by Genevieve Long
JERUSALEM–When journalists go out on the streets to report, it is usually to record a newsworthy story. But what about when reporters search for violence? Look at the recent events in Jerusalem surrounding Al-Aqsa mosque. Rumors that extremist religious Jews were planning to enter Al-Aqsa and pray there sparked widespread calls for Muslims to take action to protect it. That, and other factors, led to a heightened state of security.
There are deep historic grudges over the ground near Al-Aqsa, called Temple Mount, which includes the dome of the rock, where some say the footprint of Adam and the dawn of human history can be found. It is far too complicated to understand in the abstract, let alone explain in a few sentences. Suffice to say that when tensions flare over this part of Jerusalem, it’s truly no laughing matter.
Even so, on the ground this past Friday in Jerusalem, the number of journslists was shocking. Camera crews, photographers, reporters–there was a little bit of everyone. At some points it seemed as though there were more journalists than police.
The question came to mind, while I was in the midst of this gaggle of reporters as one of them–why were we there? A colleague of mine recently said, “People in Israel are news junkies.” So maybe it was a response to demand. Or maybe the competition factor. Everyone else was out and nobody wanted to be left behind, just in case.
It’s the latter thought that started to disturb me as the hours went by. Tensions had been high in recent days (or maybe higher than usual, since Jerusalem is always a bit edgy). As I walked through the streets inside the walls of the old city of Jerusalem–the route to Al-Aqsa mosque and the source of the tension–I looked around every corner for drama worth reporting, worth taking a photo of. There were barricades to the side streets leading to Al-Aqsa, and some barricades in the middle of main walkways (cars don’t seem to drive through the old city). There were scores of police, and a few agitated Arabs. One old Arab woman yelled after going through a barricade that all the Arabs and Jews needed to get out of the city. To say the old lady was the height of the drama I witnessed would be putting it mildly.
As I stood in a side street waiting for a good shot of something, two British women tourists passed, and asked if I spoke English. They wanted directions, but we ended up talking about the events of the day. One of them said they’d heard there were people (which kind, I don’t know) holed up in Al-Aqsa in protest. I told her I’d heard there would be a large protest and prayer outside the walls of the old city later for all those who were denied entry to morning prayers at the mosque.
“There are about 1,000 rumors in this place!” she exclaimed to me, and we all laughed at the irony of it all. In that moment, reporters chasing such news didn’t seem so different from chasing rumors.
“Well, I’m glad you’re here to report the truth!” the woman said after I gave them my Epoch Times card and explained why I was there. Then she hesitated, and added a last thought. “At least one version of the truth, anyway.”
And as it turned out, she was right. The protest outside of the walls did happen about 2 hours later. It was peaceful, with scores of heavily armed Israeli police on one side, and scores of quiet Muslim worshipers on the other. They sat and listed to a slew of rhetoric in a speech made in Arabic that was so mundane my bilingual colleague found it too boring to translate in full. Then they prayed. Then they left. It was a day of good photo ops of interesting characters in a play.
On my way back to my newspaper bureau in Tel Aviv, I ran into another American at the bus stop, a young man from the Jerusalem Post. A brief, loud conversation on his cell phone revealed there was finally some drama happening. As he sprung up and started back in the direction of the old city, I ran after him, “Is something happening?” I asked.
“Yeah, I’m just on my way back there,” he answered excitedly. “You can come if you want.” Suffering from fairly severe dehydration, I didn’t manage to keep up with him, but did see some of his footage later. Violence had erupted in some of the neighborhoods of eastern Jerusalem (which is code for largely Arab neighborhoods); there was stone throwing, rubber bullets, some women threw planters and paint from rooftops, and about 12 Israeli soldiers were injured.
When I saw the video footage, I felt like I missed the story. Then I started to search the Internet for other coverage, and found a surprising imbalance in the mainstream media reports. During a day that was marked by large groups of people peacefully protesting not being allowed to go to Al-Aqsa, the media took the most violent slant by honing in on brief violence in a neighborhood in another part of the city. They had sent them out in search of blood, and didn’t stop until they found it.
It is a complicated part of the world, that’s true. And news is news, no matter which way you slice it. But after seeing the chain of events from the inner walls of the old city to the final product on the Jerusalem Post and other media’s websites, it’s questionable whether the news was the brief violence, or a day of mostly calm. In the end, the story I filed had a headline I thought was a more accurate depiction of the day’s events: “Jerusalem Protests Largely Peaceful.”
As media, the least we owe the public is the most complete story possible. Not just the most dramatic version of events.
Click here to read the original blog posting for the Foreign Policy Association