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“What’s Your Problem with that?”: Enderlin and the Intellectual Corruption of the MSM

(This article has been published at Pajamas Media, June 23, 2009)

The startling footage of Neda, the 27-year old woman shot to death in the streets of Tehran recently has reminded some of the image of 12-year old Muhammad al Durah (HT Tom Gross):

The footage of a Palestinian man [sic] being shot dead [sic] next to his 12-year-old son, Muhammad Jamal al-Durrah, by Israeli forces in Gaza in 2000 has been etched in the minds of many Iranians, as state television has continually replayed the images to highlight the “Zionist regime’s brutality.”

Now, the Islamic regime itself has become the subject of similar allegations at home and abroad after gruesome footage of a dying young woman during the suppression of an opposition protest on Saturday was released on the internet.

The image of Neda Salehi Agha-Soltan, a 27-year-old philosophy student, bleeding to death on the asphalt road of a Tehran street after she was shot in the chest, has become the rallying cry of the country’s opposition, which is disputing the June 12 election of Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad.

Only neither Jamal (the father) nor Muhammad al Durah (the son) were killed, not by Israelis soldiers, probably not by anyone, and certainly not “on TV.” These days when real footage, shot spontaneously, of victims of brutal repressive forces make it out of Iran, a country where the leaders make every effort to shut down the media, it may be useful to revisit the case of Muhammad al Durah.

With al Durah, we have a case of footage uncensored by authorities coming out of a conflict in which the allegedly repressive regime — the Israelis — provides the most welcoming atmosphere of freedom for journalists. These journalists repay the Israelis for their tolerance by running Pallywood footage staged by the Palestinians, specifically designed to provoke outrage. And in the case of Muhammad al Durah, the boy behind the barrel at Netzarim Junction on September 30, 2000, the footage was not only staged, but, thanks to the efforts of France2’s Middle East correspondent, Charles Enderlin, it made it around the world with the imprimatur of Western Mainstream media. In short order, it became an icon of hatred, provoking outrage, hatred and violence against both Jews and Israelis — the first blood(less) libel of the 21st century.

One of Enderlin’s favorite arguments is, “look, if there were any substance to these allegations, the Israelis would be all over me and Talal. The fact that they’ve done nothing is proof that we’re right, and Talal is “as white as snow.” He most recently repeated these arguments at his blog.

So let me suggest a counter-argument: If there were any substance to Charles Enderlin’s defense, he would have informed himself of the details of the evidence.

Instead, he continues to remain supremely ignorant of all the telling problems with both Talal’s account and his own.

His performance in his interview with Schapira for the new movie shows us precisely the kind of know-nothing folly that first inspired the term Pallywood, which came not from evidence of Palestinian fakes — I’d already seen many — but from Enderlin’s complacent response to having them pointed out: “Oh yeah, they do that all the time. It’s a cultural thing.”

Here are some views of the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of a major MSM figure, one of the most influential journalists in Europe for the last two decades. Not one word that he utters has any substance in terms of serious argumentation. In any first-year graduate seminar in history the kind of cavalier contempt for hard evidence and argumentation that Enderlin displays here would earn him the disbelief of fellow students and a ticket to ride from the professors… Unless, of course, we were in an honor-shame culture where someone with protected status could get away with anything he wanted to say.

Both in the details, and in the argumentation, Enderlin gets an “F” in Second Draft of journalism.


Enderlin handles a question from Esther Schapira.

It’s a smear campaign by people who don’t like my work

Here is Charles in court the day of the showing of Talal’s rushes (the beginning of his downfall), pugnaciously leading with his chin. He is typically dismissive — “you can say he was killed by Martians…” and categorical “we didn’t fabricate these images” (if that we includes Talal, it’s problematic). But the most revealing “argument” is that people who oppose him do so because they “don’t want my reports, my books, and my commentaries.”

Note the revealing slip at the beginning: “This is a libel suit… uuuh, a libel against me.” He’s the one bringing the libel suit against Karsenty, but he’s trying to position himself as the victim. Indeed, we met one vociferous ex-Israeli French journalist in the court who was indignant at how Enderlin was being dragged through the judicial mud by this suit against him.

But the larger question is certainly worth considering. Enderlin, true to style, uses conspiracy-theory logic. Cui bono? To whom the good? If I lose this case, then my whole oeuvre will be in doubt. Ergo, those who attack me on this case actually want to discredit me entirely.

Actually, I had never heard of Enderlin before this, and my concern was both to challenge so powerful and hate-engendering an icon — a blood libel — and, as I became involved, to challenge the inexcusable complaisance of the MSM with Pallywood footage. As I’ve learned more about Enderlin, I think he’s right on one point: his behavior here should call into question the rest of his work which, as I’ve learned, is also tendentious and treats evidence loosely. But to go from that to “it’s a conspiracy to shut me up” not only shows the paranoid quality of Enderlin’s thinking, but also the nature of his appeal: “Don’t listen to them; they don’t like my politics.” Alas, this works all too often these days.

***

That’s how I do a story: “The child is dead” is a statement. What’s your problem with it?”

Here’s Charles asked about why he claimed that the child was dead and then three “takes” later, he’s still moving. This is, of course, a critical issue, since the scene in which the child moves was one that he cut from his broadcast.

I don’t know if Schapira asked him why he cut it, but I presume he’d have answered the same way he has for 9 years — “it was the death throes, and too unbearable for the public to view.” You be the judge on to whom this cut footage is unbearable — the viewer or Talal’s and Enderlin’s “narrative.”

In response, Enderlin let’s us know how he works: “This is the way I do a story…”

I’m very sorry, but the fact is the child died. Maybe not at the precise moment I showed. But this is the way I do a story. “The child is dead,” is a statement. What’s your problem with it?

How many Teamsters does it take to change a lightbulb?
12.
Why 12?
You got a problem with that?


Enderlin: “Maybe not at the precise moment…”

Like the Teamsters, this man thinks he won’t be challenged by anyone who counts. He doesn’t have to give a serious answer, because the people who count — his bosses at France2, his fellow journalists — support him fully.

***

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Memes of Lethal Journalism: We Didn’t Get it Wrong, You’re a Conspiracist! (Larry Derfner version)

Really didn’t want to do this. Have responded thrice in the Spring of 2008 to Dernfer’s rattling his cage about Al Durah – here, here, and here – and I probably should leave him to rattle in peace. But there’s something about his tone which I think is particularly revealing, and that readers should be aware of when they hear it. It’s the sound of a lethal journalist being denied his foundational myth.

And the irony is that, at the end of the article, he concedes major terrain in the argument, even as he maintains his tone of contempt… a little like the naked emperor who, realizing everyone knows he’s naked, continues his charade showing even more disdain for the crowd.

In the following article there is not one substantive argument, only one case where Derfner grapples (unsuccessfully) with the empirical evidence (which I’m beginning to think he hasn’t watched – or watched peremptorily). It’s all about name-calling (when it happens to them, people like Derfner like to use the word “smear,” as in the critics are “Desperately smearing Goldstone“), and circuitous arguments all drawn directly from Charles Enderlin. In some senses, the best parallel to Derfner’s prose is the Vultures, except that Derfner does it in public.

Warning in advance. This is long. I will extract the key issues for an article next week, but each of the elements of Derfner’s article deserve analysis, if only because so many people, especially journalists, share his attitude.

On the al-Dura affair: Israel officially drank the Kool Aid

A look at the right-wing conspiracy-nut thinking that informed this week’s blue-ribbon report on the infamous 2000 killing of a Palestinian boy in Gaza. 

In the 13 years since Muhammad al-Dura was killed in an Israeli-Palestinian shootout in Gaza while cowering behind his father, masses of right-wing Jews have eagerly embraced a conspiracy theory of the 12-year-oid boy’s killing – that it was staged, a hoax perpetrated by Palestinians to blacken Israel’s name. This theory, promoted most avidly by Boston University Prof. Richard Landes and French media analyst Philippe Karsenty, depends on a view of Palestinians being superhumanly clever and fiendish, and a view of reality that comes from the movies.

As I noted at your site: The difference between you and me is you think the journos are too sharp to be fooled by anything unless it’s a major conspiracy, whereas I, looking at the evidence, sadly come to the conclusion that the Palestinians can put out the shoddiest crap (Talal’s pathetic 60 seconds) and our journos (led by the lethal journalists who pass on anything the Palestinians cook up) will gobble it up. Given your long career as one who regularly feeds these Palestinian lethal narratives to your readers as news, it’s probably no surprise that you need to believe in the necessity of conspiracies that can’t exist, in order to keep on trucking.

The mentality here is essentially the same one that drives the 9/11 “truthers,” the anti-Obama “birthers,” those who say the Shin Bet assassinated Rabin, or those who say ultra-rightists assassinated JFK – a fevered imagination activated by political antagonism that knows no bounds. In the right-wing conspiracy theories of the al-Dura shooting, the boundless antagonism goes out to the Palestinians and their supporters.

Aside from comparing the Al Durah scam, where at most a couple of dozen people were necessary to pull it off, with schemes that took massive levels of participants (9-11, Kennedy Assassination), there’s a fascinating reversal embedded in this comment: the boundless antagonism in this conflict comes from the Palestinians, it not only drove the creation of the Al Durah story, but its systematic deployment as an icon of hatred in order to inject a death cult into Palestinian culture. Of course people like me are hostile to this kind of appalling behavior and hostile to people, like you, who, instead of condemning it roundly, constantly run interference for, and encourage it. As often in conspiracy theories, the person accusing the other of secretly evil intentions projects his own behavior and attitudes.

This week, the State of Israel officially joined the movement. Its report on the al-Dura affair adopts the conspiracy theory in full. (To be precise, it adopts the relatively “restrained” conspiracy theory – that the al-Duras were never shot. The other, wholly unrestrained conspiracy theory in circulation holds that the Palestinians killed the boy deliberately to create a martyr.)

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Memes of Lethal Journalism: You’re Smearing Us (Reporters without Borders version)

Among the defenses of Enderlin’s Al Durah story comes from an organization that considers itself “Reporters without Borders,” a variant of “Doctors without Borders,” and a “Human Rights” NGO that shares much of the agenda of the other global, progressive organizations of this kind. (When Reporters without Borders first launched it’s annual report on press freedom, it gave Israel a lower rating than the West Bank, a rating that would send most Palestinians into either fits or laughter or tears (depending on whether they wanted a decent society or not). Here note the lack of substance from an organization that considers itself a voice for the profession.

UNSUPPORTED ACCUSATIONS AGAINST FRENCH TV CORRESPONDENT OVER COVERAGE OF PALESTINIAN TEENAGER’S SHOOTING

PUBLISHED ON WEDNESDAY 22 MAY 2013.

Charles Enderlin

Read in Arabic (بالعربية)

The Israeli government has just published a report of its investigation into French TV station France 2’s controversial coverage of 12-year-old Palestinian Muhammad al-Durrah’s death during rioting in the Gaza Strip on 30 September 2000 and the disputed claim that he was killed by a shot fired from Israeli positions.

The report’s release came three days ahead today’s announcement by a Paris appeal court that it will finally issue its ruling on 26 June in the defamation case between France 2’s Jerusalem correspondent, Charles Enderlin, and Media Rating founder Philippe Karsenty, who suggested that the teenager’s death was staged.

The Israeli report, which is very critical of France 2’s staff, was produced by a committee consisting of representatives of various ministries, the police and the Israel Defence Forces. It was appointed by Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu last September.

“While the Israeli government has the right to respond publicly to a media report it regards as damaging, the nature and substance of this report are questionable and give the impression of a smear operation,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.

Not clear whether Deloire has read the report, and if so, that he did more than realize that it was strongly critical of Enderlin. But unlike real smear tactics, all the criticism is considered, documented and reasoned. So what, in Deloire’s mind distinguishes “smear” from “criticism”?

“As regards the substance, Charles Enderlin has always said he would be ready to testify to a commission of enquiry in conditions that guaranteed impartiality and independence. These conditions were not respected, and Enderlin was not asked to testify. Nor was he asked to provide his unused footage of the incident.

Is this a press release for Enderlin? He has made many promises, and reneged whenever someone took him up on the matter (including supplying the tapes to the Israelis). If a prestigious organization wants to call for an international committee of investigation, fine. But it’s been done before and if it’s failed it’s because Enderlin doesn’t want it.

“Above all, the committee’s published findings consist of just 11 pages on the ‘facts’ of the case and has another 30 pages condemning the way France 2’s report was used. We think it is absurd and unacceptable to accuse Enderlin’s report of having ‘played a major role in inciting terrorism and violence, both in the Israeli-Palestinian arena and worldwide’.”

Absurd? Really? The absurd here, is that an organization that wants to be a beacon of real journalism in the 21st century is capable of so strongly worded an essay on a subject they apparently know nothing more about than what they’re informed of by only one side.

The committee claims to have based its findings on France 2’s raw video footage of the incident. Enderlin says he posted all of the footage online.

Did you check? Where is it?

Is that what the committee used? The report’s authors do not say. It claims there is no evidence to support Enderlin’s account of the incident but produces no evidence to support its own claim.

All the evidence the committee worked with and more is available online.

The committee claims that evidence suggests that neither Muhammad al-Durrah nor his father, Jamal Al-Durrah, sustained a gunshot injury that day. In particular, it claims that no trace of blood was found the next day at the spot where they were filmed. The report, which does not name the source of this claim, also claims there was no sign of blood in the video footage.

That’s been aired a thousand times online. Did you even try to find it? Apparently, the authors of this piece know nothing of the evidence and rely entirely on what Enderlin says. Is this serious reporting (without borders)?

According to the committee’s findings, the broadcast footage excluded a movement of Muhammad al-Durrah’s hand and elbow that can be seen in the raw footage after Enderlin’s voice said he had been killed.


Note the feet rising behind the boy as he slowly and deliberately lowers his arm after raising it to look out. Is this the behavior of someone dying of a stomach wound.

The committee quotes Dr. Ricardo Nachman, deputy director of the Tel Aviv forensic centre, as saying the boy could not have moved in that way if, as France 2 claimed, he had already been hit by gunfire.

Yes. And Nachman notes, “you don’t have to be an expert to understand this.”

The Franco-Israeli surgeon Yehuda David is quoted in the report’s appendix as saying the father’s injuries could have been sustained prior to the incident filmed by France 2’s cameraman. But David bases his claim on medical reports and did not examine Jamal Al-Durrah himself after the incident.

Not on medical reports, but on footage that Enderlin had Talal Abu Rahma take of Talal’s wounds, which correspond to David’s surgery, and not to the Jordanian report which does not in any way correspond to the injuries shown.

“This report is absurd,” Enderlin said. “How can the report’s authors omit the fact that Jamal Al-Durrah was hospitalized the next day in the Jordanian capital of Amman? How can they claim that the Israel Defence Forces did not open fire?”

More repetition of what “their guy” has to say. The report does not say the IDF did not open fire. It says that during the incident in question, none of the footage that we have available – France2, AP, Reuters – shows any evidence of fire from the Israeli position and that Enderlin had no business saying the fire came from the IDF position since it was based entirely on his cameraman Talal Abu Rahma, whose record for honesty, especially in this matter, is less than stellar.

A journalist’s friend, Guillaume Weill-Raynal, added: “No ballistic report has ever been produced to support these claims, which were already being made prior to this report.”

Guillaume was seated at Enderlin’s bench in court several times during the trials. He is an ardent (and rather politicized) friend… not journalist’s friend, but the journalist under criticism’s friend. Try his brother Clement Weill-Raynal, who’s coming out with a book on the subject and agrees with the report.

Barak Ravid, the Israeli daily Haaretz’s diplomatic correspondent, said: “This report on the Muhammad al-Durrah case is probably one of the least convincing documents produced by the Israeli government in recent years.”

So we get the quotes we want, we don’t consult the evidence, and we conclude that the claims in the report are unsubstantiated. A nice example of lethal journalism in defense mode.

Memes of Lethal Journalism: Would They Lie to Us?!? (Rachel Shabi version)

When the Guardian came out with their first article on the Israeli report on Al Durah, I thought that even though it was done by Harriet Sherwood, it was fairly neutral. I should have known that CiF would deliver the goods. Below the reaction of Rachel Shabi, with fisking.

Muhammad al-Dura and Israel’s obsession with the propaganda war

A report suggesting the death of the boy may have been faked was all spin, disregarding Palestinian testimony


guardian.co.uk
Jump to comments (76)
Muhammad and Jamal al-Dura

Footage from the France 2 report showing Muhammad al-Dura and his father, Jamal. Photograph: EPA

If Israel’s government is to be believed, Palestinians have sunk so low as to be capable of faking their own deaths.

“So low?” Lots of people and lots of governments have faked deaths. It’s not a particularly heinous or rare phenomenon. But wait, the Palestinians have done much worse: they’ve killed their own children and then made a media circus of trying to blame Israel.

Or wait, maybe the Israeli accusation of fakery is itself the indication of a horrifying new nadir. An Israeli report has concluded that Muhammad al-Dura, the 12-year-old Palestinian whose death in 2000 in Gaza was captured by a French public TV channel, was not killed by Israelis – and may in fact not be dead at all.

Back then, a short film of Muhammad and his father, both caught in a shootout, trying helplessly to shelter against a barrage of gunfire, was narrated by French Channel 2 correspondent Charles Enderlin and relayed around the world, turning the boy into a symbol of the brutality of the second intifada and the Israeli occupation. Now, Israel says those same images are yet more proof of a global campaign to delegitimise Israel – and are, additionally, attempts to invoke the blood libel.

Not invoke… deploy. If you look at the particularly vigorous life of all kinds of blood libels in the wake of Al Durah, from the extensive TV Ramadan series (2005) to the new variants on the old European variety (Muslim blood for Purim Humantashen in addition to Passover matzah), the blood libel is in the cognitive bloodstream of the Arab world.

And so begins another ugly bout of the endless propaganda disease that is so endemic to this conflict. Israel is reported to have killed 1,397 Palestinian children not involved in hostilities since the start of the second intifada, according to the NGO Defence for Children International in Palestine, but there are no investigations into their deaths because none have been as emblematic as Muhammad.

I’m in favor of an investigation of all of them, but I doubt that many of these statistics will hold up to scrutiny. B’tselem, whose figures are considerably lower, itself has a serious reliability problem. In any case I’m willing to bet that (had we serious evidence) we would find

  • that the number is greatly inflated by including older teenagers (16-17) who are often combatants
  • that in no case were any of those children deliberately murdered (as Talal Abu Rahma explicitly accused Israel of doing)
  • that some of them were killed by Palestinians as here, here, here, here, and here (not to mention honor-killings)
  • that a goodly number were killed in situations where their lives were deliberately endangered by Palestinian combatants firing at Israel from behind them

There is perhaps no society on earth with as dark a history of promoting a child death cult, sacrificing its children, encouraging its children to seek death, praising those who die, than the Palestinians. Any serious investigation here will not go well for the Palestinians, who systematically, indeed ghoulishly exploit the children whose deaths they cause.

Egyptian Prime Minister Kandil and Hamas Chief Haniya kissing a baby killed by Hamas rockets aimed at Israeli children.

Those images of his terrified face seconds before his death were relayed around the world and are now burned into so many hearts: there are postage stamps of him, parks and streets named after him and screen-grab posters of that terrible moment raised on roads across the Arab and Muslim world.

And the most likely explanation for the terror is that Palestinian marksmen were firing bullets over their heads (but very close). Their expressions suggest that this was not what they had signed up for.

1st bullet-a

The opening scene: the circular cloud over their heads indicates a bullet from head on, not from a 30 degree angle (i.e., from the Israeli position)

This investigation, commissioned by Binyamin Netanyahu last year, seems intended only to give fuel to rightist Israel supporters – any report seeking to get closer to the truth might have bothered to speak to Muhammad’s father, or Enderlin, or France’s Channel 2. Instead, what this document provides is spin and no new evidence. It has cued a flood of commentary, about lying Palestinians and a hostile foreign media, from rightwing Israeli commentators.

Is it to be ignored because it gives fuel to those who think that Palestinians systematically lie in their cognitive war against Israel (something easily documentable), and that the foreign media is hostile, specifically in their predilection for passing on Palestinian accusations, no matter how unsupported by the evidence – as real news to their audiences back home? If it’s not your take on matters, not interested?

If my take needs Al Durah as a symbol of Israeli brutality, I don’t care if its been faked, it’s true. If the Israelis paint Al Durah as a symbol of Palestinian malevolence and journalistic incompetence, they must be lying.

But what stands out, yet again, is the disregard for anything Palestinians might have to contribute to the story. In effect, this report is saying to Palestinians: your words, your pain and your losses are insignificant, erasable bumps in this narrative.

First of all, Palestinian testimony in this affair is ludicrous. Talal Abu Rahma has been caught in a continuous string of false statements and sly retractions. The other “witnesses,” whose testimony Enderlin bizarrely submitted to court, talk of helicopter gunships that never were.

Secondly, given that Palestinians systematically try to weaponize their pain against Israel, even when other Palestinians directly caused it (see above and below), it’s really a bit much for you to get indignant when someone tries to call a halt to the charade.

YE Mideast Israel Palestinians

Jihad Masharawi, BBC reporter, holding his baby, almost certainly killed by an errant Hamas rocket. I feel the pain, I just can’t get behind the way that it’s used to scapegoat Israel for Palestinian brutality.

It is no wonder that Muhammad’s father, Jamal al-Dura, has said: “What saddens me is that I feel alone in the face of the Israeli propaganda machine …”, going on to lament a lack of support from either the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah or the Hamas government in Gaza.

I would take that as a sign that even the PA and Hamas aren’t willing to take this one on. “Everyone” – even (or especially) the Palestinian elites know this is a fake.

With this investigation, Israel’s government exposes its obsession with trying to win the propaganda war, as though this will magically make everything OK. Netanyahu has called the al-Dura incident part of the “ongoing, mendacious campaign to delegitimise Israel”. But the problem is that nothing could possibility delegitimise Israel more than its prolonged and oppressive occupation of the Palestinian people – the escalating deaths

Escalating? Actually deaths in this conflict are exceptionally low. You want “escalating deaths” try Syria next door, where in less than three years more people have been killed (70,000) than in the entire Arab-Israeli conflict over 65 years.

media vs casualty footprint

the daily, grinding humiliation.

Ladies in a Gaza supermarket, humiliated in their open air prison.

The longer it continues, the more such attempts to obfuscate or detract from this reality – rather than bring about its end – will only make matters worse.

This is not reality that you’re talking about. This is a constructed lethal narrative, supported by statements that fly directly in the face of reality. Indeed, the Palestinians under occupation have the highest life expectancy, lowest infant mortality, and highest rate of higher education, than any other Arabs in the Middle East, except Israeli Arabs. Your article just illustrates the kind of reality-defying narrative that suits your purposes, the very epitome of the Al Durah Journalism that the Israeli report critiques.

23-May-13: If we knew then what we discovered today about how France2’s correspondent decided the IDF killed a child in Gaza 13 years ago

Arnold Roth

Originally published at http://thisongoingwar.blogspot.co.il/2013/05/23-may-13-if-we-knew-then-what-we.html

In “22-May-13: The post-Al Durah period: the challenges are starting to become sharper“, we quoted Israeli journalist Ben Caspit’s valuable analysis of the Al Durah Affair and of the role and responsibilities of the news-reporting media.

Here’s a key quote:

The truth is a vital commodity, especially where we are. If we didn’t kill Muhammad al-Durrah, then I want to know that. If he wasn’t injured in the film clip screened by France 2, then I want to know that too… I have a lot of respect for correspondent Charles Enderlin from France 2, but as someone familiar with all the details at a very high resolution, I believe that he never should have determined that the al-Durrah boy was dead, as long as he had a video clip which showed him still alive. That footage was put into deep storage. It was censored and disappeared, only to show up again this week in the report by the Israeli Commission of Inquiry. A responsible journalist never would have broadcasted the footage without also showing the doubt, the full picture, and all of the details relevant to the story. [Source] Today, this afternoon, in going back over some of the things we know about Charles Enderlin and France2, we came across something quite extraordinary. Enderlin, France2’s man in Israel, the one who personally edited the original Al Durah “killing” footage that went to air all over the world on September 30, 2000, was interviewed in Haaretz on November 1, 2007, to mark the seventh anniversary, more or less, of the events that we know as the Al Durah Affair.

It’s a long interview with Haaretz reporter Adi Schwartz, and it appears in both the Hebrew and English editions. Both are still online today: the Hebrew (“בואו נראה את זה שוב”) here and the English (“In the footsteps of the al-Dura controversy”) here.

The reporter, after reviewing the controversy about who fired at the Al Durahs and the way in which parts of the media made up their minds, asks Enderlin:
In hindsight, is it possible that you were too hasty that evening?
Here’s the Haaretz English version of the answer:
I don’t think so. Besides, the moment I saw that nobody was asking me anything officially, I started feeling more strongly that the story was true.
And here is the Haaretz Hebrew version of the Enderlin response to the same question:
לא חושב. אם לא הייתי אומר שהילד והאב היו קורבנות לירי שבא מכיוון עמדת צה”ל, בעזה היו אומרים, איך אנדרלן לא אומר שזה צה”ל?

We’ll translate the Hebrew for you:
I don’t think so. If I had not said that the boy and the father were victims of gunfire emanating from the direction of the Israeli position, in Gaza they would have said “How come Enderlin doesn’t say it was the IDF?”

Got that? It’s a helpful insight into how news sometimes gets reported by certain kinds of journalists and channels.

To remind us all, Charles Enderlin was in his Jerusalem office when those events took place in Gaza on September 30, 2000. The sum total of the visual evidence he had was video material sent to him by digital transfer from a stringer in Gaza. Its source was a Palestinian Arab cameraman, Talal Abu Rahma. Did Enderlin thoroughly check it to satisfy himself that it was an authentic record of what it claimed to be – the cold-blooded and deliberate killing of a child and the wounding of the father by Israeli forces? Given what most of us know about the relative accuracy of factual reporting on the two sides of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinian Arabs, did he harbour any doubts at all? Did he seek independent verification? A second opinion? A third? Did he speak with any of the other video photographers out there at Netzarim? Or to their agencies?

The answer, which we have not seen reported anywhere else in all these years (correct us please if we’re wrong on this), is this: evidently he felt he could not go off and check because (our understanding of his plain Hebrew words) what would they then say about him, Enderlin, over there in Gaza?

Pause for a moment to digest this. While you do, allow us to revisit a small segment of this morning’s AP report on the widely-reported grotesque savagery in London yesterday.

Every news program on earth (virtually) showed the video image last night of a man with blood-drenched hands, holding a knife, a machete, confidently mouthing off in front of cameras about his religion, his god, what the British ought to do to their leaders. That this barbarism was an act of terror was obvious even to the BBC whose guidelines discourage the use of the T word other than when quoting others, but which found a way to call this terrorism (which it certainly is) anyway.

And yet look here at the somersaults one major global news service performed in order to be sure the material they were about to disseminate was true, accurate and unimpeachable:

The Associated Press examined the footage to verify its authenticity. The AP cross-referenced images from the scene, aerial shots, the location of a car behind the alleged attacker and appearance of a body and car in the background of the image. [Source: Associated Press, London terror attack leaves 1 man hacked to death, two suspects hospitalized]

Those are the things you do when you’re genuinely concerned about the consequences of being wrong. Enderlin, by contrast, tells us he decided to pin the blame on the IDF by considering what would be said about him in Gaza if he did not, and proceeded to transmit his exclusive coverage as widely as a person can.

Perhaps we’re naive, but this seems genuinely shocking. And the admission emerges, unforced, from his own mouth.

As for Haaretz, we are left wondering who, why and by whom the decision was made to sanitize Enderlin’s unprofessional admission by… simply erasing it from the global record, while leaving it intact in the Hebrew version.

By the way, just two weeks after the publication of Enderlin’s interview with Haaretz (i.e. on November 14, 2007), Enderlin and France2 handed over the raw footage of the events of seven years earlier to a French court, something they were compelled to do by French court order. Prof. Richard Landes, an expert in the details of the Al Durah Affair, wrote at that time [see “Enderlin cuts the tapes that France2 presents to the court“] and has asserted for the past six years that Enderlin
presented an edited version in which he took out at least three minutes, and at least one scene that I distinctly remember seeing. [Landes]
How would those law suits and appeals initiated by Enderlin and France2 have fared had the courts known what Enderlin himself – the prime propagator of the imagery and the analysis of the Al Durah affair – said about why he blamed the Israelis?

Lethal journalism assuredly exists. The better its workings are understood, the safer we will all be. But we are not there yet.

Originally published at http://thisongoingwar.blogspot.co.il/2013/05/23-may-13-if-we-knew-then-what-we.html

Welcome, Refugee from rekaB Street: Shmuel Rosner’s Mea Culpa on Al Durah in the NYT

This post has been published at the Algemeiner.
In the flood of commentary and analysis of the Al Durah controversy, I’ve tried to fisk the most important typical responses. And of course, I have a backlog of articles to fisk. But this one by Shmuel Rosner jumped to the top of the pile because of its honest reappraisal. It helps to understand some of the factors that played at the time the story broke, and answer Vic Rosenthal’s question:
Why didn’t then Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and then Prime Minister Ehud Barak demand that all the footage shot by France 2 on that day be placed at Israel’s disposal to do a proper investigation?
Before adding my commentary to Rosner’s mea culpa, I’d like to acknowledge the courage involved in this piece, and the remarkable fact that the New York Times published it. As someone laboring in the wilderness for a decade, all I can say is, this is unexpected.
4 Comments

The Skeptic’s Curse

By SHMUEL ROSNER
On Oct. 6, 2000, Palestinian boys in the Gaza strip walked past graffiti representing Muhammad al-Dura as he was shown in a television report.Ahmed Jadallah/ReutersOn Oct. 6, 2000, Palestinian boys in the Gaza strip walked past graffiti representing Muhammad al-Dura as he was shown in a television report.

TEL AVIV — In late September 2000, at the beginning of the second Palestinian intifada, the French TV station France 2 aired some 60 seconds of footage allegedly showing the killing of a Palestinian boy in the Gaza Strip.

Muhammad al-Dura, who was 12 at the time, and his father are shown caught in an exchange of fire between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian fighters. The boy cowers behind his father, with what sounds like gunshots crackling in the background. Smoke then blocks our view. When it lifts the boy is flattened, listless, and his father is lying against the wall, apparently in serious physical distress. The footage soon became one of the most memorable and heart-wrenching of the bloody Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

No one knows what happened exactly at the Netzarim Junction that day. The French broadcast claimed that gunfire from Israeli soldiers killed the boy. That version of the facts immediately became the official Palestinian account. Israel did not accept responsibility, nor did it deny being involved. And so the French-Palestinian narrative stuck.

But this Sunday, the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs released a report undermining that account. The document concludes there is “strong evidence” that Muhammad and his father “were not hit by bullets at all in the scenes filmed.” It also details many errors, omissions and open questions in the widely accepted narrative of the event.

I first heard that there might be a problem with the al-Dura story soon after the incident. I was the head of the news division at Haaretz at the time, and a young reporter approached me to say that a high-ranking official at the Israel Defense Force would be staging, in front of a crew from “60 Minutes,” a re-enactment of the shooting to prove the French and Palestinian chroniclers wrong.

I believed the initial story about al-Dura, and I was highly suspicious of the motivations of anyone attempting to disprove it.
Note a few things here. “I believed the initial story about al-Durah.” This readiness to believe the worst of the Israeli army – that they’d target a father and child and rain down bullets upon them, was pervasive, particularly among the journalists who were most proud of their self-critical attitude. As Bet Michael said to me in November of 2003 (after I had studied with Shahaf and seen the France2 raw footage with Enderlin),

BM: 100%. The israelis killed the boy.
RL: Really? Are you aware of the investigation and its findings?
BM: The investigator was a nut… some engineer with the army who argued a conspiracy theory that he kid committed suicide.
RL: Suicide?
MS: (to me while BM waxed eloquent to NB)
NB) He’s being sarcastic.
RL: Were you being sarcastic?
BM: Not at all. I meant every word.
RL: Suicide?
BM: Oh, that was sarcastic, but since then the IDF has killed over 200 palestinian children, you can check with B’tselem.

Here’s a close-up view of the world of aggressive lethal journalism, backed by their “researchers” who systematically compile the lethal narratives. At the time I did not realize it, but I should have after Jenin in 2002, that the lethal journalists – in the case of many, probably not even knowingly – were now dominant in the journalistic scene in Israel.

The reporter and I both thought the military was crazy to do such a thing; it would look like an exercise in white-washing.

Another major theme. When I reported my research to a dear friend from the 1990s (who was on the board of B’tselem), his immediate response was, “You’re whitewashing the occupation.” Or to another friend who, finally giving into the evidence, responded, “It was still our fault. If there hadn’t been a settlement there this wouldn’t have happened.” Somehow it was our fault that they faked it and we’re getting demonized with it. More insight into masochistic omnipotence syndrome.

Her story ran on Nov.7, 2000, with a headline calling the probe “dubious.” To some, the piece seemed to portray one of the men behind the investigation, the physicist Nahum Shahaf, as eccentric, even weird. According to one critic, we “attacked him ferociously.”

If the history of “hit-jobs” in the media is done, the early 21st century will have a special place for the kind of aggressiveness with which the media themselves took the initiative (rather than taking direction from political interests) against people they didn’t like. The “conspiracy theory” that Charles derided became canonical at the hands of Anat Cygielman, who derided the whole affair.

If one thinks of this affair as a form of the emperor’s new clothes – except, here, the procession of an icon of hatred, rather than a silly naked emperor – then the court that falls in line is the journalists. Interesting to know the social framework in which this happened.

I plead guilty: I believed the initial story about al-Dura, and I was highly suspicious of the motivations of anyone attempting to disprove it.

This is pretty amazing courage in our day and age, and even more in this affair. As Anne-Elisabeth Moutet comments about the French scene (in the context of which one should understand a fair amount of Charles Enderlin’s behavior):

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

In my delineation of the characteristics of lethal journalism Middle-East style (Al Durah Journalism), I call this honor-shame journalism because the operative mechanism is, prefer public honor and private guilt to private integrity and public shame.

In this instance Israel’s supporters seemed excessively argumentative, politically motivated, even conspiratorial. (Shahaf had also investigated the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.)

Shahaf was an easy target. Even those who agree with him and learn from him find him difficult, and he’s definitely believes that what we are told is not what happened to Rabin.  But the “excessively argumentative” nature of the problem was in part because of the “et alors” reflex that was so frustrating to those who made the arguments.

But the “politically motivated” is the more telling remark: this was pervasive after Al Durah, especially in France, but really everywhere. Any Jew/Israeli who defended Israel had to be doing it because they were partisan. In France, accusations of communautarisme where so common that a number of people who were not Jewish, when they defended Israel to their co-citoyens, got the response: “Oh I didn’t know you were Jewish.” This atmosphere, in which, in the words of Shmuel Trigano, “a Jew cannot bear witness,” explains in part why it took so long for the French to even see, much less admit the growing wave of anti-Semitism, and why the phenomenon of alter-juifs – Jews who had had great success while hiding their Jewish identity, suddenly saying, “as a Jew, I must denounce Israel’s terrible deeds.”

If one defends oneself it must be from self-interest (i.e., right-wing politics). Automatically suspect. If one admits to one’s fault, one is noble. Of course no one, surprisingly not the French who pride themselves on their méfiance (skepticism/mistrust), wondered about the politics and self-serving communautarisme of the Arab Muslim community who was insisting on the truth of their lethal narratives. Highway to the auto-stupefaction of rekaB Street, and the reason that roosters on Global Warming are owls on Global Jihad, and vice-versa. In one case (right-wingers on Jihad) it’s opposing others, in the other, (left-wingers on Warming), it’s about criticizing ourselves.

Yet from the start, there were many unanswered questions. The footage wasn’t continuous and key moments — such as when the boy ostensibly is struck — aren’t shown.

Don’t forget the lack of ambulance evacuation scenes of either the father or the boy. Given how many scenes of ambulance evacuation were staged that day, how could a dozen cameraman – and especially Talal Abu Rahma – have missed filming a real, heartbreaking one?

There was also the case of the Israeli doctor who was cleared of defamation charges by a French court last year: He had been sued by Muhammad’s father, Jamal, for claiming that scars on Jamal’s body, allegedly caused by Israeli bullets, were caused many years before the incident.

Over time, with every new investigative report — there have been too many for me to keep track — and every new detail disclosed, my uneasiness has grown. Although I very much wanted to believe that Israel wasn’t at fault, I couldn’t overcome my suspicion about the attempts to clear its name. On the other hand, the original narrative had too many holes to ignore. 

Fascinating. Rossner says he wants to believe Israel is innocent, but the very fact that he might be motivated by that (apparently illegitimate) desire kept him from allowing himself to look at the powerful evidence that this terrible story about his own people was not true. Normally one is worried that partisan motives might make one ignore evidence, but in this case – and here we approach hyper-self-criticism – it that noble concern makes on ignore the evidence. Freud’s Moses and Monotheism has this quality to it, as Yosef Yerushalmi pointed out. It’s an one of the major “discontents” of assimilation according to Barry Rubin’s brilliant book.

And now the Israeli government’s new report claims the broadcast was “edited and narrated” in a misleading way. The voice-over says, for example, that “Jamal and his son Muhammad are the target of fire coming from the Israeli position” and then that “Muhammad is dead and his father badly hurt.” But according to the government report, “in the final scenes the boy is not dead.” In the last seconds of the footage, the “boy raises his arm” and “turns his head.”

And, according to the government report (and anyone else who’s examined the evidence), Enderlin had no, repeat no evidence to corroborate his cameraman’s claims about this coming from the Israeli position. (Indeed not once in any of the footage that Talal shot of the Israeli position before and during this sequence is there any sign of fire from there.)

Asked whether he might not have been hasty about this by Adi Schwartz for Haaretz, November 1, 2007, Enderlin responded: “what would they say in Gaza if I didn’t report that the Israelis killed him?” (The quote is absent in the English version of the article.)

And of course, while “the child does not die on camera” is the more radical statement about the footage reconsidered, the most fundamental part of the story as a lethal narrative, is the huge opening that Enderlin gave the demonizers by saying “target of fire coming from the Israeli position.”

Not that this solves the puzzle exactly, especially since the report’s authors didn’t interview Jamal or French TV executives, and they didn’t exhume Muhammad’s body for examination.

I agree the committee should have tried to interview Enderlin, Jamal and Talal (and anyone else present at Netzarim that day). I don’t think they would have come, not even Enderlin. But it’s not too late for an honest international inquiry. My guess is Enderlin knows his goose is cooked and will do anything to hamstring that initiative. It wouldn’t be the first time.

And yet my thinking has changed. I started out believing the dominant version of events largely because I was made skeptical by Israel’s attempts to save its skin;

Now there’s a double-bind, schizophrenigenic approach – the very fact that you are defending yourself leads me to reject your arguments.

now, I accept the possibility that the Israeli government’s take might be correct after all.

An intellectual! Someone capable of being convinced by empirical evidence.

This evolution brings me relief: I want to be able to trust what my government says. But that carries its own problem: what about my own motivations? Have I really been swayed by the new evidence, or am I finally giving in to a deep desire of letting Israel off the hook?

The only way to know is to explore further. The Al Durah evidence is only the beginning. The impact of this Icon of Hatred played in the dynamics of globalization – both the energizing of an apocalyptic death cult in the Muslim world and the paralysis of an ability to defend ourselves on the part of progressive forces in the West – and the school of lethal journalism (and lethal NGOism) that it empowered, still hold hegemony today among the major players in the Western public sphere. When the whole picture is considered, just as with the campaign of Jihadi suicide bombing, it inspired, the Al Durah icon of hatred ultimately hurt Muslims far more than Israel, its ostensible target.

I tweeted the Al Durah forgery has hurt the Arab world more than any other society, by injecting them with a death cult, acknowledging that fake can awaken from arab nightmare to a visitor from Egypt. His response:

Indeed, I believe so too. I chatted with people from Gaza and the West Bank. They are sick of the status quo and want peace.

Dafrawi_Twitter_Exchange

Emad el Dafrawi is just the kind of person we’d like to believe is among the “vast majority” of really moderate and humane Muslims and who is (accordingly?) in grave danger.

Al Durah’s the red pill. And tackling it is the road out of rekaB Street and on to recovery: Want to wake up and figure out what’s going on? Take it.

Memes of Lethal Journalism: “So What if it’s Fake, It Bespeaks a Higher Truth” (Adam Rose version)

Among the most common memes with which lethal journalists respond to evidence that they’ve been circulating false stories, is to argue that it’s symbolic of an actual truth.

The most chilling expression of that attitude came from a PA TV official who was responsible for inserting into the footage of the original footage a picture of an Israeli soldier firing (rubber bullets at a riot in Nazereth  caused by the airing of Abu Rahma’s footage and his narrative) in such a way as to show that the Israeli soldiers targeted and killed him in cold blood.


Note the music. Palestinian TV’s news is often presented with music to stir emotions.

When Esther Schapira confronted the official at PA TV on the matter he responded as follows:


“These are forms of artistic presentations, but all this serves to convey the truth and explain a specific event. We never forget our higher journalistic principle to which we are committed of relating the truth and nothing but the truth.”

Nothing illustrates the gap between Palestinian and Israeli journalism better than this statement. Alas, the evidence from the Augean Stables is that much of this has infiltrated the Western press, producing the dominance of the Lethal School of Journalism, especially in the Middle East.

Among the best discussions of this issue in the context of Al Durah is by historian Jeff Weintraub. Knowing well the history of the Stalinist period, he is able to identify this kind of thinking as typically totalitarian (it’s also true of Hitler’s attitude towards the Protocols of the Elders of Zion). He directly addresses the classic of the variety, Adam Rose’s response to Fallows piece in The Atlantic (the piece that put me on the trail of the fake).

MONDAY, MAY 20, 2013

“The Truth of Mohammed al-Dura” – If iconic imagery makes for powerful propaganda, should we treat questions of historical truth or falsehood as irrelevant?


(One of many stamps in the Arab world commemorating the martyrdom of Mohammed al-Dura. For more, see here.)

Some people have argued, explicitly or in effect, that we should indeed treat those factual questions as mere distractions from the ‘deeper truth’ conveyed by such images. I disagree. I think that kind of perspective is both mistaken and pernicious.

I happened to be reminded of an e-mail exchange on these issues that I had with someone named Adam Rose back in 2003. The focus of that discussion was a world-famous incident during the Second Intifada in 2000, the explosion of violence that erupted after the breakdown of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks between Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat. A Palestinian boy, Mohammed al-Dura, was allegedly killed by sustained fire from Israeli troops at a Gaza checkpoint while he cowered for protection behind his father against a wall, eventually dying in his father’s arms. A televised portrayal of his death, filmed by a Palestinian cameraman and broadcast by the French news service France2, inflamed public opinion across the Arab world and beyond.

That passionate reaction was understandable, since this looked like the deliberate and gratuitously sadistic murder of a helpless and totally unthreatening child by Israeli soldiers. As James Fallows pointed out at the beginning of a careful analysis of this incident that he published in 2003, “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. [….] 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.” [….]

As Fallows explained in his article, it was already clear in 2003 that however Mohammed al-Dura died, he was almost certainly not killed by gunfire from the Israeli checkpoint.  Fallows correctly observed:  “The evidence will not change Arab minds—but the episode offers an object lesson in the incendiary power of an icon.”

Since then, a long series of legal proceedings in France, during which France2 was compelled to divulge significant portions of the raw footage from which the televised broadcast was edited, have raised even more troubling questions. It turns out that many of the claims made by France2 about that raw footage were dishonest and misleading, and the footage itself looks very fishy. In the end, it is not even clear whether Mohammed al-Dura (or another boy) actually died in that incident, and no solid evidence has ever been produced to confirm that this occurred. It seems possible, at least, that the whole thing was a brilliantly effective hoax. (If so, that would leave open the question of whether France2 consciously participated in this hoax or else—which I suspect is more likely—was taken in along with everyone else, in part because the version of the story that they televised fit their preconceptions.)

These and other factual issues remain highly contentious. But many people are not even aware that the original version of the story has been effectively debunked, and continue to assume that it is true. And for other people, pursuing these factual questions is ultimately irrelevant and even unseemly, since it can only distract attention from the truly fundamental point—the unjust and oppressive Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, and Israel’s brutal and repressive treatment of the Palestinians more generally.

=> Are those people right? In August 2003, via the e-mail list of Chicago Peace Now, I was alerted to a piece which made that argument explicitly: “The Truth of Mohammed al-Dura: A Response to James Fallows“.

An interesting perspective regarding the death of Mohammed al-Dura from Adam Rose for all of you.

I responded:

Thanks for passing along this piece by Adam Rose, but I cannot resist one comment.

Rose sums up the thrust of his argument well at the beginning of his piece:

Whether or not a particular 12-year-old boy died at the hands of Israeli soldiers, the image of Mohammed al-Dura is an authentic symbol of the Israeli occupation.

He elaborates later in the piece:

This points to the second and larger problem with Fallows’s argument: his narrow and incomplete understanding of “truth”. From Fallows’s perspective, the truth that matters is who shot Mohammed al-Dura and the truth is either that he was shot by Israelis or that he was not and the Israelis were framed. And, of course, in one sense this is right and important. But there is another, even more important truth of the matter connected to its symbolic nature. And it is this symbolic truth that Fallows completely misconstrues.

This is indeed an “interesting perspective,” but it is hardly new or original. In fact, it’s quite familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of 20th-century politics. It’s a typically Stalinist position on the question of historical and political “truth,” which received its most notorious “philosophical” justification in Merleau-Ponty’s appalling bookHumanism and Terror, and was expressed (and applied) in more vulgar practical forms by people like Zhdanov and legions of hardworking ordinary propagandists. That is, petty and superficial questions of empirical “truth” or “falsehood” are meaningless or trivial by comparison with the “deeper” truths of the basic, overriding struggle between revolution and counter-revolution. In fact, obsessing about these supposed “factual” questions (rather than focusing on the “more important truth of the matter connected to its symbolic nature,” as Rose forthrightly puts it) is not just trivial and misleading, but “objectively” reactionary or even fascist.

Thus, Comrade Fallows’s mistake is clear. He has fallen into the typically petty-bourgeois fallacy of what used to be called “empiricism”. As Lukacs would have explained to poor Fallows, his thinking needs to be more “concrete”—that is, whether or not Mohammed al-Dura happened to be brutally murdered by Israeli soldiers in some narrow “factual” sense has no bearing on the “more important truth” that this image (not the image of his death, but the image of his deliberate murder by Israeli soldiers) is nevertheless an “authentic” symbol of the Israeli occupation. Since this image is “authentic” (in the sense of its larger “symbolic truth,” which is obviously the “more important truth of the matter”), it’s absurd to get hung up on whether or not the event in question actually happened.

As Leszek Kolakowski once argued in a penetrating essay on “Totalitarianism and the Virtue of the Lie”, the real innovation of Stalinist political culture in this regard was not its tendency to base politics on lies (which is, alas, a very widespread and ordinary practice with a long history), but rather its systematic effort to undermine the whole sense that there was any meaningful or legitimate distinction between “truth” and “lies” in any empirical sense. (Some non-Stalinists who grasped this innovation, such as Goebbels, praised and admired it.) This effort was embodied most powerfully in the everyday operations of totalitarian political regimes, but it also required more sophisticated justifications by people like Lukacs and Merleau-Ponty and a host of less prominent thinkers and propagandists (many of whom were not Stalinists themselves, but rather fellow-travelers, admirers, and/or imitators).

(And by the way, to head off a rather common straw man in advance: This goes well beyond the important and illuminating recognition that our understandings of the world are unavoidably shaped by differing perspectives informed by different conceptual and symbolic frameworks, often rooted in different experiences and influenced by different interests. All of that is profoundly true and important, but it does not necessarily mean that we should give up any effort to distinguish in principle between trying to tell the truth and deliberate lying.)

I don’t know whether you ever happened to see an interesting mid-1960s movie by Godard, “La Chinoise”. The protagonists are a small cell of student “Maoists” in France. In one episode of the film, one of them recounts, with great admiration and enthusiasm, a news story about some Chinese students who had recently returned from Moscow to China, against the backdrop of the intensifying Sino-Soviet ideological conflict. They came off the plane with their heads wrapped in bandages–the result, they explained to waiting journalists, of the brutal beatings they had received from Soviet police (which in turn were the result and expression of the anti-revolutionary “revisionism” of the Soviet regime). The Chinese students talked about these beatings, and their injuries, at some length. Then they unwrapped the bandages, which revealed that they actually had no injuries. The French student telling the story commented that the journalists, who were startled by this, were too stupid to understand the point. They were hung up on the superficial fact that there were no injuries–and thus, presumably, no brutal beatings. As Adam Rose could have explained to them, they had entirely missed “the more important truth of the matter connected to its symbolic nature.” The question of whether or not these particular beatings occurred was quite beside the point. Even if they hadn’t taken place, the “more important truth” was that these beatings—and the whole imagery of the Chinese students’ injuries, their bandages, etc.—nevertheless constituted “an authentic symbol” of the revisionism and counter-revolutionary brutality of the Soviet regime.

=> Yes, this is an “interesting perspective,” which has often been used with great ingenuity and even perverse brilliance—often with good intentions and idealistic agendas, too. But I think the political history of the past century shows that it has some serious drawbacks as well. For this and other reasons, it’s not a perspective that I find convincing or attractive … and, to be perfectly honest, I tend to find its current manifestations (often presented in “post-modern” or “post-structuralist” guises) ridiculous and/or alarming … and sometimes despicable and morally irresponsible as well.

Yours in struggle,
Jeff Weintraub

P.S. On balance, I mostly disagree with the substance of what Rose has to say in this piece, but he does bring up some valid (or partly valid, or potentially valid) points. However, they could have been developed more usefully and effectively without putting them in the overall framework of a perspective which argues that the “artistic truth” of images that vividly confirm what you already “know” (i.e., that represent and reinforce widely held prejudices) is more important than trying to figure out what actually happened.

————————————————–
Adam Rose replied (and I should let him have his say):

Subject: Re: [peacenowchicago] “The Truth of Mohammed al-Dura”
From: Adam Rose
To: Jeff Weintraub , Peace Now
Date: Thu 7 Aug 2003 09:19:46 -0500

Jeff:

As the author of the piece in question, I read your comments with great interest and would like to offer the following response.

1) Whatever the possible connections with Stalinism, etc., the distinction between symbolic and historical truth has both an honorable pedigree and excellent reputation in many modern circles. With respect to the former, I tried to show, for example, that Aristotle (who I presume is still in high standing–or at least not to be simply tarred and dismissed as a Stalinist) both recognized the distinction and held symbolic (or “poetic”) truth in higher esteem in historical truth. I further tried to show that this distinction is commonly found useful in considering works of art. After all, how is one to think about the “truth” of “fiction” (works that are absolutely false in the historical sense)?

From this perspective, a representation of an event can have one of four possible “truth values”:

symbolic     historical
1) TRUE    TRUE
2) TRUE     FALSE
3) FALSE   TRUE
————————
4) FALSE   FALSE

In cases 1 and 3, there is a historically-true representation–the event depicted “really happened”. In cases 1 and 2, there is a symbolically-true representation–the event depicted “commonly/typically/always happens” and the representation is not so much of an event as of event-type and the event-type is true even if the specific event is not.

As I tried to show, these distinctions are commonly (and reasonably, I think) invoked in analyses of “historically-dubious” representations. Thus, truth of Shakespeare’s Macbeth is generally acknowledged not to be its historic truth (whatever connection it may have to the historic truth about the historic figure Macbeth). Rather, the truth of Shakespeare’s Macbeth — like all tragedy — is generally considered to be its symbolic truth, the sense that it conveys that “there but for the grace of God go I (or perhaps: “I’m never going to fall into THAT trap!”).

Although I didn’t mention it in the essay, such distinctions are also commonly used in considerations of the Bible and other scriptures. After all, it turns out that many of the events depicted may not be historically-true, starting with Creation and running through Moses and the exodus to the resurrection of Jesus. Rather than dismiss a historically-false Bible as a fraud of no value, many people (including many non-Stalinists) consider the symbolic truth of the events depicted to be of great value. From this perspective the Moses in the Bible is seen as akin to the Macbeth in Shakespeare’s play.

2) As I said in my essay none of this is to say that I (or Aristotle or anyone else) deny the importance of historical truth. Of course it matters what “really happened”. On the other hand, it is also important to keep the relevance of historical truth in perspective — just as it is important to keep the relevance of symbolic truth in perspective.

In the case of Mohammed al-Dura, I think it is fair to say that most people exercised by the image/incident don’t give a damn about the actual boy. And in some ways, rightly so. One individual tragedy is just one individual tragedy and the world is full of those–too full for people to empathize with all of them. Moreover, if such an event were believed/known to be unique or unusual–like a freak earthquake or a child falling down a well–it would not have resonated so strongly on all sides.

Rather it is the symbolic truth–the belief / knowledge that the al-Dura image depicts an event-type–that exercises everyone (including the Israelis bent on disproving the historical truth of the incident). But because of widespread misunderstanding, almost everyone THINKS it is the historical truth that is critically important. Thus all the energy to prove or disprove the historical truth of the incident. In short, in the wider sense of world politics, etc., harsh as it may sound, the historical truth of the death of one boy is meaningless–however it occurred–to everyone on all sides of the issue.

What matters is whether the depiction of al-Dura’s death represents a genuine event-type–an event-type of small Palestinian boys armed with rocks at most being killed by larger Israeli boys armed with the most sophisticated weaponry available. And as I argued in the essay, there is a wealth of valid historically-true evidence (from B’Tselem and many others) that this event-type exists. Thus I think the case here is quite different from “La Chinoise” as you describe it.

Although I am generally wary of invoking the Holocaust, I think the case of Anne Franks is instructive here. On some brutal level, nobody gives a damn about the terrorization and death of one girl. What make her story so compelling is that it is taken as representative of the terrorization and deaths of thousands and millions and it is the system designed and implemented to create thousands and millions of Anne Franks that is truly horrifying. Now suppose the Diary of Anne Frank had been written as a work of fiction or that it turned out her father or others tinkered with the text or even fabricated it outright, would it tell us less about the horror of that system? Would it make the diary any less a “Tomb of the Unknown Jewish Children” who died invisibly (in contrast to “Anne Frank” whose death has been made visible to us)? In short, would it have anything to do at all with whether or not there was or was not a genuine “Anne Frank event-type” and whether the Diary was an authentic symbol of that event-type?

In some ways, of course, the answer is “yes”. But in many, many ways, the answer is “no”. And I think it is important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

(FOR THE RECORD: I AM NOT SAYING HERE THAT THE OCCUPATION IS THE EQUIVALENT OF THE HOLOCAUST IN ANY WAY. JUST THAT IT PROVIDES A PARALLEL EXAMPLE THAT JEWS AND THOSE SYMPATHETIC TO THEM ARE LIKELY TO EMPATHIZE WITH.)

From an opposite perspective, the assassination of JFK is equally instructive. In this case there really is no symbolic truth of the matter. JFK’s death does NOT represent the death of many others. People really mourn the particular, individual man and the historical facts of who killed him are critical–including whether or not shots were fired from the “grassy knoll”.

The revisionist analysis of Mohammed al-Dura tries to treat the event a JFK-type event, when it is really an Anne Frank-type event.

3) All of this seems to come to a head in the issue of what it takes to make “the Arabs” believe that “the Israelis/Jews” are “boy-killers”. Fallows’s piece suggests that “the Arabs” have no good reason for thinking this. On the contrary, he suggests they think what they want to think regardless of the evidence. Yet as I tried to show, they DO have the evidence. We all do, if we want to see it.

In your concluding remark on my piece you write:

P.S. On balance, I mostly disagree with the substance of what Rose has to say in this piece, but he does bring up some valid (or partly valid, or potentially valid) points. However, they could have been developed more usefully and effectively without putting them in the overall framework of a perspective which argues that the “artistic truth” of images that vividly confirm what you already “know” (i.e., that represent and reinforce widely held prejudices) is more important than trying to figure out what actually happened.

As I have argued in my essay and here, what the Arabs “know” is NOT simply widely-held prejudice (though of course it may be reinforced by that). And it is the blithe dismissal / delegitimization of this knowledge that I object to first and foremost.

If there is a de facto Israeli policy of creeping annexation,
If there is a de facto Israeli policy of “breaking” the Palestinians,
If there is a de facto Israeli policy of predation,
If Israel has both killed over 366 Palestinian minors and given every indication that such deaths are important only insofar as they contribute to the achievement of Israeli policy —

If all of this is true then the event-type depicted in the image of Mohammed al-Dura is also true. And on the world-historical level, it is the truth this event-type that really matters and that attention should be focused on. Everything else is smoke and mirrors. (Something that I understand Stalin was quite good at.)

Adam Rose

P.S. If you or others are interested, a formatted copy of the essay, complete with pictures, can be downloaded and printed from www.supportsanity.org (PDF 1.2 MB).

—————————————-
I responded in turn:

Hi Adam,

Thanks for your response to my remarks, which was serious, thoughtful, and (under the circumstances) quite temperate. I am getting at my e-mail only intermittently these days, so I just saw your message, and I can offer only a quick and incomplete counter-response.

You will probably not be surprised to learn that I am not really convinced, but let me restate some of the reasons why I feel that way.  To put it too briefly: I have no problem, in principle, with recognizing some kind of distinction between “historical” and “poetic” truth (for reasons that Aristotle, Kenneth Burke, and various others have suggested in various ways). (Despite my harsh words about Lukacs, I even think there is something insightful and potentially illuminating about his notion of “typical” as opposed to merely “average” or “naturalistic” representations.) The key question is how these concepts are used, or misused.  In particular, artistic representations that present themselves as fiction should be judged by different standards from stories, arguments, images, and other forms of communication and representation that claim to be factually true.

As for those pieces of “knowledge” that you list toward the end of your message (“If there is a de facto Israeli policy of creeping annexation” etc.) … I think someone who “knows” those things is in fact correct, and absolutely nothing I said implies “blithe dismissal / delegitimization of this knowledge”. In my opinion, that’s a red herring.

On the other hand, if someone “knows” that the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories is defined fundamentally and essentially by the deliberate and gratuitously sadistic murder of unarmed civilians, including the murder of helpless and completely unthreatening children “for sport”—the supposed “truth” that you say is conveyed by the image of Mohammed al-Dura’s martyrdom and the way it has been interpreted—then I would submit that they’re wrong … and that reinforcing and endorsing that particular belief is not just mistaken but pernicious and destructive.  In my opinion, that crosses the line between legitimate (or plausible) criticism and condemnation of Israeli policies and actions to hysterical and indiscriminate demonization of Israel and Israelis.  That kind of demonization is all too common in the world today, and endorsing and reinforcing it is both and unwise and reprehensible.  The results, in practice, have been disastrous for both Israelis and Palestinians.  At least, that is my strong and considered opinion.

In that crucial sense, “the image of Mohammed al-Dura” is not “an authentic symbol of the Israeli occupation.”  And if the specific story conveyed by that particular image isn’t even factually accurate, then that’s an additional problem.

Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub

POSTED BY JEFF WEINTRAUB AT 10:35 AM 

 

Charles Enderlin: The Epitome of Lethal Journalism

With al Durah, we have a case of footage uncensored by authorities coming out of a conflict in which the allegedly repressive regime — the Israelis — provides the most welcoming atmosphere of freedom for journalists. These journalists repay the Israelis for their tolerance by running Pallywood footage staged by the Palestinians, specifically designed to provoke outrage. And in the case of Muhammad al Durah, the boy behind the barrel at Netzarim Junction on September 30, 2000, the footage was not only staged, but, thanks to the efforts of France2’s Middle East correspondent, Charles Enderlin, it made it around the world with the imprimatur of Western Mainstream media. In short order, it became an icon of hatred, provoking outrage, hatred and violence against both Jews and Israelis — the first blood(less) libel of the 21st century.

Read More

Memes of Lethal Journalism: “What does it matter who Killed the Boy?” (Arad Nir version)

One of the patterns of lethal journalism as practiced by Western journalists is first to inject the public sphere with a lethal narrative as news, engendering hatred and violence against the target of that narrative, and then, when it turns out to be false, say, “What does it matter?”  This has come up recently since the Kuperwasser Report, which, since it’s a meme, is not surprising. Here is an earlier example, with my comments. It’s a good insight into the working of the “progressive” Israeli mind.

What Does It Matter Who Killed the Child? 

Here’s a translation (thanks to LB) of an op-ed piece by Arad Nir (head of the foreign affairs desk at Channel 2) in Yediot Aharonot (Israel’s largest circulation newspaper). It illustrates how strong the “it doesn’t matter who shot him, the death of a child is tragic” trope is in Israeli opinion-forming circles. For those who might not be familiar with Israeli progressive “moral” thinking, this is as good as any introduction.

All the Children are like Yours

Arad Nir
October 3, 2007

What difference does it make which side is guilty in the death of Muhammad al Durah? There is no justice in the death of a child?

Had he not wandered with his father into a miserable gunfight between Israeli forces and Palestinians in which his life was cut short, Muhammad al-Dura would have marked his 19th birthday this year. Had Muhammad and his father stayed at home that day, or chosen to go elsewhere, al-Dura would today be roaming the streets of Gaza and helping in his family’s livelihood. Maybe he would be a student, an activist in Fatah, or even a Hamas member in a Qassam-launching squad. But, in his death that was documented by the camera of the television network France2, little Muhammad changed into the flag-bearer of the intifada. With his choosing it, he became a symbol for his countrymen who will forever remain 12 years old.

Not only is Arad sure that the boy got killed on film, but he has accepted the narrative surrounding the footage he has yet to examine carefully. The evidence of the rushes — which Arad has apparenty not viewed (does he want to?) — formally contradicts the story that the father and son “wandered into a miserable gunfight between Israeli forces and Palestinians…” The AP and Reuter’s footage suggest he was behind the barrel with his father before the “gunfight” started.

Since the photographs were broadcast almost seven years ago, a series of experts and organizations took it upon themselves to prove that the death of al-Dura was not caused as a result of Israeli fire. Courts in France and Israel have been involved with this episode for years (and in the meantime support the network’s position) and now we receive news that even the Director of the Government Press Office, Daniel Seaman, gave an opinion and determined that “the employees of the France2 television network did not uphold (in their report) basic journalistic principles.” He accuses the cameraman Talal Abu-Rahma of “intentional staging and the creation of a libel against the State of Israel.”

I am certain that the head of the Government Press Office of the State of Israel is not accusing the cameraman and the television network of staging the death of al-Dura. Otherwise, surely he would not have deliberated whether to revoke the credentials of the journalists from the network, rather would have immediately lodged a complaint with the police. Instead, the head of the GPO accuses the journalists of a systematic (or intentional) report that implicates the israeli forces.

Sarcasm aside, this is one of Enderlin’s favorite lines. If the Israelis even suspected that he or Talal had done something wrong, they’d have taken away their press credentials. It’s a facetious argument, but a brilliant bluff. Both of them are protected by public opinion, and short of a court decision, the Israeli government would not move. The whole ploy plays brilliantly on the difference between a profoundly timid, intimidated Israeli government (they act like dhimmis to the MSM) and the perception of the Israelis as “no-nonsense” tough guys.

In response, the bereaved father, Jamal, declared that he was not able to shield his son, that he is ready for them to open the grave in order to check from which rifles the bullets were fired that brought about his son’s death and made his life eternally miserable.

What? This is nonsense. Doesn’t Arad know that digging up the body won’t show which rifles shot the bullets that killed his son? Are there supposed to be bullets in the grave? Did the Palestinian doctors leave them inside the body? Is that why no one has ever seen the bullets that allegedly struck the boy and the father a dozen times? Does it matter that the “bullet” claim is all bluff and that Esther Schapira caught Talal in the bluff? Or does Arad Nir know all this and doesn’t care?

Philippe Karsenty does a great imitation of trying to show MSNM folks the evidence. “There are no bullets.” “Et alors? [so what?].” There’s no blood. Et alors? In the final scene he lifts up his head and looks around. Et alors? They shout the boy is dead the boy is dead before he’s even “hit.” Et alors? And so on…

And I ask — why does it matter?

Muhammad a-Dura was caught with his father in an impossible position without anyone having intended it. Muhammad and his father left home together. Muhammad did not return. He was killed in a gun battle without him holding a rifle. Without him choosing this bullet or another. Abu Rahma’s camera was there and thus turned this casualty into a symbol.

Does it even matter to Arad that this may be all wrong? Does he care whether there were people who intended for him to be in the “impossible position”? Does it matter that he may not have died, and if he did, it wasn’t in a gun battle? Does he care that the the only identifiable bullets hitting the wall or leaving marks on it came from a Palestinian position? Does it matter that in order for those bullets not to be he product of Palestinian sharpshooter’s aiming at the wall over the al Durahs’ heads, these same riflemen would have had to have missed their mark by 80 degrees? Does he care whether abu Rahmah’s camera — and his alone out of the dozens that were there that day — was not there by accident. Does it matter that the symbol Talal’s tape and narrative turned this “event” into was a devastating blood libel that has poisoned the globe and the century?

Or is the narrative just too appealing to let go of, even for one of its intended victims?

Muhammad, like the many other victims- both Israeli and Palestinian- before and after him, will no longer be able to choose what to do in his life. His parents will not be able to see him mature and fulfill their dreams or compromise on his own. Muhammad is a victim of this protracted war regardless of who fired the particular bullet that caused his death.

I’m sorry. These sentiments baffle me. What on earth does this mean? Is this moral equivalence? Somehow that there’s no difference between the arsonist and the firefighter? Does it matter that the Palestinians started the gunfight (even Charles Enderlin admits that)?

Does Arad think he’s being morally grand here? “The death of a child is, in and of itself so terrible that blame is irrelevant.”

But the Palestinians do nothing but blame. They feed their hatreds, poison their children, dream of genocide, and justify their addiction to violence with their blaming. They stage blood libels in order to blame Israel and turn her into an international pariah. And the Israelis say, “it doesn’t matter”?!?

Muhammad will always remain a symbol because, as opposed to thousands of other victims, he was killed in front of the television cameras.

Now doesn’t that tell you something? Don’t you realize that Muhammad al Durah is not the symbol you think he is — the tragedy of children killed in war — but a symbol of Israel’s Nazi-like beastiality? Or, as Osama bin Laden put it:

It is as if Israel – and those backing it in America – have killed all the children in the world.

Does any of this matter? Do you care about the terrible consequences of being merciful to the cruel? That many more children will die because the men with the murderous agenda meet moral idiots who think they show their big hearts in letting them run roughshod over us, manipulating our sensibilities and churning out their child-sacrifices? I don’t believe for a minute that Arad Nir is as promiscuously exculpatory when it’s a matter of Israeli behavior: Imagine him responding to the question: “Who killed the people at Beit Hanoun?” with “What does it matter?”

From the two sides the muzzles of the rifles ejected bursts of cursed bullets. It does not matter if the fatal bullet was fired from the rifle of an Israeli soldier or from the weapon of a Palestinian fighter — there is no justification for the death of a child!

Bad poetry is no excuse for moral idiocy. Talk to the Palestinians, and they’ll not only justify the death of a child – no problem – but they’ll justify killing children, and even justify killing their own children. What kind of solipsistic moral world do you live in that you think these glorious sentiments mean anything to the foe you face?

Would that the energies invested in the argument over the angles of the fire and the source of the bullets be directed to other places that will enable a better future for this life.

All the Marshall Plans in the world won’t solve this until we get clear on where the source of the never-ending belligerency comes from. Only when we learn to identify the myriad ways in which Arab “strong” men eagerly sacrifice their own people in pursuit of their chimerical vendetta against modernity, can we begin to enable a better future for this life. I’d say measuring those angles and following the trail of deception are excellent ways to begin to understand and respond effectively to the toxins that right now blind our vision and roil the hearts of violent men the world over.

Principled Dupedom: On the Moral Imperative to be Stupid

I place this post in the Al Durah Journalist category because although it belongs also in Evidence, it’s most important contribution is an analysis of what’s going on with the lethal journalists who got caught up in the hysterical credulity among journalists in the wake of Al Durah.

Principled Dupedom: On the Moral Imperative to be Stupid, Augean Stables, April 18, 2013

One of the major weaknesses of Westerners in the current cognitive war with Islamic imperialism is a seemingly boundless commitment to being fooled. It’s almost as if, on principle, we need to accept lies from the other side as true, lest we be accused of being racist. There are two aspects to this, one, an honor-shame reflex that worries primarily about what others think of us (i.e., we’re not racist, but we’re worried others will think us so), and another, that spending our time suspecting others of deception strikes many of us (justifiably) as a huge waste of time. First let me go over some key examples here, and then come back to these two points.

Exhibit A: Andrea Koppel and the “Jenin Massacre.” During the period that the Israeli army conducted Operation Defensive Shield, reports came from Palestinian sources, especially from Saeb Erakat, accusing Israel of massacring over 500 innocent civilians in “execution-style” murders and burying them in mass graves. It turns out that, not only were they exaggerated, they were invented out of whole cloth. In fact, Israel sacrificed 21 soldiers in an operation that went from door to door in order to avoid civilian casualties and, in the end, of the 56 Palestinian casualties, the great majority were combatants. In other words, the situation was precisely the opposite of what the Palestinians claimed and the press reported an inversion of reality. In the middle of these events and reports, David Bloomberg reported witnessing the following exchange in Tel Aviv between Andrea Koppel, daughter of Ted, and reporter for CNN, and Adam Ruskin, an American-born Israeli:

While we [Bloomberg and Koppel] were chatting, an American-born Israeli joined us to tell Andrea about his perception of media distortion in that the press that stresses moral equivalence between Israeli civilian deaths caused by Palestinian terror and Palestinian civilian deaths caused by Israeli military actions. He argued that Israel has tried to engage in a peace process since Camp David and has been double-crossed over and over by the Palestinian Authority. Further, he argued the civilian deaths caused by Palestinians are intentional, whereas the deaths caused by Israel are mostly the tragic, unintentional results caused by Israel trying to defend itself.

Andrea replied, “So when Israeli soldiers slaughter civilians in Jenin, that is not equivalent?”

Israeli: “What are your sources? Were you in Jenin? How exactly do you know there was a slaughter?”

Andrea: “I just spoke with my colleagues who were there, and they told me of the slaughter.”

Israeli: “Did they actually see the shooting, the bodies?”

Andrea: “Palestinians told us about the slaughter.”

Israeli: “And you believe them without evidence. Could they possibly be lying and distorting facts.”

Andrea: “Oh, so now they are all just lying??” [sic]

The Israeli became emotional in describing that his children are afraid, his friends have been murdered, and if this goes on, “We could lose our lives or we could lose our country.”

Andrea, “Yes, you will lose your country.”

At this point, I interrupted the two of them and asked Andrea Koppel, “Did I just hear you correctly– that you believe the current crisis will lead to the destruction of the State of Israel?”

Andrea: “Yes, I believe we are now seeing the beginning of the end of Israel.”

Koppel later denied this report, which led to reponses by both Bloomberg and Ruskin. I think the latter two are telling the accurate story for a number of reasons, including the nature of their recollections. I think, however, that it illustrates the huge gap between the kind of Al Durah Journalism that was already dominant among the media stationed in Israel, and the residual ethical commitments of the mainstream news media to proper journalistic procedure.

In an unguarded moment, Koppel spoke like so many of her colleagues on the scene, not merely adopting Palestinian lethal narratives uncritically, but adopting the Palestinian “moral” narrative aimed at the destruction of the state of Israel. Once reported to her superiors in the USA, not yet overcome by the disorientation of the journalists on the scene, she quickly backtracked, trying to deny what she had said, forcing Bloomberg to reveal the name of his other protagonist for corroboration.

What interests me most in this exchange is the remark with which Koppel replied to the possibility Ruskin raised about whether her Palestinian sources might be lying: “Oh, so now they are all just lying??” This reply exemplifies the politically-correct attitude that rejects accusations that Palestinians lie, with the implied (“they… all”) that somehow it’s prejudiced, even racist to accuse Palestinians of lying.

This is pure liberal cognitive egocentrism, in which we are not allowed to pay attention to cultural differences. There are cultures in which lying (especially to outsiders) is openly embraced as a virtue. Motivations range from the purely self-interested (giving directions when you don’t know just to save face and not admit ignorance), to malice (deliberately misleading an outsider because you don’t like outsiders) to waging war.

Taqiyya goes well beyond Shias protecting themselves from Sunni oppressors, and involves extensive disinformation to infidels, especially in cases of covert Jihad. Those among the shabab who play Pallywood would laugh at some Westerner’s rebuke that it’s “not right” to do such things.

So why do we, as a matter of principle, refuse to consider the possibility (high likelihood) that we’re being lied to by our “Palestinian sources”? Because it makes us feel like good, decent, honorable human beings who believe that everyone is like us? Or, more darkly, because it gives us narratives that make us feel emotions we welcome, moral superiority to and even revulsion at Israeli behavior? After all, the same journalists who are principled dupes to Palestinian lies have no problem accusing the Israelis are lying and propaganda.

Exhibit B: Muhammad al Durah One of the more fascinating aspects of the al Durah Affair concerns the attitude towards Talal’s testimony. It lies at the heart of the matter, since he’s the one to claim a) that the Israelis fired continuously for over 40 minutes, targeting the boy, and b) that the boy died before his camera.

Enderlin based his report on this testimony, and all subsequent accounts follow his narrative, if not in its extreme form – cold blooded murder – at the very minimum, in his claim that the boy died on camera. Indeed, the power of this footage, its riveting quality, and the inability of people to view it as anything but the scene of a boy dying under a hail of bullets, all traces back to Talal’s first claim.

The widespread reluctance of people who have seen the full evidence to go any farther than stating that the Israelis most likely did not kill him, stems from a double resistance to a) seeing Talal (and the Palestinian street) as deliberate liars, and b) seeing Charles Enderlin (and the journalist’s street) as dupes to so obvious a fake. I personally think the “conspiracy theory” is actually (in a addition to being Charles Enderlin’s only effective defense), an unconscious admission on the part of those who accept Enderlin’s version that only some massive conspiracy involving the staffs of both Shifa Hospital in Gaza City and the King Hussein Hospital in Jordan as well as even the king himself (who allegedly – in these matters one never knows – gave blood to Jamal), and all the journalists who stepped in line… ridiculous. Therefore it couldn’t be a fake. QED.

The alternative is to imagine the possibility that a) cooperation with the fake was widely received, even by people who hadn’t been brought in to start (e.g., the Jordanians), and b) the number of willing dupes was numberless, including so many of the journalists who didn’t bother to ask any hard questions.

Exhibit A: Susan Goldenberg, writing for the Guardian, comes to the site, observes a dozen bullet holes behind the barrel, some so close to the barrel they could not have come from the Israeli position, all with direct entry trajectories rather than the 30 degree angle they would have had coming from the Israelis, and not nearly enough to corroborate Talal’s claim that the Israelis were firing “bullets like rain” for over 40 minutes, and concludes:

[T]he 12-year-old boy and his father were deliberately targeted by Israeli soldiers.

Exhibit B: Robert Fisk, who didn’t even need to show up to conclude:

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.

While I don’t think that the entire field of Middle-East journalism was committed to the kind of lethal journalism here illustrated, I think that after the al Durah story broke, the rest of the field either got in line, or, perhaps more depressingly, did not dare to say a word.

Rumors have it that Talal sent his footage to Mike Hannah at CNN (not sure of the timing here, since he was allegedly – I trust Enderlin on nothing in this story – on the phone to Enderlin during the day), and Hannah told him he wouldn’t run it. This story makes a great deal of sense: Hannah wouldn’t turn down a story as explosive as this unless he had strong suspicions it was faked (as was most footage of clashes between Israelis and Palestinians at that time: it’s one thing to run fake footage of minor injuries, another to run the on-camera death of a child). He, like I think anyone not under the spell of the desire to see a dead child would, looked at the footage and thought: “There’s no way I can run this footage. Way too many holes in this story, critics will tear it to pieces.”

Enderlin’s “genius” was to realize that if he packaged this right, gave everyone in the JCS building a copy of the footage, and warned everyone they were about to see something terrible, he could create a stampede in which, eventually, even CNN would run the story. And he was right. Shades of Charlie Sheen creating a run on Wall Street.

Maybe I’m missing something here, but I think the widespread belief that Muhammad al Durah died on camera is obviously false, and the fact that the Enderlin cut it from his news report, is virtually an open and shut case against the “boy died on camera” claim.

“Take 6” in which the boy, rather than clutch his stomach wound, holds his hand over his eye, slowly lifts up his elbow, looks out and slowly lowers his elbow, lifting up his feet in counter-weight. Enderlin explained that he cut the footage because, as the boy’s death throes, it was too painful for the audience to see. The “audience” can judge whether this looks like the spasmodic death throes of a child, or deliberate and controlled actions.

When asked by Esther Schapira why he called the boy dead while showing earlier footage when he’s clearly not dead, Enderlin responded:

“I’m very sorry but the fact is the boy died. Maybe not at the precise moment I showed. But this is how I do a story. ‘The boy is dead’ is a statement. What’s your problem with that?”

And the fact that every news station that got the footage from Endlerlin did not find this final scene suspicious and use it to question Enderlin’s account, means that, far from a serious independent work, the Middle Eastern desks lined up behind their colleague, even though the damage caused by this footage was immediately evident. As Pierre Taguieff noted about the kind of anti-Zionism that emerged in the wake of al Durah and the Intifada he inspired: “When all the fishes swim in the same direction, it’s because they’re dead.”

All of this brings us back to the discussion of the process of auto-stupefaction I’ve referred to as rekaB Street. Rather than note the clues and the anomalies and pursue them fearlessly, most prefer not even to view the evidence, to dismiss it as a conspiracy theory, or, in some cases, to take a couple of fearless steps and then demur from reaching any further conclusions. Heaven forbid we call Talal a liar and Enderlin a(n apparently willing) dupe! Better we remain stupid.

On the contrary, I think that anyone who approaches the evidence not from the point of view in which “‘the boy is dead,’ and only 110% proof to the contrary will get me to change my mind,” but rather, “what’s going on in this tape? what are the odds it’s about a boy being killed by fire coming from the Israeli position, and what are the odds that it’s been staged?” will find the odds overwhelmingly favor staged (conservative estimate: 95-5?). If we thought about crimes the way most now think about this footage, we could close down our detective agencies and police departments.