The mosque that wasn't torched


Remember that “arson attack” last month by “Jewish extremists” against a West Bank mosque? Remember how that outrageous assault made headline news around the world? Remember how it showed that “both sides”—not just the Arabs—are guilty of violence, and “both sides”—not only Israelis—are suffering?

Well, guess what: it was a lie.

The period from late October through late November was a time of escalating Palestinian terrorism against Israelis. On Oct. 22, a terrorist (or, according to the Palestinian Authority, a “hero”) drove his car into a Jerusalem railway station, murdering two innocent civilians—one was three-month-old Chaya Zissel Braun, an American citizen—and injuring eight others.

A week later, a terrorist attempted to murder an American-Israeli rabbi in Jerusalem. Then on Nov. 5, another Palestinian “martyr” rammed his car into a Jerusalem train station, killing two and wounding 13. That same day, in Gush Etzion, another car-terrorist drove into and severely wounded a group of Israeli soldiers.

On Nov. 10, a Palestinian terrorist stabbed an Israeli soldier to death in Tel Aviv. Elsewhere that day, another Palestinian stabbed a young Israeli woman to death at a Gush Etzion bus stop and wounded two others.

At the same time, there were almost daily rock-throwing attacks by Arab mobs against Israeli police or soldiers in Jerusalem and various towns in the Judea-Samaria territories.

And it was all incited by a constant wave of radio and television broadcasts by Palestinian Authority officials praising the terrorists in these attacks and urging more “days of rage” against the Jews.

The wave of incitement and violence made clear that the Palestinians were the aggressors, and the Israelis were the victims. No wonder Israel’s critics in the international news media seemed almost gleeful when they heard the news of a fire-bombing at a West Bank mosque. Here was the ammunition they needed to construct a new narrative—a chance to “prove” that the Palestinians weren’t the only violent aggressors.

A major article in the international news section of the New York Times on Nov. 12 announced: “Further charging the atmosphere at a time of heightened Israeli-Palestinian tensions and religious friction, a mosque in a village in the West Bank was damaged overnight in what was said to be an arson attack, and a firebomb was thrown at an old synagogue in an Arab town in northern Israel, the police said.”

“Said to be an arson attack?” Said by whom? Well, actually it was the mayor of Ramallah, Faraj al-Naassaneh, whose sole basis for calling it arson was that “only Jewish settlers would do this.”

The attack on the ancient synagogue in Shfaram, by contrast, was caused by a firebomb—meaning that anyone who thought it was the work of Arabs weren’t just speculating that “only Arabs would do this.” A firebomb is concrete evidence that somebody intended to burn the synagogue. The fire at the synagogue could not have been caused, for example, by an electrical problem.

Like the electrical problem that it now turns out caused the fire in the mosque.

On Dec. 15, the Israeli police announced that following an investigation aided by the fire department, the Shin Bet security agency, and, yes, Palestinian Authority investigators, the mystery of the fire had been solved: a malfunction in an electric heater.

The mosque was not “torched,” as NBC News reported. It was not an “arson attack,” as Reuters claimed. No evidence of a flammable liquid was discovered. The claim by United Press International that “anti-Arab graffiti was applied to the mosque” was false.

Interestingly enough, it also turned out that someone in the mosque moved the faulty heater from its original place just before the investigators arrived. So apparently it was not true that “only Jewish settlers would do this,” a sentiment that numerous media outlets reported as if it was an obvious fact. Apparently a faulty heater would do it, and a mosque staff member who wanted to avoid culpability and smear Israel was capable of trying to cover up the evidence.

How did the New York Times report this stunning revelation? One paragraph in its “News Briefs” section. The disproportion between the space and prominence allotted to the original “Jews Burn Mosque” story and that given to the “Jews Didn’t Burn Mosque, After All” story is stunning.

But better than nothing. The Washington Post hasn’t reported the follow-up story at all. Will NBC News, Reuters, or United Press International do the right thing?

Would they dare admit facts that would shatter the false narrative of “both sides foment violence?” Don’t count on it. As a wise man (variously attributed to Twain, or to Churchill) once put it: “A lie gets half-way around the world, before the truth has a chance to pull its boots on.”

Moshe Phillips is president and Benyamin Korn is chairman of the Religious Zionists of America, Philadelphia.


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