Bias, blame and blind spots: Al-Aqsa mosque and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Photo by AP Images

Bias, blame and blind spots: Al-Aqsa mosque and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

July 26, 2017

The Raw Data

Unspun and unbiased. These are the facts.

Israel removes metal detectors from Al-Aqsa mosque compound in East Jerusalem

Israel’s Security Cabinet announced Tuesday it had decided to remove metal detectors from entrances to Al-Aqsa mosque compound in East Jerusalem. A statement from the Israeli government said the decision had been made on “the recommendation of all the security bodies,” and that the detectors would be replaced with “advanced” surveillance technology.

The metal detectors, along with security cameras, were originally installed after an attack on July 14, in which three Arab citizens of Israel shot and killed two Israeli security officers guarding the site. People then protested the metal detectors in East Jerusalem and Jordan, and at least four Palestinians and three Israelis were killed in East Jerusalem, according to news reports.

On Monday night, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a phone call with King Abdullah II of Jordan. They discussed al-Aqsa mosque and an attack that occurred on Sunday inside the Israeli embassy’s compound in Jordan. According to a statement from Jordan’s Royal Court, King Abdullah II “stressed the need to find an immediate solution and remove the causes to the ongoing crisis” at Al-Aqsa.

The New York Times and BBC also reported that Palestinian Muslims had refused to enter the mosque with the metal detectors in place, choosing instead to pray in the streets outside the compound. Waqf, a Jordanian-funded Muslim trust, stated Tuesday that it had called upon worshippers to stay away from the site, until it advised otherwise.

According to CNN, Palestinian President Abbas “suspended all contacts between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government on Friday in protest of the metal detectors.”

The New York Times reported Israeli security forces had begun dismantling the metal detectors early on Tuesday. The statement also said the cabinet had allocated 100 million Shekels ($28 million) for new equipment and additional security officers, and it said the equipment would be installed over the next six months.

Al-Aqsa mosque compound is part of the site known as the Temple Mount to Jews, and Haram al-Sharif to Muslims. The site is considered the holiest in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam. East Jerusalem has been under Israeli control since a war in 1967.

According to a historical agreement concerning the site, Israel is responsible for security at Al-Aqsa and Waqf is responsible for the day-to-day running of the site.

The attack in Jordan

On Sunday, a Jordanian man stabbed an Israeli security guard inside the Israeli embassy compound. The security guard then shot the attacker and another Jordanian man who was present at the scene. The attacker died on site; the other man died later of his wounds.

According to media reports, Jordan barred the security guard from leaving the country after the incident. Israel’s foreign ministry said the guard had fired in self-defense, and had “immunity from investigation and imprisonment” according to the Vienna Convention.

After the attack, Netanyahu dispatched the chief of Israel’s internal security agency to Amman to handle the incident, according to The New York Times. The embassy staff, including the Israeli security guard, returned to Israel on Monday night. The BBC reported their arrival took place “around the same time as” the phone call took place between the two leaders and that the staff’s return, according to Netanyahu’s office, “was made possible thanks to … tight co-operation” with Jordan.

Distortion Highlights

  • One of our recent analyses drew attention to the media’s role in recording our history, and what role this plays in shaping our future.
  • The reporting on the Al-Aqsa mosque events in East Jerusalem reflect an age-old struggle: Israelis against Palestinians; Palestinians against Israelis.
  • By freeing itself from bias, the media could play a paradigm-shifting role in this and other struggles.

Show Me Everything

The Numbers

See how the articles rate in spin, slant and logic when held against objective standards.

View Technical Sheet >

The Distortion

The Knife’s analysis of how news outlets distort information. (This section may contain opinion.)

Top Spin Words

  • Wave of terror

    “This attack is not an isolated incident. It is part of a wave of terror sweeping the free world by those brainwashed by hateful teachings,” he said. (The New York Times)

  • Crisis

    King Abdullah II of Jordan, the custodian of the al-Aqsa shrine, discussed the crisis with Netanyahu, stressing the need to remove the security measures.  (Al Jazeera)

    The crisis began with a brazen attack on the morning of July 14 … (The New York Times)

    The episode quickly turned into a charged, if discreet, showdown over diplomatic immunity, and Mr. Netanyahu dispatched the chief of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, to Amman to handle the emerging crisis.  (The New York Times)

    In a phone call on Monday night, Jordan’s King Abdullah and Mr Netanyahu discussed the crisis surrounding the holy site and the incident at the embassy. (BBC)

  • Volatile

    Mr. Netanyahu quickly ordered metal detectors and cameras placed at entrances to the contested and volatile holy site … (The New York Times)

  • Delicate

    Under the delicate arrangements that have governed the administration of the site for decades, Jordan maintains a special role, reaffirmed in its peace treaty with Israel in 1994. (The New York Times)

    The site is hugely politically sensitive and has been subject to a delicate set of arrangements – commonly referred to as the “status quo” – governing access, security and administration, for the past 50 years.  (BBC)

  • Outraged

    Israeli analysts said the sides had to find a solution that would not be seen as rewarding violence, from Israel’s perspective, but would placate the outraged Jordanian and Palestinian publics.  (The New York Times)

  • Defuse a row

    The move came as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and King Abdullah II of Jordan spoke on the phone Monday night in an effort to defuse a diplomatic row in the aftermath of Sunday’s attack on the Israeli embassy in Amman.  (CNN)

  • Uproar

    Israel has removed metal detectors from outside a holy site in East Jerusalem after uproar from Palestinians over their recent introduction.  (BBC)

  • Traded barbs

    At the United Nations, the Israeli and Palestinian ambassadors traded barbs on Monday, as the Security Council met behind closed doors with the United Nations envoy in charge of the tattered Israeli-Palestinian peace process. (The New York Times)

For years, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has persisted with each side claiming the other has violated its historical, religious or sovereign rights. And for years, the media has reported the story as one side blaming the other.

The news of the events surrounding the Al-Aqsa mosque is not that different, and the media’s effect — while less perceptible at first — may now be more important than ever.

The sources we analyzed here represent both sides of the conflict, and are consistent with past coverage and analyses. Consider these two examples.

“Palestinians view the [new security measures at the mosque] as Israel asserting further control over the site. They have refused to enter the compound in protest and have prayed in the streets outside instead.” (Al Jazeera)

“The crisis began with a brazen attack on the morning of July 14, when three armed Arab citizens of Israel emerged from Al Aqsa Mosque and fatally shot two Israeli Druze police officers who were guarding the compound.” (The New York Times)

Is it fact or fiction? Which outlet presents the most spin?

  • 29% Spun

  • 38% Spun

  • 51% Spun

  • 65% Spun

Palestinians feel victimized by Israelis. Israelis feel victimized by Palestinians. And historically, each side has fought to protect its interests and heritage, incurring countless, tragic losses. Which side is right?

By definition, a “victim” is one who has been acted upon adversely or by force, and lost. Society predominantly teaches one option: victims must be protected and compensated for their losses, and “those responsible” must be brought to justice and made to pay. In effect, for a victim to exist, so must an oppressor.

How is it possible, then, that both Israelis and Palestinians are victims at the same time?

A brief digression: In 1994, Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first black president. After decades of segregation through violent enforcement, some expected the roles to reverse — for the oppressed to rise and take justice into their own hands. But Mandela, who had served a 27-year sentence under apartheid law, reportedly sought to inspire the country through a different approach: Slaves, once free, cannot “solve the problem” by beating their oppressors into submission or expecting them to remedy the situation. Mandela said:

“The truth is that we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free, the right not to be oppressed. We have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road. For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning.”

Palestinians and Israelis may now carry their ancestors’ struggle, and it may have less to do with the politics of the situation, the ideologies or even the differences of creed. It’s possible the issue lies more in how everyone — not just those directly involved — approaches the problem. This is where the media can play a prudent role.

News outlets can expose or challenge the type of thinking that leads to claiming victimhood and expecting perceived oppressors, and only oppressors, to make amends. This type of thinking disadvantages people in two ways: it offers only one perspective or one way of approaching a problem, and it keeps people from examining their participation in full. Often, “victims” participate in oppressing the other side.

In a 1947 article on the United Nations decision to partition Palestine, The Guardian wrote, “This problem was thirty years old. In that time every conceivable solution had been sought and had failed.” As long as we remain blind to our full participation in a problem or conflict, like that of Israelis and Palestinians, we’re destined to perpetuate it. By removing bias and blame from reporting, the media can help break what seems an unbreakable chain.

Source: 1 December 1947: The partition of Palestine. The Guardian.



“Tensions have escalated since Israel imposed additional security measures at the Muslim-administered al-Aqsa mosque compound seen by Palestinians as an unacceptable infringement of one of their most sacred sites.”

Israel installed the metal detectors on July 14.


Sunday’s attack in Jordan “strained already tense relations between the two countries.”

After the attack, Israel sent the chief of its internal security agency to Jordan to handle the incident. The leaders of both nations discussed the attack and the Al-Aqsa mosque.

The New York Times

“The metal detectors became the latest symbol of the broader struggle over ownership and control of the sacred site.”

Israel installed metal detectors and surveillance cameras at Al-Aqsa following a July 14 attack. Protests followed.

Fact Comparison

  • Facts in only 1 source
  • Facts in 2 sources
  • Facts in 3 sources
  • Facts included in all sources

In a statement posted on Facebook before the attack, the assailant said he was motivated by the Israeli government’s recent restrictions on al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, according to an Israeli military spokesman.(CNN)

CNN provides us with the attacker’s stated motive, which is something Al Jazeera and The New York Times don’t mention. The lack of context provided by those two outlets may inspire questions, confusion or lead to inaccurate assumptions about the deaths.

While BBC cites a possible motive — [the alleged killer] said he was “avenging Israeli measures” at the holy site — it doesn’t provide attribution, which may also inspire doubt about the killer’s motive.

President Abbas suspended all contacts between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government on Friday in protest of the metal detectors. (CNN)

Although Al Jazeera also makes mention of Abbas’ decision to stop contact, CNN is the only outlet to note that his decision is a response to the metal detectors. Since the protests and deaths have involved Palestinians, including information on their leader’s official response may give people a broader understanding of the situation in East Jerusalem and the various people involved.



An article’s headline can direct how the news is understood. Compare and contrast how different outlets present the story through their headlines.

Informs readers of the facts, without importing opinion or drama.

Doesn’t say where or why these “tensions” are “simmering.”

Unless you’re already familiar with the story, this headline may lead to more questions than answers. Of these questions, the most important may be – is the removal going to increase or decrease these “tensions”? CNN provides no understanding of this.


Get the full picture! Don’t buy into cherry-picked information.

The media’s slant:
  • Israel and its security installations at the Al-Aqsa mosque are to blame for the present situation, as they caused “tensions” to escalate between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as with Jordan. Palestinians and other sympathizers who oppose the installations are also to blame — since they enacted violent attacks and heightened “tensions” with Israelites, as well as between Israel and Jordan.
  • This situation represents, or could very well represent, the worst or most “tense” Israeli-Palestinian relations have gotten.
What the media doesn’t explore:
  • While both Israelis and Palestinians participate in the conflict and are therefore responsible, neither party is fully “to blame,” nor is any external actor—be it Jordan, the United Nations or the U.S. But this isn’t an “off the hook” either: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been developing over decades — hundreds of years even. It’s irrational to think one party is the victim, and that the other is “fully responsible” and should provide all remedies. Unless each party involved fully recognizes its unique role, participation and effects, this may actually perpetuate the conflict.
  • “Tensions” have existed over this holy site since long before the area was annexed by Israel in 1967. If the current situation is worse than before, the outlets don’t provide readers information or metrics to determine exactly why or how.