By B. Cohen
Secretary of State John Kerry has described a fire that broke out in a mosque in the West Bank village of Mughayer, near Ramallah, on November 12 as an “indefensible price tag attack” carried out by Jewish settlers, despite the conclusion reached by an Israeli firefighters investigation that the cause of the blaze was an electrical fault.
Kerry was speaking in London, where he told journalists about his efforts to “help solve the challenges of the Middle East and of other places of extremism and of terrorist activity, because we know too well that while it’s difficult work, it’s also the only course that has any possibility of taking us towards stability, towards prosperity, towards a future.”
Addressing the Israeli-Palestinian dimension of the conflict, Kerry stated that the “ongoing unrest of the last weeks has brought new tensions to all sides…Earlier this month, two Israelis were stabbed as they shopped for groceries in the West Bank. Two more were axed to death while praying. And we were all devastated and shocked by the acid attack against an Israeli family last week. Palestinians have mourned the death of a Palestinian official, Ziad Abu Ein, and they have suffered indefensible price tag attacks, so-called price tag attacks, including the recent burning of a mosque near Ramallah.”
Critical scrutiny of his remarks is likely to focus on his incorrect statement that two, rather than five, people were murdered during the axe attack at a Jerusalem synagogue last month, as well as his claims about the burning of the mosque. As media monitoring group CAMERA has pointed out, several media outlets have already corrected initial reports that arson was behind the mosque fire.
CAMERA praised both the Israeli newspaper Haaretz and the Associated Press for correcting the reporting errors after they were contacted. The group added that it was commendable that the AP “published an article yesterday detailing the findings of the Israeli investigations.” The New York Times was also praised for a similar article confirming that arson was not the cause of the fire.
However, Agence France Presse (AFP), the LA Times and news agency Reuters have still not corrected their reports, and CAMERA issued a scathing critique of Reuters correspondent Noah Browning for a tweet that equated the mosque fire with the Har Nof massacre. Now, it would seem, the US Secretary of State is doing the same.
Kerry’s remarks in London will certainly raise questions over the research abilities of his staff, along with speculation that his office is prepared to believe Palestinian allegations of alleged Israeli crimes without performing any due diligence. As the AP report published yesterday makes clear, “Israeli officials say a blaze last month at a West Bank mosque most likely resulted from an electrical problem, not arson…Fire Services spokesman Asaf Abras said Monday that fire investigators, working with Israeli police and the Shin Bet security service, believe the fire was an accident. Abras says investigators found no combustible materials or graffiti at the site. Such items would point to settler vandalism.”
AP also reported that the village’s mayor, Faraj al-Naasan, disputed the findings, solely on the grounds that “residents have ‘strong reason’ to believe it was a settler attack because they have carried out other violence in the past.” Suspicion, though, is not concrete evidence, and Kerry’s recitation of the Palestinian version of the mosque fire, without even minimally acknowledging that there is a competing Israeli account of this episode, is certain to heighten concerns about the Obama Administration’s bias in its dealings with the Palestinians and Israel.