Who Shot Mohammed al-Dura?
The image of a boy shot dead in his helpless father’s arms during an Israeli confrontation with Palestinians has become the Pietà of the Arab world. Now a number of Israeli researchers are presenting persuasive evidence that the fatal shots could not have come from the Israeli soldiers known to have been involved in the confrontation. The evidence will not change Arab minds—but the episode offers an object lesson in the incendiary power of an icon
The name Mohammed al-Dura is barely known in the United States. Yet to a billion people in the Muslim world it is an infamous symbol of grievance against Israel and—because of this country’s support for Israel —against the United States as well.
Al-Dura was the twelve-year-old Palestinian boy shot and killed during an exchange of fire between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian demonstrators on September 30, 2000. The final few seconds of his life, when he crouched in terror behind his father, Jamal, and then slumped to the ground after bullets ripped through his torso, were captured by a television camera and broadcast around the world. Through repetition they have become as familiar and significant to Arab and Islamic viewers as photographs of bombed-out Hiroshima are to the people of Japan—or as footage of the crumbling World Trade Center is to Americans. Several Arab countries have issued postage stamps carrying a picture of the terrified boy. One of Baghdad’s main streets was renamed The Martyr Mohammed Aldura Street. Morocco has an al-Dura Park. In one of the messages Osama bin Laden released after the September 11 attacks and the subsequent U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, he began a list of indictments against “American arrogance and Israeli violence” by saying, “In the epitome of his arrogance and the peak of his media campaign in which he boasts of ‘enduring freedom,’ Bush must not forget the image of Mohammed al-Dura and his fellow Muslims in Palestine and Iraq. If he has forgotten, then we will not forget, God willing.”
But almost since the day of the episode evidence has been emerging in Israel, under controversial and intriguing circumstances, to indicate that the official version of the Mohammed al-Dura story is not true. It now appears that the boy cannot have died in the way reported by most of the world’s media and fervently believed throughout the Islamic world. Whatever happened to him, he was not shot by the Israeli soldiers who were known to be involved in the day’s fighting—or so I am convinced, after spending a week in Israel talking with those examining the case. The exculpatory evidence comes not from government or military officials in Israel, who have an obvious interest in claiming that their soldiers weren’t responsible, but from other sources. In fact, the Israel Defense Forces, or IDF, seem to prefer to soft-pedal the findings rather than bring any more attention to this gruesome episode. The research has been done by a variety of academics, ex-soldiers, and Web-loggers who have become obsessed with the case, and the evidence can be cross-checked.
No “proof” that originates in Israel is likely to change minds in the Arab world. The longtime Palestinian spokesperson Hanan Ashrawi dismissed one early Israeli report on the topic as a “falsified version of reality [that] blames the victims.” Late this spring Said Hamad, a spokesman at the PLO office in Washington, told me of the new Israeli studies, “It does not surprise me that these reports would come out from the same people who shot Mohammed al-Dura. He was shot of course by the Israeli army, and not by anybody else.” Even if evidence that could revise the understanding of this particular death were widely accepted (so far it has been embraced by a few Jewish groups in Europe and North America), it would probably have no effect on the underlying hatred and ongoing violence in the region. Nor would evidence that clears Israeli soldiers necessarily support the overarching Likud policy of sending soldiers to occupy territories and protect settlements. The Israelis still looking into the al-Dura case do not all endorse Likud occupation policies. In fact, some strongly oppose them.
The truth about Mohammed al-Dura is important in its own right, because this episode is so raw and vivid in the Arab world and so hazy, if not invisible, in the West. Whatever the course of the occupation of Iraq, the United States has guaranteed an ample future supply of images of Arab suffering. The two explosions in Baghdad markets in the first weeks of the war, killing scores of civilians, offered an initial taste. Even as U.S. officials cautioned that it would take more time and study to determine whether U.S. or Iraqi ordnance had caused the blasts, the Arab media denounced the brutality that created these new martyrs. More of this lies ahead. The saga of Mohammed al-Dura illustrates the way the battles of wartime imagery may play themselves out.
The harshest version of the al-Dura case from the Arab side is that it proves the ancient “blood libel”—Jews want to kill gentile children—and shows that Americans count Arab life so cheap that they will let the Israelis keep on killing. The harshest version from the Israeli side is that the case proves the Palestinians’ willingness to deliberately sacrifice even their own children in the name of the war against Zionism. In Tel Aviv I looked through hour after hour of videotape in an attempt to understand what can be known about what happened, and what it means.
The death of Mohammed al-Dura took place on the second day of what is now known as the second intifada, a wave of violent protests throughout the West Bank and Gaza. In the summer of 2000 Middle East peace negotiations had reached another impasse. On September 28 of that year, a Thursday, Ariel Sharon, then the leader of Israel’s Likud Party but not yet Prime Minister, made a visit to the highly contested religious site in Jerusalem that Jews know as the Temple Mount and Muslims know as Haram al-Sharif, with its two mosques. For Palestinians this was the trigger—or, in the view of many Israelis, the pretext—for the expanded protests that began the next day.
On September 30 the protest sites included a crossroads in the occupied Gaza territory near the village of Netzarim, where sixty families of Israeli settlers live. The crossroads is a simple right-angle intersection of two roads in a lightly developed area. Three days earlier a roadside bomb had mortally wounded an IDF soldier there. At one corner of the intersection were an abandoned warehouse, two six-story office buildings known as the “twin towers,” and a two-story building. (These structures and others surrounding the crossroads have since been torn down.) A group of IDF soldiers had made the two-story building their outpost, to guard the road leading to the Israeli settlement.
Diagonally across the intersection was a small, ramshackle building and a sidewalk bordered by a concrete wall. It was along this wall that Mohammed al-Dura and his father crouched before they were shot. (The father was injured but survived.) The other two corners of the crossroads were vacant land. One of them contained a circular dirt berm, known as the Pita because it was shaped like a pita loaf. A group of uniformed Palestinian policemen, armed with automatic rifles, were on the Pita for much of the day.
Early in the morning of Saturday, September 30, a crowd of Palestinians gathered at the Netzarim crossroads. TV crews, photographers, and reporters from many news agencies, including Reuters, AP, and the French television network France 2, were also at the ready. Because so many cameras were running for so many hours, there is abundant documentary evidence of most of the day’s events—with a few strange and crucial exceptions, most of them concerning Mohammed al-Dura.
“Rushes” (raw footage) of the day’s filming collected from these and other news organizations around the world tell a detailed yet confusing story. The tapes overlap in some areas but leave mysterious gaps in others. No one camera, of course, followed the day’s events from beginning to end; and with so many people engaged in a variety of activities simultaneously, no one account could capture everything. Gabriel Weimann, the chairman of the communications department at the University of Haifa, whose book Communicating Unrealityconcerns the media’s distorting effects, explained to me on my visit that the footage in its entirety has a “Rashomon effect.” Many separate small dramas seem to be under way. Some of the shots show groups of young men walking around, joking, sitting and smoking and appearing to enjoy themselves. Others show isolated moments of intense action, as protesters yell and throw rocks, and shots ring out from various directions. Only when these vignettes are packaged together as a conventional TV news report do they seem to have a narrative coherence.
Off and on throughout the morning some of the several hundred Palestinian civilians at the crossroads mounted assaults on the IDF outpost. They threw rocks and Molotov cocktails. They ran around waving the Palestinian flag and trying to pull down an Israeli flag near the outpost. A few of the civilians had pistols or rifles, which they occasionally fired; the second intifada quickly escalated from throwing rocks to using other weapons. The Palestinian policemen, mainly in the Pita area, also fired at times. The IDF soldiers, according to Israeli spokesmen, were under orders not to fire in response to rocks or other thrown objects. They were to fire only if fired upon. Scenes filmed throughout the day show smoke puffing from the muzzles of M-16s pointed through the slits of the IDF outpost.
To watch the raw footage is to wonder, repeatedly, What is going on here? In some scenes groups of Palestinians duck for cover from gunfire while others nonchalantly talk or smoke just five feet away. At one dramatic moment a Palestinian man dives forward clutching his leg, as if shot in the thigh. An ambulance somehow arrives to collect him exactly two seconds later, before he has stopped rolling from the momentum of his fall. Another man is loaded into an ambulance—and, in footage from a different TV camera, appears to jump out of it again some minutes later.
At around 3:00 P.M. Mohammed al-Dura and his father make their first appearance on film. The time can be judged by later comments from the father and some journalists on the scene, and by the length of shadows in the footage. Despite the number of cameras that were running that day, Mohammed and Jamal al-Dura appear in the footage of only one cameraman—Talal Abu-Rahma, a Palestinian working for France 2.
Jamal al-Dura later said that he had taken his son to a used-car market and was on the way back when he passed through the crossroads and into the crossfire. When first seen on tape, father and son are both crouched on the sidewalk behind a large concrete cylinder, their backs against the wall. The cylinder, about three feet high, is referred to as “the barrel” in most discussions of the case, although it appears to be a section from a culvert or a sewer system. On top of the cylinder is a big paving stone, which adds another eight inches or so of protection. The al-Duras were on the corner diagonally opposite the Israeli outpost. By hiding behind the barrel they were doing exactly what they should have done to protect themselves from Israeli fire.
Many news accounts later claimed that the two were under fire for forty-five minutes, but the action captured on camera lasts a very brief time. Jamal looks around desperately. Mohammed slides down behind him, as if to make his body disappear behind his father’s. Jamal clutches a pack of cigarettes in his left hand, while he alternately waves and cradles his son with his right. The sound of gunfire is heard, and four bullet holes appear in the wall just to the left of the pair. The father starts yelling. There is another burst. Mohammed goes limp and falls forward across his father’s lap, his shirt stained with blood. Jamal, too, is hit, and his head starts bobbling. The camera cuts away. Although France 2 or its cameraman may have footage that it or he has chosen not to release, no other visual record of the shooting or its immediate aftermath is known to exist. Other Palestinian casualties of the day are shown being evacuated, but there is no known on-tape evidence of the boy’s being picked up, tended to, loaded into an ambulance, or handled in any other way after he was shot.
The footage of the shooting is unforgettable, and it illustrates the way in which television transforms reality. I have seen it replayed at least a hundred times now, and on each repetition I can’t help hoping that this time the boy will get himself down low enough, this time the shots will miss. Through the compression involved in editing the footage for a news report, the scene acquired a clear story line by the time European, American, and Middle Eastern audiences saw it on television: Palestinians throw rocks. Israeli soldiers, from the slits in their outpost, shoot back. A little boy is murdered.
What is known about the rest of the day is fragmentary and additionally confusing. A report from a nearby hospital says that a dead boy was admitted on September 30, with two gun wounds to the left side of his torso. But according to the photocopy I saw, the report also says that the boy was admitted at 1:00 P.M.; the tape shows that Mohammed was shot later in the afternoon. The doctor’s report also notes, without further explanation, that the dead boy had a cut down his belly about eight inches long. A boy’s body, wrapped in a Palestinian flag but with his face exposed, was later carried through the streets to a burial site (the exact timing is in dispute). The face looks very much like Mohammed’s in the video footage. Thousands of mourners lined the route. A BBC TV report on the funeral began, “A Palestinian boy has been martyred.” Many of the major U.S. news organizations reported that the funeral was held on the evening of September 30, a few hours after the shooting. Oddly, on film the procession appears to take place in full sunlight, with shadows indicative of midday.
Almost immediately news media around the world began reporting the tragedy. Print outlets were generally careful to say that Mohammed al-Dura was killed in “the crossfire” or “an exchange of fire” between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians.The New York Times, for instance, reported that he was “shot in the stomach as he crouched behind his father on the sidelines of an intensifying battle between Israeli and Palestinian security forces.” But the same account included Jamal al-Dura’s comment that the fatal volley had come from Israeli soldiers. Jacki Lyden said on NPR’s Weekend All Things Considered that the boy had been “caught in crossfire.” She then interviewed the France 2 cameraman, Talal Abu-Rahma, who said that he thought the Israelis had done the shooting.
ABU-RAHMA: I was very sad. I was crying. And I was remembering my children. I was afraid to lose my life. And I was sitting on my knees and hiding my head, carrying my camera, and I was afraid from the Israeli to see this camera, maybe they will think this is a weapon, you know, or I am trying to shoot on them. But I was in the most difficult situation in my life. A boy, I cannot save his life, and I want to protect myself.
LYDEN: Was there any attempt by the troops who were firing to cease fire to listen to what the father had to say? Could they even see what they were shooting at?
ABU-RAHMA: Okay. It’s clear it was a father, it’s clear it was a boy over there for ever who [presumably meaning “whoever”] was shooting on them from across the street, you know, in front of them. I’m sure from that area, I’m expert in that area, I’ve been in that area many times. I know every [unintelligible] in that area. Whoever was shooting, he got to see them, because that base is not far away from the boy and the father. It’s about a hundred and fifty meters [about 500 feet].
On that night’s broadcast of ABC World News Tonight, the correspondent Gillian Findlay said unambiguously that the boy had died “under Israeli fire.” Although both NBC and CBS used the term “crossfire” in their reports, videos of Israeli troops firing and then the boy dying left little doubt about the causal relationship. Jamal al-Dura never wavered in his view that the Israelis had killed his son. “Are you sure they were Israeli bullets?” Diane Sawyer, of ABC News, asked him in an interview later that year. “I’m a hundred percent sure,” he replied, through his translator. “They were Israelis.” In another interview he told the Associated Press, “The bullets of the Zionists are the bullets that killed my son.”
By Tuesday, October 3, all doubt seemed to have been removed. After a hurried internal investigation the IDF concluded that its troops were probably to blame. General Yom-Tov Samia, then the head of the IDF’s Southern Command, which operated in Gaza, said, “It could very much be—this is an estimation—that a soldier in our position, who has a very narrow field of vision, saw somebody hiding behind a cement block in the direction from which he was being fired at, and he shot in that direction.” General Giora Eiland, then the head of IDF operations, said on an Israeli radio broadcast that the boy was apparently killed by “Israeli army fire at the Palestinians who were attacking them violently with a great many petrol bombs, rocks, and very massive fire.”
The further attempt to actually justify killing the boy was, in terms of public opinion, yet more damning for the IDF. Eiland said, “It is known that [Mohammed al-Dura] participated in stone throwing in the past.” Samia asked what a twelve-year-old was doing in such a dangerous place to begin with. Ariel Sharon, who admitted that the footage of the shooting was “very hard to see,” and that the death was “a real tragedy,” also said, “The one that should be blamed is only the one … that really instigated all those activities, and that is Yasir Arafat.”
Palestinians, and the Arab-Islamic world in general, predictably did not agree. Sweatshirts, posters, and wall murals were created showing the face of Mohammed al-Dura just before he died. “His face, stenciled three feet high, is a common sight on the walls of Gaza,” Matthew McAllester, of Newsday, wrote last year. “His name is known to every Arab, his death cited as the ultimate example of Israeli military brutality.” In modern warfare, Bob Simon said on CBS’s 60 Minutes, “one picture can be worth a thousand weapons,” and the picture of the doomed boy amounted to “one of the most disastrous setbacks Israel has suffered in decades.” Gabriel Weimann, of Haifa University, said that when he first heard of the case, “it made me sick to think this was done in my name.” Amnon Lord, an Israeli columnist who has investigated the event, told me in an e-mail message that it was important “on the mythological level,” because it was “a framework story, a paradigmatic event,” illustrating Israeli brutality. Dan Schueftan, an Israeli strategist and military thinker, told me that the case was uniquely damaging. He said, “[It was] the ultimate symbol of what the Arabs want to think: the father is trying to protect his son, and the satanic Jews—there is no other word for it—are trying to kill him. These Jews are people who will come to kill our children, because they are not human.”
Two years after Mohammed al-Dura’s death his stepmother, Amal, became pregnant with another child, the family’s eighth. The parents named him Mohammed. Amal was quoted late in her pregnancy as saying, “It will send a message to Israel: ‘Yes, you’ve killed one, but God has compensated for him. You can’t kill us all.'”
In the fall of last year Gabriel Weimann mentioned the Mohammed al-Dura case in a special course that he teaches at the Israeli Military Academy, National Security and Mass Media. Like most adults in Israel, Weimann, a tall, athletic-looking man in his early fifties, still performs up to thirty days of military-reserve duty a year. His reserve rank is sergeant, whereas the students in his class are lieutenant colonels and above.
To underscore the importance of the media in international politics, Weimann shows some of his students a montage of famous images from past wars: for World War II the flag raising at Iwo Jima; for Vietnam the South Vietnamese officer shooting a prisoner in the head and the little girl running naked down a path with napalm on her back. For the current intifada, Weimann told his students, the lasting iconic image would be the frightened face of Mohammed al-Dura.
One day last fall, after he discussed the images, a student spoke up. “I was there,” he said. “We didn’t do it.”
“Prove it,” Weimann said. He assigned part of the class, as its major research project, a reconsideration of the evidence in the case. A surprisingly large amount was available. The students began by revisiting an investigation undertaken by the Israeli military soon after the event.
Shortly after the shooting General Samia was contacted by Nahum Shahaf, a physicist and engineer who had worked closely with the IDF on the design of pilotless drone aircraft. While watching the original news broadcasts of the shooting Shahaf had been alarmed, like most viewers inside and outside Israel. But he had also noticed an apparent anomaly. The father seemed to be concerned mainly about a threat originating on the far side of the barrel behind which he had taken shelter. Yet when he and his son were shot, the barrel itself seemed to be intact. What, exactly, did this mean?
Samia commissioned Shahaf and an engineer, Yosef Duriel, to work on a second IDF investigation of the case. “The reason from my side is to check and clean up our values,” Samia later told Bob Simon, of CBS. He said he wanted “to see that we are still acting as the IDF.” Shahaf stressed to Samia that the IDF should do whatever it could to preserve all physical evidence. But because so much intifada activity continued in the Netzarim area, the IDF demolished the wall and all related structures. Shahaf took one trip to examine the crossroads, clad in body armor and escorted by Israeli soldiers. Then, at a location near Beersheba, Shahaf, Duriel, and others set up models of the barrel, the wall, and the IDF shooting position, in order to re-enact the crucial events.
Bullets had not been recovered from the boy’s body at the hospital, and the family was hardly willing to agree to an exhumation to re-examine the wounds. Thus the most important piece of physical evidence was the concrete barrel. In the TV footage it clearly bears a mark from the Israeli Bureau of Standards, which enabled investigators to determine its exact dimensions and composition. When they placed the equivalent in front of a concrete wall and put mannequins representing father and son behind it, a conclusion emerged: soldiers in the Israeli outpost could not have fired the shots whose impact was shown on TV. The evidence was cumulative and reinforcing. It involved the angle, the barrel, the indentations, and the dust.
Mohammed al-Dura and his father looked as if they were sheltering themselves against fire from the IDF outpost. In this they were successful. The films show that the barrel was between them and the Israeli guns. The line of sight from the IDF position to the pair was blocked by concrete. Conceivably, some other Israeli soldier was present and fired from some other angle, although there is no evidence of this and no one has ever raised it as a possibility; and there were Palestinians in all the other places, who would presumably have noticed the presence of additional IDF troops. From the one location where Israeli soldiers are known to have been, the only way to hit the boy would have been to shoot through the concrete barrel.
This brings us to the nature of the barrel. Its walls were just under two inches thick. On the test range investigators fired M-16 bullets at a similar barrel. Each bullet made an indentation only two fifths to four fifths of an inch deep. Penetrating the barrel would have required multiple hits on both sides of the barrel’s wall. The videos of the shooting show fewer than ten indentations on the side of the barrel facing the IDF, indicating that at some point in the day’s exchanges of fire the Israelis did shoot at the barrel. But photographs taken after the shooting show no damage of any kind on the side of the barrel facing the al-Duras—that is, no bullets went through.
Further evidence involves the indentations in the concrete wall. The bullet marks that appear so ominously in the wall seconds before the fatal volley are round. Their shape is significant because of what it indicates about the angle of the gunfire. The investigators fired volleys into a concrete wall from a variety of angles. They found that in order to produce a round puncture mark, they had to fire more or less straight on. The more oblique the angle, the more elongated and skidlike the hole became.
The dust resulting from a bullet’s impact followed similar rules. A head-on shot produced the smallest, roundest cloud of dust. The more oblique the angle, the larger and longer the cloud of dust. In the video of the shooting the clouds of dust near the al-Duras’ heads are small and round. Shots from the IDF outpost would necessarily have been oblique.
In short, the physical evidence of the shooting was in all ways inconsistent with shots coming from the IDF outpost—and in all ways consistent with shots coming from someplace behind the France 2 cameraman, roughly in the location of the Pita. Making a positive case for who might have shot the boy was not the business of the investigators hired by the IDF. They simply wanted to determine whether the soldiers in the outpost were responsible. Because the investigation was overseen by the IDF and run wholly by Israelis, it stood no chance of being taken seriously in the Arab world. But its fundamental point—that the concrete barrel lay between the outpost and the boy, and no bullets had gone through the barrel—could be confirmed independently from news footage.
It was at this point that the speculation about Mohammed al-Dura’s death left the realm of geometry and ballistics and entered the world of politics, paranoia, fantasy, and hatred. Almost as soon as the second IDF investigation was under way, Israeli commentators started questioning its legitimacy and Israeli government officials distanced themselves from its findings. “It is hard to describe in mild terms the stupidity of this bizarre investigation,” the liberal newspaper Ha’aretz said in an editorial six weeks after the shooting. The newspaper claimed that Shahaf and Duriel were motivated not by a need for dispassionate inquiry but by the belief that Palestinians had staged the whole shooting. (Shahaf told me that he began his investigation out of curiosity but during the course of it became convinced that the multiple anomalies indicated a staged event.) “The fact that an organized body like the IDF, with its vast resources, undertook such an amateurish investigation—almost a pirate endeavor—on such a sensitive issue, is shocking and worrying,” Ha’aretz said.
As the controversy grew, Samia abbreviated the investigation and subsequently avoided discussing the case. Most government officials, I was told by many sources, regard drawing any further attention to Mohammed al-Dura as self-defeating. No new “proof” would erase images of the boy’s death, and resurrecting the discussion would only ensure that the horrible footage was aired yet again. IDF press officials did not return any of my calls, including those requesting to interview soldiers who were at the outpost.
So by the time Gabriel Weimann’s students at the Israeli Military Academy, including the one who had been on the scene, began looking into the evidence last fall, most Israelis had tried to put the case behind them. Those against the Likud policy of encouraging settlements in occupied territory think of the shooting as one more illustration of the policy’s cost. Those who support the policy view Mohammed al-Dura’s death as an unfortunate instance of “collateral damage,” to be weighed against damage done to Israelis by Palestinian terrorists. Active interest in the case was confined mainly to a number of Israelis and European Jews who believe the event was manipulated to blacken Israel’s image. Nahum Shahaf has become the leading figure in this group.
Shahaf is a type familiar to reporters: the person who has given himself entirely to a cause or a mystery and can talk about its ramifications as long as anyone will listen. He is a strongly built man of medium height, with graying hair combed back from his forehead. In photos he always appears stern, almost glowering, whereas in the time I spent with him he seemed to be constantly smiling, joking, having fun. Shahaf is in his middle fifties, but like many other scientists and engineers, he has the quality of seeming not quite grown up. He used to live in California, where, among other pursuits, he worked as a hang-gliding instructor. He moves and gesticulates with a teenager’s lack of self-consciousness about his bearing. I liked him.
Before getting involved in the al-Dura case, Shahaf was known mainly as an inventor. He was only the tenth person to receive a medal from the Israeli Ministry of Science, for his work on computerized means of compressing digital video transmission. “But for two and a half years I am spending time only on the al-Dura case,” he told me. “I left everything for it, because I believe that this is most important.” When I arrived at his apartment, outside Tel Aviv, to meet him one morning, I heard a repeated sound from one room that I assumed was from a teenager’s playing a violent video game. An hour later, when we walked into that room—which has been converted into a video-research laboratory, with multiple monitors, replay devices, and computers—I saw that it was one mob scene from September 30, being played on a continuous loop.
Shahaf’s investigation for the IDF showed that the Israeli soldiers at the outpost did not shoot the boy. But he now believes that everything that happened at Netzarim on September 30 was a ruse. The boy on the film may or may not have been the son of the man who held him. The boy and the man may or may not actually have been shot. If shot, the boy may or may not actually have died. If he died, his killer may or may not have been a member of the Palestinian force, shooting at him directly. The entire goal of the exercise, Shahaf says, was to manufacture a child martyr, in correct anticipation of the damage this would do to Israel in the eyes of the world—especially the Islamic world. “I believe that one day there will be good things in common between us and the Palestinians,” he told me. “But the case of Mohammed al-Dura brings the big flames between Israel and the Palestinians and Arabs. It brings a big wall of hate. They can say this is the proof, the ultimate proof, that Israeli soldiers are boy-murderers. And that hatred breaks any chance of having something good in the future.”
The reasons to doubt that the al-Duras, the cameramen, and hundreds of onlookers were part of a coordinated fraud are obvious. Shahaf’s evidence for this conclusion, based on his videos, is essentially an accumulation of oddities and unanswered questions about the chaotic events of the day. Why is there no footage of the boy after he was shot? Why does he appear to move in his father’s lap, and to clasp a hand over his eyes after he is supposedly dead? Why is one Palestinian policeman wearing a Secret Service-style earpiece in one ear? Why is another Palestinian man shown waving his arms and yelling at others, as if “directing” a dramatic scene? Why does the funeral appear—based on the length of shadows—to have occurred before the apparent time of the shooting? Why is there no blood on the father’s shirt just after they are shot? Why did a voice that seems to be that of the France 2 cameraman yell, in Arabic, “The boy is dead” before he had been hit? Why do ambulances appear instantly for seemingly everyone else and not for al-Dura?
A handful of Israeli and foreign commentators have taken up Shahaf’s cause. A Web site called masada2000.org says of the IDF’s initial apology, “They acknowledged guilt, for never in their collective minds would any one of them have imagined a scenario whereby Mohammed al-Dura might have been murdered by his own people … a cruel plot staged and executed by Palestinian sharp-shooters and a television cameraman!” Amnon Lord, writing for the magazine Makor Rishon, referred to a German documentary directed by Esther Schapira that was “based on Shahaf’s own decisive conclusion” and that determined “that Muhammad Al-Dura was not killed by IDF gunfire at Netzarim junction.” “Rather,” Lord continued, “the Palestinians, in cooperation with foreign journalists and the UN, arranged a well-staged production of his death.” In March of this year a French writer, Gérard Huber, published a book calledContre expertise d’une mise en scène (roughly, Re-evaluation of a Re-enactment). It, too, argues that the entire event was staged. In an e-mail message to me Huber said that before knowing of Shahaf’s studies he had been aware that “the images of little Mohammed were part of the large war of images between Palestinians and Israelis.” But until meeting Shahaf, he said, “I had not imagined that it involved a fiction”—a view he now shares. “The question of ‘Who killed little Mohammed?'” he said, “has become a screen to disguise the real question, which is: ‘Was little Mohammed actually killed?'”
The truth about this case will probably never be determined. Or, to put it more precisely, no version of truth that is considered believable by all sides will ever emerge. For most of the Arab world, the rights and wrongs of the case are beyond dispute: an innocent boy was murdered, and his blood is on Israel’s hands. Mention of contrary evidence or hypotheses only confirms the bottomless dishonesty of the guilty parties—much as Holocaust-denial theories do in the Western world. For the handful of people collecting evidence of a staged event, the truth is also clear, even if the proof is not in hand. I saw Nahum Shahaf lose his good humor only when I asked him what he thought explained the odd timing of the boy’s funeral, or the contradictions in eyewitness reports, or the other loose ends in the case. “I don’t ‘think,’ I know!” he said several times. “I am a physicist. I work from the evidence.” Schapira had collaborated with him for the German documentary and then produced a film advancing the “minimum” version of his case, showing that the shots did not, could not have, come from the IDF outpost. She disappointed him by not embracing the maximum version—the all-encompassing hoax—and counseled him not to talk about a staged event unless he could produce a living boy or a cooperative eyewitness. Shahaf said that he still thought well of her, and that he was not discouraged. “I am only two and a half years into this work,” he told me. “It took twelve years for the truth of the Dreyfus case to come out.”
For anyone else who knows about Mohammed al-Dura but is not in either of the decided camps—the Arabs who are sure they know what happened, the revisionists who are equally sure—the case will remain in the uncomfortable realm of events that cannot be fully explained or understood. “Maybe it was an accidental shooting,” Gabriel Weimann told me, after reading his students’ report, which, like the German documentary, supported the “minimum” conclusion—the Israeli soldiers at the outpost could not have killed the boy. (He could not show the report to me, he said, on grounds of academic confidentiality.) “Maybe even it was staged—although I don’t think my worst enemy is so inhuman as to shoot a boy for the sake of publicity. Beyond that, I do not know.” Weimann’s recent work involves the way that television distorts reality in attempting to reconstruct it, by putting together loosely related or even random events in what the viewer imagines is a coherent narrative flow. The contrast between the confusing, contradictory hours of raw footage from the Netzarim crossroads and the clear, gripping narrative of the evening news reports assembled from that footage is a perfect example, he says.
The significance of this case from the American perspective involves the increasingly chaotic ecology of truth around the world. In Arab and Islamic societies the widespread belief that Israeli soldiers shot this boy has political consequences. So does the belief among some Israelis and Zionists in Israel and abroad that Palestinians will go to any lengths to smear them. Obviously, these beliefs do not create the basic tensions in the Middle East. The Israeli policy of promoting settlements in occupied territory, and the Palestinian policy of terror, are deeper obstacles. There would never have been a showdown at the Netzarim crossroads, or any images of Mohammed al-Dura’s shooting to be parsed in different ways, if there were no settlement nearby for IDF soldiers to protect. Gabriel Weimann is to the left of Dan Schueftan on Israel’s political spectrum, but both believe that Israel should end its occupation. I would guess that Nahum Shahaf thinks the same thing, even though he told me that to preserve his “independence” as a researcher, he wanted to “isolate myself from any kind of political question.”
The images intensify the self-righteous determination of each side. If anything, modern technology has aggravated the problem of mutually exclusive realities. With the Internet and TV, each culture now has a more elaborate apparatus for “proving,” dramatizing, and disseminating its particular truth.
In its engagement with the Arab world the United States has assumed that what it believes are noble motives will be perceived as such around the world. We mean the best for the people under our control; stability, democracy, prosperity, are our goals; why else would we have risked so much to help an oppressed people achieve them? The case of Mohammed al-Dura suggests the need for much more modest assumptions about the way other cultures—in particular today’s embattled Islam—will perceive our truths.
James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and the author of Looking at the Sun (1994), Breaking the News (1996), and Free Flight (2001). His article about the postwar future of Iraq, “The Fifty-first State?” appeared in the November 2002 Atlantic.
Originally published in the Wall Street Journal on May 27, 2008
September 30, 2000, Netzarim Junction in the Gaza Strip: France 2 correspondent Charles Enderlin offers the world a front seat on the video shooting of Mohammed al-Durra and his father Jamal. Targeted, according to Mr. Enderlin’s voice-over commentary, by “gunfire from the direction of the Israeli positions.” A few seconds later: “Mohammed is dead, his father is critically wounded.” The France 2 cameraman, later identified as Palestinian stringer Talal Abu Rahma, caught the child killers in the act. A prize-winning scoop!
Independent analysts and Israeli officials seeking clarification of inconsistencies in the al-Durra news report encountered stubborn resistance from the state-owned French channel and its Mideast correspondent. An Israeli army investigation concluded the gunfire could not have come from their position; independent investigators went further and declared that the incident had been staged. Exasperated by the controversy, France 2 and Mr. Enderlin sued four Web sites for defamation, won three cases and lost the fourth on a technicality. Philippe Karsenty, director of the Media-Ratings watchdog site (www.m-r.fr), convicted of defamation for calling the al-Durra report “a hoax,” took the case to the Court of Appeals.
May 21, 2008, Palais de Justice, 11th Chamber of the Court of Appeals: Presiding judge Laurence Trébucq announced the verdict with a delicate smile: Philippe Karsenty is acquitted; the plaintiff’s claims are dismissed. France 2 counsel Maître Bénédicte Amblard blanched, shrugged her shoulders, and disappeared into thin air. Mr. Karsenty celebrated the decision as an admonition to reckless media who provoke violence with falsified inflammatory news.
An honest reading of the ruling calls into question the al-Durra myth. French media didn’t bother to come to the funeral. Were they confident that Charles Enderlin would be vindicated? Did they think Philippe Karsenty, whose honor they had sullied by likening him to Holocaust deniers and 9/11 conspiracy nuts, was already dead and buried?
Mr. Karsenty’s defamation conviction in the court of first resort had been celebrated as proof that the al-Durra death scene was authentic. Reactions to his acquittal, which can be counted on the fingers of one bony hand, reassert that impression. In a three-second segment at the tail end of Wednesday’s primetime news, France 2 implied — with the famous al-Durra image in the background — that the report had, once again, been authenticated despite the acquittal of an — unnamed — defendant.
Playing on the complexity of the law dating back to July 29, 1881, Charles Enderlin and his allies insist that Mr. Karsenty is still guilty of defamation. The incriminated statements Mr. Karsenty made in 2004 on his Web site did damage their reputations. But the court found that despite the lack of absolute proof, the statements were nevertheless justified by the defendant’s good faith, due diligence and appropriate language. The judge therefore acquitted Philippe Karsenty of all charges.
In a move unprecedented in media litigation, France 2 and Mr. Enderlin have referred the case to France’s highest court (the Cour de Cassation), which rules solely on technicalities, not on substance.
The 13-page ruling is drafted with the same ethical and intellectual clarity exercised by Judge Trébucq throughout the proceedings. The court first establishes the principle that Charles Enderlin “…as a professional journalist reporting from Israel and the Palestinian territories for primetime France 2 newscasts…cannot shield himself from criticism; he is…[necessarily] exposed to…scrutiny…from citizens and colleagues.” And then the court validates, exhibit by exhibit, the evidence that led Philippe Karsenty to question and ultimately denounce the al-Durra report.
While Mr. Karsenty submitted voluminous evidence, France 2 and Mr. Enderlin relied on an above-suspicion strategy based on the elevated reputation of the journalist, his total confidence in the Palestinian cameraman who filmed those images without the French correspondent there, and the unquestionable dignity of the state-owned television network. Their position weakened when Judge Trébucq ordered them to submit the unedited raw footage filmed on Sept. 30, 2000. They only partially complied. In lieu of “unedited raw footage,” Mr. Enderlin presented an 18-minute excerpt and, for the first time since litigation began, appeared in court on Nov. 18 to oversee the screening.
Reinforcements were brought in for the final hearing on Feb. 27 — news director Arlette Chabot to bolster Mr. Enderlin, and Maître François Szpiner to assassinate Mr. Karsenty’s character, comparing him to 9/11 conspiracy theorist Thierry Meyssan, Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson, and “the Jew who pays a second Jew to pay a third Jew to fight to the last drop of Israeli blood.” This aggressive strategy backfired.
The court kept its eyes on the evidence. It is impossible in the limited space available here to do justice to a document that deserves line-by-line appreciation. The following examples drawn from the decision are a fair indication of its logical thrust: Material evidence raises legitimate doubts about the authenticity of the al-Durra scene. The video images do not correspond to the voice-over commentary. Mr. Enderlin fed legitimate speculation of deceit by claiming to have footage of Mohammed al Durra’s death throes while systematically refusing to reveal it. He aggravated his case by suing analysts who publicly questioned the authenticity of the report. Examination of an 18-minute excerpt of raw footage composed primarily of staged battle scenes, false injuries and comical ambulance evacuations reinforces the possibility that the al-Durra scene, too, was staged. (There is, strictly speaking, no raw footage of the al-Durra scene; all that exists are the six thin slices of images that were spliced together to produce the disputed news report.)
The possibility of a staged scene is further substantiated by expert testimony presented by Mr. Karsenty — including a 90-page ballistics report and a sworn statement by Dr. Yehuda ben David attributing Jamal al-Durra’s scars — displayed as proof of wounds sustained in the alleged shooting — to knife and hatchet wounds incurred when he was attacked by Palestinians in 1992. In fact, there is no blood on the father’s T-shirt, the boy moves after Mr. Enderlin’s voice-over commentary says he is dead, no bullets are seen hitting the alleged victims. And Mr. Enderlin himself had backtracked when the controversy intensified after seasoned journalists Denis Jeambar and Daniel Leconte viewed some of the raw footage in 2004. The news report, he said, corresponds to “the situation.” The court, concurring with Messrs. Jeambar and Leconte, considers that journalism must stick to events that actually occur.
The frail evidence submitted by France 2 — “statements provided by the cameraman” — is not “perfectly credible either in form or content,” the court ruled.
The landmark ruling closes with an eloquent affirmation of the right of citizens to criticize the press freely, the right of the public to be informed honestly and seriously, the right of expression guaranteed by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, a right that applies not only to inoffensive ideas but also to those that are shocking, disturbing, troubling.
The media that dramatically reported the killing of Mohammed al-Durra are deathly silent today. They didn’t inform the public about the ongoing controversy, didn’t attend the trials and have apparently decided to place this story into an artificial coma. As if this judgment against a colleague who placed blind trust in his Palestinian cameraman and, when called to clarify his report, attacked the questioner instead of questioning his own competence were not newsworthy?
The press corps has consistently closed ranks with Charles Enderlin. One week before the verdict was announced, pay-to-view TV station Canal+ aired a documentary seemingly concocted for the purpose of branding Philippe Karsenty — and anyone who challenged the al-Durra story — as conspiracy-theory crackpots.
Mr. Enderlin is the dean of French Middle East reporting. On France 2, he has full latitude to present his editorializing as factual news. Pointedly ignoring the al-Durra controversy, France 2 continued to give Mr. Enderlin — in tandem with cameraman Talal Abu Rahma — high-profile status on primetime news. Every few years Mr. Enderlin collects his material into another “authoritative” book on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Mr. Enderlin has been the driving force in convincing French public opinion that Israel was to blame for the breakdown of the July 2000 Camp David talks. Further, Mr. Enderlin argues that the “Al Aqsa” or second intifada turned violent because of the disproportionate repression of civilian protest by uncontrolled Israeli military personnel.
Mr. Enderlin claims ultra-Zionist Likudniks want to prevent him from reporting objectively on the Arab-Israeli conflict. He is now replaying the Karsenty case on his French state-TV blog where, in the absence of the wise Judge Trébucq, he wins hands down. He claims the al-Durra controversy was fomented in response to the publication of “Le Rêve Brisé” (Shattered Dream), where he pinpointed Israel’s responsibility for the collapse of the peace process.
France Télévisions director Patrick de Carolis and the CSA — roughly equivalent to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission — have been repeatedly called by media watchdogs to intervene in the al-Durra controversy. Can they all remain deaf to the wisdom of a courageous judge who has reasserted the journalist’s responsibility to serve the people and account for the way he does his job?
Nidra Poller *
© Wall Street Journal
* Ms. Poller is an American writer living in Paris since 1972.
The ongoing French legal proceedings in which the national television network France 2 seeks a criminal defamation judgement against the media critic Philip Karsenty over the network’s launch of the Aldurah Affair in September 2000 comes back yet again before a Paris appellate court on Wednesday January 16, 2013. It’s an important case for multiple reasons. Prof. Landes is an American historian, associate professor in the Department of History at Boston University, and an author specializing in millennialism.Read More
Pallywood, Muhammad al Durah and Cognitive Warfare in the 21st Century
This paper was originally published on November 9, 2011, and was delivered by the author as a presentation to the ASMEA Conference, Washington DC, November 4, 2011.
Richard Landes, Boston University
I’d like to make two arguments. First, that the image of the IDF as child-killers is the product of a constant campaign of Arab/Palestinian cognitive warfare in which the Western mainstream news media has played a critical role in conveying this disinformation as news; second, that such a state of affairs has had a devastating impact on our ability to understand the conflict and leading to serious errors in judgment.
Let’s take what I would argue is at once a paradigmatic case, and, at the same time, the most terrible case, that of Muhammad al Durah, the 12-year old Palestinian boy who became the icon of the second intifadah, even as he should be an icon of the destructive incompetence of the MSNM.
On September 30, 2000, Charles Enderlin of France2 received the following footage from his long-time cameraman in Gaza, Talal abu Rahmah.
It was accompanied by the following narrative from Talal:
The boy and the father took cover during an exchange of fire.
The Israelis fired for 40 minutes at the boy who was hit and lay bleeding for 20 minutes while the Israelis fired – bullets like rain – at any ambulance that tried to take him away.
They targeted and killed the boy deliberately.
Let me present what I think Charles Enderlin should have done were he a serious journalist merely on the basis of what he had before him. There are at least three issues that should have aroused his doubts.
1) The wandering red spot and the lack of blood
2) The behavior of the boy, from when he was “shot” in the stomach to take five – stretched out, raising elbow to look out
Still from “take 4.” This is the first take in which the boy has been allegedly shot. There is red visible on his right leg (which was one of the wounds reported by the hospital). Enderlin’s voice-over declares the boy dead.
Still from “take 5″ after Enderlin has declared the boy dead. Why would someone allegedly hit in the stomach be holding his hands over his eyes and stretched out rather than balled up and clutching his stomach? Note that there is no longer any red on his injured leg (by now the blood from a bullet wound should have spread, and the red is around his stomach, does not spill onto the ground in front of him.
Still from “take 6.” This take was cut by Enderlin in his broadcast and drew audible gasps from those in court when it was shown. Again, why would a boy who has been bleeding out from his stomach according to Talal be holding his hand over his eyes, again stretched out, and apparently looking out from under his arm?
3) the angle of the bullets
From “take 1.” This is one of the two bullets that one can identify hitting the wall during the footage shot by Talal (hardly bullets like rain). The round dust cloud kicked up indicates that it came from head-on, not from the -30 degree angle from which a shot from the Israeli position would have come. Later ballistic tests confirmed that both bullets came from the Palestinian side.
4) No shot of the ambulance evacuation
Given how high a premium cameramen place on shots of ambulance evacuations, and how important the evacuation of the “dead” boy and his “wounded” father would have been, it seems most bizarre that Talal did not have any footage of the dramatic event. The driver late claimed to Esther Schapira that he had to scoop up the guts of the dead boy from the pavement. Talal’s claim that his camera was running out of batteries does not explain why he has footage of a distant, later ambulance evacuation, far less dramatic than one of bleeding father and dead boy.
Given the potential violence and hatred such footage might – and did – arouse, Enderlin (known to his colleagues as “Scoop” had to choose between breaking the sensational “news” or showing some professional restraint. According to his own testimony, he didn’t hesitate.
In doing so, Enderlin cut the final footage of al Durah.
He remarked in his 2010 book: “j’ai coupé quelques secondes de la séquence du petit Mohammed afin d’éviter toute dramatisation inutile.” Earlier he had referred to it as “the unbearable ‘death throes’ of the child” which he wanted to spare the viewer.
However uncertain he might have been the first day, had he waited until he got “all” of Abu Rahmah’s footage the next day, his doubts would have been confirmed: from the pervasive “staging” evident in abu Rahmah’s other footage, to the lack of blood behind the barrel, to the lack of bullets (and bullet holes in the wall) from the alleged “rain of fire from the Israeli position.” If I were a professor of film, critiquing a student’s work, I’d give this an F for realism. At least give the kid a bag of blood to burst when he’s allegedly hit.
This was a photo taken the next day. Note that the blood that we see is bright red, even though, had it been exposed to oxygen and sunlight for 15-20 hours would no longer be bright red. Furthermore, the blood is where the father was, but where the boy allegedly bled out from his stomach for 20 minutes (circled area), there is no blood.
Subsequently considerably more evidence has arisen, including the fact that the boy photographed in the hospital is not al Durah, and that the injuries the father allegedly suffered from Israeli bullets were scars from an operation an Israeli doctor carried out after Jamal had suffered a knife attack from fellow Palestinians.
And yet, this accusation of faking strikes most people as so implausible as to sound like a conspiracy theory. When I began working on this in late 2003, I’d tell people, there are five possibilities: Israelis on purpose, by accident, Palestinians by accident, on purpose, and… The vast majority couldn’t imagine staged – the father? The red cross? The assumption that the boy had been killed so dominated perceptions that there was no imaginative room for a fake.
But in examining the raw footage, both Talal’s (with Enderlin) and two hours from another cameraman there working for a major Western news agency, I was struck not merely by how many scenes were faked, but their pervasiveness: there were directors, sets, and bystanders for whom it was a public secret that this is how it’s done.
Here’s my favorite example, from another Palestinian photographer present at Netzarim Junction on September 30, 2000.
Enderlin describes this and other scenes as “For many minutes he filmed classic scenes of the Intifada: young people throw rocks and Molotov cocktails as the Israeli position, they shoot back from their bunker with rubber bullets and tear gas pellets. The wounded are evacuated by other youth towards ambulances ready to take off. These scenes are identical to those that I shot in Ramallah.
Everyone remembers the faked funeral scene from Jenin recorded by an Israeli drone.
Many of these fake scenes, in order to mimic the urgency they want to convey, brutalize the alleged injured.
The best example I saw from Talal, a comic scene of a fat man who fakes a leg injury and when only kids come around – who cdn’t possibly lift him up and carry him past the cameras to the ambulance – he shoos them and walks away without a limp, I can’t show you because Enderlin cut it from the edited version he presented to the court.
With this piece of unreconstructed Orientalism, the second shoe dropped: it was not only that the Palestinians produced these largely shoddy fakes, but that the Western media found no problem with such “journalism” – they just scanned through them and took out the most believable sight bytes. As several French journalists explained to me, “c’est les armes des faibles” weapons of the weak. This has translated into the following epistemological approach: Believe what the Palestinians say until proven wrong; doubt what the Israelis say until proven right; and when that happens, fall silent and move onto the next Palestinian lethal narrative.
Not only was this approach taken by news agencies openly hostile to Israel like the Guardian and Le Monde, but by Israeli journalists at outlets like Ha-Aretz, and even among professors of journalism who tried to be even handed. Here Gadi Wolfsfeld discusses the Al Durah footage and compares it with the footage of the “lynching” at Ramallah twelve days later:
Perhaps the most macabre is the ongoing contest for visual supremacy in the presentation and promotion of pain and suffering. The early stages of the Second Intifada produced two very powerful images in this realm. The first was the dramatic pictures of Mohammed el-Dura being shot and killed [sic] as he and his father attempted to shield themselves from the crossfire. The second were the scenes of Israeli reserve soldiers being lynched by an angry Palestinian mob in the city of Ramallah. Each of these scenes became powerful icons for the two societies; leaders from both sides attempted to exploit these images in an effort to demonstrate the enemy’s brutality.
How could an outsider expect to understand the fearful asymmetry of these to images from this Israeli professor dedicated above all to the meme “both sides” (with admitted variants). Indeed, when presented with the evidence of staging, Wolfsfeld responded:
“So what? According to reliable statistics, the Israeli army has killed over 800 Palestinian children since the second Intifada. So what difference does it make if this case is staged or not?”
Well, for one thing, Al Durah was deliberately staged in order to arouse hatred and incite violence, while Israelis accepted guilt for the event. And for another, after al Durah, the media and the NGOs (including Btselem which he is citing here as reliable) believed virtually anything they were told by Palestinians. In addition to the figures being inflated, once one removes the large majority of “children” aged 16-19, and ask how many children like al Durah (12 and under, not combatants), the figure drops dramatically. The point of al Durah is to declare the IDF child-killers.
And Israeli journalists and academics are only too happy to accept the guilt. As one Israeli journalist remarked to me: “Meah huz hayisraelim hargu oto.” [100% the Israelis killed him]. Gideon Levy, when presented the evidence for a fake did Wolfsfeld one better with the same statistic: “We’ve killed 800 Muhammad al Durah’s.”
On the other hand, in the Ramallah lynching, the crowd that savagely dismembered the reservists yelled “revenge for the blood of Muhammad al Durah,” and the Palestinians, both police and crowd, used violence to destroy any footage of the actual violence. No Palestinian (or Arab) journalist reported on what happened at Ramallah. This is hardly a world of “both sides” don’t listen to the other’s narrative. On the contrary, it’s a perfect illustration of the marriage between pre-modern sadism and post-modern masochism.
Bob Simon, referring to al Durah, remarked, “In the Middle East, a picture can be worth a thousand weapons.” And a number of journalists agreed with me when I said I thought their attitude was, “the Israelis have all the weapons, we can level the playing field by giving Palestinians victories in the media war.” Gadi Wolfsfeld, professor of journalism at Hebrew U. presented this situation thusly:
One of the most powerful roles the news media can play in such conflicts is when they become “equalizers” by allowing the weaker party to enlist the support of third parties. This was certainly what happened in the first Intifada in which the Palestinians were extremely successful at placing their plight on the international agenda.
It’s probably worth noting that one of the first Western journalists to give Palestinians cameras to film footage during the first intifada was Charles Enderlin, and that his collaboration with abu Rahmah goes back to this time (1988). Indeed, I would date the first “heyday” of Pallywood to this period.
This Israeli effort to be even-handed at once masks and illustrates a radical difference between Israeli journalism and Palestinian. While Israelis like Wolfsfeld try, in some cases bend over backward, not to be too patriotic, to give the “other side” its due, Palestinians engage in cognitive warfare. Take, for example, the way the PA doctored the footage of Al Durah in the days after the event.
When asked to explain this obvious breach of journalistic ethics, one PATV official explained:
This is, by Western standards, not journalism but malevolent propaganda. (Hitler and many others used and use the same argument about a “higher truth” to validate the Protocols.) For Palestinian “journalists” news production is part of the “people’s struggle” and concern for “objectivity” or impartiality is at best an afterthought. As Talal said while accepting an award in Dubai: “I will continue to fight with my camera.”
Anyone, therefore, who treats the products of Palestinian journalism as “true until proven otherwise” (which is the standard operating procedure for most journalists in the area) out of some misguided political correctness, betrays their journalistic standards. They also end up, like Enderlin, admitting off record that “Talal and the rest always stage things,” while publicly exclaiming how Talal “is never unprofessional, one of the most credible sources.” Those who ignore the public secret end up accepting lethal narratives as true stories: As one Israeli journalist remarked to me: “Meah huz hayisraelim hargu oto.” [100% the Israelis killed him.]
The impact of the al Durah footage was spectacular. It went viral before people knew what that term meant. It triggered violent Arab riots inside Israel, it fueled a hatred among Palestinians that astonished sympathizers. Describing the Ramallah lynchings where the crowd shouted “Revenge for the blood of Muhammad al Durah,one very pro-Palestinian photographer wrote:
It was the most horrible thing that I have ever seen and I have reported from Congo, Kosovo, many bad places. In Kosovo, I saw Serbs beating an Albanian but it wasn’t like this. There was such hatred, such unbelievable hatred and anger distorting their faces. I thought that I’d got to know the Palestinians well. I’ve made six trips this year and had been going to Ramallah every day for the past 16 days. I thought they were kind, hospitable people. I know they are not all like this and I’m a very forgiving person but I’ll never forget this. It was murder of the most barbaric kind. When I think about it, I see that man’s head, all smashed. I know that I’ll have nightmares for the rest of my life. I love this country, I’d love nothing more than to see Israelis and Palestinians sharing an argalah or waterpipe but, after the hatred that I’ve seen in the past few days, I don’t think that will happen in my lifetime. Look how many years that they’ve been talking peace – since 1993. Then, within just a couple of weeks, they are at each other’s throats. It seems that it’s easier to hate than to forgive.
After he published the piece, he was told by “friends” that he should leave the Palestinian territories as it was no longer safe for him.
Al Durah became the icon of the intifada, both in Palestine and in the Arab world where Al Jazeera was first becoming a household name with its constant coverage of the intifada.
Al-Jazeera ran repeatedly the clip of the boy being shot, and for several days the picture of his dying became the network’s emblem of the Intifada. This had a deeply galvanizing effect on the wider Arab public. Arabs everywhere became desperate for bulletins from the Occupied Territories, but state-run Arab news providers were slow to give good coverage … from the very start Al-Jazeera’s live coverage from the front line far outstripped any other network’s coverage.
The PA made al Durah into an icon of martyrdom and used the footage in every way possible: one of the most popular Palestinian singers made a video with Muhammad beckoning other youth to join him in martyrdom.
As one Israeli official noted ruefully, if you want to predict the levels of violence the next day, just calculate MDPH, Muhammad al Durah images per hour, on PA TV. Within months of the event, Osama Bin Laden came out with a lengthy recruiting video for his global Jihad, in which Palestine, and Muhammad al Durah, played a central role in appealing to a desire for revenge, and – note the allusions in the text of the poetry he plays – the impotence of current, corrupt Arab regimes to do their duty.
Two years later, al Qaeda-linked Pakistani Islamists executed Daniel Pearl in front of a video camera with an image of al Durah behind him, right after he admitted that he was a Jew, and that Jews killed children for pleasure.
Perhaps even more disturbing, European Muslims broke out in a widespread low-level assault on Jews, literally the day after the footage showed. “The very next day, on his way to synagogue, our rabbi was attacked in the street by Muslim immigrants,” noted Joel Rubinfeld, a resident of Brussels, “The anger was palpable, and immediate.” The resurgence of anti-semitism in Europe began in October 2000 – Black October – and most of the violence was done by European Muslims. Indeed, Chirac publicly humiliated Barak on a visit to Paris four days later (in an effort to calm the violence) with the public statement, “ce n’est pas une politique de tuer les enfants.” Two days later, on October 6, 2000, exactly a week after the incident hit the news, a large rally in Paris filled the Place de la République. Crowds of angry Muslims shouted: “Death to the Jews! Kill the Jews!”
Place de la République, Paris, October 6, 2000. The al Durahs are to the right with the legend “Ils tue les enfants aussi” [They also kill children].
This became a major trope of the “left” both radical and (allegedly) non-radical. It became so central to the image purveyed by the “human rights” NGOs that one could fairly describe Al Durah as the “patron saint of Durban”, a gathering which constituted the most grotesque hijacking of the laudible cause of anti-racism into paroxysm of anti-Zionism and anti-Americanism.
Durban, South Africa, August 2001; UN Conference against Racism. In the foreground, below the poster with Al Durah, the youth in the Keffiya holds the bier on which an effigy of Al Durah is paraded through the streets. Given what we now know, the sign should have read “PALESTINE’S IMAGES OF HATE.”
The wave of hostility surprised many observers. Every register of anti-Judaism shows a sharp rise in both verbal violence (e.g., calling Jews Nazis), and physical (attacks on property and people). Taguieff reported from France:
From October 1 2000 to the beginning of November 2001, about 2000 attacks on Jews were declared [cf. 9 in 1999]. From the autumn of 2000, the power of images plays against the Israelis once the unbearable footage of the death, filmed live, of the young Mohammad plays and replays on all the television stations.
This hostility to Jews became a primary feature of both Islamic teaching from pulpit, street, café and school talk. One can date the emergence of the New Anti-Semitism from this specific moment – September 30/October 1. Five years later, defending a speech in Paris that invoked the genocidal hadith about killing Jews, a local Muslim leader showed the picture of al Durah on his phone to a crowd of Muslims, drawing their instant approval.
Nor was this virulence limited to the Muslim world. Present at the rally in Place de la Republique were all the major leftist groups, allegedly committed to fighting racism. And the opprobrium went mainstream, especially the identification of Israel with the Nazis, which had, until then been a trope of extremists. In a remark that is staggering for its moral imbecility, and uncharacteristic of an otherwise highly respected journalist, news anchor Catherine Nay opined on Europe 1, “with the symbolic power of this image, the death of Muhammad annuls, erases that of the Jewish child, hands in the air in front of the SS in the Warsaw Ghetto.”
The image is taken from the website of Ramsey Clark’s International ANSWER, a major “anti-war, anti-racism” movement of the early 21st century. It symbolizes the close alliance between the “progressive” left and anti-Zionism. Apparently this image struck home on two fronts: it aroused a global Muslim furor at the same time as it offered Europeans a “get-out-of-holocaust-guilt-free” card. Why it would enthrall American progressives is still an open question.
I think that historians, looking back at the first years of the 21st century will wonder, as did some contemporaries, at the deraison morale that characterized especially the European intellectual scene. This moral disorientation was on full display at Durban where the “human rights” NGOs allowed the greatest global haters to hijack a UN gathering allegedly convened to fight racism. Arafat brought Jamal al Durah, and one could fairly describe Muhammad his son as the “patron saint of Durban.
In conclusion let me quote from Taguieff’s extended study of the al Dura affair
The icon “Al Dura”, the image of the Palestinian child supposedly “killed by the Zionists” imposed itself as one of the principle vectors of the new anti-Jewish propaganda that developed in the course of the 21st century… It is not just a simple image. The icon al Dura only exercises its fascination because it incorporates an explanatory commentary which, giving it its polemical sense, incorporated it in a series of mythic events, linked to the theme of cruelty and bloody desires attributed to Jews, and especially to Zionists. Behind the media icon, there’s a recurrent anti-Jewish stereotype which inscribes itself in what must be called an archetype, a structural or organizing form that one should understand less as a “primordial image” or “theme” which repeats, than as a dynamic cognitive scheme containing a affective charge which one notably encounters in myths and legends. The archetype is that of the homicidal Jew, the image of diabolic evil… which draws its inspiration from Christian anti-Judaism and which, via this icon, spread globally, taking its place in the “global culture.
In the cognitive war, whose main theater is the public sphere, Al Durah was a Palestinian nuclear bomb; and the news media, with its unremitting if possibly unconscious collusion, was the detonator. We are all – Israelis, Palestinians, the Arab and Muslim world, and the global community – the poorer for this.
 ”Il a un dernier mouvement puis s’immobilise,” Enderlin, Un enfant est mort.
 Enderlin comments: “Le gilet que porte l’enfant étendu est taché de sang.”
 Enderlin comments: “Des impacts de balles apparaissent sur le mur, derrière eux…. Aucun Palestinien n’était susceptible d’ouvrir le feu sous cet angle comme le montre le tournage. Pour que ce fût le cas, il eût fallu qu’un tireur se trouvât à découvert devant les militaires israéliens.” N’importe quoi.
 Enderlin’s boss, Apfelbaum made the same remark to the three journalists who saw the footage, “Oh oui, vous savez, c’est toujours comme ça.”
 Hugh Miles, Al-Jazeera: The Inside Story of the Arab News Channel That is Challenging The West, (Grove Press, 2006), pp. 73-4. Fouad Ajami, similarly noted “the images’ ceaseless repetition signaled the arrival of a new, sensational breed of Arab journalism.” (“What the Muslim World is Watching,” New York Times Magazine, November 18, 2001.
 Interview, Paris, December 2006.
 “Wave of Anti-Jewish Activity in the World – October 2000- Summary and Analysis,” MFA; “Une atmosphere d’insécurité,” Observatoire du monde juif 1:1 (Nov. 2001), pp. 2-9 with graph p. 9 showing October spike; Pierre-André Taguieff’s La nouvelle judéophobie (Mille et une nuits, Paris, January 2002), p. 81-120.
 Taguieff, La nouvelle judéophobie, p. 81f.
 In schools, for example, it has become common to call anything bad (e.g., that doesn’t work) Jewish: “c’est un stylo feuj [feuj = juif];” Emmanuel Brenner et al., Les territories perdus de la République: antisémitisme, racisme et sexisme en milieu scolaire (Mille et une nuits, Paris, 2002). See the psychological reflections on the phenomenon in Daniel Siboni, L’énigme antisémite (Seuil, Paris, 2004).
 Taguieff, La nouvelle judéophobie (op.cit.), English tr. Rising From the Muck: The New Anti-Semitism in Europe (Ivan R. Dee, NY, 2004). See also Phyllis Chesler, The New Anti-Semitism: The Current Crisis and What We Must Do About It (Jossey Bass, NY, July 2003); A New Anti-Semitism? Debating Judeophobia in 21st Century Britain, ed. Iganski and Kosmin (Profile Books, London, 2003); Europe’s Crumbling Myths: The Post-Holocaust Origins of Today’s Anti-Semitism, ed. Manfred Gerstenfeld (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Jerusalem, 2003); Gabriel Schonfeld, The Return of Antisemitism (Encounter Books, NY 2004); Paul Giniewski,Antisionisme: le nouvel antisémitisme (Cheminements, Angers, 2005); Fiamma Nierenstein, Terror: The New Anti-Semitism and the War against the West (Smith and Kraus, Hanover NH, 2005); Old Demons, New Debates: Anti-Semitism in the West, ed. David Kerzer (Holmes and Meier, Teaneck NJ, 2005).
Al Durah Timeline
Mohammed Al Dura: Anatomy of a French Media Scandal
Originally published October 13, 2005
Ricki Hollander, Gilead Ini
Original report: October 13, 2005
Updated: June 15, 2010
Sept. 30, 2000:
Palestinian gunmen and Israelis soldiers clash at the Netzarim junction in the Gaza Strip. A large contingent of foreign reporters, photographers and television crews are present, including France 2 cameraman Talal Abu Rahma. Much of the day’s events are filmed by the various (20 or so) television crews, but only Abu Rahma records what he claims to be Mohammed Al Dura’s death by Israeli bullets. (A Reuters clip apparently captures Jamal and Mohammed Al Dura filmed from a different angle.) He records 27 minutes of footage that day. While France 2 Middle East Bureau Chief Charles Enderlin is not at the scene at this time, he later views Abu Rahma’s clips and accepts the cameraman’s account of events.
Enderlin edits the film and provides the voice-over commentary for that evening’s news broadcast. Only a small portion (55 seconds) of Abu Rahma’s footage is broadcast on the evening news. The footage shows Jamal Al Dura and his son Mohammed huddled behind a thick concrete barrel, gunshots hitting the wall behind them. The footage does not show the child dying.
Correspondent Charles Enderlin comments on the footage for France 2 :
3 pm… everything has turned over near the Netzarim settlement in the Gaza Strip…here Jamal and his son Mohammed are the targets of gunshots that have come from the Israeli position…. A new burst of gunfire, Mohammed is dead and his father seriously wounded.
France 2 distributes the footage – free of charge – to the global media, and it is broadcast around the world.
Oct. 1, 2000:
ABC’s Gillian Findlay also says the boy died “under Israeli fire.” She repeats this language a few days later. Other media outlets make clear that the father and son were caught in the crossfire between Israelis and Palestinians.
Oct. 3, 2000:
Palestinian Cameraman Testifies
Talal Abu Rahma volunteers to testify in a sworn statement to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights the details of what he saw at Netzarim on Sept. 30. He says:
I spent about 27 minutes photographing the incident which took place for 45 minutes…. I can confirm that the child was intentionally and in cold blood shot dead and his father injured by the Israeli army.
(For complete statement, click here.)
Preliminary IDF Investigation
There is no autopsy on the boy and no bullets recovered. After a hurried preliminary investigation, the IDF expresses sorrow over the tragedy, concluding that its troops were probably responsible for killing Al Dura. IDF Major General Giora Eiland says:
There is no way to prove who shot him. But from the angles from which we fired, it is likely that he was hit from our gunfire…. It is very reasonable that they were hit from our gunfire.
While the IDF attempts to put the incident to rest by accepting responsibility for Al Dura’s death, Major General Yom Tov Samia, commanding officer at the time, and other senior officers in the Southern Command are convinced that IDF soldiers have not shot the boy.
Nahum Shahaf, an Israeli physicist, contacts Major General Samia to voice his doubt about Israeli responsibility and offers to collaborate in an investigation of the matter. Samia agrees and the IDF investigates further.
Oct. 23, 2000:
An IDF re-enactment of the Al Dura incident, with the participation of Nahum Shahaf, raises serious doubt about whether the gunfire could have come from Israeli positions. Investigators lay out replicas of the Israeli army position, and the concrete barrel and wall which sheltered Al Dura. Soldiers fire shots at the barrel and wall using a variety of different weapons and study the indentations made by the bullets. Also studied is the dust clouds which result from the wall being struck by bullets from various angles. The shape and size of the clouds is compared to the shape and size of dust clouds in the video of Al Dura.
The re-enactment indicates that based on the location of the Israeli soldiers, the concrete barrel would have prevented Israeli bullets from hitting Jamal and Mohammed Al Dura. The bullet holes and dust clouds in the Al Dura video further indicate that the fatal shots could not have come from the Israeli position, but rather from an area more directly across from the father and son, near a Palestinian police position.
Oct. 25, 2000:
Telerama, a French magazine, publishes an interview with Charles Enderlin in which he explains the brevity of the news clip broadcast of the incident. He asserts:
I cut the images of the child’s agony (death throes), they were unbearable. The story was told, the news delivered. It would not have added anything more…As for the moment when the child received the bullets, it was not even filmed.
Nov. 27, 2000:
IDF releases the findings of its comprehensive investigation into the Al Dura killing. It concludes that Al Dura was likely killed by Palestinian gunfire. States Israeli Major General Yom Tov Samia:
A comprehensive investigation conducted in the last weeks casts serious doubt that the boy was hit by Israeli fire. It is quite plausible that the boy was hit by Palestinian bullets in the course of the exchange of fire that took place in the area.
March 18, 2002:
German television station ARD broadcasts a documentary produced by filmmaker Esther Shapira investigating the Al Dura shooting incident. The film suggests that the boy was more likely to have been hit by a Palestinian bullet than an Israeli bullet.
Sept. 30, 2002:
In a fax sent to France 2 offices in Jerusalem, Talal Abu Rahma contradicts his Oct. 3, 2000 testimony. He states:
I never said to the Palestinian Human Rights Organization in Gaza that the Israeli soldiers killed willfully or knowingly Mohammed Al Dura and wounded the father. All I always said in all the interviews I gave is that from where I was, I saw the shooting coming from the Israeli position.
Oct. 2, 2002:
Thousands of demonstrators gather outside the offices of France 2 in Paris to protest the network’s handling of the Al Dura footage, and its refusal to broadcast Esther Shapira’s documentary. Protesters “award” France 2 the “Prize for Disinformation.”
Nov. 18, 2002:
The Metula News Agency (MENA) requests a meeting with France 2 Director General Christopher Baldelli to discuss MENA’s ongoing investigation into the Al Dura affair. This investigation finds that France 2’s footage of Mohammed Al Dura does not correspond to that of someone mortally wounded by high velocity bullets. Baldelli does not reply.
Jan. 13, 2003:
“Contre-expertise d’une mise en scene” (Re-evaluation of a Staged Event), a book written by French writer Gerard Huber, is published, detailing MENA’s ongoing investigation into the Al Dura affair. The book’s thesis is that the event was staged.
An investigative article by James Fallows is published in the Atlantic Monthly. Fallows presents the known facts and different opinions surrounding the Al Dura affair. His conclusion is that Al Dura could not have been shot dead by Israeli soldiers. He writes:
It now appears that the boy cannot have died in the way reported by most of the world’s media and fervently believed throughout the Islamic world. Whatever happened to him, he was not shot by the Israeli soldiers who were known to be involved in the day’s fighting …The truth about this case will probably never be determined.
Atlantic Monthly publishes letters in response to the Fallows piece.
Charles Enderlin again asserts that he cut scenes of the boy’s death throes:
We do not transform reality. But since some parts of the scene are unbearable, France 2 cut a few seconds from the scene, in accordance with our ethical charter.
Esther Shapira writes:
I’ve always said that I see more significant hints (but no proof) that he [Al Dura] was shot by Palestinians.
Fallows responds that what changed his mind about the incident was “watching footage of the shooting replayed dozens of times.” Fallows states that:
It seemed evident from the footage that at the crucial moments, the father and son had sheltered themselves behind the barrel, relative to the IDF position, and that the boy was further sheltered by the father. They were entirely unsheltered from gunfire coming from other directions, including the known location of Palestinian policemen.
Oct. 22, 2004:
Denis Jeambar, Daniel Leconte, and Luc Rosenzweig are invited to view the full 27 minutes of unedited footage with France 2’s Arlette Chabot. They are informed by France 2’s counsel that cameraman Talal Abu Rahma had already recanted his previous testimony to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. (Note: This is the first that anyone has heard about recanting of the testimony.) They also discover that the overwhelming majority of the footage is not of Al Dura, but of Palestinians staging re-enactments of injuries. There are no scenes of the agony and death throes that Enderlin claims to have edited from the broadcast.
France 2 does not accede to the request of Rosenzweig, Jeambar, and Leconte to meet with and interview Talal Abu Rahma when he is in Paris.
Nov. 18, 2004:
France 2 Director of News Arlette Chabot announces France 2’s intention to file defamation suits against unnamed parties (known in French legal terminology as suits against ‘X’) in response to accusations that the scenes of Al Dura were staged.
Nov. 19, 2004:
France 2 Director of News Arlette Chabot holds a press conference for a select group of journalists in France 2’s offices to back claims by the network that it was on firm ground when it broadcast the Al Dura news report on September 30, 2000. According to AFP, Chabot has attendees screened at the door in order to bar MENA representatives and other critics of the network. Attendees are shown the September 30 France 2 footage and a Reuters film clip taken from a different angle. Also shown are France 2 film clips of Jamal Al Dura in the hospital shortly after the incident, a later film of Al Dura revealing his scars to the camera, and film of a child in the morgue said to be Mohammed Al Dura .
Nov. 25, 2004:
Roland Blum, French Member of Parliament, writes to the Minister of Communications requesting an investigation of France 2’s evidence that Israeli soldiers shot and killed Mohammed Al Dura.
Nov. 26, 2004:
Writing in Wall Street Journal Europe, Stephane Juffa of MENA states that the affair is “nothing but a hoax.”
Dec. 7, 2004:
Following a complaint by Serge Farnel, the Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel (CSA) – an administrative authority over audiovisual media whose councillors are appointed by the French government – meet to discuss complaints about France 2’s handling of the September 30, 2000 newscast of Al Dura. Its recommendations include Checking the veracity of information to be broadcast or, in case of uncertainty, presenting it as tentative and quoting its source and date; In the event of broadcasting inaccurate information, correcting it as soon as possible under comparable conditions of exposure
Jan. 25, 2005:
Following its rejection by Le Monde opinion page editor Sylvan Cypel, Le Figaro publishes an op-ed by Jeambar and Leconte. Recalling Enderlin’s claim about having cut “unbearable” footage of the child’s agony, the journalists note:
This famous “agony” that Enderlin affirmed having caught in a montage does not exist.
nothing could enable [Enderlin] to affirm that [Al Dura] is dead and even less that he was killed by Israeli soldiers.
According to the two journalists, the geography of the area “would incriminate instead one of the Palestinian bullets.” They explain that France 2’s experts acknowledged that “we’ll never know where the gunfire came from.” However, they distance themselves from MENA’s claim that Al Dura’s death was a staged event, stating that they do not have the evidence to support this claim.
Jan. 27, 2005:
Enderlin responds in Le Figaro, accusing MENA of leading a defamatory campaign against him and France 2 over the past 4 years. He explains his reasons for stating that Al Dura was killed Israeli fire:
a) this is what Talal Abu Rahma told him and he had full confidence in his cameraman
b) the IDF did not initiate a joint investigation with France 2, nor did the IDF spokesman’s office respond to the network’s proposal to launch a joint investigation into the matter
c) The image corresponded to the greater reality of the situation, “not only in Gaza, but in the West Bank.”
Feb. 1, 2005:
Jeambar and Leconte are interviewed on French radio station RCJ. The journalists explain that the scene of Mohammed Al Dura and his father were completely out of context with the rest of the film. They wonder about the narrator’s perspective from a journalistic point of view. They describe 24 out of the 27 minutes of France 2’s rushes (raw footage) as being comprised of staged events — i.e. Palestinian boys looking at the camera, pretending to fall and getting up to dash off when they see that nothing is happening, and ambulances that come and go evacuating people who have no injuries. They also raise questions about the lack of blood on Jamal Al Dura’s T-shirt.
Feb. 6, 2005:
The International Herald Tribune publishes an article describing the controversy within France about the September 30 news report broadcast by France 2. This article is republished the following day in the New York Times.
Feb. 15, 2005:
Cybercast News Service publishes an article by Eva Cahen comprising interviews with the major players in the ongoing controversy.
Feb. 21, 2005:
MENA criticizes Jeambar and Leconte for distancing themselves from MENA’s thesis that the Al Dura death was a hoax, staged by the Palestinians. Stephane Juffa labels this approach the “third way”. Juffa criticizes it as “an intellectual fabrication that chooses from among the conclusions of our inquiry — rather like in a self-service — and claims to offer a sort of compromise. A compromise that is somewhere between the ‘truth too far’ for the French implicated in the staging and the theory — that has been proven to be indefensible — of the assassination of Mohammed by the Israeli army. Distinguishing themselves from those who persist in their denial, and who devote much of their energy to denigrating or insulting our journalists, the partisans of the third way today assert that they cannot take a stand regarding the question of the staging, while accepting the idea that the report broadcasted by FR2 is replete with serious professional errors committed by its authors.”
April 20, 2005:
Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Moshe Ya’alon says of Al Dura: “One hundred percent he was not hit by IDF gunfire. He was apparently shot by a Palestinian police officer.”
Nidra Poller summarizes the Al Dura affair — France 2’s deceptive misreporting and cover-up — and questions the role played by government-owned France 2 and consequently the French government itself in initiating and spreading “this atrocious calumny, whose repercussions are with us to this day.”
October 12, 2005:
France 2 public relations representatives send out an e-mail defending the network’s role in reporting on Mohammed Al Dura and falsely alleging that an “authoritative American opinion” by the US government “discredits” the IDF investigation concluding that Al Dura was not killed by Israeli bullets. (In fact, there was no such US government statement. This is a false characterization of inaccurate and biased testimony by an Amnesty International representative. See “The Al Dura Affair: France 2 Now Lying about Congress Subcommittee Report” )
Sept. 14, 2006:
A defamation lawsuit is brought against Philippe Karsenty by Charles Enderlin, France 2, and Arlette Chabot. This is the first of three trials brought by the French television network against individuals who have accused Enderlin and France 2 of fraudulent reporting in the Al Dura case.
Oct. 19, 2006:
The French court finds in favor of the plaintiffs—France 2 and Enderlin. Karsenty is found guilty of defamation and is fined 1000 euros, court costs of 3000 euro and symbolic damages to the plaintiffs in the amount of 1 euro each. Karsenty is appealing the verdict.
Oct. 24, 2006:
The defamation lawsuit against Pierre Lurçat, a French-born Israeli lawyer and president of a group called Liberty, Democracy and Judaism, takes place at the Palais de Justice. Lurçat’s group is listed as the legal operator of a Web site, Ligue de Defense Juive, which, in 2002, urged its readers to “demonstrate against the lies of France 2” and award a “Prize for Misinformation” to Charles Enderlin and France 2. Lurçat who lives in Jerusalem is not present at the trial.
Nov. 28, 2006:
The lawsuit against Pierre Lurçat is dismissed on a technicality, namely, insufficient proof that Pierre Lurçat is responsible for the Web site on which the alleged defamatory statements were made.
Nov. 30, 2006:
A defamation lawsuit by France 2 and Enderlin is brought against Charles Gouz, a Parisian physician who posted an Oct. 1, 2002 letter by Stephane Juffa on his blog that included criticism of Charles Enderlin. In fact, the letter by Juffa expressed opposition to the awarding of the Misinformation Prize to Charles Enderlin, but, at the same time, also criticized Enderlin for “serious professional errors in the Al Dura affair,” and affirmed there were “serious presumptions of misinformation” surrounding the Al Dura affair and of the part played France 2 staff. The letter also referred to “brutal and unacceptable obstructions” to demonstrating the truth of what happened. Since France 2 and Enderlin are unable to bring charges against Juffa who publishes in Israel, Gouz serves as a proxy since his Web site is registered in France.
Jan. 18, 2007:
The court passes a “mitigated judgement” against Dr. Gouz. The judge declares Gouz was within his rights in posting an article about “serious professional errors” by Enderlin, and acknowledges that France 2 and its staff have not been transparent in their dealings, showing no willingness to expose the truth. However, the judge rules that Gouz should not have permitted the word “désinformation” (misinformation) to be used on his Web site. Gouz is ordered to pay symbolic damages to the plaintiffs in the amount of 1 Euro and a suspended fine of 1000 Euro.
Sept. 10, 2007:
After seven years of official silence, the IDF finally weighs in on the case. Colonel Shlomi Am-Shalom, deputy commander of the IDF’s Spokesman’s Office, sends a letter to Charles Enderlin disputing his insistence that no Israeli authority— be it Israel’s army or Justice Ministry—has ever questioned the authenticity of France 2’s September 30, 2000 broadcast. The colonel notes that repeated attempts by the IDF to view the raw footage filmed by Abu Rahma were rebuffed and indicates that results of the IDF inquiry analyzing data from the scene ruled out the possibility that the gunfire that apparently harmed the boy and his father was fired by IDF soldiers. The colonel further requests broadcast-quality films of the 27-minutes of raw footage filmed by Talal Abu Rahma and footage he filmed the following day be sent to the IDF by September 15. France 2 does not comply.
Sept. 19, 2007:
The 11th Chamber of the Appeals Court of Paris hears Philippe Karsenty’s appeal of his October 19, 2006 verdict. The presiding appeals judge requests France 2 turn over the raw footage of the incident to the court.
Oct. 1, 2007:
Shurat HaDin Israel Law Center publiciizes a letter written by Danny Seaman, Director of Israel’s Government Press Office (GPO) in response to the law center’s request 9 months earlier to remove Charles Enderlin’s and France 2’s Israeli journalist credentials given mounting evidence that they committed journalistic fraud. Seaman writes that “the creation of the myth of Muhammad al-Dura has caused great damage to the State of Israel” and calls it “an explicit blood libel against the state,” which “caused damage and dozens of dead.” The GPO document concludes that the September 2000 broadcast was staged, indicating that soldiers could not possibly have shot Al-Dura from the angle at which they were standing, that crucial parts of the scene are missing from the video footage provided to major media outlets and that Talal Abu Rahma systematically engaged in the “staging of action scenes” during the violent clashes in Gaza at the beginning of the intifada in 2000. This is the first official document accusing France 2 of journalistic fraud. The Prime Minister’s Office disassociates itself from the GPO director’s letter.
Oct. 3, 2007:
The court issues a court order to France 2 to submit Abu Rahma’s original 27 minutes of footage to the court no later than October 31 for a viewing open to the public on November 14. The case will be heard in full on February 27, 2008.
Nov. 14, 2007:
Enderlin delivers only 18 minutes of the supposed 27 minutes of raw footage. Richard Landes, who in 2003 viewed over 20 minutes of the film in Endelin’s office, testifies that two clearly staged scenes are missing. What is evident is there is minimal footage of Al Dura and that he is still alive at the end of the film, directly contradicting previous claims by Enderlin that much of the film was of the boy’s “death throes” and by cameraman Abu Rahma that he had filmed 27 minutes of Israeli shooting at the boy. This causes audience skepticism about the entire film.
Dec. 12, 2007:
Dr. David Yehuda, an Israeli orthopedic surgeon specializing in microsurgery at Tel Hashomer Hospital, is interviewed on Israel Channel 10 to reveal that the scars displayed by Jamal Al Dura on a film taken after the September 30 incident, were not, as Jamal claimed, inflicted by Israeli fire during the incident, but were the scars from a previous surgery that Yehuda himself had performed. Jamal was severely wounded in a 1992 attack by axe-wielding Palestinian thugs and was treated at Gaza’s Shifa Hospital. The Gazan physicians were unable to repair his right hand which remained paralyzed. He was referred to Dr. Yehuda who, in 1994, reconstructed the tendons in a complex operation. The Israeli physician demonstrates that Jamal’s scars (filmed as “proof” that Israelis had shot and wounded Jamal) were in fact typical of tendon fiber transfer and not of a gunshot wound.
April 24, 2008:
Just weeks before the appeals court is to deliver its judgement on Pilippe Karsenty’s appeal, the French pay television channel Canal+ broadcasts a documentary defending Charles Enderlin/France 2 and impugning Philippe Karsenty. Broadcast on is weekly investigative program, Jeudi Investigation and entitled “Rumeurs, intox: les nouvelles guerres de l’info” (“Rumors, Brainwashing: The New Information Wars”), filmmaker Stéphane Malterre equates Philippe Karsenty’s dissection of the France 2 broadcast and the conclusion that it was staged with the allegations of U.S. “truthers”—who argue that the 9/11 attack in New York was an “inside job” carried out by the U.S. government against its own citizens — and those of anti-Semites who accuse Zionists and Jews of being behind the 9/11 attack. The documentary accuses Karsenty of falsifying information on the internet in order to promote an extremist and radical viewpoint. Karsenty sues for defamation.
May 21, 2008:
The court reverses the lower court’s judgement that found Karsenty guilty of defaming France 2 and Charles Enderlin, concluding that “Philippe Karsenty exercised his right of free criticism in good faith; that, in doing so, he did not overstep the limits of the freedom of expression.” The judgement cites “the contradictory answers given by Charles Enderlin to the questions relating to the editing of the film,”the “inexplicable inconsistencies of the viewable images,” and the “contradictory answers of [cameraman Talal Abu Rahma] on the issue of the sequence of the scenes and the conditions under which they were filmed.”
June 4, 2008:
Hundreds of French journalists – friends and colleagues of Enderlin’s – together with several French “personalities” and internet readers, post a petition of support for Charles Enderlin on the website of the Nouvel Observateur, a weekly magazine. They characterize him as the victim of an “obstinate and hateful campaign to tarnish [his] professional dignity.” They are amazed, the petition states, that the court would “grant the same credibility to a journalist known for his serious and rigorous work who practices his profession under sometimes difficult conditions as to his detractors who are engaged in a campaign of negation and discredit, who ignore the realities of the terrain and who have no experience reporting from a conflict zone.”
June 7-13, 2008:
Several French journalists and personalities break rank with the petition signatories, condemning the petition and/or calling for an investigation. Among these are Figaro columnist Ivan Riofoul and Elie Barnavi, a historian and former Israeli ambassador to France.
July 2, 2008:
The Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France (CRIF) holds a press conference where it calls on French President Nicolas Sarkozy to establish an independent investigative commission on the Al Dura affair. CRIF’s proposed “independent” commission, however, includes France 2 as well as CRIF itself.
March 4, 2009:
Germany’s ARD public television station broadcasts “The Child, the Death and the Truth,” a documentary by reporters Esther Schapira and Georg M. Hafner. In an interview with Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper about the documentary’s findings, Schapira asserts: “We can’t say for sure today whether or not the film was faked. But one thing is clear — the version of the story that went around the world was certainly not right, even if France 2 still claims it was.” However, she does say there is a “high probability” that the film was faked. A biometric analysis of faces, she says, determined that contrary to what has been claimed the boy filmed at an autopsy and funeral was not Mohammed Al Dura.
June 10, 2010:
The criminal court of Nanterre finds Canal+ and the production company Tac Prsse guilty of slandering Philippe Karsenty in their April 24, 2008 documentary (see above) by suggesting that Karsenty had manipulated facts on his internet site to support the “radical and extremist viewpoint” that Enderlin’s France 2 broadcast about Al Dura was staged. The judges concluded that filmmaker Stephane Malterre had ignored relevant evidence about the Al Dura hoax and demonstrated a lack of objectivity in sullying Karsenty’s reputation.
There are five main ways to explain the footage that Talal Abu Rahma shot at Netzarim Junction of Muhammad and Jamal Al Durah. Four of them assume that the boy was indeed shot.
The first one we consider, shot by the Israelis on purpose, is the one that both Talal and Jamal have insisted upon.
The second, shot by the Israelis by accident, is one that many people, accepting most but not all of the eyewitness testimony, find most plausible.
The third and fourth, Palestinians by accident and on purpose, reflect a closer knowledge of the situation, both in terms of the unlikely prospect of Israeli bullets hitting the two given the angles of fire and protection afforded by the barrel, and in terms of the likelihood that the bullets we do see in Talal Abu Rahma’s footage come from the Palestinian side.
The fifth scenario – it was a staged, Pallywood scene – represents a completely different approach, one that puts into question the totality of the eye-witness accounts. It has, as a result, seemed the most radical, and the least likely to people unfamiliar with the details.
We present below all of these scenarios with the evidence for and against each one, linked to the appropriate footage
1. Israelis on purpose
Those of the opinion that the Israelis intentionally killed Muhammad Al Durah are located both in the Palestinian territories and the Arab and Muslim world, and in fairly wide levels of European public opinion. In the Muslim world, thanks to doctored footage, Muhammad’s Israeli “murderer” appears in the footage. 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, and therefore, a justification for comparisons of Israelis with Nazis
- The main body of evidence supporting this claim comes from the testimony of Talal Abu Rahma and Jamal Al Durah, given at several distinct instances.
- Specifically, Abu Rahma points out that the Israelis were shooting at the boy and father for 45 minutes. He also asserts that the Israelis saw the boy and the father and continued to shoot at them regardless. Abu Rahma has reiterated this position in interviews with the BBC, with German filmmaker Esther Schapira, with Israeli TV and with US National Public Radio. In his first formal statement under oath, he claimed that the child was intentionally and in cold blood shot dead and his father injured by the Israeli army.
- Jamal Al Durah, the father of Muhammad, has supported this position in his many statements and interviews where he says that the Israeli soldiers saw and fired upon him and Muhammad repeatedly, even after he begged them to stop. Jamal has said that he was hit by eight bullets and Muhammad by four.
- Palestinian officials, such as the doctor who examined Muhammad’s body and the general who performed the investigation, also concur on the identity and motive of the guilty party.
All the evidence here is eyewitness testimony to events “under fire”. They concern not observations but judgments that go to motive. None of the available evidence supports such an accusation.
- The firing during the time when we can locate the father and son behind the barrel is limited and, judging from the behavior of some Palestinians and photographers who appear to know and do not take cover, the fire is Palestinian and possibly in the air.
- Only one shot of the Israeli post shows a bullet fired from that position, which does not exclude firing, but hardly supports Abu Rahma’s claims.
- No shot of the boy and the father behind the barrel indicates a bullet hitting the wall coming from the Israeli position.
- No Israeli bullets were recovered either at the site or from the bodies of Jamal (8 reported bullet wounds) or Mohammad (3 reported bullet wounds).
- Abu Rahma, when questioned by Esther Schapira, makes claims about the bullets he cannot sustain.
Distance from Israelis to barrel: Abu Rahma has said that the IDF outpost was anywhere from 150 to 300 meters away from Jamal and Muhammad. From the vantage point of the father and son, it would be impossible to see the soldiers in the tower with the naked eye. So Jamal’s claim that he begged them to stop hardly means that they received the message, especially since there was a stone over the barrel that would have hidden his hand. That Jamal could effectively beg them to stop shooting amid an allegedly deafening hail of bullets (Talal Abu Rahma: “I never saw shooting like that in my life”) from a distance of two or three football fields is impossible.
Motive: Why murder a 12 year old boy? For Israelis to target a 12 year old boy makes no sense either from a PR point of view, or from the point of view of the Israeli military prohibitions on targeting civilians. Granted that, in combat, shit happens. But none of the evidence supports the existence of deliberate murderous fire from Israeli soldiers, who all deny anything like this kind of firing.
Jamal, in a forum-style interview on arabia.com on October 30, 2000, stated that “The Israelis intend to kill children less than 16 years of age. So they won’t grow up and build families. That is how they will annihilate the Palestinian people.” This explanation is classic conspiracy thinking and bears strong similarities to “blood libels” like “Jews use the blood of Christian children to bake their unleavened bread during Passover”. If the Israelis deliberately targeted Palestinian children, why do the videos from that day show Palestinian youth under sixteen strolling right in front of their position throwing rocks, with no fear of reprisal?
Who holds this view?
Information Clearing House
The Modern Religion
Al Mezan Center for Human Rights
Susanne Goldenberg (Guardian)
Sara Leibovich-Dar (Haaretz)
Tom Paulin (British Poet)
Catherine Nay (Europe 1 Anchorwoman)
Osama bin Laden
Ramsey Clark, International ANSWER
2. Israelis by Accident
To those not willing to accuse the Israelis of outright murder, this is the more benign version, that accepts the main lines of the story as presented by France 2, but sees the death as the tragic result of getting caught in a crossfire, as collateral damage.
The original France 2 footage aired across the world, gives the impression of a crossfire, with the father waving at the Israelis to stop. In the crossfire, Israel becomes the prime culprit: As Robert Fisk of the Independent put it. “When I read the word “crossfire”, I reach for my pen. In the Middle East, it almost always means that the Israelis have killed an innocent person.” Although he gives the Israelis a very thin benefit of the doubt (“True, the Israeli soldiers who killed the boy may not have known whom they hit”), Fisk is typical of a public that used the clip shown around the world to presume that since the Israelis, on one side, were in a shootout with the Palestinians, on the other, Muhammad and his father would naturally be caught in the crossfire and struck by Israeli bullets, stray or not.
A Boston Globe article on October 13, 2000 which compared reactions to the Al Durah incident with the lynchings in Ramallah a few days later, shows how many Israelis thought of the Al Durah affair in the weeks after the footage aired:
‘”OK, we accidentally killed the boy in Gaza and that was a terrible thing. But nobody took pleasure in the killing. Nobody turned it into a celebration. They’re dancing on Jewish blood,” said an Israeli woman at the Jerusalem eatery, who gave only her first name, Sarit.’
Ironically, this is the scenario with the least evidence in favor of it, and perhaps the most widely held, certainly in the USA and Israel, where the media did not seize upon deliberation with so much enthusiasm.
- Israeli public statements: Israeli officials admitted that their soldiers returned fire that day, and that their soldiers may have accidentally shot the boy.
- Evidence of crossfire on tapes: There was crossfire that day at the intersection near the barrel, although we do not know whether this took place at the time the Al Durahs were behind the barrel.
- Israeli bullet might have ricocheted off wall behind barrel: This accords with Jamal’s claim in one interview and the hospital claim that he was shot over the left nipple.
- This scenario appeals most to fair-minded people who do not want to charge Israel with deliberate murder, but accept Enderlin’s main storyline, the boy killed by Israeli gunfire.
- No explicit testimony: The evidence for an accidental killing in the cross-fire is less explicit than that for an intentional murder. No eye-witness suggests such a accidental scenario.
- Angles of fire make Israeli gunfire the least likely source of multiple wounds: As the official report of the Israeli army published by General Yom Tov Samia, Gaza commander of the Israeli army at the time, as well as Nahum Shahaf, a physicist in charge of the IDF investigation, testify, the positioning of the Al Durahs behind the barrel prevented any Israeli bullets from hitting the two, and most certainly not eleven hits.
- No taped evidence of crossfire: although we hear gunshots, no footage of the Israeli position either shows them firing or fired at during the time the Al Durahs are behind the barrel. To this end, 45 minutes of heavy automatic fire from the Israelis does not fit with any of the footage shot that day, any of the protocols of the IDF, and directly contravenes the account of the commander of the post, Nizar Fares.
- The photo of the barrel the next day (at right) shows no sign of bullets ricocheting off the barrel nor were any closer shots taken to prove the contention. Indeed, even if they came from Israeli fire, the dozen bullet holes on the wall, far from confirming Talal’s testimony, radically contradict his claim of “bullets like rain” for over forty minutes.
Who holds this view?
Many people in the West and in Israel
3. Palestinians by Accident
This seems to be the favorite position of many who have examined the evidence enough to register how unlikely Scenarios 1 and 2 are (e.g., James Fallows) and of most who have read or seen their analyses. It appeals especially to those who do not want to raise deeply troubling and politically incorrect scenarios (Scenario 4) or be accused of conspiracy theories (Scenario 5). It includes some mainstream journalists who have investigated, as well as Jewish and Israeli leaders. It constitutes the minimalist position of those who have looked at the material: the Israelis almost surely did not do the shooting.
- Most of the recorded gunfire seems to come from the Palestinian side: Only a small fraction of the identifiable gunfire comes from the Israeli position. Even Charles Enderlin admits that the Palestinians fired first. Indeed, the Associated Press filmed a Palestinian policeman shooting at the Israelis from directly behind the Al Durah’s position.
- Palestinians tend to fire wildly, even when they can’t see where they are shooting, over fences or into holes in walls (see Pallywood, the movie).
- The two shots that hit the wall by the barrel come from the Palestinian position. Ballistic tests show that bullets coming from the angle of the Israeli position that day would have produced large clouds of dust kicking off behind the barrel, but bullets shot from head on would produce small round circular dust clouds before the wind blew them away. These two identifiable shots, which can explain the terror on the faces of father and son, come from the Palestinian side, possibly the “pita.”
- The shot fired during the evacuation scene preceding the Al Durah footage (captured by both France 2 and Reuters cameramen) comes from the pita as well.
The arguments against Palestinians by accident are either the arguments in favor of Israeli agency (1 and 2 above), or arguments against the accidental nature of the gunfire (discussed below).
- Photographic evidence from three cameramen show the boy and father behind the barrel well before the shooting begins, while there are numerous people even closer and more exposed to the Israeli position, contradicting the “pedestrians caught in a crossfire” scenario.
- Fire from head-on seems deliberate: The two shots are individual, not the product of “wild machine gun fire”, and the Palestinian gunmen who shot them would have had to miss their mark by almost ninety degrees in order to have shot them by accident.
- Jamal claimed that eight bullets hit him and four hit Muhammad. One or two bullets is an accident; twelve is not.
- All the evidence that indicates that the boy was not shot: see Scenario 4 “against” or Scenario 5 “for.”
Who holds this view?
Yom Tov Samya
Esther Schapira, Three Bullets and a Dead Child 2002
The vast majority of people who have at least some familiarity with the evidence (mostly in Israel and the USA)
4. Palestinians on Purpose
- Direction of the bullets indicating purpose: The bullets come from the Palestinian position across the road, and, as determined by ballistic experts, could have only come from across the road. Furthermore, since there was no crossfire at this time and the bullets were clearly single bullets (see Scenario 3 discussion), the shots must have been intentionally fired.
- Bullet direction suggests setting the scene for filming (Scenario 3)
- At funeral, the mourners already have posters of the boy: In order for them to have this, they would have had to go to his home in El-Bureij, get a picture, make the poster and copy it for distribution all in approximately one to two hours. In the meantime, his mother claims that she didn’t find out about his death until the later evening news.
- Motive: Why murder one of your own 12 year old boys? Immense PR victory. This image provided the Palestinians with critical support for the Intifada they had just launched. It swung Western opprobrium, both public and diplomatic, away from them for saying no at Camp David earlier that summer and onto the Israelis, just as the Palestinians unleashed a wave of attacks on Israelis. It gave them a tremendously powerful tool for inciting their own population to adopt the most terrible methods (suicide terror) and sustain the “Intifada.”
- Culture of martyrdom among Palestinians: This horrific scenario, unthinkable to most Westerners makes sense within the “cult of death” with which Palestinians indoctrinate their children. The highest honors are bestowed upon a shahid, both in the world he left behind and the world to which he ascends. There is certainly cynical use of children among Palestinians. Muhammad became the most important “martyr” in the Pantheon of death, the “martyr of the world,” because “the whole world saw it.”
- Morally abhorrent position: The idea that this is a Palestinian snuff film, is a almost to awful to even contemplate (and would, in fact, begin to identify resemblances with the Nazis). . For most of us, this is unthinkable behavior. Gabriel Weimann, a professor of Communications at Haifa University and at the Israeli Military Academy, who had his students try to prove the Israelis did not commit the murder, hesitates to believe this: “…I don’t think my worst enemy is so inhuman as to shoot a boy for the sake of publicity.” Unfortunately, the most powerful evidence against this scenario comes not from the nature of Palestinian culture, but from the extensive evidence that the boy was not shot and did not die “on tape” as Talal Abu Rahma claimed and as Enderlin broadcast.
- No blood: Talal Abu Rahma claimed the boy was bleeding for 15 or 20 minutes from a stomach wound which normally proves fatal from loss of blood. But the tape does not show any blood on the ground where he lay on his stomach; even the next day there is blood under the father’s place at the barrel, but not where Muhammad lay.
- No ambulance evacuation: Given how valuable ambulance evacuations are as footage and how quickly the ambulances tend to arrive, and the fact that the rushes show an ambulance in waiting just behind the boy and the father, and Abu Rahma’s perfect positioning for filming an especially bloody scene of the wounded father and dead son, it seems incomprehensible that Abu Rahma (or any of the other cameramen present, have not one frame of an ambulance evacuation. Asked why not by Nahum Shahaf over the phone, he responds evasively: “Because the ambulance driver was shot.” Asked why he didn’t take a picture of that, he responded, “Because he was shot before he got to the boy.” That of course does not explain why he did not photograph the eventual evacuation. Enderlin replies to both anomalies by claiming that Abu Rahma told him that he was running out of batteries, although if that were the case, why did he not just run out his camera on the scene in front of him rather than film a later, undistinguished ambulance scene?
- No bullets recovered: Shifa hospital, despite allegedly treating two people with a total of 8-12 bullet wounds, produced no bullets or bullet fragments. Nor did the Palestinian police who examined the site the next day. Perhaps aware that the lack of bullets made his case weak, Talal Abu Rahma told Esther Schapira: “We have the bullets, the kind of the bullets, I photographed them.” When Schapira asks where the bullets are, Abu Rahma tells her to “Consult the general… he could tell you.” When Schapira points out that the general does not have any bullets, Abu Rahma, the only employee of France 2 at the scene at that time claims: “France 2 collected”. “So you’re doing a better job than the investigators,” Schapira responds as Abu Rahma registers the realization that his claim has no credibility. “No, no, no”, he answers with a smile as he realizes that story won’t work. “We…we… we have our secrets… we cannot give anything… just anything”.
Who holds this view?
Very few people openly espouse Palestinians on purpose, although those who do tend to know the material well, are familiar with the willingness of the Palestinian elites to sacrifice their children, and don’t care about political correctness.
Those few who have publicly argued this have suffered considerable damage.
This view is supported by Yoseph Dorriel who was fired shortly after making these comments to the press, for publicizing conclusions before the investigation was completed. and David Kupelian (see here and here)
This scenario was virtually “unimaginable” initially, and it is still often misunderstood by people who have difficulty imagining it. It represents a radically different approach to the case, calling into question the fundamental assumption of all four previous scenarios, i.e. that the boy was indeed shot. The power of suggestion, and the almost instinctive suspension of disbelief with which most of us look at “news footage” has made this so unbelievable a scenario that many people (including prominent government officials, Israeli and American), are unaware that this is even an option. Still, it has become increasingly adopted by those who study the dossier carefully.
All of the arguments against deliberate murder by the Palestinians work in favor of a staged scene.
Evidence that the scene was deliberately set up:
- Photographic evidence from three cameramen show the boy and father behind the barrel well before the shooting begins, suggesting a much greater probability that they were deliberately placed there, rather than chance pedestrians caught in a crossfire.
- Bullet direction suggests setting the scene for filming (Scenario 3).
- At the funeral, the mourners already have posters of the boy. In order for them to have this, they would have had to go to his home in El-Bureij, get a picture, make the poster and copy it for distribution all in approximately one to two hours. In the meantime, the mother claims she didn’t find out about his death until the later evening news.
- Immense PR victory for the Palestinians. This image provides the Palestinians with superb material for scapegoating Israel which they rapidly exploited.
- It permits them to destroy international sympathy for Israel, as an article in The Independent (UK) illustrates
- Allows them to incite Palestinians and other Arabs and Muslims to hate the Israelis and want to kill them all.
No blood: Talal Abu Rahma claimed the boy was bleeding for 15 or 20 minutes from a stomach wound which normally proves fatal from loss of blood. But the tape does not show any blood on the ground where he lay, even the next day when fresh blood was added under the father’s place at the barrel, but not where Muhammed lay. Why would Talal not have gotten even a few seconds of the boy bleeding on the ground?
No ambulance evacuation: Given how valuable ambulance evacuations are as footage and how quickly the ambulances tend to arrive, and the fact that we know an ambulance is in waiting just behind the boy and the father, one would expect a real case of evacuating the wounded to be extremely valuable. Given Abu Rahma’s perfect positioning for filming an especially bloody scene of the wounded father and dead son, it seems incomprehensible that Abu Rahma has not one frame of an ambulance evacuation. Asked why not by Nahum Shahaf over the phone, he responds evasively: “Because the ambulance driver was shot.” Asked why he didn’t take a picture of that, he responded, “Because he was shot before he got to the boy.” Aside from the fact that this contradicts his testimony, it avoids the more basic question of why he did not photograph the eventual evacuation. Enderlin replies to both anomalies by claiming that Talal Abu Rahma told him that he was running out of batteries, although if that were the case, why did he not just run out his camera on the scene in front of him rather than film a later, undistinguished ambulance scene?
No bullets recovered: Shifa hospital, despite allegedly treating two people with a total of 8-12 bullet wounds, produced no bullets or bullet fragments. Nor did the Palestinian police who examined the site the next day. Perhaps aware that the lack of bullets made his case weak, Talal Abu Rahma told Esther Schapira: “We have the bullets, the kind of the bullets, I photographed them.” When Schapira asks where the bullets are, Talal tells her to “consult the general… he could tell you.” When Schapira points out that the general does not have any bullets, Talal, the only employee of France 2 at the scene at that time claims: “France 2 collected”. “So you’re doing a better job than the investigators,” Schapira responds as Abu Rahma registers the realization that his claim has no credibility. “No, no, no”, he answers with a smile as he realizes that story won’t work. “We…we… we have our secrets… we cannot give anything… just anything.”
Further evidence comes from a closer look at the actual footage of the Al Durahs behind the barrel.
- There are only 59 seconds of tape of the actual “shooting” sequence, which further breaks up into 6 separate scenes. Rather than shooting long sequences of the boy and father either under fire or bleeding, Abu Rahma takes tiny sequences of only a few seconds each. We will review each one for evidence of staging.
- Scene 1: Behind the barrel: bullet comes from Palestinian side
- Scene 2: Israeli position: no fire from or at Israelis
- Scene 3: Waving the hand: father looking at the camera, people yelling the boy is dead while he’s still alive
- Scene 4: Lying down body crunched: no evidence of bullets hitting boy, red on leg, father looks unconscious. Two fingers passing before the camera immediately before the image of Muhammad lying flat, almost signaling a ‘cut’, unusual behavior for a journalistic camera.
- Scene 5: Lying down, hand over eyes Muhammad’s arm is also nowhere near his stomach an instinctual reaction for someone shot in the abdomen, father’s head bobs, he’s conscious, but he never reaches for his son
- Scene 6: Lying down, looking out Muhammad Al Dura lifting his elbow and moving his feet, atypical actions for a dead child, father has turned away from the boy, still making no effort to reach for him.
Staging explains Scene 6: He does not have a stomach wound, but he keeps looking at the camera, so Talal Abu Rahma tells him to hold his hand over his eye so as not to look. Even then he can’t stop from looking out, so he slowly raises his elbow hoping it won’t be noticed, looks at the camera, then slowly lowers his arm.
Talal Abu Rahma is a known Pallywood photographer
- Here he is caught by another cameraman filming a classic Pallywood fake
- Those who have seen his rushes for this day all agree that they are filled with staged scenes
- Talal has, allegedly, retracted his testimony before the PHRC
- There is no clear evidence against this scenario. Once one turns off the willing suspension of disbelief and look at these scenes as potentially staged, one finds few if any scenes that argue for real acting (with the exception of the terrified boy as real Palestinian bullets fly overhead).
- It’s a conspiracy theory: Most people find the idea that the Palestinians would do such a thing, and that the Western media would all be fooled by it, so preposterous that they dismiss it out of hand. As one prominent diplomat involved in the Camp David process put it: “The Middle East is so full of conspiracy theories, I’m not going to believe any of them.”
- If it were staged, surely the Israelis would have said something: Why haven’t the Israelis come forward with this conclusion, especially if their own investigator, Nahum Shahaf, argued for that position very early on? It would have cleared them and cast serious doubt on the account of Talal Abu Rahma and the image of Al Durah as a symbol of the Intifada.
Who holds this view?
Most of those who argue for this scenario are people who have studied the material closely, starting with the first investigator.
Nahum Shahaf, Israeli physicist, and many to whom he introduced his material
Stephane Juffa , Metula News Agency editor in chief
Amnon Lord, Israeli commentator see http://www.jcpa.org/jl/vp482.htm
Gerard Huber, a psychoanalyst and permanent Paris correspondent of the Israel-based Metula News Agency (link to his book)
Serge Farnel, French journalist (website in al-Dura page: http://www.truthnow.org/)
David Kupelian: World Net Daily managing editor (Article in al-Dura page: http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=32137)
Alyssa Lappen, New York based writer, (http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=16432)
Nidra Poller, American novelist and translator, (Article in al-Dura page: http://www.commentarymagazine.com/article.asp?aid=12002025_1)
David Gelernter, LA Times columnist, (Article in al-Dura page: http://jewishworldreview.com/david/gelernter091205.php3)
Note: not all those who have seen the material think it’s staged. This is particularly true of mainstream media journalists such as James Fallows and Esther Schapira who prefer the minimalist position that the Israelis almost surely did not kill the child.
Interviewed by Esther Schapira a year after the Al Durah incident Talal Abu Rahma, France2’s Palestinian photojournalist, recalls that the Israelis allegedly targeted the Al Durahs for 28 minutes as they huddled by the wall at Netzarim Junction on September 30, 2000.
- Problem 1: Internal inconsistency – In other testimony during the same interview Abu Rachma insisted that the Israelis targeted the Al Durahs for 45 minutes, not 28.
- Problem 2: External inconsistency – The Israeli post was 80 meters from the Al Durahs. How likely is it that Israeli sharpshooters firing high velocity weapons at overlapping stationary targets from a distance of 80 meters would require 28 minutes of constant firing to kill one person and not even manage to mortally wound the second? Ask any soldier with battle experience how long it would take to hit a stationary target at 80 meters. It takes seconds.
- Problem 3. External inconsistency – How likely is it that Israeli sharpshooters would focus consistently for 28 minutes on a target located 30 degrees away from the Palestinian position from which fire was emanating toward the Israeli post?
Interviewed by Esther Schapira a year after the Al Durah incident Talal Abu Rahma, France2’s Palestinian photojournalist, alleges that the Israelis were expressly targeting the Al Durahs as they huddled by the wall at Netzarim Junction on September 30, 2000.
- Problem 1: External inconsistency – The Israeli post was 80 meters from the Al Durahs. How likely is it that Israeli sharpshooters firing high velocity weapons at overlapping stationary targets from a distance of 80 meters would require 28 minutes of constant firing to kill one person and not even manage to mortally wound the second? Ask any soldier with battle experience how long it would take to hit a stationary target at 80 meters. It takes seconds.
- Problem 2. External inconsistency – How likely is it that Israeli sharpshooters would focus consistently for 28 minutes on a target located far from the Palestinian positions from which fire was emanating toward the Israeli post?