The Palestinians declared a three-day-long “rage” spree over US President Donald Trump’s announcement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Thus far, however, it seems that the real anger is showing up in the international media, not on the Palestinian street.
Question: How many foreign journalists does it take to cover the Palestinian reaction to Trump’s announcement? Answer: As many as the Israel-Palestinian-conflict-obsessed-West can manage to send.
The massive presence of the international media in Jerusalem and the West Bank has taken even the Palestinians by surprise. Since Trump’s announcement on December 6, dozens of additional journalists and camera crews have converged on Israel to cover “the big story.”
The American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem, once a favorite haunt of international reporters, is once again packed with journalists from around the world.
Some of these reporters, including those working for American networks, have been flown in from their working posts in London, Paris, Cairo and New York to cover what many of them are already calling the “New Palestinian Intifada.” But is it really a new intifada, or is it simply wishful thinking on the part of the swarm of Palestinian and foreign reporters?
In the past few days, we have seen wild exaggeration in the media as to what is really happening in and around the Old City of Jerusalem. What is evident, however, is that the number of journalists and photographers covering the protests in the city has thus far exceeded the number of Palestinian protesters.
Let us start with Friday, December 8, the final day of the announced Palestinian “rage.” The Palestinian Authority, Hamas and other Palestinian groups told us to expect mass rallies and protests after Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound. So did the reporters.
By early morning, at least six television production trucks were stationed in the small parking lot outside the Damascus Gate, the main entrance to the Old City of Jerusalem. The trucks belonged to various television stations were presumably brought there to film live broadcasts of the anticipated mass protests. Another 70-80 journalists and photographers were waiting, some impatiently, for the Muslim worshippers to finish their prayers and start their protests against President Trump’s announcement.
What we got in the end was a small and peaceful protest of some 40 Palestinians, who chanted slogans against Israel, the US and Arab leaders — including Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, who was dubbed a “traitor” and “Israeli spy.”
Bjorn Stritzel, an honest and brave German journalist, tweeted from the scene: “More journalists than protesters after Friday prayers.”
The media frenzy was echoed by several other reporters. “Three days of ‘rage’ have passed since Trump’s Jerusalem declaration and Armageddon hasn’t arrived,” remarked journalist Oren Kessler. “One is loath to make predictions of continued calm in the region, but thus far the doomsday prophecies have not materialized.”
French journalist Piotr Smolar, who also waited for the “big” protest, wrote: “Dozens and dozens of journalists at Damascus gate, where nothing has happened until now.”
Joe Dyke, a reporter with Agence France Press (AFP), tweeted this photo showing more journalists than protesters at Damascus Gate. He wrote: “Small Palestinian protest at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem broken up by the Israeli police. They seemed to object to a picture of Trump as a toilet.”
Dyke later reported that he had “just walked through Jerusalem’s Old City and the situation is very calm. More police on streets but no issues as yet. Tourists milling about.”
The following day, Saturday December 9, we witnessed a repetition of the same scenario in Jerusalem. The city was relatively quiet, but the presence of journalists and photographers loomed large. At noon, a small group of Palestinians (25-30) staged a protest on the main business thoroughfare of east Jerusalem, Salah Eddin Street, while chanting slogans against Israel and the US.
Here is how the journalist Seth Frantzman of The Jerusalem Post, who was at the scene, described the situation: “There are more people with cameras here than anyone clashing (with police) at the moment.”
Frantzman later had this to say about the “clash”: “There are as many media and onlookers taking photos here as there are youth and police waiting for the clashes.”
There are nearly 300,000 Arabs living in Jerusalem, and the truth is that the vast majority did not take part in any of the small protests, which were staged deliberately as a show for the dozens of journalists who converged on the city. In fact, there were more protesters on the streets of Berlin, Cairo, Valencia (Spain) and Istanbul than in Jerusalem itself. With the exception of the two incidents at Damascus Gate and Salah Eddin Street, the remaining 28 Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem were mostly quiet, with nothing dramatic happening.
The bored journalists were forced to don their helmets and bullet-proof vests and head to the West Bank, in the hope of capturing scenes of the “New Intifada.” What they found in the West Bank, however, was not unusual: minor “clashes” between stone throwers and Israeli soldiers occur almost every day.
Protests against Israel and the US are not uncommon on the streets of Ramallah, Hebron and Bethlehem. But for the “war correspondents,” there is nothing more exciting than standing behind burning tires and stone throwers and reporting from the heart of the “clashes.” Such scenes make the journalists look as if they are in the middle of a battlefield and are risking their lives to bring the story home to their viewers. They might even receive an award for their “courageous” reporting from danger zones!
That is what happens when you are afraid to go to Yemen, Libya, Syria or Iraq to cover the real bloodshed.
Let us be frank. The large number of journalists dispatched to Israel expected — even hoped — that Trump’s announcement would trigger a new Palestinian intifada.
This way, the media could blame Trump for “igniting violence,” instigating instability and “derailing” the peace process. It is all about media-based Trump-hatred. Of course, it is also about media-based Israel-hatred, searching for any excuse to blame the Jews for the “suffering” of the Palestinians. The journalists, however, will not let those pesky facts get in their way; they continue to report as if Jerusalem is engulfed in flames. The reality on the ground, though, is far from that.
No peace process is about to be “derailed,” for the simple reason that there was not one on the first place — and there has not been one for years. Why? Mostly thanks to Palestinian rejectionism, indoctrination and incitement. The protests and violence we are witnessing in parts of Jerusalem and the West Bank constitute daily life here. It is not as if the Palestinians have not been carrying out terror attacks against Israel all these years. And it is not as if the Palestinians used to love Israel — or even recognized its right to exist — until Trump made his announcement last week.
Newsflash for the journalists: There’s nothing new on the Palestinian street. Palestinian threats of violence and walking out of any “peace process” is old, old news. Jerusalem is not on fire. Jerusalem is tense, and has long been so, because the Palestinians have not yet managed to come to terms with Israel’s right to exist. That is the real story. The Palestinians rage and rage and rage for only one reason: because Israel exists. Put that in a story and publish it.
Bassam Tawil is a Muslim based in the Middle East.