The Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem was raided last month by Israeli security forces following weeks of simmering tensions between the police, right-wing Israelis, and Palestinian protesters. Despite the timing of the raid -- during the holy month of Ramadan -- and the significance of the mosque in Islam, U.S. cable news largely ignored the incident in the days following the raid, mentioning it only 12 times in weekday coverage from May 10-14.
The longstanding conflict between Israel and Palestinians erupted on May 6, when Palestinian protests started in anticipation of an Israeli Supreme Court ruling in favor of forced evictions of a Palestinian neighborhood in east Jerusalem. In an already volatile time, on May 10, Israeli police raided the historic Al-Aqsa Mosque, where thousands had come to pray for Ramadan. Tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber bullets were all reportedly used inside the mosque and hundreds of people were injured, including many who had to be hospitalized.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque is one of the most politically and religiously significant locations in the entire world. Islam’s third holiest site, Al-Aqsa is also at the center of a generation-spanning fight over who controls the city of Jerusalem. Although May 10 was not the first time the mosque had been the target of raids, Israeli police have not normally fired upon worshippers during Ramadan. As historical researcher and activist Ehab Jallad noted in an interview with Al-Jazeera, “The level of violence used by the Israeli security forces inside the holy mosque was unprecedented. Hundreds of soldiers entered and shot an enormous amount of tear gas and rubber bullets directly at worshippers, with a number hit in the face and losing their eyes.”
Despite the egregious circumstances surrounding the raid and its role in the escalating violence which followed, mainstream U.S. cable news outlets covered the incident only 12 times between May 10 and 14, with eight mentions from CNN and four from MSNBC. Fox News did not report on the Al-Aqsa raid at all during this time period.
CNN’s and MSNBC’s coverage of the raid was minimal, with shallow discussions of the “clash” and barely any background on the significance of the mosque in Islam. For instance, this clip from CNN Newsroom with Alisyn Camerota and Victor Blackwell is emblematic of mainstream media’s coverage of the incident -- dancing around the attacks on worshippers and using the word “clashes” instead of “raid.”
Compared to past coverage of incidents concerning Western religious monuments, the coverage on Al-Aqsa was meager, at best. For example, in April 2019, a fire broke out at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. The fire attracted lots of attention from major cable news outlets, with over 100 combined segments that included mentions of the fire on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News on the day of and after the fire. Between April 15 and 19 of 2019, the three major cable networks mentioned the tragedy 365 times.
The U.S. media’s recent failure to adequately cover the violence at a historic religious site in Jerusalem speaks to an indifference to an important Islamic site that was raided during the holy month. This is yet another example of mainstream media picking and choosing which global news stories the outlets deem important for American audiences. When the U.S. made aid cuts to Yemen during a spike in COVID-19, MSNBC was the only major news channel that had any coverage of it.
Media Matters searched transcripts in the Kinetiq video database for all original programming on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC for the term “Aqsa'' from May 10 through May 14, 2021. We counted each instance of the term as a mention of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.