Yarden Vatikay's account of receiving the phone call from Charles Enderlin to the IDF Spokesman's Unit 9/30/00

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The Mohammed A-Dura Affair- The IDF-France 2 dialoge

During the period of the Mohammed A-Dura Affair I served as head of the international correspondent department in the Israeli Defense Forces Spokesperson’s Unit.

On that day, Sep’ 30th 2000, Charles Enderlin, the bureau chief of the French television channel FRANCE 2, contacted me urgently. Charles informed me about the unique footage captured by one of his cameramen, Talal Abu Rahma, which showed a Palestinian child killed by IDF fire at the Netzarim juction in the Gaza strip, during his attempts to seek refuge. He also apprised me of his intention to broadcast the material immediately, and described the crisis that would befall the IDF following the broadcast. Likewise he wanted me to improvise an apologetic response on behalf of the Army.

I made it clear that it was only proper that we should see the material prior to the broadcast and requested him to give us the chance to make a proper response. I added that we could not take responsibility for this incident without seeing the materials and conducting a preliminary investigation. I told him, that from his description it appeared that we were dealing with a “routine” incident of cross-fire between the IDF and the Palestinians. 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. Charles expressed his displeasure that we were not ready to assume responsibility and apologize. He spurned my request and declared that he intended to broadcast the materials on FR 2 and other networks, without delay.

When we saw the footage we began a preliminary investigation which revealed that exchanges of fire did take place between IDF soldiers and Palestinian forces at the site. This only reinforced our gut feelings that the child could have been hurt by the fire of this party or another. In any case we were not dealing with deliberate fire but apparently he and his father were trapped in the fire zone.

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. Simultaneously a witch-hunt surrounding the event began in the form of an unprecedented media attack on the IDF, which held the Israeli side directly responsible for the child’s death and some even accused that the fire was deliberate. In our reply we emphasized that the IDF regrets the deaths of all innocents, and apparently there were exchanges of fire between the IDF and armed Palestinians at the location.

We decided to conduct a speedy investigation of the incident and therefore I approached Charles with a request to receive the original material in full. My approach was made in coordination with the heads of the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit and to the best of my knowledge, also with the current head of operations, Major General Giora Eiland. Despite our repeated requests, FR 2 did not immediately transfer the materials to us. Only after a protracted period, we received a cassette from them, but were disappointed to find that it contained nothing new. It contained more or less, that very same footage that we saw on television. Since the material that was passed on to us did not contribute to an understanding of the incident, we repeated our request to get all the raw footage but to the best of my knowledge we never received it.

Presumably, this affair remains unsolved. However in terms of world public opinion, Israel was immediately held responsible and to this very day bears full responsibility for the killing of the child Mohammed A-Dura.

Respectfully,

Major (reserve)
Yarden Vatikay

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