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And yet, during the "tunnel" riots of two weeks ago, there were incidents of murder and sacrilege. One occurred in Nablus, an Arab town under P.L.O. control. There is in Nablus a Jewish religious site, Joseph's Tomb. Under the P.L.O.-Israeli peace accords, it remained a tiny enclave peopled by devout Jews and, for protection, a few Israeli soldiers. On Sept. 26, it was attacked by a Palestinian mob throwing firebombs. Six Israelis were killed. Many prayer books were burned.

This is the Middle Eastern equivalent of a mob of whites torching a black church, killing parishioners and burning its holy objects. Yet, while the tunnel received enormous coverage complete with diagrams, the desecration at Joseph's Tomb, if reported at all, merited at most a few sentences. And a similar Palestinian attempt to firebomb Judaism's third holiest shrine, Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem, received in the major American press no mention at all, save one in the New York Times--in a picture caption on page 12!

One can debate the merits of the Jerusalem tunnel. But whatever one's view, it is hard to have a debate when one cannot get the facts straight. And one cannot get the facts straight because of the double standard in Middle East coverage that impugns Israel's every move and patronizes Palestinians with endless free passes.

Has there been a word of condemnation from anyone--outside official Israel and the occasional columnist--for the spreading of the Aqsa blood libel? Indeed, when the tunnel pretext evaporated, the press simply moved on. Retraction? Apology? Hardly. Instead, the press shifted seamlessly to a new explanation--justification--of Palestinian violence: it was a product of "frustration." What kind of rationale is that for murder? Timothy McVeigh was frustrated too.

Anti-Israel bias in Western coverage of the Middle East has a long, ignoble history. Rarely, however, does it take so stark a form as a reported desecration that is totally false and real desecrations that are barely reported.

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