Jerusalem may very well be the hardest issue to resolve as part of the “peace process.” Many of the participants at the 2000 Camp David negotiations blamed the failure to reach an agreement on the two sides’ positions over the future of the city’s status.

So it may be more than hard, it may be impossible to solve.

If you have some knowledge of Israel and Jewish history, you can understand why.

The city, especially the Old City, has been the historical, spiritual, and national capital of the Jewish people since there has been a Jewish people.

In 1948, amidst rejoicing over the birth of the State of Israel, the Jewish people suffered a terrible blow because the Old City had been left under Jordanian occupation. Jewish residents, some of whom had lived there for generations, were tossed out with just the shirts on their backs.

But in 1967, the area was liberated and returned to the Jewish state. The capital was moved to Jerusalem and ever since has served as the undivided capital of the State of Israel.

Every Israeli child knows this. Every Jewish person who cares about Israel knows this. Jerusalem is more than a slogan. It is the embodiment of the hopes and dreams of Israel and the Jewish people.

Not surprisingly, this is not how the Palestinians view the city. To them, so-called “East Jerusalem” including the Old City with the Temple Mount and Western Wall, is a settlement. Jerusalem is occupied territory that must be set free.

So how should the media refer to the city? The media are supposed to be unbiased, reporting just the facts and letting news consumers make up their own minds. They have a responsibility to provide proper context.

But with so many newsworthy events taking place in the city, how much context is the media obligated to provide? Should every 300 word article have to devote 200 words to explaining the context and the competing narratives?

One senior journalist said that the basic context of Jerusalem is that “Israel has it, the Palestinians want it.” You can usually find references such as “…East Jerusalem, which Israel conquered in 1967, and the Palestinians see as the capital of their future state.”

In a recent article, the New York Times describes the background to Jerusalem like this:

The Palestinians demand East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state. The Israelis claim sovereignty over it as part of their capital, although its annexation from Jordan in 1967 has not been internationally recognized.

I agree that unless the main focus of an article happens to be about the history or status of the city, there is not enough room for complete context. There is usually only enough room for a phrase, or a single sentence, or even a short paragraph.

But the short references above are inaccurate and rather than being politically neutral, they are written from the standpoint of the Palestinians.

Why does Israel “have” the Old City?

Because it has been the historic capital of the Jewish people for thousands of years. What happened in 1967 was just a single chapter in Jerusalem’s long history. And except for the 19 years, from 1948 to 1967, the city had never been divided, and Jews have always been residents.

The Israeli claim to the city is not simply based on military force. True, it’s annexation from Jordan has not been internationally recognized. But many Times readers may be unaware that the Jordanian occupation was also not recognized by the vast majority of the international community.

Only the United Kingdom, Iraq, and Pakistan recognized the Jordanian annexation of the city, and even the Arab League called the move “illegal and void.”

Yet who would know when the Times’ reports “its (Israel’s) annexation from Jordan in 1967 has not been internationally recognized.”

With just a few words, better, more accurate context could be given.

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. “…which was first established as the capital of the ancient kingdom of Israel thousands of years ago but the Palestinians claim for their own”, or
  2. “…Which was divided by the Jordanian Legion until its reunification by the Israeli Defense Forces in 1967”, or
  3. “…which has served as the political capital of the State of Israel since 1967”, or
  4. “…which is Israel’s largest city with over 800,000 people”, or
  5. Which Israel regained in a defensive war after being attacked by Jordan”, or
  6. “…which includes holy sites of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity protected by Israeli law*

You may argue that some of the above are biased in favor of Israel. That may be true, but they are probably closer to an accurate description of the city than what most of what the media currently use.

Most of the world will understand the “issue” of Jerusalem based on how it is reported in the media. If the media identify it as a place that Israel conquered but that the Palestinians “want” as their capital, then Israel’s legitimate claims will not be given the attention they deserve.

Along with terrorism, Israeli settlements, and the Israeli position on the peace process, Jerusalem is one of the major issues on which there seems to be a persistent anti-Israel media bias.

If some of the more prominent journalists were convinced to work harder to give proper context on these issues, it could lead to significant progress in the effort for Israel to be covered fairly and accurately.

  • It should be mentioned that the only example of restriction of worship is the prohibition of Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount.