In an article in the New York Times describing President Trump’s visit to Israel, (“Preparations for Trump’s Visit Expose Political Rifts in Israel“), the Western Wall is referred to like this:
The wall is in East Jerusalem, an area that Israel conquered from Jordan in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War and then annexed in a move that has never been internationally recognized. The Palestinians also claim the Old City, with its Jewish, Muslim and Christian sacred sites, as part of the future capital of a Palestinian state. On Sunday, Israel kicked off its celebrations marking 50 years since the reunification of the contested city.
Articles like this need more context. If the only information a reader knows about the Western Wall is what is written above, the natural conclusion will be that Israel’s control of the area is illegitimate and that it should be returned to its rightful owners.
The reference could have been written differently without making it too long or unwieldy. For example, this could have been the reference:
The wall is in East Jerusalem, an area where Jews have lived continuously for thousands of years except after it was conquered by the Jordanian Legion in 1948. For 19 years the area was under Arab military occupation until it was liberated in 1967. Since then, the city of Jerusalem has served as the capital of Israel, although this is not recognized internationally. The Palestinians also claim the Old City as part of the future capital of a Palestinian state.
The above does not have many more words, but would have left readers with a very different understanding.
A prominent journalist recently wrote me saying that mentioning the Jewish holy sites in the area should be enough to give readers a sense of Israel’s claims. But for most Israelis, what happened 50 years ago is much more relevant than what happened 2,000 years ago.
During the State of Israel’s relatively short history, Jerusalem has been under Arab control and under Jewish (Israeli) control. When the Jordanian military occupied the area, no Jews were allowed in and all evidence of Jewish life there was uprooted. Under Israeli control, Jews, Christians, and Muslims all live and pray in the area and the Israeli police protect all worshippers. (Interestingly enough, the only Israeli restrictions on worship are against Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount.)
What words are used is crucial to the public’s understanding of the complicated claims that each side makes to this small but vital area. Journalists should strive to paint the most accurate picture.