As we watch the many accolades coming in regarding Mike Wallace, there’s an important story to remember from Michael Emery, the late journalism professor at Cal State Northridge.
Described in part in the November 13, 1990 Village Voice and in more detail in On the Front Lines – Following America’s Foreign Correspondents Across the Twentieth Century, Emery explains how Mike Wallace helped to bring the truth forward about what happened during the October 8, 1990 shooting at the Haram Al Sharif in Jerusalem which left 22 Palestinians dead and more than 100 more injured, and how the Israeli government officials completely distorted what happened. It cost Wallace a great deal, personally, to bring this story forward.
Initially, news reports indicated Palestinians threw stones from the Haram al Sharif on Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall. Upset Israelis began shooting at Palestinians. However, a nine month investigation headed by Judge Kama concluded the opposite: Israeli police rather than Palestinians provoked the violence.
It turned out two different tourists captured the event on video and became the basis for Emery’s writing and later a segment on 60 Minutes. In his book, Emery explains the incident began when Border police used tear gas against “a group of Palestinian women which led Palestinian men to throw rocks. Border police began firing while being forced out of the grounds by the stone-throwing crowd.” “The hail of rocks featured prominently on world television was aimed at the Israeli border police… those standing beneath a seven meters high wall could not see into the Western Wall Plaza… Border police stormed back into the Haram al Sharif and assumed control of the area after opening fire on unarmed Palestinians, some of whom were shot in the back from long-range distances. Hundreds of rounds were fired and audible on the two videotapes.”
According to Emery, none of the Israelis featured in TV and newspaper photos had been praying at the Western Wall, rather they had been in rooms adjacent to it. “Careless or opportunistic television editing gave the impression that the rocks were falling as they fled. A CBS editor said to me when he learned of the private videotapes, “You mean that we got the story backwards?”
Emery charged: “Many of the so-called witnesses (quoted in the global press) … were persons set up by Israeli agents or were agents themselves…” He also claimed Israeli officials created a “bogus story” that Saddam Hussein had plotted with Palestinians who had packed away tons of rocks for the occasion.
Emery traveled to the Middle East and was able to obtain a copy of one of the videotapes. He provided it to Wallace. 60 Minutes producer Barry Lando was in Jerusalem, working on a segment related to the First Intifada. An interview with an injured Palestinian nurse had convinced Lando to devote the entire segment to the shootings. Wallace personally interviewed her as well.
Wallace later told Emery that the story was one of the most riveting in his 60 Minutes experience… and one of the two most satisfying in his long career. Several days after the segment ran, Wallace told the journalism professor that there had been quite a few complaints. Moreover:
Wallace and (Don) Hewitt were attacked at a New York party by ABC’s Barbara Walters, Mort Zuckerman of US News and World Report, and others who felt the show had been unfair and “anti-Israel.” Hewitt walked out in a huff, leaving Wallace to defend the ship, which he did with his usual bluntness. The Jerusalem Post also attacked Wallace in its media review columns, calling him a “self-hating Jew.” All I felt I could “add to this debate is that I found Wallace completely faithful to the facts as we knew them, honest in his evaluation of the people involved, and courageous in his telling of this bizarre incident. The entire team did a highly professional job, from start to finish…