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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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