What prompted Israeli police last Oct. 8 to shoot and kill at least 18 Palestinians and wound 150 others-on the grounds of Jerusalem's most holy Islamic shrine?
Israelis reported that Palestinians, on the raised platform grounds of Harain Al-Sharif ("Noble Sanctuary"), site of the Dome of the Rock as well as Al Aqsa mosque, were showering stones on Jewish worshippers gathered below at the Western Wall, or Wailing Wall, for religious services in connection with the Jewish Sukkot observance.
Police, said the Israelis, used live ammunition on the Palestinians only after the Palestinians began an assault on Jewish worshippers. Without exception, the Western media initially reported this "official" Israeli explanation.
Now, however, eyewitness accounts, reports from four Palestinian and Jewish human rights groups, as well as three videotapes, reveal the Israeli version is false. All available evidence supports Arab charges that Israeli police initiated the conflict and then shot Palestinians in cold blood.
On Nov. 9, after UN Security Council representatives viewed one of the videotapes, the Soviet ambassador, Yuli M. Vorontsov, said the filmed document undermines Israel's claim that Palestinians incited the violence.
When the Security Council passed a resolution calling for a UN investigation of the massacre, however, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir barred the visit of a UN observer because Israel was "investigating itself, which is the case in very few countries around the world."
A three-man Israeli commission then issued a report upholding the "official" Israeli line that Palestinians had started the conflict, but also condemning the police for "uncontrolled shooting" of Palestinians.
Among others, the commission criticized Aryeh Bibi, in charge at the scene of the killings. The report was handed to Shamir. Shortly thereafter, Israeli officials called in Bibi and said he was being promoted-to full commander of the Israeli Police Manpower Division. Whatever the motivation, his promotion, carrying not only an increase in rank but also in pay, will signal other police that, officially, it "pays" to shoot Palestinians.
A definitive report of the massacre was written by an American reporter and journalism instructor Michael Emerv of Los Angeles. After learning that three amateur cameramen had filmed the entire sequence of events, Emery in late October flew to Jerusalem, where he was able to view all three of the videotapes. Writing in the Village Voice of Nov. 13, he states that the videotapes make clear:
—Palestinians did not hurl stones on Jewish worshippers;
—Israeli police initiated the conflict with Palestinians; and
—Palestinians, fleeing from Israeli police bullets, picked stones from a construction site and tossed them in the direction of their attackers. Many of these fell in the vicinity of the Western Wall, but there were few, if any, Jewish worshippers still there when the first stones fell.
Emery compiled events from 5 am, when Palestinians began to gather at Al Aqsa. The Palestinians were aware that a militant Jewish group, calling itself the "Temple Mount Faithful," planned to enter the Muslim compound and lay a cornerstone for a Jewish Temple, as they have tried to do at six-month intervals, and always on this same holiday, in recent years. All week, Palestinians had been urged to come defend Al Aqsa, Islam's third most holy shrine, sacred to about one billion Muslims around the world.
Emery gives this run-down:
At 8 am, Jews gathered at the Wailing Wall (revered by Jews as a remnant of their earlier temples at the site). By 9:30 am, the Jewish ceremony ends. By 10: 15 am, the large plaza where Jews gather to pray is largely deserted.
At 10:40 am, police shoot tear gas. Some lands among women near the Dome of the Rock, setting off an alarm among men near Al Aqsa. At 10:45 am, between 100 and 200 Palestinians rush toward the Israeli police. "Stones from a construction project are available and Palestinians begin throwing them at police," Emery writes. "To quell the violence, Palestinians form a human chain between advancing demonstrators and the police."
At this point, Israeli police shoot three Palestinian youths: "One bravely standing in the human chain with his back to policemen, one bending over a nearby ledge, and one rushing toward the scene."
At 11 am, the imam using the mosque loudspeaker pleads, "Move inside the mosques ... Al Hararn is a place for worship, not for fighting ... there are dead and wounded." He urges Israeli police, "Stop the shooting."
The videotapes, Emery says, make clear that "Palestinians did not rain stones in the Wailing Wall plaza until after border police had fatally shot several Palestinians and wounded scores of others. By then, the plaza [the area below the mosque, where Jews pray] had been cleared of worshippers. "
The tapes show, he says, that actual events are "at variance with the official Israeli account—and support Arab charges that Palestinians were not hurling stones at Jewish worshippers. Stones that fell over the high walls fell into a place that had, in fact, "been empty for about 30 minutes."
Israeli and Western reporters without exception followed the Israeli "official" pronouncements that Palestinians provoked the conflict by hailing rocks on Jewish worshippers. In a typical report, Sabra Chartrand, a writer for The New York Times, said Israeli police opened fire to deter "thousands of Arabs hurling rocks and bottles at Jews praying at the Western Wall below. . ."
The truth, Emery concludes, is that "The bloody events of Oct. 8 both began and ended in a hail of Israeli bullets. That set the stage for the rest of the day—and for a bitter debate over the extent of Israeli responsibility."
Past events show, however, that rather than acting responsibly, Jewish authorities have encouraged assaults on the Islamic shrine, as well as on the Palestinians who with only stones are attempting to defend it. In the past 23 years, Jewish militants (often led by rabbis) have made more than 100 assaults on Haram Al-Sharif. In no instance has any Israeli prime minister or the chief Sephardic rabbi or the chief Ashkenazi rabbi criticized these assaults.
Moreover, the US media, which has several dozen writers stationed in Israel, makes little or no attempt to understand and report on the meaning of these assaults. They do little or no investigative reporting, but rather too readily accept "official" explanations of events provided them by the Israelis.
Although some American reporters have lived in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv for three or more years, they continue to refer to Haram Al-Sharif as "Temple Mount-bowing to the Zionist policy to call everything in occupied Palestine by a Jewish name, and thereby to legitimize its annexation or destruction.
On more than one occasion while living in Jerusalem, I heard Jewish militants claim "the mosque must be destroyed" in order for Jews to rebuild a temple on the site. Such militants print and distribute drawings of Haram Al-Sharif with the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa bulldozed—and replaced by a Jewish "third" temple.
The Shamir government and the Jewish rabbis do nothing to counter the influence of such Jewish fanatics, whose militancy seems motivated more by nationalism than by religion.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar has proposed to the Security Council a conference of all of the 164 state signatories to the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 to discuss possible measures to ensure the protection of Palestinians in the occupied territories and the respect by the Israeli authorities of their human rights. The UN considers the Geneva Convention to be applicable to Israel's occupation of all of the territories occupied in 1967, including Jerusalem.
Claiming it has full authority over these territories, the Israeli government has rejected the secretary-general's report. It states that it will reject any UN involvement in monitoring its actions against Palestinians under its military control.