose reconstruction of the event their show was largely based. (On the program Wallace was kinder, acknowledging his debt to the Voice.) But since most of the press has been hostile to Israel in the past twenty years or so, they could undoubtedly have found more than two supportive examples. Like CBS, the London Sunday Times and the Chicago Tribune relied on Arab witnesses and on PLO fronts like Al Haq, the Arab “human-rights” organization, and on “useful idiots” like the Israeli Ramsey Clarks of the B’Tselem organization who, until sobered by Scuds, would have been perfectly willing to believe the world was flat had the PLO-intifada leadership so decreed.
Perhaps CBS did not notice it, but the Zamir Commission reported that “To our great regret, those [Palestinians] who gave the depositions appearing in the B’Tselem report did not see fit to appear before the Commission for interrogation under oath.” Obviously, it is one thing for Palestinians to tell tales to gullible peaceniks who until recently believed Arafat, Faisal Husseini, and Sari Nusseibeh were paragons of integrity and pursuers of peace. But it is quite another to be cross-examined under oath. Which makes the thrust of the Lando-Wallace letter, summarized in Mr. Wallace’s coda on the show—“The Israelis stand by the Zamir Commission report and they continue to resist any United Nations investigation into the bloody events on the Temple Mount”—particularly insidious. It implies not only that the Zamir investigation was a cover-up, but that Israel is resisting an objective inquiry. As even the most superficial student of the problem knows, a UN investigation of an internal affair is a compromise of sovereignty which Israel, like virtually all other countries, will not permit. It has nothing to do with the event itself.
Neither Mr. Lando and Mr. Wallace nor the papers they extol thought of really investigating what happened before and during the Temple Mount riot. For instance, as the Cox News Service revealed in a story which appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News but was largely ignored elsewhere in the United States, Saddam Hussein met secretly with King Hussein and Arafat before the Temple Mount riot “to plan ways of heating up the Palestinian uprising.” Western diplomatic officials were quoted in the story as saying that “Arafat was assigned the task of giving the three-year-old Palestinian uprising new spark and getting it back to the front pages.”
A week before the Temple Mount incident, a large gang of masked youths from Silwan, an Arab village near the Old City, tried to reach the Western Wall worshippers. Armed with stones and metal bars, they were stopped with great difficulty by the border patrol. A week after the riot, terrorists who had infiltrated from Jordan and whose avowed purpose was to “kill worshippers at the Wall” were captured near Jericho after killing an Israeli soldier. As I mentioned in my article, young Jamal Nusseibeh, the hero of the 60 Minutes program, clearly indicated Arab premeditation. The big boulders had been carried to the Mount in black rubbish buckets by “the people,” said Jamal. He and hundreds of schoolboys had been released from school and told to carry stones to the Temple Mount in their schoolbags. As the Ma’ariv reporter Avinoam Bar-Yosef found, the schools had been closed on command. Whose command? Every school principal gave the same answer: by order of intifada chief Faisal Husseini.
Nor was it only the Israelis, as Mr. Lando and Mr. Wallace contend, who charged that the riot was premeditated and that the Palestinians were acting on behalf of Saddam Hussein. The renowned Egyptian author, Mahmoud Abd el Munim Morad, wrote soon after the incident in the Cairo October, one of Egypt’s most prestigious publications, that the Temple Mount riot had been the fruit of “genius planning” by Saddam Hussein and Yasir Arafat. It was intended, he said, to divert the world from Iraq’s actions in the gulf and to occupy it with “Israel rather than Iraqi aggression.” And surely the CBS producers must have known that the Mufti of Jerusalem, the Al Aqsa Mosque imam, whom they absolve of responsibility for inciting the mob, sent Saddam Hussein fervent greetings a week after the Kuwaiti invasion, urging him to “purge the sanctified Muslim lands of the contamination of the American armed forces.” He passed a religious edict calling for jihad against the United States and its allies and the boycott of American goods. And, like all the intifada leaders, he cheered the Scud attacks on Tel Aviv.
Perhaps what is most regrettable about the sensational treatment of the Temple Mount riot is that essential facts have been completely ignored. In his introduction to the show, Wallace quickly mentions that the site is “a spot sacred to both Arabs and Jews.” In fact, the Temple Mount (not the Western Wall) is of supreme significance only for Jews, and has been so for 3,000 years. Nor is it “the third holiest site in all Islam,” as Mr. Wallace and others state. On January 26, CNN’s Peter Arnett reported being shown bomb damage in the Iraqi city of “Najeb, the third holiest city in Islam, after Mecca and Medina.” There are various other sites—in Iran, Syria, and Turkey—which compete for the same title.
As Mayor Teddy Kollek reminds us above, when Israel recaptured Jerusalem’s Old City in 1967, it found that every last one of its 58 synagogues had been destroyed. At the time the world’s sympathy for Israel was such that Israel could have done anything it wanted on the Mount, including building a Jewish house of worship in the ample empty space there, or digging for archeological treasures of unparalleled importance. Instead, Israel turned the keys of the Mount over to the astonished members of the Muslim council, who had fully expected to be exiled, and granted them autonomous rule over the Mount. The very fact that, on the day of the riot, the police and the courts prevented the appearance of the two dozen harmless eccentrics of the Temple Mount Faithful, whose previous annual pilgrimages had consisted of short, quiet prayers in a corner of the Mount, is in itself an indication of Israel’s extreme sensitivity to Arab sensibilities. Mayor Kollek recently said, and rightly, that if ever a state deserved the Nobel Prize for Peace, it is Israel for the way it has conducted itself in Jerusalem. To suggest that the Israeli police deliberately provoked a bloody incident on the Mount, that they were guilty of anything more than unpreparedness, clumsiness, and perhaps overreaction, takes a special kind of malevolence.
Mr. Wallace and Mr. Lando end their letter with the by-now-obligatory calumniation of the Jerusalem Post. Typically, they begin by quoting only half of what I said in a telephone conversation. I asserted that the Jerusalem Post, whose reporters speak English, Hebrew, and Arabic, maintains daily contacts with Palestinian Arab as well as Jewish sources. No paper has better connections with the intifada leadership. It does not, however, rely solely on PLO propagandists like CBS consultant David Kuttab. The Post covered the incident thoroughly on a daily basis. And like all the major Israeli newspapers, it felt that squandering resources on a special investigation was unwarranted. Nor is the Post in the habit of competing with tendentious, superficial, and disinformation-infested television entertainment shows, which play at investigative journalism. The Post published a lengthy critique of the Zamir report by one of its ace reporters, Abraham Rabinovich, who has been with the paper for 22 years, and whose writing appears regularly in publications like the International Herald Tribune. I sent his critique to Mr. Lando in December.
That the Jerusalem Post is no longer popular with Mr. Wallace and Mr. Lando and many of their colleagues is not surprising. In fact, it may be a sign that under its new management the Post is doing something right. Until last year the paper was part of the “blame-Israel-first” claque, providing the foreign press with generous fodder—and an Israeli cover—for its decades-long orgy of Israel-bashing. Correspondents used to quote it with glee. (One Chicago Sun Times reporter habitually cribbed from it until he got caught.) After all, no foreigners could be expected to be less vigorous in their excoriation of Israel than Israel’s only English daily. Now that the Post has the chutzpah not only to assert that Israel is more sinned against than sinning, but to suggest that a Palestinian state in the heart of Jerusalem and the suburbs of Tel Aviv, with the inevitable access it would offer to the Saddam Husseins of this world, may not be a good idea after all, some foreign reporters feel orphaned. Let us hope they get over it.
I am grateful to Charles R. Kelley for “agreeing in general” with my interpretations, and I confess I cannot disagree with his criticism of my article’s tone and “prosecutorial emphasis.” Events in Jerusalem and their exploitation by the media are not conducive to Olympian detachment, but I should have tried harder to stay cool. It should be noted, though, that my article was intended to review Mike Wallace’s record as an Israel-basher, not just his show on the Temple Mount incident. Hence the references to “past grievances.”
My thanks as well to Clarence H. Wagner, Jr. for confirming my account of events on the Temple Mount, and to Simon H. Rifkind, Robert A. Riesman, Jacob Neusner, Bertram Korn, Jr., Ruth Janko, and all the other letter writers for their generous comments.
1 See Michael Ledeen’s “Iraq’s German Connection,” beginning on p. 27 of this issue.—Ed.