The 1996 riots. This map would have shown that Arafat’s claims that the al-Aqsa mosque was In
danger were preposterous. The map was never published anywhere.
History will judge the wisdom, or lack of it, of the decision to open the new gate to the tunnel. However, we can examine the role the media played already today.
The problem is that anyone with a street map of the Old City of Jerusalem, or anyone who has visited the site in person would immediately see that the Arab League's claim was, quite plainly, totally absurd. From the opened northern gate of the tunnel to the walls of al-Aqsa there is a distance of 450 meters or 500 yards. So the claim would be comparable to saying that a new door at the New York Stock Exchange would endanger the World Trade Center, or that a new gate at the Hotel de Ville would pose a danger to the foundations of Notre-Dame. If you face the Western Wall, the controversial tunnel will be on your left - the disputed northern exit being 400 meters away! - and the al-Aqsa mosque will be some 100 meters ahead and to the right. If there were any danger, (for instance by way of splitting of the bedrock), then the Jewish worshipers would have been the ones concerned most since the Western Wall is in between!
Did the world media report that the distance from the gate to al-Aqsa was 450 meters? They did not. What they did say was that: "Palestinian protest was triggered by Israel's opening-up ... of an ancient tunnel that runs alongside the Haram-al-Sharif, the site of al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem " or that " the reason for the recent worsening in relations between Jordan and Israel was the opening of the tunnel near the Islamic holy sites". 'Near' is a relative term. The Moon is near the Earth if compared to the distance to the Sun. In the context the media used it , 'near' was completely misleading and false. The real question that should have been asked is whether the opening of a two meter gate can threaten a structure half a kilometer away. Common sense indicates that it cannot.
So how is it possible that at the end of the twentieth century, at the time when the private life of a sitting American President can be spread around the globe through the Internet, when satellites can read number plates from hundreds of kilometers up, virtually no one considered it newsworthy to inform the public of the simple, yet crucial fact that the gate is 450 meters from al-Aqsa? (True, there have been a few voices of protest, e.g. Charles Krauthammer).The global lie was propagated for days and was the main news item. Moreover, this is not some abstract issue with subtle nuances but a verifiable geographical fact of the physical world. In other words, any day – today - you and we can go to the Old City of Jerusalem and walk the 450 meters ourselves.
It can be argued that the distance is irrelevant. But surely the validity of a claim of the danger to al-Aqsa, the result of which 70 people lost their lives, (and which in all probability had stirred the hatred of many in the Moslem world against Jews) is worth investigating?
It is the very nature of the media in a democracy to provide information on major events in a more or less balanced way. In this instance the media failed miserably. They committed a blunder or stupefying proportions for which they have not apologized to this day. For if our civilization (both Western and non-Western) can close its eyes and completely disregard geographical facts and the laws of physics in order to go along and parrot some narrow political interest of the moment - then we are in trouble.
Today all this is compounded by complete amnesia. If the opening of the northern gate to the tunnel posed a threat then - how come it does not do so today? The distances have not changed. Stones and walls stay put. Will not the stroll of tourists going to adversely affect the foundations of the al-Aqsa mosque some few hundred yards away?
When will the media finally begin to admit that it was a case of inexcusable disinformation. We have no doubt that years from now historians will be baffled at how this could have happened. It is time to dig our heads out of the sand and analyze this unique incident lest we repeat the same mistake again, with potentially even more dire consequences.