There are five main ways to explain the footage that Talal Abu Rahma shot at Netzarim Junction of Muhammad and Jamal Al Durah. Four of them assume that the boy was indeed shot.
The first one we consider, shot by the Israelis on purpose, is the one that both Talal and Jamal have insisted upon.
The second, shot by the Israelis by accident, is one that many people, accepting most but not all of the eyewitness testimony, find most plausible.
The third and fourth, Palestinians by accident and on purpose, reflect a closer knowledge of the situation, both in terms of the unlikely prospect of Israeli bullets hitting the two given the angles of fire and protection afforded by the barrel, and in terms of the likelihood that the bullets we do see in Talal Abu Rahma’s footage come from the Palestinian side.
The fifth scenario – it was a staged, Pallywood scene – represents a completely different approach, one that puts into question the totality of the eye-witness accounts. It has, as a result, seemed the most radical, and the least likely to people unfamiliar with the details.
We present below all of these scenarios with the evidence for and against each one, linked to the appropriate footage
1. Israelis on purpose
Those of the opinion that the Israelis intentionally killed Muhammad Al Durah are located both in the Palestinian territories and the Arab and Muslim world, and in fairly wide levels of European public opinion. In the Muslim world, thanks to doctored footage, Muhammad’s Israeli “murderer” appears in the footage. Among this audience we find people convinced of a Zionist plot to wipe the Palestinian people off the face of the earth and to enslave mankind. They use this incident as a confirmation of their suspicions and to justify their responses. This scenario has reaffirmed, for many, their worst beliefs and fears about Zionists, Israelis, and Jews. Many European media and radical groups present the case as a deliberate murder, and therefore, a justification for comparisons of Israelis with Nazis
- The main body of evidence supporting this claim comes from the testimony of Talal Abu Rahma and Jamal Al Durah, given at several distinct instances.
- Specifically, Abu Rahma points out that the Israelis were shooting at the boy and father for 45 minutes. He also asserts that the Israelis saw the boy and the father and continued to shoot at them regardless. Abu Rahma has reiterated this position in interviews with the BBC, with German filmmaker Esther Schapira, with Israeli TV and with US National Public Radio. In his first formal statement under oath, he claimed that the child was intentionally and in cold blood shot dead and his father injured by the Israeli army.
- Jamal Al Durah, the father of Muhammad, has supported this position in his many statements and interviews where he says that the Israeli soldiers saw and fired upon him and Muhammad repeatedly, even after he begged them to stop. Jamal has said that he was hit by eight bullets and Muhammad by four.
- Palestinian officials, such as the doctor who examined Muhammad’s body and the general who performed the investigation, also concur on the identity and motive of the guilty party.
All the evidence here is eyewitness testimony to events “under fire”. They concern not observations but judgments that go to motive. None of the available evidence supports such an accusation.
- The firing during the time when we can locate the father and son behind the barrel is limited and, judging from the behavior of some Palestinians and photographers who appear to know and do not take cover, the fire is Palestinian and possibly in the air.
- Only one shot of the Israeli post shows a bullet fired from that position, which does not exclude firing, but hardly supports Abu Rahma’s claims.
- No shot of the boy and the father behind the barrel indicates a bullet hitting the wall coming from the Israeli position.
- No Israeli bullets were recovered either at the site or from the bodies of Jamal (8 reported bullet wounds) or Mohammad (3 reported bullet wounds).
- Abu Rahma, when questioned by Esther Schapira, makes claims about the bullets he cannot sustain.
Distance from Israelis to barrel: Abu Rahma has said that the IDF outpost was anywhere from 150 to 300 meters away from Jamal and Muhammad. From the vantage point of the father and son, it would be impossible to see the soldiers in the tower with the naked eye. So Jamal’s claim that he begged them to stop hardly means that they received the message, especially since there was a stone over the barrel that would have hidden his hand. That Jamal could effectively beg them to stop shooting amid an allegedly deafening hail of bullets (Talal Abu Rahma: “I never saw shooting like that in my life”) from a distance of two or three football fields is impossible.
Motive: Why murder a 12 year old boy? For Israelis to target a 12 year old boy makes no sense either from a PR point of view, or from the point of view of the Israeli military prohibitions on targeting civilians. Granted that, in combat, shit happens. But none of the evidence supports the existence of deliberate murderous fire from Israeli soldiers, who all deny anything like this kind of firing.
Jamal, in a forum-style interview on arabia.com on October 30, 2000, stated that “The Israelis intend to kill children less than 16 years of age. So they won’t grow up and build families. That is how they will annihilate the Palestinian people.” This explanation is classic conspiracy thinking and bears strong similarities to “blood libels” like “Jews use the blood of Christian children to bake their unleavened bread during Passover”. If the Israelis deliberately targeted Palestinian children, why do the videos from that day show Palestinian youth under sixteen strolling right in front of their position throwing rocks, with no fear of reprisal?
Who holds this view?
Information Clearing House
The Modern Religion
Al Mezan Center for Human Rights
Susanne Goldenberg (Guardian)
Sara Leibovich-Dar (Haaretz)
Tom Paulin (British Poet)
Catherine Nay (Europe 1 Anchorwoman)
Osama bin Laden
Ramsey Clark, International ANSWER
2. Israelis by Accident
To those not willing to accuse the Israelis of outright murder, this is the more benign version, that accepts the main lines of the story as presented by France 2, but sees the death as the tragic result of getting caught in a crossfire, as collateral damage.
The original France 2 footage aired across the world, gives the impression of a crossfire, with the father waving at the Israelis to stop. In the crossfire, Israel becomes the prime culprit: As Robert Fisk of the Independent put it. “When I read the word “crossfire”, I reach for my pen. In the Middle East, it almost always means that the Israelis have killed an innocent person.” Although he gives the Israelis a very thin benefit of the doubt (“True, the Israeli soldiers who killed the boy may not have known whom they hit”), Fisk is typical of a public that used the clip shown around the world to presume that since the Israelis, on one side, were in a shootout with the Palestinians, on the other, Muhammad and his father would naturally be caught in the crossfire and struck by Israeli bullets, stray or not.
A Boston Globe article on October 13, 2000 which compared reactions to the Al Durah incident with the lynchings in Ramallah a few days later, shows how many Israelis thought of the Al Durah affair in the weeks after the footage aired:
‘”OK, we accidentally killed the boy in Gaza and that was a terrible thing. But nobody took pleasure in the killing. Nobody turned it into a celebration. They’re dancing on Jewish blood,” said an Israeli woman at the Jerusalem eatery, who gave only her first name, Sarit.’
Ironically, this is the scenario with the least evidence in favor of it, and perhaps the most widely held, certainly in the USA and Israel, where the media did not seize upon deliberation with so much enthusiasm.
- Israeli public statements: Israeli officials admitted that their soldiers returned fire that day, and that their soldiers may have accidentally shot the boy.
- Evidence of crossfire on tapes: There was crossfire that day at the intersection near the barrel, although we do not know whether this took place at the time the Al Durahs were behind the barrel.
- Israeli bullet might have ricocheted off wall behind barrel: This accords with Jamal’s claim in one interview and the hospital claim that he was shot over the left nipple.
- This scenario appeals most to fair-minded people who do not want to charge Israel with deliberate murder, but accept Enderlin’s main storyline, the boy killed by Israeli gunfire.
- No explicit testimony: The evidence for an accidental killing in the cross-fire is less explicit than that for an intentional murder. No eye-witness suggests such a accidental scenario.
- Angles of fire make Israeli gunfire the least likely source of multiple wounds: As the official report of the Israeli army published by General Yom Tov Samia, Gaza commander of the Israeli army at the time, as well as Nahum Shahaf, a physicist in charge of the IDF investigation, testify, the positioning of the Al Durahs behind the barrel prevented any Israeli bullets from hitting the two, and most certainly not eleven hits.
- No taped evidence of crossfire: although we hear gunshots, no footage of the Israeli position either shows them firing or fired at during the time the Al Durahs are behind the barrel. To this end, 45 minutes of heavy automatic fire from the Israelis does not fit with any of the footage shot that day, any of the protocols of the IDF, and directly contravenes the account of the commander of the post, Nizar Fares.
- The photo of the barrel the next day (at right) shows no sign of bullets ricocheting off the barrel nor were any closer shots taken to prove the contention. Indeed, even if they came from Israeli fire, the dozen bullet holes on the wall, far from confirming Talal’s testimony, radically contradict his claim of “bullets like rain” for over forty minutes.
Who holds this view?
Many people in the West and in Israel
3. Palestinians by Accident
This seems to be the favorite position of many who have examined the evidence enough to register how unlikely Scenarios 1 and 2 are (e.g., James Fallows) and of most who have read or seen their analyses. It appeals especially to those who do not want to raise deeply troubling and politically incorrect scenarios (Scenario 4) or be accused of conspiracy theories (Scenario 5). It includes some mainstream journalists who have investigated, as well as Jewish and Israeli leaders. It constitutes the minimalist position of those who have looked at the material: the Israelis almost surely did not do the shooting.
- Most of the recorded gunfire seems to come from the Palestinian side: Only a small fraction of the identifiable gunfire comes from the Israeli position. Even Charles Enderlin admits that the Palestinians fired first. Indeed, the Associated Press filmed a Palestinian policeman shooting at the Israelis from directly behind the Al Durah’s position.
- Palestinians tend to fire wildly, even when they can’t see where they are shooting, over fences or into holes in walls (see Pallywood, the movie).
- The two shots that hit the wall by the barrel come from the Palestinian position. Ballistic tests show that bullets coming from the angle of the Israeli position that day would have produced large clouds of dust kicking off behind the barrel, but bullets shot from head on would produce small round circular dust clouds before the wind blew them away. These two identifiable shots, which can explain the terror on the faces of father and son, come from the Palestinian side, possibly the “pita.”
- The shot fired during the evacuation scene preceding the Al Durah footage (captured by both France 2 and Reuters cameramen) comes from the pita as well.
The arguments against Palestinians by accident are either the arguments in favor of Israeli agency (1 and 2 above), or arguments against the accidental nature of the gunfire (discussed below).
- Photographic evidence from three cameramen show the boy and father behind the barrel well before the shooting begins, while there are numerous people even closer and more exposed to the Israeli position, contradicting the “pedestrians caught in a crossfire” scenario.
- Fire from head-on seems deliberate: The two shots are individual, not the product of “wild machine gun fire”, and the Palestinian gunmen who shot them would have had to miss their mark by almost ninety degrees in order to have shot them by accident.
- Jamal claimed that eight bullets hit him and four hit Muhammad. One or two bullets is an accident; twelve is not.
- All the evidence that indicates that the boy was not shot: see Scenario 4 “against” or Scenario 5 “for.”
Who holds this view?
Yom Tov Samya
Esther Schapira, Three Bullets and a Dead Child 2002
The vast majority of people who have at least some familiarity with the evidence (mostly in Israel and the USA)
4. Palestinians on Purpose
- Direction of the bullets indicating purpose: The bullets come from the Palestinian position across the road, and, as determined by ballistic experts, could have only come from across the road. Furthermore, since there was no crossfire at this time and the bullets were clearly single bullets (see Scenario 3 discussion), the shots must have been intentionally fired.
- Bullet direction suggests setting the scene for filming (Scenario 3)
- At funeral, the mourners already have posters of the boy: In order for them to have this, they would have had to go to his home in El-Bureij, get a picture, make the poster and copy it for distribution all in approximately one to two hours. In the meantime, his mother claims that she didn’t find out about his death until the later evening news.
- Motive: Why murder one of your own 12 year old boys? Immense PR victory. This image provided the Palestinians with critical support for the Intifada they had just launched. It swung Western opprobrium, both public and diplomatic, away from them for saying no at Camp David earlier that summer and onto the Israelis, just as the Palestinians unleashed a wave of attacks on Israelis. It gave them a tremendously powerful tool for inciting their own population to adopt the most terrible methods (suicide terror) and sustain the “Intifada.”
- Culture of martyrdom among Palestinians: This horrific scenario, unthinkable to most Westerners makes sense within the “cult of death” with which Palestinians indoctrinate their children. The highest honors are bestowed upon a shahid, both in the world he left behind and the world to which he ascends. There is certainly cynical use of children among Palestinians. Muhammad became the most important “martyr” in the Pantheon of death, the “martyr of the world,” because “the whole world saw it.”
- Morally abhorrent position: The idea that this is a Palestinian snuff film, is a almost to awful to even contemplate (and would, in fact, begin to identify resemblances with the Nazis). . For most of us, this is unthinkable behavior. Gabriel Weimann, a professor of Communications at Haifa University and at the Israeli Military Academy, who had his students try to prove the Israelis did not commit the murder, hesitates to believe this: “…I don’t think my worst enemy is so inhuman as to shoot a boy for the sake of publicity.” Unfortunately, the most powerful evidence against this scenario comes not from the nature of Palestinian culture, but from the extensive evidence that the boy was not shot and did not die “on tape” as Talal Abu Rahma claimed and as Enderlin broadcast.
- No blood: Talal Abu Rahma claimed the boy was bleeding for 15 or 20 minutes from a stomach wound which normally proves fatal from loss of blood. But the tape does not show any blood on the ground where he lay on his stomach; even the next day there is blood under the father’s place at the barrel, but not where Muhammad lay.
- No ambulance evacuation: Given how valuable ambulance evacuations are as footage and how quickly the ambulances tend to arrive, and the fact that the rushes show an ambulance in waiting just behind the boy and the father, and Abu Rahma’s perfect positioning for filming an especially bloody scene of the wounded father and dead son, it seems incomprehensible that Abu Rahma (or any of the other cameramen present, have not one frame of an ambulance evacuation. Asked why not by Nahum Shahaf over the phone, he responds evasively: “Because the ambulance driver was shot.” Asked why he didn’t take a picture of that, he responded, “Because he was shot before he got to the boy.” That of course does not explain why he did not photograph the eventual evacuation. Enderlin replies to both anomalies by claiming that Abu Rahma told him that he was running out of batteries, although if that were the case, why did he not just run out his camera on the scene in front of him rather than film a later, undistinguished ambulance scene?
- No bullets recovered: Shifa hospital, despite allegedly treating two people with a total of 8-12 bullet wounds, produced no bullets or bullet fragments. Nor did the Palestinian police who examined the site the next day. Perhaps aware that the lack of bullets made his case weak, Talal Abu Rahma told Esther Schapira: “We have the bullets, the kind of the bullets, I photographed them.” When Schapira asks where the bullets are, Abu Rahma tells her to “Consult the general… he could tell you.” When Schapira points out that the general does not have any bullets, Abu Rahma, the only employee of France 2 at the scene at that time claims: “France 2 collected”. “So you’re doing a better job than the investigators,” Schapira responds as Abu Rahma registers the realization that his claim has no credibility. “No, no, no”, he answers with a smile as he realizes that story won’t work. “We…we… we have our secrets… we cannot give anything… just anything”.
Who holds this view?
Very few people openly espouse Palestinians on purpose, although those who do tend to know the material well, are familiar with the willingness of the Palestinian elites to sacrifice their children, and don’t care about political correctness.
Those few who have publicly argued this have suffered considerable damage.
This view is supported by Yoseph Dorriel who was fired shortly after making these comments to the press, for publicizing conclusions before the investigation was completed. and David Kupelian (see here and here)
This scenario was virtually “unimaginable” initially, and it is still often misunderstood by people who have difficulty imagining it. It represents a radically different approach to the case, calling into question the fundamental assumption of all four previous scenarios, i.e. that the boy was indeed shot. The power of suggestion, and the almost instinctive suspension of disbelief with which most of us look at “news footage” has made this so unbelievable a scenario that many people (including prominent government officials, Israeli and American), are unaware that this is even an option. Still, it has become increasingly adopted by those who study the dossier carefully.
All of the arguments against deliberate murder by the Palestinians work in favor of a staged scene.
Evidence that the scene was deliberately set up:
- Photographic evidence from three cameramen show the boy and father behind the barrel well before the shooting begins, suggesting a much greater probability that they were deliberately placed there, rather than chance pedestrians caught in a crossfire.
- Bullet direction suggests setting the scene for filming (Scenario 3).
- At the funeral, the mourners already have posters of the boy. In order for them to have this, they would have had to go to his home in El-Bureij, get a picture, make the poster and copy it for distribution all in approximately one to two hours. In the meantime, the mother claims she didn’t find out about his death until the later evening news.
- Immense PR victory for the Palestinians. This image provides the Palestinians with superb material for scapegoating Israel which they rapidly exploited.
- It permits them to destroy international sympathy for Israel, as an article in The Independent (UK) illustrates
- Allows them to incite Palestinians and other Arabs and Muslims to hate the Israelis and want to kill them all.
No blood: Talal Abu Rahma claimed the boy was bleeding for 15 or 20 minutes from a stomach wound which normally proves fatal from loss of blood. But the tape does not show any blood on the ground where he lay, even the next day when fresh blood was added under the father’s place at the barrel, but not where Muhammed lay. Why would Talal not have gotten even a few seconds of the boy bleeding on the ground?
No ambulance evacuation: Given how valuable ambulance evacuations are as footage and how quickly the ambulances tend to arrive, and the fact that we know an ambulance is in waiting just behind the boy and the father, one would expect a real case of evacuating the wounded to be extremely valuable. Given Abu Rahma’s perfect positioning for filming an especially bloody scene of the wounded father and dead son, it seems incomprehensible that Abu Rahma has not one frame of an ambulance evacuation. Asked why not by Nahum Shahaf over the phone, he responds evasively: “Because the ambulance driver was shot.” Asked why he didn’t take a picture of that, he responded, “Because he was shot before he got to the boy.” Aside from the fact that this contradicts his testimony, it avoids the more basic question of why he did not photograph the eventual evacuation. Enderlin replies to both anomalies by claiming that Talal Abu Rahma told him that he was running out of batteries, although if that were the case, why did he not just run out his camera on the scene in front of him rather than film a later, undistinguished ambulance scene?
No bullets recovered: Shifa hospital, despite allegedly treating two people with a total of 8-12 bullet wounds, produced no bullets or bullet fragments. Nor did the Palestinian police who examined the site the next day. Perhaps aware that the lack of bullets made his case weak, Talal Abu Rahma told Esther Schapira: “We have the bullets, the kind of the bullets, I photographed them.” When Schapira asks where the bullets are, Talal tells her to “consult the general… he could tell you.” When Schapira points out that the general does not have any bullets, Talal, the only employee of France 2 at the scene at that time claims: “France 2 collected”. “So you’re doing a better job than the investigators,” Schapira responds as Abu Rahma registers the realization that his claim has no credibility. “No, no, no”, he answers with a smile as he realizes that story won’t work. “We…we… we have our secrets… we cannot give anything… just anything.”
Further evidence comes from a closer look at the actual footage of the Al Durahs behind the barrel.
- There are only 59 seconds of tape of the actual “shooting” sequence, which further breaks up into 6 separate scenes. Rather than shooting long sequences of the boy and father either under fire or bleeding, Abu Rahma takes tiny sequences of only a few seconds each. We will review each one for evidence of staging.
- Scene 1: Behind the barrel: bullet comes from Palestinian side
- Scene 2: Israeli position: no fire from or at Israelis
- Scene 3: Waving the hand: father looking at the camera, people yelling the boy is dead while he’s still alive
- Scene 4: Lying down body crunched: no evidence of bullets hitting boy, red on leg, father looks unconscious. Two fingers passing before the camera immediately before the image of Muhammad lying flat, almost signaling a ‘cut’, unusual behavior for a journalistic camera.
- Scene 5: Lying down, hand over eyes Muhammad’s arm is also nowhere near his stomach an instinctual reaction for someone shot in the abdomen, father’s head bobs, he’s conscious, but he never reaches for his son
- Scene 6: Lying down, looking out Muhammad Al Dura lifting his elbow and moving his feet, atypical actions for a dead child, father has turned away from the boy, still making no effort to reach for him.
Staging explains Scene 6: He does not have a stomach wound, but he keeps looking at the camera, so Talal Abu Rahma tells him to hold his hand over his eye so as not to look. Even then he can’t stop from looking out, so he slowly raises his elbow hoping it won’t be noticed, looks at the camera, then slowly lowers his arm.
Talal Abu Rahma is a known Pallywood photographer
- Here he is caught by another cameraman filming a classic Pallywood fake
- Those who have seen his rushes for this day all agree that they are filled with staged scenes
- Talal has, allegedly, retracted his testimony before the PHRC
- There is no clear evidence against this scenario. Once one turns off the willing suspension of disbelief and look at these scenes as potentially staged, one finds few if any scenes that argue for real acting (with the exception of the terrified boy as real Palestinian bullets fly overhead).
- It’s a conspiracy theory: Most people find the idea that the Palestinians would do such a thing, and that the Western media would all be fooled by it, so preposterous that they dismiss it out of hand. As one prominent diplomat involved in the Camp David process put it: “The Middle East is so full of conspiracy theories, I’m not going to believe any of them.”
- If it were staged, surely the Israelis would have said something: Why haven’t the Israelis come forward with this conclusion, especially if their own investigator, Nahum Shahaf, argued for that position very early on? It would have cleared them and cast serious doubt on the account of Talal Abu Rahma and the image of Al Durah as a symbol of the Intifada.
Who holds this view?
Most of those who argue for this scenario are people who have studied the material closely, starting with the first investigator.
Nahum Shahaf, Israeli physicist, and many to whom he introduced his material
Stephane Juffa , Metula News Agency editor in chief
Amnon Lord, Israeli commentator see http://www.jcpa.org/jl/vp482.htm
Gerard Huber, a psychoanalyst and permanent Paris correspondent of the Israel-based Metula News Agency (link to his book)
Serge Farnel, French journalist (website in al-Dura page: http://www.truthnow.org/)
David Kupelian: World Net Daily managing editor (Article in al-Dura page: http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=32137)
Alyssa Lappen, New York based writer, (http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=16432)
Nidra Poller, American novelist and translator, (Article in al-Dura page: http://www.commentarymagazine.com/article.asp?aid=12002025_1)
David Gelernter, LA Times columnist, (Article in al-Dura page: http://jewishworldreview.com/david/gelernter091205.php3)
Note: not all those who have seen the material think it’s staged. This is particularly true of mainstream media journalists such as James Fallows and Esther Schapira who prefer the minimalist position that the Israelis almost surely did not kill the child.