In addition to the fear and anger stemming from a wave of wanton stabbing and vehicle attacks on Israelis during the past month – and there were at least two more Thursday, including two Palestinians armed with knives who tried to board a bus full of children – they now are dealing with the horror and shame of realizing an innocent Eritrean migrant fell victim Monday to panic and rage.
When an Arab killed a soldier at a Be'er Sheva bus station, grabbed his victim's gun and opened fire, a security guard mistook 29-year-old Haftum Zarhom for a second attacker and shot him. Some bystanders, believing he was a terrorist, then beat the wounded Zarhom, who later died from the gunshot.
Israeli leaders reacted swiftly, announcing Monday twin IDF and national police investigations to identify the perpetrators and indict them.
In an attack, people "should evacuate the area and let the emergency services do their job," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. "No one will take the law into his own hands. That's the first rule."
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon called for the perpetrators to be arrested.
"We must bring the attackers to justice," Ya'alon said. "No one should behave this way, even when there is great anger and sadness."
By late Wednesday, four suspects were in custody.
This does not reduce the tragedy of Zarhom's death, but it does reinforce a message to Israeli society that mob violence is wrong and will not be tolerated. But is a message with which most Israelis already wholeheartedly agree, and they have expressed their deep revulsion and anger at previous acts of lawless violence and terrorist acts by Jewish terrorists against Arabs in years past—from Baruch Goldstein's massacre in a Hebron mosque to the horrific killing of the 18-month-old Ali Dawabsheh and subsequent death of his mother in a firebombing of their home in the West bank three months ago. Newspaper editorials and politicians from left to right uniformly expressed outrage at such despicable actions. Watching the Israeli news one can see the deep sense of shame that the Israeli public feels.
Just for a moment, imagine if Israeli leaders had reacted differently. What if they tried to rationalize the death, saying the people who set on Zarhom were striking a blow for their people and merely acting out of understandable anger and frustration? They've been living under siege for a long time, subjected to the prospect that they could be attacked at any time, on virtually any street in their homeland.
Imagine if social media lit up with Israeli memes justifying or endorsing the vigilante violence; "When in doubt, take them out." Imagine public rallies featuring Israeli children brandishing symbols of this violence.
Would reporters write stories explaining the roots of this attitude? Would they try to balance their reports by explaining the Israeli anger and frustration? Would news outlets issue misleading headlines, minimizing the attackers' responsibility for the violence? Would the State Department advise "both sides" to tone down their rhetoric?
More likely, a chorus of global condemnation would rain down on Israel, with demands that such reckless incitement halt immediately. And that would be justified.
Yet journalists and government officials are engaging in all these exercises in reacting to the wanton acts of slaughter Palestinians are carrying out daily. Palestinian society – from the PA leadership to U.S.-subsidized education ministries to nearly the entire Palestinian media have engaged for decades in horrific incitement to terrorism and the demonization of Jews similar to the way Nazis demonized Jews. But yet, a review of Washington Post stories since 2013 finds none which focused primarily or explored the depth of this incitement that drives this latest outbreak of violence.
The State Department continues to walk back comments by Secretary of State John Kerry and his chief spokesman, John Kirby, in which they falsely connected the violence to Israeli settlements and also gave life to the lie that really sparked the attacks. Palestinians, led by Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, have stoked passions for weeks by claiming Israel was changing the "status quo" at Muslim holy sites above Jerusalem's Temple Mount and diminishing Muslim access.
In fact, the Israelis have not changed the status quo one iota on the Temple Mount since they captured the Eastern part of Jerusalem in the defensive Six Day War. From 1948-67, Jews and Christians were denied any access to the Christians sites in Old Jerusalem and the Jews were denied access to the most holy site in their religion, the Western Wall of the Jewish Temple built by King Herod and destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. When General Moshe Dayan captured the Old City in June 1967, he handed over administration of the Temple Mount with the two great mosques, revered by Muslims around the world, to the Waqf, a religious trust that included Jordanian officials and Palestinians. Jews were not allowed to pray on the Temple Mount but could visit as tourists. To this day, successive Israeli administrations have scrupulously upheld this status quo.
But many Palestinian leaders began to fabricate incendiary allegations that Israel was changing the status quo, even alleging plots to raze the two mosques in order to build the Third Temple. While a crazy handful of Jewish fanatics promote this idea, they are a fringe of a fringe enjoying no credibility. Figures just released by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs show that nearly 4 million Muslims visited Haram Al Sharif in the past year, compared to about 200,000 Christians and 12,000 Jews.
But the rhetoric from Abbas makes it sound like the area is under assault, and that violence against Israelis is justified to protect holy sites.
"The Al-Aqsa [Mosque] is ours... and they have no right to defile it with their filthy feet," Abbas said in a speech last month on PA TV, and translated by Palestinian Media Watch. "We will not allow them to, and we will do everything in our power to protect Jerusalem... We bless every drop of blood that has been spilled for Jerusalem, which is clean and pure blood, blood spilled for Allah, Allah willing. Every martyr (Shahid) will reach Paradise, and everyone wounded will be rewarded by Allah."
He reinforced that message during his speech at the United Nations, accusing Israel of trying to seize control of the area from an Islamic trust that has been in place since before Israel controlled Jerusalem in 1967. "The Palestinian people will not allow the implementation of this illegal scheme," Abbas said. Israel's actions are aggravating "the sensitivities of Palestinians and Muslims everywhere."
Last week, Abbas falsely claimed that Israel was executing "our children in cold blood" after video emerged of a young Palestinian lying wounded in the street. The boy isn't dead, he was released from an Israeli hospital Sunday, and Abbas failed to mention that his injuries came after he stabbed a 13-year-old boy moments earlier, critically wounding him.
Abbas' Fatah party, meanwhile, extols its "martyrs" on social media. "We are a nation that dies a Martyrdom-death with a smile on its face," an Oct. 14 on the Rafah Fatah party Facebook page said.
A children's program on Palestinian television last week hailed those attacking people on Israel's streets as "the young heroes who have sacrificed their lives for Jerusalem, and who carried out all those great heroic acts. We love them and kiss their hands, because they are true heroes," a Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) report shows.
Any restrictions on Muslim access to the holy sites have come in response to violence by Palestinians, or out of concern violence might erupt. The issue, journalist Jeffrey Goldberg recently explained, is rooted in a Palestinian rejection of Jews' rights to be at their most sacred site, or even to be in the land at all.
The New York Times correction
On Monday, State Department spokesman Mark Toner finally gave a clear statement that this "status quo" has not been altered. "Israel has made it clear that they do not intend to and have not changed the status quo" at the Temple Mount, Toner said. "And I think perhaps what we're talking about is just clarity on all sides, and that includes the Palestinian side, that there is no change in the status quo, that all sides need to recognize that, make every effort possible to reduce tensions..."
Despite this statement, Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization's executive committee, repeated the canard. "We know that Israel is changing the status quo in Haram al-Sharif," she said. "They say no, they're not."
During the peak of the bloodshed, Ashrawi chose to stoke anger.
Some news stories may refer to isolated examples of the inflammatory rhetoric coming from Palestinian leaders and media, but major U.S. news outlets thus far have failed to devote a story to the depth and consistency of Palestinian incitement.
Meanwhile, headlines and stories about Palestinian attacks repeatedly are phrased in ways that minimize the fact that Palestinians are attacking Israelis, often elderly Israelis, at will. When Palestinian casualty figures are cited, often there is no distinction to show how many were killed or injured carrying out an attack, said Gilead Ini, a senior research analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).
He blames an entrenched media narrative that holds Israel responsible, no matter what is taking place on the ground. "It's worse than ever, or as bad as ever," he said.
New examples seem to emerge almost every day. Among them:
MSNBC reporter Ayman Mohyeldin was corrected on air after witnessing security forces shoot a Palestinian as he raced toward the Damascus Gate intent on attacking. Mohyeldin told viewers the man was unarmed, when even the anchor could see the man's knife. MSNBC then had to apologize for airing maps purportedly showing the loss of Palestinian land to Israel since 1946. The network acknowledged that the maps were "completely wrong."
When a Palestinian mob torched Joseph's Tomb in Nablus, CNN's original headline merely reported that the site "Catches Fire" with no one responsible.
An example Ini believes epitomizes the news media's consistent minimizing of Palestinian culpability in violence is this Sept. 14 New York Times story by Diaa Hadid. Israeli citizen Alexander Levlovich, 64, was killed when his car was struck by a hail of stones thrown by young Palestinians and crashed. The Times story, however, says the youth were throwing stones at "the road he was driving on," as if the road was the target and Levlovich's death an unfortunate accident.
There's a tendency among some journalists to avoid directly ascribing blame to Palestinians, even in clear acts of violence like this, Ini said. "Journalists are supposed to scrutinize. In this case, I believe they are doing the exact opposite of their jobs: they are protecting Palestinians from scrutiny."
Commensurate acts of violence by Israelis against Palestinians are relatively few and far between, Ini said. But when they do occur, such as the recent arson attack against a Palestinian home that killed a woman and her baby, they trigger a series of stories about Israeli society and whether it is growing more intolerant.
"We are not seeing the same" stories about racist statements and incitement by Palestinian leaders, he said, and that "warps the world's view of the conflict." In addition, journalists go out of their way to "understand roots of anger that drives violence against Israelis." But in the few instances in which Israelis attack Palestinians, a double standard applies and that same attempts at perspective never materialize.
Besides journalists failing to hold Palestinians accountable for their actions via a deliberate refusal to report on their incitement, there is another byproduct of this one-sided affair. Palestinians end up being rewarded for incitement, terrorism and rampant bloodshed.
France proposed sending an international force to quell tensions on the Temple Mount. UNESCO proposed a resolution making the Western Wall, among Judaism's most significant sites, to be part of the Al Aqsa mosque. The Palestinian Authority is demanding full control over Jews who visit the Temple Mount.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian narrative receives massive media coverage despite this uprising's roots in a manifestly fabricated conspiracy. There is no international penalty, no moral condemnation. This all but guarantees that the current wave of stabbings, terrorism and vicious anti-Semitic incitement against Israelis will continue.