The Role of Media in the Al Durah Incident

The media’s involvement in the incident was crucial to the elevation of Al Durah to iconic status and therefore also responsible for the many deadly consequences that followed.

On September 30, 2000, two days after Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount, and one day after rioting broke out in the West Bank, Palestinian cameramen working for various international television networks shot footage of Palestinians at the Netzarim junction in the Gaza Strip. A review of the raw footage from two of these cameramen working for Reuters and France2 indicates that most of the action sequences taken that day were staged.

Western journalists, starting with France2’s Charles Enderlin, selected believable segments and formed them into narratives about the Israelis wounding and killing Palestinian protesters and even innocent passers-by, which they then passed on to their viewers in the West as as actual events. Among these, the most powerful was the terrible tale of Muhammad al Durah and his father Jamal, caught in a crossfire, “the target of fire coming from the Israeli position,” eventually killed by that fire.

Note that until Charles Enderlin and France2 broadcast the footage with the lethal narrative of Israelis “targeting” the father and son, killing the son and badly wounding the father, no Palestinian or Arab news agency even mentioned incidents at Netzarim Junction that day.

Despite the extensive evidence that this narrative was not true, independent journalists lined up behind this “lethal narrative,” at once affirming it and even intensifying its claims. “When I see “crossfire… I know it almost always means the Israelis have killed an innocent person,” wrote Robert Fisk in The Independent. Suzanne Goldenberg of The Guardian looked at a dozen bullet holes, none of which bore the signs of coming from the Israeli position, in the wall and claimed it proved the Israelis were targeting the boy. With no dissenting voices in the media, the tale became “truth.” Time Magazine pronounced al Durah one of the “persons of the year 2000.” And the Palestinians, who used the boy’s image to recruit for suicide bombing missions, proclaimed him “the martyr of the world,” because “the cause of Muhammed and the images of his martyrdom moved the entire world.”

Indeed, few images have done more to promote hatred, violence and war than the Al Durah footage, and the Western news media, which like to regard themselves as favoring peace and understanding, have played a central, essential role in the belligerent, brutalizing process of incitement.

Charles Enderlin narrated into France2’s broadcast footage a death that was not there. The “entire world” saw what they were told to see by a news media inexplicably committed to passing on to their audiences as news, Palestinian lethal narratives about the brutal, murderous IDF.

We argue that until the Western media reconsiders its penchant for this kind of “lethal journalism,” until it reports more soberly and accurately on the Middle East conflict, not only will there be no peace there, but the war they foster will continue to spill over into the rest of the world.

The Al Durah incident exposes the collapse of journalistic ethics by showing how some reporters unjustifiably elevate allegation to fact, and the rest of the news media fails to investigate.