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Yarden Vatikay’s account of receiving the phone call from Charles Enderlin to the IDF Spokesman’s Unit 9/30/00

The Mohammed A-Dura Affair- The IDF-France 2 dialoge

During the period of the Mohammed A-Dura Affair I served as head of the international correspondent department in the Israeli Defense Forces Spokesperson’s Unit.

On that day, Sep’ 30th 2000, Charles Enderlin, the bureau chief of the French television channel FRANCE 2, contacted me urgently. Charles informed me about the unique footage captured by one of his cameramen, Talal Abu Rahma, which showed a Palestinian child killed by IDF fire at the Netzarim juction in the Gaza strip, during his attempts to seek refuge. He also apprised me of his intention to broadcast the material immediately, and described the crisis that would befall the IDF following the broadcast. Likewise he wanted me to improvise an apologetic response on behalf of the Army.

I made it clear that it was only proper that we should see the material prior to the broadcast and requested him to give us the chance to make a proper response. I added that we could not take responsibility for this incident without seeing the materials and conducting a preliminary investigation. I told him, that from his description it appeared that we were dealing with a “routine” incident of cross-fire between the IDF and the Palestinians. It was possible that the child was hurt by a stray bullet of one of the parties, and in this stage, no one could accuse the IDF of this. Charles expressed his displeasure that we were not ready to assume responsibility and apologize. He spurned my request and declared that he intended to broadcast the materials on FR 2 and other networks, without delay.

When we saw the footage we began a preliminary investigation which revealed that exchanges of fire did take place between IDF soldiers and Palestinian forces at the site. This only reinforced our gut feelings that the child could have been hurt by the fire of this party or another. In any case we were not dealing with deliberate fire but apparently he and his father were trapped in the fire zone.

The published footage in the media focused on the child and his father, and one could not see the scene of the incident, the forces in the area, or any other detail that would facilitate an understanding of the situation. Simultaneously a witch-hunt surrounding the event began in the form of an unprecedented media attack on the IDF, which held the Israeli side directly responsible for the child’s death and some even accused that the fire was deliberate. In our reply we emphasized that the IDF regrets the deaths of all innocents, and apparently there were exchanges of fire between the IDF and armed Palestinians at the location.

We decided to conduct a speedy investigation of the incident and therefore I approached Charles with a request to receive the original material in full. My approach was made in coordination with the heads of the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit and to the best of my knowledge, also with the current head of operations, Major General Giora Eiland. Despite our repeated requests, FR 2 did not immediately transfer the materials to us. Only after a protracted period, we received a cassette from them, but were disappointed to find that it contained nothing new. It contained more or less, that very same footage that we saw on television. Since the material that was passed on to us did not contribute to an understanding of the incident, we repeated our request to get all the raw footage but to the best of my knowledge we never received it.

Presumably, this affair remains unsolved. However in terms of world public opinion, Israel was immediately held responsible and to this very day bears full responsibility for the killing of the child Mohammed A-Dura.

Respectfully,

Major (reserve)
Yarden Vatikay

From the KCR: Official Israeli Statements on the Al-Durrah Affair since September 30, 2000

The following contains the Kuperwasser Commission Report’s Appendix documenting the responses of Israeli Officials to the Al Durah Case.

Appendix 1: Official Israeli Statements on the Al-Durrah Affair since September 30, 2000

Since September 30, 2000 representatives from both the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have made verbal and written statements regarding Israel’s position on the Al-Durrah Affair. With one exception, which was later explicitly retracted and reversed, the statements have consistently averred that the evidence in no way supports the allegation that Israel is responsible for the shots which appear to have impacted in the vicinity of Jamal Al-Durrah and the boy, much less for the boy’s alleged death. Furthermore it has been emphasized that 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 two.

Additionally, official PMO and IDF representatives have repeatedly expressed the view that France 2, Charles Enderlin and Talal Abu Rahma did not act in good faith in terms of providing objective coverage of the incident, and in some cases may have acted in an intentionally misleading manner, thus causing great harm to the State of Israel and its citizens. Israeli representatives have made numerous attempts to obtain from France 2 the full unedited footage taken by Abu Rahma on September 30 and October 1 in order to investigate the events further and determine to the extent possible the truth regarding the incident. These requests have consistently been met by refusal or evasion on the part of France 2 and Enderlin.

On September 30, 2000 Charles Enderlin contacted Major Yarden Vatikay, then head of the International Correspondent Department in the IDF Spokesperson Unit, seeking a response to the footage of Al-Durrah which he was about to air. According to Vatikay, Enderlin “apprised me of his intention to broadcast the material immediately, and described the crisis that would befall the IDF following the broadcast.” Vatikay requested that Enderlin allow the IDF to view the footage in order to prepare an informed response and explained that “we could not take responsibility for this incident without seeing the materials and conducting a preliminary investigation…It was possible that the child was hurt by a stray bullet of one of the parties, and in this stage, no one could accuse the IDF of this.” According to Vatikay, Enderlin rejected his request and declared his intention to broadcast the material without delay, without giving the IDF an opportunity to view it beforehand. The report was broadcast soon afterwards, without an official Israeli response.

On that same day, following the France 2 report, the Spokesperson Unit released a statement which made clear that while it was not possible to determine, based on the footage broadcast by the network, the source of the shots apparently fired at Jamal and the boy, ultimate responsibility lay with the Palestinians for cynically launching armed attacks from within the civilian population. The statement noted that “the Palestinians make cynical use of women and children by bringing them to flash points in the territories” and explained that “at the location [the Netzarim Junction], intense exchanges of fire began and the footage focused only on the injury to the child and his father, who were caught in the crossfire, without it being possible to determine the source of the fire, thereby making it impossible to determine with certainty who hit the child and his father.”

The primary instance in which an official Israeli source posited that the shots which hit Jamal and the boy apparently came from the Israeli side, occurred at the October 3, 2000 press conference convened by IDF Chief of Operations Branch Major General Giora Eiland. Eiland’s remarks during the press conference centered on Israel’s desire for a de-escalation of the fighting and the steps it was taking to achieve this. According to the transcript prepared by an IDF Spokesperson Unit representative at the event, Eiland, in response to a question regarding Al-Durrah, answered that as a result of the gunfire at the junction, Jamal and the boy “took cover next to a wall, several meters from where Palestinians fired at us. The soldiers returned fire and apparently the boy was hit by our fire.” Eiland later explained in a December 2005 interview in the Israeli newspaper Maariv and in a memo prepared in 2006 that “at the time that I made this statement, I had not seen all the evidence made available to the Israeli army only later…Given the long history of Palestinians exposing their children to danger, I assumed that the main issue in this case would be the question: Why would the Palestinians have exposed their own civilians to danger by firing on the Israelis while a boy and his father were in the crossfire? I did not realize that my words would be used to accuse Israel of cold-blooded murder.”

During that same month IDF Commander of the Southern Command, Major General Yom Tov Samia led an investigation of the incident. On the basis of a reenactment of the events which examined inter alia the firing angles of the Israeli and Palestinian positions relative to the location of Jamal Al-Durrah and the boy, the bullet holes shown in the footage and as recreated in the reenactment, the nature and pace of the gunfire recorded in the footage, and statements by Jamal regarding the wounds allegedly suffered by the boy and himself, Samia concluded that “doubt has been established regarding the possibility that the child Muhammad Al-Durrah and his father were injured by IDF soldiers. From the findings it appears that there is a significant possibility that the child was hit by Palestinian fire during the exchanges of gunfire in the area.” These findings were presented at an official press conference on November 27, 2000.[1]

In the years following the incident, additional information came to light regarding the affair, and numerous questions were raised by journalists and media watchdog groups regarding the accuracy and credibility of the France 2 report. In 2006 Eiland released a statement in which he explained that at the time of his original press conference, he had not seen the full evidence. He clarified that “now that I have examined the evidence, I would be much more reluctant to accept the IDF’s responsibility…Based on what I know now, I think that, if Al-Durrah really were shot at Netzarim junction, it is far more likely that he was shot by Palestinian than Israeli fire.” He further stated that “among all possible explanations, that given by Charles Enderlin in his broadcast- the boy and the father were the ‘target of fire coming from the Israeli position’- is the least likely of all the explanations.”

On April 1, 2007 Yarden Vatikay composed a memo on the Al-Durrah Affair at the request of the Israeli military attaché in Washington D.C. Vatikay reaffirmed his view that it was not possible to determine the source of the gunfire which was alleged to have hit Jamal and the boy, and that therefore it was impossible to assign the blame to Israel as France 2 had done. Vatikay noted that “the published footage in the media focused on the child and his father, and one could not see the scene of the incident, the forces in the area or any other detail that would facilitate an understanding of the situation.” He recalled that despite the lack of any evidence pointing to Israeli culpability, immediately following the broadcast “a witch-hunt surrounding the event began in the form of an unprecedented media attack on the IDF…some even accused that the fire was deliberate.”

On September 23, 2007, Danny Seaman, Director of the Israel Government Press Office (GPO), a body within the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, sent an official letter to the NGO “Israel Law Center (Shurat HaDin)”, in which he commented on the Al-Durrah affair at length. The letter came in response to the Israel Law Center’s petition requesting that the GPO cancel France 2’s Israel press cards, on the grounds of violating media ethics and standards in its reporting in the Al-Durrah affair and subsequent refusal to issue an apology. The letter was released by the NGO to the press and received extensive media coverage.
Seaman in his response explains that “without any deep and serious investigation, the global media convicted the State of Israel in the murder of a little boy…these allegations started a long road that lead to exposing the truth and basing the fact that Talal Abu Rahma, the network’s Palestinian cameraman, engaged in the systematic staging of action scenes.” He notes that the IDF investigation into the incident demonstrated that “the incidents as presented by the network reporter, Charles Enderlin, couldn’t have happened…” Furthermore, a subsequent investigation revealed that “Talal Abu Rahma…engaged in the systematic staging of action scenes at that day.”

Seaman relates that France 2, in order to defend itself against the difficult questions raised by investigations into the event and subsequent reports in high-profile media outlets, had claimed that Israel “has taken responsibility for Al-Durrah’s death” and had “never criticized the network proceeding in the case.” These two claims, Seaman declares “are inaccurate.” Regarding the first claim Seaman notes that Eiland, who had originally posited IDF responsibility for the gunfire which killed the boy, had already in December 2005 publically retracted and reversed his statement on the basis of the additional evidence which had come to light in the interim. Seaman also notes that in early 2001 “Dr. Raanan Gissin, senior advisor to PM Ariel Sharon…has sharply criticized the French network.” Regarding the Israel Law Center’s specific request to deprive France 2 of its press cards, Seaman responds that “although the network ‘France 2’ and its workers, against press professionalism, didn’t make sure that a true and authentic report of the Al-Durrah case will come of its hands, the GPO rules do not enable a general deprivation of their press cards.”

Between September and November 2007 IDF Spokesperson Brigadier General Avi Benayahu and Deputy Spokesperson Colonel Shlomi Am-Shalom engaged in extensive correspondence with Charles Enderlin and his legal representatives, in an attempt to obtain the original France 2 rushes. In his September 10 letter to Enderlin, Am-Shalom emphasizes that the investigation of the head of the Southern Command “had revealed a number of findings which differed from the description of events in the French television channel report.” The investigation had determined, Am-Shalom notes, that “from an analysis of all the data from the scene…one can rule out with the greatest probability the possibility that the shots which allegedly hit the child and his father were fired by IDF soldiers.”
Am-Shalom also notes that from the October 19, 2006 court decision in the Enderlin and France 2 v. Karsenty case, “it can be understood that the court was under the impression that the State of Israel had never granted credence to the possibility that the event was staged, had never denied the fact that Muhammad Al-Durrah was killed by IDF soldiers, and had never made an effort to refute the claims which were raised regarding this in the French television report. It also arises from the court decision that the State of Israel never requested the footage which served as a basis for the aforementioned report.” To these claims Am-Shalom responds, “It is my duty to point out that such statements do not accord with the repeated attempts by the IDF to receive the footage, and with the conclusions of the IDF investigative committee, which were quoted widely in the international and French media.”

The clearest formulation of the Israeli position to date is the statement published by the Israel Prime Minister’s Office National Information Directorate on October 21, 2010. The statement declared that “today it is clear that it was incorrect to assign the IDF and the State of Israel responsibility in the Muhammad Al-Durrah affair. The findings [of several investigations] disprove the allegations made at the time against the Israeli side, allegations which were not checked in a careful manner by the international media and first and foremost by the France 2 television network.”

It is also important to note that the PMO and IDF made numerous attempts to receive the full and unedited footage taken by France 2’s cameraman, in order to conduct an in-depth examination of the visual evidence with the hope of verifying the facts and putting the controversy to rest.[2] France 2, Enderlin and their legal representatives repeatedly denied, ignored or evaded these requests (as well as those of other independent researchers) with numerous excuses. Immediately following the broadcast of the France 2 report, the IDF Spokesperson Unit made several requests to receive the full rushes, only to be given a tape which contained nearly the same footage that had already been aired by France 2. The request of the IDF investigation team set up by the Commander of the Southern Command to receive the original footage was denied. In May 2005 Dr. Raanan Gissin senior advisor to PM Ariel Sharon and PMO Spokesperson to the Foreign Press requested the full rushes from Enderlin only to be turned down. As noted above, between September and November 2007 the IDF Spokesperson and Deputy Spokesperson repeatedly requested the unedited footage in the course of extensive correspondence with the legal firm representing France 2 and Enderlin. Despite repeated claims that it was prepared “to assist in every possible manner” and to “act in order to bring the truth to light”, France 2 refused to provide the footage. In fact, not only did it remain steadfast in its refusal, but it attempted to deflect the request by repeatedly making the highly-unusual offer to screen the rushes for the IDF Spokesperson in the office of the IDF Deputy Chief-of-Staff, although it was obvious that a one-time informal viewing would not enable a serious investigation of the events.
The Minister of Strategic Affairs, as head of the governmental review committee, approached the French Ambassador to Israel and requested his assistance in obtaining the rushes and other relevant materials from France 2. This attempt was unsuccessful as well.

To date France 2 has refused to provide a full copy of the rushes to any official Israeli body for analysis. This repeated refusal to provide the raw footage which could shed significant light on the event raises questions as to what France 2 feels it has to hide.

[1] It should be noted that on November 8, 2000 IDF Chief-of-Staff Lieutenant General Shaul Mofaz told the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the investigation was the private initiative of Samia. However in a November 21, 2007 letter from IDF Spokesperson Brigadier General Avi Benayahu to the law firm representing Enderlin, the former stated unequivocally that the Samia investigation was part of the official IDF investigation and that it was within the authority of the Head of the Southern Command to commission such an investigation.

[2] According to the testimony given by Abu Rahma to the PCHR, the unedited footage from September 30 is twenty-seven minutes in length.

FLASH! French court postpones Karsenty-Enderlin decision again! Till June 26.

Hard to run a kangaroo court when the whole world is watching.

I would not like to be one of those judges, torn between political pressures and the demands of intellectual integrity.

Seems a no brainer, but all these delays!

Even the Cours de Cassation has delayed a decision on Clement Weill-Raynal‘s appeal (another no-brainer).

Brain farts all around.

Enderlin cuts the tapes that France2 presents to the court

Originally a post at The Augean Stables, November 14, 2007
by Richard Landes

[NB: For those who are too young to remember, Rosemary Woods was President Richard Nixon’s secretary, who was asked to take the blame for the missing 18.5 minutes of tape that had been cut from the famous “Nixon Tapes” before releasing them to the Grand Jury investigating Watergate. She has, for those politically aware in the 1970s, become a byword for tampering with evidence.]

I must admit, many people told me that Enderlin would doctor the tapes, and I didn’t believe them. “No,” I thought, “it’s one thing to lie to me and others in his office, but to the court, where he would surely get caught? He would not be that reckless…” Not.

Today Charles Enderlin presented in court the “rushes” of Talal abu Rahmah which the Judge had requested from him. And he presented an edited version in which he took out at least three minutes, and at least one scene that I distinctly remember seeing. In the United States that’s called tampering with evidence, obstruction of justice, and perjury. In France, we’ll find out what it’s called.

I’ll let Nidra tell the detailed account since I was one of two people who, having seen the rushes, were placed in an advantaged position to see and check that they were, indeed, what I had seen earlier, so I was unable to take notes.

Before the viewing of the rushes, there was some discussion of why there were only 18 minutes. Charles Enderlin — who had disdained showing up for any previous hearing in the trials he had initiated, even when he was in Paris at the time — explained that the cassette they had saved had 27 minutes of footage, but some did not concern that day (how?), and that he had eliminated the irrelevant material. (At this point I expected the judge to say, “let us be the judge of what’s irrelevant,” but she didn’t.)

Then we viewed the rushes with a preamble and running commentary by Enderlin, with comments by Karsenty. It was something of a circus. But it did give me an insight into how Enderlin’s mind works. He explained about Sharon’s provocative visit to the Temple Mount on the 28th, and the riots that ensued on the 29th in the West Bank, and how everyone expected the rioting to spread to Gaza the next day, “because that’s how it works.”

And sure enough, when we see the tapes, we see scene after scene of people being evacuated into ambulances. We don’t see them hit, we don’t see their injuries, but we do see them taken to ambulances, and Enderlin explains: “The Israelis are firing with rubber bullets.” Now there’s no evidence that the Israelis are firing. But because Enderlin expects violence, when he sees Palestinians evacuated in ambulances, he concludes that they have been shot by Israelis.

Most of the material was inconclusive or boring, and I patiently waited for the material I’d seen. Then, at about 15 minutes on the time code, Enderlin announces that there will be a break and we will see the final scenes. That’s when I knew he had cut the scenes. Sure enough, the screen went blank, and then began the final three minutes.

Now there are at least two scenes that I remember specifically, one of which we have documented by Reuters. (In the original post here I thought that scene was cut because Enderlin knew of the Reuters footage and the use we had made of it in Pallywood. But it turns out I missed this brief sequence because people in the court were in the way.)

In a scene we’ve dubbed Molotov Cocktail Kid, a youth lopes comfortably down the road, showing no sign of injury. He hands of a Molotov Cocktail to another kid and enters a crowd. We see red on his forehead, but no indication that he’s injured.

molotov 1
Handing off the bottle. Note the red on his forehead.

Once in the crowd, he is picked up by others.

molotov 2
Note that his left leg is bent as the crowd sets to carry him.

Past photographers, among whom we find Talal abu Rahmah, with his France2 equipment.

molotov 3

Talal is in close, for maximum effect. Note the fellow on the far left who’s in for the ride. He’s seen smiling in the video.

And then run back right in front of the Israeli position (where he was presumably shot) and loaded on the ambulance right in front of the Israelis

molotov 4

Israeli position in the background. No one is afraid of being hit by them.

Here’s the video sequence:

Apparently, only the close comparison with the Reuters footage reveals that this was a staged scene, so Endlerlin left it in, showing the power of both techniques for filming staged scenes so they look real, and the ready (even innocent) willingness of an experienced journalist like Enderlin, even when he’s been warned that people are checking his work, to assume it’s true.

Indeed, he not only didn’t cut it, he used – without any irony – it to show how the court the quality of his journalism. I did a video blog subsequently to show what was going on.

The second scene, however, was more blatant all on its own, and it was missing: I had described it in some detail because it led to perhaps the most astonishing conversation I’ve ever had, an eye-opener for me that inspired the term Pallywood

At another point, a heavy-set man faked a leg injury, but instead of drawing big kids who could pick him up and rush him past the cameramen to an ambulance, he only attracted little kids. He shooed them away, looked around, and, seeing that no one was coming to evacuate him, straightened up and walked away without a limp.

Indeed this scene provoked a snort from the Israeli cameraman working for France2 who was watching the film with me and Enderlin at the time. When I asked him why, he said:

“Because it looks so fake.”
“That’s my impression as well,” I responded.
Enderlin commented, “Oh, they do that all the time. It’s their cultural style. They exaggerate.”
“But if they do it all the time, why couldn’t they have staged Al Durah?” I asked.
“Oh, they’re not good enough,” a supremely confident Enderlin responded.

Now ultimately, this is my word against Enderlin until we see the full tapes. But I suspect that the response that Jeambar, Leconte and Rosenzweig got from Didier Epelbaum (Enderlin’s boss at France2) – “Oh yes, monsieur, you know it’s always like that…sdasavad” – was in response to the same scene, and if Arlette Chabot turned “white as the walls,” it was when she saw this comically bad scene.

If there was any scene to cut from this tape. And sure enough Enderlin cut it.

Apparently, he has such contempt for the court that he thinks he can brazenly cheat them. The judge struck me as no one’s fool, and Karsenty will surely pursue these matters. (He did not.)

So as far as I can make out Enderlin has made a major gamble: tamper with the evidence, show people inconclusive material (the woman next to me said, “I came without making up my mind, and nothing’s clear), and hope the court doesn’t catch him.

But in so doing, he’s rendered himself extremely vulnerable. As Esther Schapira pointed out:

First of all, we have no proof whatsoever that what we saw today is really the camera tape or a DVD copy of the camera tape, the original master tape. For one simple reason, there was a consecutive time code on the DVD that we saw. Now there’s no way you can have the time code without any interruption when it is really the camera tape, because when you switch it on and off you always get a new time code… there are frames missing. So clearly, what you could see on the material was that it is not one shot… but many, many different shots.

As far as I know, it’s virtually impossible to edit this material without leaving marks of your activity.

Either Enderlin is desparate and foolish, or he will pull strings to get away with this. In either case he’s demonstrated just how much he fears letting the evidence out, and how consumately he prevaricates.

I’ll post more on yesterday’s events in the days to come. Many important details to cover.

This footage is what Charles Enderlin, under court order, presented to the initial panel of the appeals court in Paris on November 14, 2007. It contains most of the raw footage preserved by Enderlin from September 30, 2000. It poses multiple problems:

  • this footage is only 18 minutes long. But Talal Abu Rahma, who filmed it, made a statement under oath to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, on October 3, 2000 that he filmed “approximately 27 minutes” of the Al Durah incident alone “which took place for 45 minutes.”
  • When interviewed by journalist Esther Schapira in 2001 Abu Rahma gave a different account,  saying that he filmed 6 minutes out of 45 minutes of the Al Durah sequence. (Only 78 seconds of that scene appears in the rushes. No more of that scene, if t exists, has ever been revealed by France2.)
  • Tala Abu Rahma also told Esther Schapira that on September 30, 2000 he filmed nearly two cassettes worth of material and that the end of Al Durah sequence ended approximately 15 minutes before the end of the second tape. Charles Enderlin, in a subsequent interview with Schapira gave a third version of filming, that flatly contradicted Abu Rahma’s account. Enderlin claimed that Abu Rahma filed only one tape that day, which was sent by microwave from Gaza to Jerusalem and recorded on a second tape, “something like” 23 minutes in length.
  • France2 revealed only 18 minutes of footage shot by Talal Abu Rahma from that day. However, Abu Rahma told Esther Schapira that by the end of the tape capturing the Al Durah sequence his batteries were dying? If Abu Rahma’s batteries were indeed dying, presumably he had been shooting for a long time. After all, Abu Rahma by his own account was at Netzarim Junction from about 7:00 in the morning and he filmed the Al Durah sequence that afternoon. The Reuters cameraman took over two hours of footage that day. It’s almost certain that there’s more to Abu Rahma’s footage than the 18 minutes France2 provided the court. (NB: Abu Rahma’s claim of a dying battery was one of the various explanations offered as to why he couldn’t shoot more than about a minute of alleged 45 minutes of shooting targeting the Al Durahs, a claim that Enderlin accepted without question in all his interviews and his book.)
  • the 18 minutes produced are an edited version of what Enderlin showed to a number of people beforehand, including Richard Landes. When Richard Landes viewed the tape at Enderlin’s office on October 21, 2003 the footage was over 21 minutes (i.e., with about three minutes missing), including a particularly embarrassing scene of an obvious and failed fake.
  • the abbreviated version of the footage provided the court still contains multiple examples of clearly staged footage (which presumably prompted the judges in the first panel of the Appeals Court to render a harsh judgment of Enderlin’s professional behavior).

For published material on what the tapes contain, see:

On seeing the France2 Tapes: Testimony by Richard Landes (November 2003)
Conversations with Charles Enderlin (November 2003)
France2 Tapes: Al Durah material (November 2003)
The Al Durah Case: A dramatic conclusion (November 2004)
Transcript of Radio Interview with Daniel Leconte and Denis Jeambar (November 2004)

2013: Al Durah: A lethal narrative and the innocent lives it continues to destroy (Roth)

Al-Durah: A lethal narrative and the innocent lives it continues to destroy
Arnold Roth
April 3, 2013

A court of appeal in Paris will hand down an important judgment today that serves as a kind of microcosm of how the media establishment can act in a co-ordinated way to protect its members’ perceived interests. It also, by the way, throws a sharp light on the way Israel’s interests are under attack far from the physical battlefield – while the casualties are all too real.

The decision will be the latest episode in a legal saga pitting the state-controlled France2 television juggernaut along with one of its senior news producers, Charles Enderlin, on one side against a lone-wolf French media critic, Philippe Karsenty. Enderlin and France2 are seeking to have Karsenty convicted of criminal defamation.

The matter has gone through four separate rounds of legal hearings since the well-funded plaintiffs launched their attack in September 2006 – testament to the determination of both sides, and perhaps to the larger issues at stake. (See the timeline)

Enderlin is a prominent French foreign correspondent based, and living, in Israel. A well-regarded veteran professional, he is the current head of the Foreign Press Association here and no innocent bystander when it comes to the powerful controversies that continually sweep over the media’s coverage of events in the Arab/Israel conflict.

The Enderlin/France2 legal action starts with an event that still reverberates mightily today. On September 30, 2000, at the start of the second ‘Intifada’, France2 broadcast footage of an episode that happened at Netzarim Junction in Gaza that day. It was captured on film by a Palestinian ‘stringer’ called Talal Abu Rahma who – perhaps oddly – was the only one out of the numerous cameramen filming at Netzarim that day to record the incident, which he claims occurred over the course of nearly an hour. Enderlin, France 2′s local correspondent, was not present and in fact was in another part of the country at the time.

France2 put the Abu Rahma footage to air the same days, accompanied by dramatic commentary supplied by Enderlin, and handed the clip to numerous other news agencies. It purported to show a scene both pathetic and horrifying: a father and his pre-teenage young son cowering behind a barrel as bullets are fired at them by (as the Enderlin commentary makes clear) IDF soldiers in a nearby emplacement. Eventually, the narrative became more concrete and accusatory: the Israeli soldiers had murdered the boy, Mohammed “in cold blood,” firing “hundreds of bullets”. Mohammed bled to death of a stomach wound.

Twelve and a half years have passed since the events depicted in the Al Durah video. That’s certainly a long time in terms of a news cycle. But along the way it morphed into something iconic and enduring, with devastating effect in terms of lives lost and ruined. It is at least as alive and potent today as it was in 2000.

People who view the video are usually convinced they are witnessing the horrible and cold-blooded killing of a child. That is what the voice-over tells them. Since it first appeared as a news report, the image of a dead boy beside his father has escalated into a plethora of posters, murals, online music videos and even postage stamps.

The problem, as Karsenty and others have repeatedly and publicly pointed out, is that the child is visibly alive at the end of the full clip, long after the audio track pronounces him shot dead. The frames capturing that startling final scene were ignored in some broadcasts, edited out of others, and are at the heart of the dispute.( They can be seen here.)

Whatever actually happened that day, the Al Durah footage continues to be invoked over and again as justification for violent deeds and acts of terrorism.

  • The organizers of the notorious 2000 anti-racism conference in Durban exploited the Al Durah footage to market Israel as the villain of the new, global century.
  • The grotesque 2002 video released by Pakistani jihadists that shows American journalist Daniel Pearl being beheaded depicts the face of Mohammad Al Durah in a corner of the screen.
  • The Al Durah narrative played a key role in Osama Bin Laden’s video sermons. It became an icon of hatred that fanned the winds of global religious and cultural hatred and warfare.
  • Jihadi groups have used the imagery to reach students at Western universities.
  • The French jihadist Mohamed Merah ascribed his killing spree in Montauban and Toulouse in March 2012 to a will to avenge the Palestinian boy’s death.

The 2012 Toulouse tragedy highlighted, perhaps more graphically than the other instances, how a society exposed to hate-mongering narratives of children deliberately killed by a hated ‘other’ (and perhaps it’s just coincidence that this happened in France again), will produce men like Merah who kill Jewish school-children to avenge these journalistic accounts. Beyond this, it will nourish deep resentments that engender support and admiration for the “avenger”, lionizing him as a martyr for the act of child-killing and for the blows he strikes against authority.

The matter of the Al Durah event – and in this sense it matters less whether it was accurately reported or was a ‘Pallywood’ hoax – is at the heart of a serious debate about news reporting. Consider three points, from among numerous others:

  1. Among the most disturbing of the many failures highlighted by the Al Durah affair has been the remarkable lack of evident desire among investigative journalists to critically examine the Charles Enderlin/France 2 version of the evidence. And in a striking inversion of the role journalists should be taking, France’s union of media professionals, the Syndicat national des journalistes, stands explicitly behind Enderlin, the video clip’s producer. It has actively supported France 2’s sustained attack on Karsenty and his pesky questions for eight years.
  2. In some quarters, France 2′s defamation suit is perceived as a means to legally strait-jacket those who allege the video and the narrative it represents are a fraud.
  3. Journalism that promotes toxic narratives by presenting them as news, feeds hatred and incites to violence has arguably become central to the harshening of European public culture in the 21st century. Jews are only the first victims of a metastasizing process that is coming to be recognized as cognitive warfare.

Notwithstanding the small degree of attention paid outside France to this criminal defamation case, there are serious and large issues here. Beyond the immediate facts of the events at Netzarim and in Paris, they concern the immensely important role played by those who report and analyze the news, and the mutual responsibility existing between them and the societies they serve. What is the appropriate response if it turns out that deadly consequences result from malfeasance on the part of those who package and market the news?

Perhaps the decision of the Paris court on Wednesday may help to bring the questions into a sharper focus. They are likely to accompany us for some time.

Al Durah Journalism

Al Durah Journalism: We use the term DuraJournalists to designate those journalists who take a credulous stance towards Arab lethal narratives about Israel, passing them on to us, their readers and listeners, as “news,” or at least, as perfectly believable claims about the news. DuraJournalists instrumentalize the evidence, and when faced with anomalous details, ignore or dismiss them. Rather than look for clues, DuraJournalists clean up the mess. They live on rekaB Street.

Since all wars have their lethal narratives, and all war-makers want to enlist journalists in spreading theirs, examples of lethal journalism can be found throughout the history of the press in war. Indeed, democracies founded on peaceful relations, need a press that can accurately identify both false evidence and lethal narratives as part of their professional effort to provide us with the most accurate and relevant information they can.

DurahJournalism did not begin with the al Durah affair, but it derives its name from that incident because, after that icon shocked the world – as “true” – the DurahJournalists seized hegemonic control of the conflict’s depiction. Al Durah provided the till-then missing proof of the constant Palestinian refrain about Israelis heartlessly killing Palestinian children.

After that, for the next twelve years and counting, this school of journalism dominated the scene, either winning converts or silencing dissent. In the process, wittingly or unwittingly, journalists of this school, unimpeded by their colleagues, systematically pumped the information systems of the West with a steady diet of hate literature. Shorn by DuraJournalists of their dishonest, belligerent, genesis, these lethal narratives became all the more powerful on the global stage, because outsiders presumed this is an honest account of what actually happened. To Palestinians, Muhammad is the “martyr of the world,” because, thanks to France2 and everyone else who followed Enderlin’s lead, “the whole world saw it”.

Al Durah, offers a classic example of the working of a lethal narrative and the malevolent intent it attributes to the Israelis. As a picture of a boy caught in a cross-fire, it has the power to provoke empathy, indeed deep compassion, but not to mobilize hatred. There is no way that the picture of a boy tragically dead in an unnecessary war could compete with, much less replace, the image of the boy in the Warsaw ghetto, which symbolizes a million children murdered by the Nazis. Only a picture of a deliberate, cold-blooded child murder could do that. And Enderlin opened the door wide to that narrative with his carefully weighed “the target of fire coming from the Israeli position.” The rest of the pack followed suit immediately: The Israelis on purpose.

Major Characteristics of DurahJournalism:

Epistemological: 1) believe whatever the Palestinians claim until proven wrong; 2) doubt whatever the Israelis say in response until proven right; and 3) if that becomes the case, move on to the next as-yet-unproven lethal narrative. The pattern is consistent over time, from the accusation of the IDF poisoning schoolgirls in Jenin in 1983, to Jenin in 2002, to the Mavi Marmara in 2010, and shows few signs of abating in the second decade of the 21st century.

David-Goliath framing: the dogmatic frame of DuraJournalism is the Palestinian David vs. the Israeli Goliath. If necessary, DuraJournalists will re-label anomalous details to fit the procrustean morality tale. Thus Tuvia Grossman, nearly beaten to death by rioting Palestinians and saved by an Israeli border policeman becomes, at the hands of an AP caption writer, a Palestinian beaten by that same border guard. Since the Palestinians are by definition innocent, the story begins with Israel’s retaliation which must, by definition, be disproportionate. Pallywood footage is created to meet the demands of this framing narrative.

Subordinating the evidence to the narrative frame: edit stories and films in ways that exclude inconvenient, anomalous, or unhelpful evidence. Editors compile Pallywood footage for B-roll by cutting out the elements that reveal the staging, and stringing together the believable sight-bytes. Charles Enderlin cut the final 10 seconds of the minimal footage that Talal sent him (59 seconds), in order to eliminate the child’s deliberate movements coming after he, Charles, had declared him dead. Thus, a genocidal sermon broadcast on PATV appears in a NYT article on Palestinian incitement, without any reference to the genocidal content. In such a fashion, DuraJournalists manage to deny real hate speech, even as they are the distribution point for that hate-speech.

Pack journalism: Enderlin started a landslide. Even CNN came over to the tale. Dozens of major journalists have access to the unedited footage of this spectacular story, and not one chose to present to the public the final scene that Charles cut. Pack journalism dominated the ‘00s when it came to coverage. Reports that Hamas was refusing to allow aid into Gaza from Egypt during Operation Cast Lead (2008), did not inspire journalists to go to the Egyptian border and get the story. They sat on a hillside in Israel, complaining that the Israelis were keeping them from the action, even as they ran a steady stream of lethal narratives about how supplies were running low and a humanitarian disaster imminent.

Denied Intimidation: One of the major advantages that the “weak” side of an anti-democratic asymmetric war has over the stronger, democratic enemies in dealing with journalists is their willingness to use violence. Killings and kidnappings of journalists in such cognitive wars occur, if not repeatedly, often enough to make the message clear. Daniel Pearl’s execution as a Jew and as a journalist, served notice on a whole generation of journalists. Denial is an essential part of the process of intimidation: Journalists can’t report that they’ve been intimidated without calling into question the reliability of their reporting.. And yet the evidence for such intimidation, although periodic (like the aftermath of the Ramallah lynching), is powerful in its implications, and should alert the attentive observer to the remarkable overlap between the actual coverage of the conflict by mainstream journalists and what one might expect from pervasive intimidation from the Palestinians. (This includes the journalists’ efforts, whenever asked abou the subject, to change the subject to Israeli intimidation). The response to Alan Johnston’s kidnapping – “why would they kidnap him, he was their best friend” – speaks eloquently to the point.

Access Journalism: The most fundamental leverage exercised over journalists is access, and in some senses, that’ s a universal phenomenon: the White House plays it, everyone does. But in cases where intimidation is pervasive (Saddam’s Iraq, Arafat’s West Bank, Haniyah’s Gaza), access means having a handler who accompanies and translates and directs you gently toward what you can and can’t photograph. Access, then, is never “free” and “unsupervised.” And, correspondingly, loss of access is not merely that people won’t speak to you, but that your presence was no longer permitted. After the previously very pro-Palestinian photographer, ***, wrote about his experience at Ramallah the day of the savage lynching – “I’ll have nightmares all my life” – he was told by his Palestinian friends that he had better leave.

Advocacy journalism: The pronounced ideological sympathy of many journalists for the “weak side” of many conflicts is widespread, and often, as in Darfur, for example, justified. In other situations where the morality tale is less clear (Syria), difficulties accumulate for any honest reporter. In the Arab-Israeli conflict, the support for the Palestinian “underdog” not only ignores progressive values, but clings to the “Palestinian David-Israeli Goliath” framework with dogmatic insistence. It is perfectly reasonable that some journalists might look at this conflict and sympathize more with the Palestinians. But the pack mentality, the reluctance to publicize negative material about the Palestinians (genocidal preachers), the epistemological priority given to the Palestinian victim narrative, all attest to positions that reflect more than the sober assessment of the evidence. One can even wonder if the advocacy were a way for the journalist to handle the cognitive dissonance of intimidation: “I’m not scared, I’m brave, and I stand up for the little guy.”

Honor-Shame Journalism: Cover up mistakes. As Anne -Elisabeth Moutet put it,

In France, you can’t own up to a mistake. This is a country where the law of the Circus Maximus still applies: Vae victis, Woe to the vanquished. Slip, and it’s thumbs-down. Not for nothing was Brennus a Gaul. His modern French heirs don’t do apologies well, or at all if they can possibly help it. Why should they? That would be an admission of weakness. Blink, and you become the fall guy.

Thus, in case of an error, the honor-shame dynamic kicks in: do everything possible to avoid admitting so, thus preserving the journalist’s and the media outlet’s reputation. Every news provider wants to be known as the most trusted name in news. France2, in the case of the Karsenty affair, where they have spent huge sums of money attacking a civilian who has criticized them, rather than answer his challenge, takes this instinct for cover-up to some of the most absurd lengths.

2013: Al Durah: Lethal narrative that just won’t die (Stone)

Al Durah: A lethal narrative that just won’t die
Elihu Stone

The French Court of Appeals this week will render its decision in a case pitting state-owned France 2 television and one of its senior news producers, Charles Enderlin, against media critic Philippe Karsenty whom they seek to convict of criminal defamation. The legal action, winding its way through the French legal system for eight years, involves an event that still reverberates mightily today.

On September 30, 2000, at the start of the second Intifada, France 2 broadcast approximately one minute’s edited footage of an episode filmed by its Palestinian stringer Talal Abu Rahma at Netzarim Junction in Gaza. Abu Rahma was the only one of the scores of cameramen filming at Netzarim that day to record the incident, which he claims occurred over the space of a full hour. Charles Enderlin, France 2′s Jerusalem correspondent – who did not witness the scene – broadcast the footage informing his viewers that 12-year-old Mohammed al-Dura and his father, Jamal were “the target of fire from the Israeli position” as they took cover behind a barrel near a wall at the Junction. In later interviews, Abu Rahma accused the Israeli soldiers of murdering Mohammed “in cold blood,” firing “hundreds of bullets” while the boy bled to death of a stomach wound.

The “lethal narrative” that Israeli troops wantonly killed Mohammed became a clarion call for Jihadists and other foes attacking Israel, Jews and Western democracies. Bin Laden featured images of al-Dura prominently in his recruiting videos; Pakistani jihadis beheaded Daniel Pearl on camera invoking the image of Mohammed al-Dura.

From the moment of broadcast, the scene raised troubling questions for Enderlin’s account, and many more surfaced during the years that followed: Why, although Abu Rahma and Enderlin alleged the Israelis hit Mohammed and his father a dozen times with bullets that tore through their bodies, does no blood whatsoever appear on the wall, the barrel, or the ground near the alleged victims? Why do the people around Abu Rahma shout the “the child is dead! The child is dead!” before he even shows signs of being hit. Why, two “takes” after Enderlin has declared him dead does the boy peek out from under his arm at the camera, showing no sign of a stomach injury? And why did Enderlin cut that final scene from his broadcast? Why did news photographers find red ‘blood’ the day after the incident on the ground near the barrel, under the father’s position, but not where the son allegedly bled to death of a stomach wound? Why did 45 minutes of continuous, targeted fire leave no more than 11 bullet holes in the wall by the al-Duras? Why – despite Abu Rahma’s varying claims to have collected or filmed bullets at the scene and Jamal’s alleged surgeries in Gaza and Jordan to have bullets removed – has not a single bullet or fragment ever been produced, in response to Israel’s repeated requests for such evidence?

The Al-Dura incident and the questions surrounding it raise matters extending far beyond the events of that day and the geographic boundaries of the Middle East. At issue are the bedrock rights and responsibilities of the media as it reports on events, especially in cases where it assigns motive and blame.

Too often, in the court of public opinion, the press simultaneously holds itself as judge and jury and advocate. The rules of evidence prevailing in the court of public opinion are far less defined than those in a court of law. Precisely for that reason, the press has a heightened responsibility to police itself, when determining what images and messages it injects into the public sphere it is meant to accurately inform.

It has been said that truth matters less than perception and belief in shaping world events. But that merely increases the journalists’ responsibility – if they can shape perceptions so powerfully, they must proceed scrupulously. Democracies give their press freedom to speak truth to power. Abusing this freedom to recycle false accusations designed to stoke war betrays the very profession itself.

Yet, on more than one occasion, members of the media have defended their choice of images purveyed, chosen precisely due to their emotional, rather than their probative, content. Patrick B. Pexton, Ombudsman of the Washington Post, in an opinion piece published November 23, 2012 entitled “Photo of dead baby in Gaza holds part of the ‘truth’ ” recalled MaryAnne Golon, the Post’s director of photography, explaining to him that the purpose of any front-page photo, regardless of subject, is to move the reader, whether through its beauty, sentiment or drama.” Apparently, the fact that the journalist mistakenly blamed Israel for the child’s death did not impede the search for emotional impact.

In the case of al Dura, France 2 failed to investigate basic questions of fact and causation before, during and after its passing on of poisonous images and allegations to the public relying on France 2 – and still remains in exclusive possession of materials crucial to properly answer those questions. Perhaps France 2 rushed because it did not want to be scooped by others filming the scene, but that hardly excuses its subsequent failure to investigate properly.

The utter refusal by France 2′s journalists and editors to examine evidence that contradicted their basic assumptions remains deeply disturbing. Enderlin not only conflated absence of proof with proof of absence, but justified willful blindness to certain facts as grounds to dismiss their very possibility. Even more disturbing, France 2 doubled down when confronted with its error, trying to legally straitjacket Karsenty for having the temerity to call out the al-Dura hoax for what it is. If the French court, for either political or technical reasons, sides with state-owned France 2 against a bold and correct critic, they strike a blow not only against press responsibility, but the very fabric of the civil society they ought to play such a key role in preserving. Such an abject failure on the part of both the media and the courts to correct this penchant for mainstreaming the enemy’s lethal narratives makes the world a much more dangerous place.

This article first appeared on the the Times of Israel website on March 30, 2013

2009: Lethal Narratives Against the West (Nidra Poller)

Lethal Narratives: Weapon of Mass Destruction in the War Against the West
Nidra Poller

Delivered to the New English Review Symposium, May 30, 2009 and originally published on the New English Review website

On September 30, 2000, state-owned France 2 television channel broadcast a video showing the alleged killing of a 12 year-old Palestinian youth, Mohamed al Dura, and the wounding of his father, Jamal. The ordeal was supposedly filmed as it happened at Netzarim Junction in the Gaza Strip by a France 2 cameraman, later identified as a Palestinian–Talal Abu Rahma. France 2 Jerusalem Bureau chief Charles Enderlin announced, in a dramatic voice-over, that the man and boy were “targets of gunfire from the Israeli position.” Seconds later: “Another round of gunfire. The boy is dead, his father is critically wounded.” The inflammatory al Dura image triggered an outburst of murderous violence against Jews in Israel and set off the worst wave of anti-Jewish attacks in Europe since the Shoah.

Doubts raised about the authenticity of the news report were pushed aside. In fact, its impact was based on the force of the accusation of child murder, not on the credibility of the images or alleged circumstances. Analysts and investigators have exposed inconsistencies, anomalies, and outright lies but the French network has consistently refused to participate in an honest search for the truth. On the contrary, lawsuits were brought against webmasters of three sites that had taken a stand on the controversy or simply posted articles about it. The avowed intent of the suits was to silence critics once and for all but the case against media watchdog Philippe Karsenty backfired when he appealed his defamation conviction. In May 2008 the appeals court ruled in his favor.

But the al Dura hoax clings stubbornly to the public mind. My extensive experience with this thorny issue, which began with a letter to the editors published by the International Herald Tribune in October 2000,[1] led me to the broader question of “lethal narratives,” a term I coined to describe a formidable weapon that interferes with the rational thinking that is essential to Western civilization. In trying to understand why people could not reason about the al Dura news report I came to see how the same method of lethal narratives kept them from reasoning about the Arab-Israeli conflict, the war in Iraq…and global jihad.

Global jihad, like the Qur’an itself, is timeless and uncreated. Pressing forward or hanging back according to circumstances, it remains focused on the ultimate objective of bringing the entire world into a state of submission to Allah. The Khomeinist revolution that led to the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran marks the contemporary revival of jihad conquest. Khomeini lived like a head of state in exile at Neauphle-le-Château France for a year before his triumphant return to Iran in 1979. Three decades later Iran is developing nuclear weapons to fulfill its vow to destroy Israel and exterminate the Jews. The al Dura hoax, presented by France 2 as a legitimate news broadcast, prepared the way for worldwide acceptance of genocidal Jew hatred.
The fleeting video—less than one-minute–of the al Dura incident does not meet the minimum requirements for a news report. The visual contradicts the audio, the backup story is full of contradictions, the eyewitnesses are found to be liars, and Charles Enderlin, the France 2 journalist who lent credibility to the report filed by his Palestinian cameraman, has never provided a shred of corroborating evidence. On the contrary, voluminous evidence shows that the France 2 / Palestinian production was a crudely staged fake.

And yet the poster-style image of Mohamed al Dura crouching behind his father is indelibly engraved in the public mind. Among the innumerable uses of the al Dura image by jihadis, we will cite an Osama bin Laden recruiting video and the filmed beheading of WSJ journalist Daniel Pearl in which the al Dura scene is interspliced as justification. Weren’t we told that Guantanamo is a major recruiting tool? So, if bin Laden latched on to the al Dura incident to recruit for 9/11, he must have known Guantanamo was in the cards. This a posteori reasoning sounds ridiculous but, as I will explain, lethal narratives obliterate notions of chronology, cause and effect…the very logic that is essential to Western rationality. Charles Enderlin justified the hasty airing of the al Dura video by the fact that so many children were killed in the conflict. But the staged al Dura shooting preceded–and actually kicked off—the military onslaught launched by PA leader Yasser Arafat two months after the failed Camp David talks where he turned down the offer of that state without which, we are told, Palestinians cannot become peaceful. Shahid operations– misnamed suicide attacks—killed over a thousand Israeli civilians, maimed 5,000, and brought grief to tens of thousands of families.

Why was it so easy, 60 years after the Shoah, to commit atrocities against Jews and get away with it? The staged death of Mohamed al Dura, a twenty-first century international blood libel, justifies the real cold-blooded murder and planned annihilation of Jews. But, we are told, ten times more Palestinians than Israelis were killed. And we are asked to believe that tens of thousands of Muslims killed in Iraq are victims of America’s war, fomented by the despised George W. Bush. These lopsided body counts serve to justify Muslim attacks on our civilians.
The victims are not “collateral damage,” they are weapons used by cowards who do not fight soldier to soldier, who hide in bunkers and deliberately provoke civilian casualties to delegitimize our cause. Yes, the bloody bodies–preferably of children– ostentatiously displayed are weapons in the hands of cowards.

BEYOND PROPAGANDA

We hear that the Palestinians are good at PR and propaganda. That Israel is losing the war of words and images. We are told we must use our smarts, improve hasbara (information), counter dis- and misinformation. And meanwhile, global jihad advances inexorably, widens its scope, conquers territory. And we cannot even convince people in the free world that we are—whether we like it or not–at war. The very opposite is happening. The United States of America, a great military power with a tradition of defending freedom and fighting to victory, is now governed by a president who lulled them with a “pretend we’re not at war” campaign. This unmitigated disaster is tragically underestimated in most quarters, even as the consequences befall us. With a purveyor of lethal narratives at the helm, the ship of state is sailing full speed into the arms of global jihad.

We are told that our magnificent armed forces cannot win an asymmetrical war against “insurgents, militants, guerilla fighters, national liberation warriors…” This is ridiculous. Poorly-armed ill-trained jihadis who brutalize the civilians that fall under their sway and are incapable of fighting soldier to soldier can win only if we tie our own hands behind our back. If we fight to win, they will lose. Meanwhile they soften us up with lethal narratives…while advancing their nuclear weapons programs.

Our enemy is united in the umma, submissive to sharia law, waging jihad by every means possible on every level of our societies and we react piecemeal to each incident, separate every theater of war, imagining every Iranian proxy as a distinct entity with specific grievances that should be addressed compassionately.

The Palestinians strike Israel, get battered, and run crying to international opinion. It always works. In July 2000, world media placed the blame squarely on Yasser Arafat for refusing the 2-state solution offered by then Prime Minister Ehud Barak with the blessings of President Clinton. Within a week, the lethal narrative kicked in. “Palestinian children are being killed…in cold blood, like Mohamed al Dura.” Ten times more Palestinian casualties than Israeli casualties… the new definition of unjust war. That cockeyed narrative explained away the most atrocious, extensive, inexcusable violence against Israeli civilians. When the Israeli army finally moved forcefully to put an end to that killing spree, we were served the Jenin massacre hoax. In June 2006 the Gaza Beach massacre hoax was staged to justify the subsequent cross-border attack in which several Israeli soldiers were killed and Gilad Shalit was abducted. Three years later Shalit is still held hostage under inhumane conditions. Where are the champions of the Geneva Convention? The Israeli soldier was not captured in action, he was kidnapped within undisputed Israeli territory. Where are the two-state solutioners? On July 12th, Hizbullah attacked from Lebanon. Rockets were fired into Israel all along the border. Several Israeli soldiers were murdered, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were abducted and later killed or left to die. Two days after the unprovoked Hizbullah attack, then French President Jacques Chirac declared a humanitarian crisis in Lebanon and demanded an immediate ceasefire.

Despite conclusive evidence of staged news–the famous “fauxtography”– the narrative of Israel’s disproportionate response and wanton killing of Lebanese civilians prevailed. The dubious Qan’a massacre—provoked or fabricated—brought international opinion to a paroxysm of empathy with the Lebanese, Hizbullah included. French foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy danced Condoleeza Rice into UN Security Council Resolution 1701 that handed Hizbullah virtual control of Lebanon.

Accusations of deliberate killing of civilians arise wherever we act to defend ourselves. Recent reports that 140 Afghan villagers were killed in a raid by US forces were followed by a series of unconfirmed unverifiable details and the inevitable photos of hastily covered bodies. Investigators risked their lives to go into enemy-held territory rife with snipers in an effort to find out if the dead were 100% civilians, Taliban-sympathizers or, perhaps, unfortunate victims led into the area by the Taliban precisely to be targets of the provoked air strike. How can we prove that US military personnel are not ruthless murderers who deliberately aim at helpless villagers for the pleasure of killing women and children? Meanwhile the Taliban enforce sharia with savage methods and no one investigates.

Jihad fighters in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Gaza are transformed into hapless civilians when they die in battles that they provoked. When they are captured, as in the case of the Guantanamo prisoners, the lethal narrative strategy turns them into prisoners of war protected by the Geneva Convention, quasi-citizens deserving of due process, or oppressed minorities deprived of their civil rights. This is self-defeating: our moral integrity cannot be judged by the way we handle ruthless fighters who do not respect the laws of war.

They have their own laws. Fighters dress as civilians, attack civilians in their own and in the enemy camp, live among civilians, keep their women and children with them in the heat of battle, deliberately attack from residential areas to provoke counterattacks that will kill civilians, display bloodied mutilated corpses—civilian or military, who can tell—as weapons in the lethal narrative strategy. This month, Taliban in Pakistan shaved their beards, dressed in neutral clothes, and slipped in among the refugees fleeing their brutal rule and trying to escape the crossfire of hypothetical battles with regular Pakistani forces allegedly rooting them out.

Instead of comprehending the overall situation we are dealing case by case with endless examples and persistently attributing our own criteria to an enemy that is playing by utterly different rules. This not only jeopardizes our self-defense on the ground, it subverts the very rationality that defines our civilization and preserves our precious freedom. Logic is not an affectation for intellectuals. It is our light, our backbone, our invincible weapon.

FROM THE AL DURA BLOOD LIBEL TO THE SURRENDER OF AMERICAN POWER

The staged al Dura death scene has been analyzed, investigated, and exposed by, among others, Israeli physicist Nahum Shahaf, Israeli journalists Amnon Lord and Stephane Juffa, French author and psychoanalyst Gérard Huber, World Net Daily journalist Daniel Kupelian, German TV producer Esther Schapira, Boston University professor Richard Landes, and French media watchdog Philippe Karsenty. Shortly after the al Dura report was aired Tony and Alex Faigenbaum and Pierre Rehov tried to sue France 2 for false accusations but the French court refused to hear the case. Since winning his appeal in May 2008 Philippe Karsenty has been showing his convincing presentation of the al Dura hoax to influential people, small groups, and large audiences all over the world. I myself have written extensively about the al Dura affair in Commentary Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Jerusalem Post, Makor Rishon, National Post, and PJ Media.
My experience with irrational reactions to elucidation of the al Dura hoax led me to formulate the concept of lethal narratives. The al Dura “death scene” video has been dissected millimeter by millimeter. There is so much documentation that hardly anyone can absorb and assimilate it all. When an informed analyst presents an exposé of the al Dura myth—in person or in the media– objections are inevitably raised by people who know close to nothing about the affair. Their memories of the original news broadcast are faulty and they have never even heard of the background stories that were put out at the time and then withdrawn piece by piece as their blatant falsehood was exposed. People feel free to defend the al Dura myth by repeating baseless assertions and flimsy arguments thoroughly demolished by meticulous investigators.
Invited to present the affair to a Paris bar association workshop, I thought that lawyers would be interested to know that the testimony of the sole witnesses to the alleged shooting—the Palestinian cameraman and the surviving victim, Jamal al Dura—is demonstrably unreliable. Isn’t that how lawyers try to get at the truth? The witnesses and the journalist who produced the news broadcast endlessly repeat an obviously concocted story that doesn’t hold water. Nothing they say is corroborated by the video evidence. Every detail of their account clashes with other elements of their story. As I spoke to the lawyers, the iconic al Dura image appeared on a screen–Jamal al Dura and the boy crouched behind a concrete culvert, their features twisted in a melodramatic grimace. I said, “There is nothing shocking about this image…” Before I could go on to explain how the voice-off commentary transformed a patently staged and static image into a heart-rending story, a gentleman called out from the audience. “Yes it is shocking! The death of a child is always shocking!”

Well, you’d rather have this lawyer defending your opponent than yourself in court. But then again, in a French court he might win.

Debunkers of the al Dura myth are attacked with ignorant, snide objections and aggressive ad hominem arguments. The sheer weight of the evidence is thrown in his face as proof of dubious credibility, and the fact that this affair has dragged out for nine years—because of the refusal of France 2 to cooperate—is held as proof that the debunkers are cantankerous fools who don’t know when to stop. Current France 2 news director Arlette Chabot, who found the al Dura affair on her desk when she took over in 2004 and has had the decency to partially re-examine the evidence, complained: “These people’ ask questions, we reply, and they ask more questions.”
That used to be called investigation!

Why not just drop the issue…after all this time? Isn’t it over and done with, too late to correct even if the news report was falsified? Far from over and done with, the al Dura hoax is still active and virulent. The falsified cold-blooded murder of the Palestinian youth is still injecting its poison into the bloodstream of potential shahids eager to use their bodies as weapons to kill Jews. The al Dura blood libel provoked and justified the murder of Israeli civilians and attacks on Jews worldwide. This massive contemporary injection vivifies and intensifies the eternal systemic Islamic Jew hatred. Genocidal Palestinian violence is not inspired by suffering and despair. It is not a reaction to Israeli “violation of international law.” It is not a forceful way of requesting a two-state solution. It is sheer unmitigated boundless hatred.

Vibrantly alive in the Arab-Muslim world, half-forgotten elsewhere, the al Dura blood libel is a factor in the passive tolerance of Ahmadinejad’s genocidal determination backed up by Iran’s looming nuclear capacity. Global jihad meets feeble resistance in societies softened by lethal narratives. The forces of evil get traction by attacking Israel and the Jews. As the target widens to include the full range of “infidels” the faulty reasoning that justified atrocities against Jews remains in place…as planned. And the second-level victims – society at large – find themselves defenseless, because the Jews were in fact their shield and not the cause of Muslim anger.
In the current controversy over alleged torture of US prisoners, the Bush administration has been compared to the Inquisition. The comparison is misplaced. We the people of the free world are in fact subject to a jihadist variation on the Inquisition. We are attacked militarily and then accused of misdeeds, crimes, and sins. Hostages from our camp are tortured, burned alive or beheaded, their humiliation and pain are exhibited in unbearable videos…and we are accused of illegal uncivilized behavior. Ill-conceived apologies from our side are pocketed with no benefits for the apologetics; and we are pressured for new, deeper, wider, more radical apologies. The screws are tightened. Our crimes fall into a bottomless pit. We are in a dither, running to answer for each accusation, getting further and further from the simple truth that would save us:

We are at war. Our enemy wishes to destroy us. We must fight back.

This is not an over-simplification. It is not a frivolous personal opinion. It is the conclusion that is reached when one gathers all relevant evidence and organizes it logically. Rational thinking leads to this conclusion. We cannot defend our freedom if we do not maintain our capacity to think rationally. Our overwhelming military advantage is undermined when we succumb to stories of our own sinfulness. As we see in the current debate, self-defense is no longer accepted as justification for the harsh interrogation methods that the situation imposes. And when we treat our jihadi prisoners with kid gloves and tender loving care, the hypocritical moralizers immediately find something else to condemn. Self-defense is not even a category. It doesn’t enter into the equation because this controversy is not taking place on the plane of reality but in a mythological domain created by lethal narratives in which there is no distinction between war and peace, friends and enemies, options and necessities…

Let us look once more at the al Dura myth and see how it operates. It begins with an emotional sting—the death of the Palestinian youth “targeted by gunfire from the Israeli position” (dixit Charles Enderlin). The video of this scene, which lasts less than one minute, is so patently false that it cannot stand up to the barest objective examination. Remove the voice-off, take away the emotional sting, lift the incident out of the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the broadcast would be the laughing stock of 21st century television. The scene is so obviously fabricated that many who defend the al Dura story admit as much and then go on to justify it as a faithful illustration of the “situation.” The situation being the death of Palestinian children caught in the conflict? No! The situation illustrated by the al Dura video is the cold-blooded murder of Palestinian children by heartless Israelis.

Compare this to waterboarding. The emotional sting=Americans are meting out torture. Torture is wrong. This wrong must not only be discontinued and punished, it must be rubbed like salt into the wound of our evil hearts and souls. That accusation is not substantiated by rational argument but by repetition. Instead of a rational debate on the ethical dilemmas raised in the context of a new kind of warfare waged by jihadis who explicitly reject our laws, including the laws of war, we are battered with this damning accusation. And we are told, from the highest of places, that our inexcusable mistreatment of prisoners jeopardizes the safety of our own military personnel that will be—what can you expect?– mistreated in turn. How can such an outlandish statement be made in public? There is not a shred of evidence to substantiate it, there are tons of evidence that contradict it, but in the mythical world of lethal narratives, as we saw with the al Dura hoax, we do not look at the evidence. We do not verify statements. We do not make ethical clarifications. We dash from one emotional precipice to another. Look at how violently they attack us! Isn’t that proof of the wrong we have done?

Chronology is reversed, cause and effect are disconnected, details are tossed around like confetti instead of being rationally articulated. The broad picture is never outlined, we never get down to the essentials, there is no sense of priorities. The preposterous becomes accepted wisdom. Those who contradict it are slandered and marginalized. Take Jack Silverman’s snide, arrogant, ignorant, and baseless article in the Nashville Scene about this symposium. Set aside the fact that the people speaking here have investigated, analyzed, and studied more than Silverman could ever comprehend if he did knuckle down and make a serious effort. He doesn’t have to get serious. All he would have to do is wrest himself out of the grip of the lethal narratives he parrots. He doesn’t agree with us about Islam? Fine. But why can’t he debate the issues like an adult? Because the notion of blasphemy has crept into our society by every door and window. Normal critical faculties are stymied by sharia precepts that have been surreptitiously knitted into the fabric of our societies by a combination of seduction and intimidation.

Preposterous accusations are pumped into the information stream and purified as they move from the jihad source to the relays—academics, opinion-makers, politicians, community organizers—who deliver them in the trappings of normalcy. The raucous blood-curdling shouts of pro-Hamas foot soldiers storming through European cities – during the Cast Lead operation in January – were hidden from view of the general public by media that deliberately refrained from reporting on them. Later, the “Death to the Jews, Death to Israel” theme reappears in deceivingly civilized newspaper articles about the moderate Mahmoud Abbas who has, we are told, courageously, against great odds, prepared his society for peaceful coexistence. But, the story goes, as long as Israel pursues the expansion of settlements that eat away at territory that should be “returned” to the Palestinians, chances are slim of finding a peaceful solution to a conflict that has endured for sixty years.

The notion of a Mideast conflict caused by Israeli usurpation of Palestinian lands is a lethal narrative concocted to disguise Islamic determination to eliminate the Jewish State and kill the Jews. Our enemies state their real aims and purposes in no uncertain terms. And there is no valid evidence of the imaginary desire for a state that supposedly explains away every evil committed by Arab-Muslim forces for the past sixty years. The “illegal war in Iraq” that has caused such deep misunderstanding between the U.S., our European allies, and the Arab-Muslim world is another lethal narrative that serves to deprive the free world of its military might and leave us vulnerable to conquest.

Time is running out! We are falling behind. We have lost so much ground that if this were a conventional war with soldiers on battlefields it would be obvious that our backs are to the wall. We will either wake up and fight our way out, miraculously, or resign ourselves to defeat.
Time is running out. The once proud once free United States of America is baring its breast to a ruthless enemy and whispering “take me!”

But…

Democracies are not suicidal. Healthy forces of self-defense will mobilize and prevail. Thinking straight is a prelude to victory.

[1] Who Will Protect Palestine’s Children? by Jumana Odeh, dateline Ramallah, West Bank International Herald Tribune 27 October 2000 [1]
Under cover of a heartfelt plea for protection for Palestinian children, Dr. Jumana Odeh adds one more stone to the concerted campaign to convince the world that Israelis are child killers. Indeed, who will protect Palestine’s children if their own people send them into battle and, as if that weren’t enough, kill them a second time by using their deaths as an incitement to murderous hatred!
Mohammed Durra was not killed “in cold blood,” he was caught in a cross-fire. And Sarrah “not yet two years old” was not “killed by an Israeli settler,” she was shot accidentally in a tragic domestic accident. By her own people.
No, Israelis are not child-killers. Jews do not rejoice in the death of children, even when those children are throwing stones at them, even when those stone-throwing children are fronting for heavily armed men.
It will be a long long time before any plea arising from Ramallah can speak “to all those who still believe in humanity.” When the propaganda smoke screen has dissipated the truth will stand, indelible: a heinous crime was committed against two Israeli men in Ramallah and the savagery unleashed there will turn against its perpetrators a hundredfold.

Scenario 1: Israelis on Purpose

Those who believe that the Israelis intentionally killed Mohammed al Durah are located primarily in the Palestinian territories and the Arab and Muslim world where, thanks to edited footage, his “murderer” appears in the film which first introduced them to the story. Among this audience we find people convinced of a Zionist plot to wipe the Palestinian people off the face of the earth and to enslave mankind. They use this incident as a confirmation of their suspicions and to justify their responses. This scenario has reaffirmed, for many, their worst beliefs and fears about Zionists, Israelis, and Jews. Many European media and radical groups present the case as a deliberate murder.