May 19, 2013, 8:30 pm
By ISABEL KERSHNER
JERUSALEM — The images seen around the world were shocking: a young boy being shot dead as he crouched behind his father at a dusty junction in Gaza in September 2000. But the facts behind the images have been disputed almost from the start, and on Sunday, the Israeli government asserted that there was no evidence for the original account of the event, which was that the boy was hit by Israeli bullets — and that it was even possible that neither the boy nor his father had been struck by any bullets at all.
The original television report — filmed by France 2, a public television channel, at the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada — had a powerful impact, galvanizing the uprising and fueling international criticism of Israel.
The boy, who was identified as Muhammad al-Dura, 12, became a symbol of the struggle against Israel; his name was invoked by Osama bin Laden, and images of him cowering behind his father have appeared on postage stamps across the region.
Although an Israeli general initially told reporters at a news conference that the boy had apparently been hit by Israeli gunfire, as the television report stated, an investigation by the Israeli military found a few weeks later that it was more likely that the boy had been hit by bullets fired by Palestinians during the exchanges of fire in the area. In 2007, an official Israeli document described the assertions that the boy had been killed by Israeli fire as “myth.”
The new findings published on Sunday were the work of an Israeli government review committee, which said its task was to re-examine the event “in light of the continued damage it has caused to Israel.” They come after years of debate over the veracity of the France 2 report, which was filmed by a Gaza correspondent, Talal Abu Rahma, and narrated by the station’s Jerusalem bureau chief, Charles Enderlin, who was not at the present at the scene.
The Israeli government review suggested, as other critics have, that the France 2 footage might have been staged. It noted anomalies like the apparent lack of blood in appropriate places at the scene, and said that raw footage from the seconds after the boy’s apparent death seem to show him raising his arm.
“Contrary to the report’s claim that the boy is killed, the committee’s review of the raw footage showed that in the final scenes, which were not broadcast by France 2, the boy is seen to be alive,” the review said. “Based on the available evidence, it appears significantly more likely that Palestinian gunmen were the source of the shots which appear to have impacted in the vicinity” of the boy and his father.
France 2 and Mr. Enderlin have pursued a libel case in the French courts against Philippe Karsenty, who runs a French media watchdog group and who accused the network of broadcasting a staged scene as news. A trial court reached a verdict against Mr. Karsenty in the matter in 2006, but the verdict was overturned on appeal in 2008; France 2 appealed that decision to a higher court, which is expected to rule on Wednesday.
France 2, Mr. Enderlin and Mr. Abu Rahma have consistently defended their report. Mr. Enderlin told the Agence France-Presse news service on Sunday, “We are ready for an independent public inquiry.”
Mr. Enderlin described the Israeli government report as a “secret commission,” writing on his Twitter account on Sunday that the committee had contacted neither France 2, the boy’s father, Jamal, nor others who were at the scene.
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