ANALYSIS: The Kotel photo that fed fake news

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

ANALYSIS: The Kotel photo that fed fake news

Nathan Jeffay looks at an image that circulated on social media, purporting to show Israelis celebrating a fire at Al Aqsa Mosque. But it didn't tell the real story.

Fire raged by the al-Aqsa Mosque as Israelis danced at the Western Wall. Captured in the same frame, the image is etched on to the minds of huge numbers of Palestinians.

Many think it confirms the claim that citizens of the Jewish state have ill will towards their holy site. It’s dynamite for the cause of Palestinian radicals, almost literally, as such an image can easily inspire violence.

In reality, it was a tree that had caught fire, not any part of the mosque, and the dancing was due to Jerusalem Day, not because of the flames. 

“Yes, it’s out of context, but it goes on social media with a banner saying the mosque was harmed, and this impacts people,” says Yoram Meital, head of the Chaim Herzog Center for Middle East Studies and Diplomacy at Ben-Gurion University.

Jerusalem Palestinians were on edge long before they saw this image, and long before the current violence. There is anger towards both Israel and their own leadership over the fact that Palestinian elections have been cancelled. There are political grievances, and there are deep social and economic problems. 

“Life is increasingly difficult, especially since the coronavirus crisis,” says Palestinian political scientist Ghassen Khatib, a former government spokesman and currently professor at Birzeit University near Ramallah. “Unemployment is high, dropout rates from schools are at 40 percent, and there are serious issues with housing.”

But most Israelis strongly reject his reading of how this volatile population engaged in violence. He insists it is purely reactive. Israel’s actions to stop large gatherings by the Damascus Gate for part of Ramadan, the controversy surrounding Sheikh Jarrah, and the Jerusalem Day Flag March caused a Palestinian reaction that has consisted purely of raw anger, he claimed. 

“This is spontaneous,” he insisted. “Political factions don’t actually have strong influence among Jerusalem Palestinians, so people are not acting in response to politicians. Most of the young people in Jerusalem aren’t politically affiliated, so this is really spontaneous.”

Meital wonders how, based on spontaneous anger alone, events became so big in just a few days. “The fact it happened in a very short span of time suggests that while the violence started as spontaneous, the politicians got to the heart of it very quickly, and it became more organised.” 

Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...


Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.


There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.


In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.


Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more: