On December 12, 2005, Maariv, one of the Israeli newspapers without English translation, ran an article by Amir Rappoport on Muhammed al Durah. Below, I provide a translation.
IT MAY BE THAT MUHAMMED AL DURAH IS ALIVE
Findings that were presented by the head of the committee to investigate the death of child managed to raise doubts for the head of the National Security Council.
“The boy Muhammed al Durah didn’t die at all, he is living in Gaza,” so claims the physicist and right-winger Nahum Shahaf, who presented his findings recently before the head of the National Security Council, General (res.) Giora Eiland. The investigation claims that the photos documenting the death of al Durah were staged by the Palestinians for propaganda purposes.
The head of the National Security Council said to Maariv that after reviewing the findings, he did not rule them out. The right-wing physicist also tried to convince Eiland that Israel take the official position that the child did not die. However, in the words of Eiland, “It is difficult to remain indifferent in light of Shahaf’s findings, however, there is no ablsolute proof that the findings of the investigation are correct.”
Muhammed al Durah became the symbol of the intifada when he was caught with his father in the crossfire between IDF soldiers who were trapped in the post at Netzarim Junction, and a Palestinian mass moving in on them. The boy took cover behind his father’s back and in pictures documented by French television, he is seen waving his hands until he is shot and killed.
Up until today there was no argument regarding the question of whether or not Muhammed al Durah actually died, and Nahum Shahaf himself was at the head of a committee appointed by the former head of the Southern Command, Yom Tov Samia, who already in 2001 investigated the question of whether Muhammed al Durah was shot by IDF or Palestinian fire. The Shahaf committee then established, based on analysis of ballistic findings and calculations of the angles of the shooting, that Muhammed al Durah was killed by Palestinian and not IDF fire.
Nahum Shahaf didn’t give up and continued to investigate the matter. According to him, he has recently received new testimonies which establish not only that IDF soldiers did not shoot at Muhammed al Durah, but that actually, the boy is alive. According to him, he managed to gather findings according to which Muhammed al Durah was seen until at least a half a year ago in the marketplace in Gaza. “People were in the habit of calling him Muhammed al Durah, because they thought that he only resembled the boy who was killed, but it is really the real Muhammed.”
THE PALESTINIANS REJECTED SHAHAF’S FINDING OUTRIGHT
Nahum Shahaf is considered a man of the right, and in the past there were claims that his political views swayed his findings. Among other things, Shahaf has voiced claims regarding the findings relating to the murder to Yitzchak Rabin z”l. His full position on the Al Durah affair will be presented today on the “Reaction Time” program of Avi Jacobovitz on Radio Kol Chai.
Jacobovitz himself claimed yesterday that he interviewed Jamal Al Durah, the father of the boy, who told him in a recording that will be broadcast today that “The boy is alive.” In a conversation with “Ma’ariv” the father explained that the boy was killed, but that according to the Muslim faith he lives in the next world.
According to General (res.) Eiland, after he looked deeply into the material, three possibilities exist. One possibility is that despite everything IDF soldiers did nevertheless kill the boy. The second possibility is that he was killed by Palestinian fire, and there exists a possibility is that the event was actually staged. “He aroused enough doubt in me that perhaps he is correct,” Eiland said. Shahaf’s findings were dismissed yesterday outright by the Palestinians.
For those who might think that the Israeli media represent a monolithic voice defending Israel, note the repeated references of the journalist to Shahaf as a right-winger (my favorite — “is considered to be a man of the right” — that kind of writing will get students an F in a history paper… agency! WHO considers…?), to his position on the Rabin’s assassination, and to the Palestinian dismissal of his claims (without attribution or substance). As a student of mine remarked about Ha-Aretz’s coverage of this issue, “Why does it sound like a Palestinian paper?”
The article shows the lamentable state of an Israeli journalist’s knowledge of the affair: Rappoport thinks that the footage shows the boy “shot and killed,” when it shows nothing of the kind. He thinks that “up until today” no one had suggested that it was staged when, according to Shahaf, he’s been arguing “staged” from the beginning, and a furious controversy has been waged on this front for well over three years. (Note: when, in late 2004, I had the chance to speak with Amram Mitzne, then the favored candidate for Labor party after Peres, about the al Durah affair, he had never even heard of the “staged” hypothesis; in the Spring of 2005, Dennis Ross apparently didn’t know, and if he did, he had already pushed it out of his mind as a conspiracy theory.)
Eiland, although careful to hedge his bets (note his reference to “absolute proof,” has come out with a statement that significantly changes his public position on this: previously he had accepted the probability of Israeli culpability, a statement that Charles Enderlin has repeatedly used to insist on the validity of his broadcast, There he identifies the father and son as “the targets of fire coming from the Israeli position,” a claim for which he had no evidence at the time, other than Talal’s “testimony.” For Eiland to take even these cautious steps represents a major shift in attitude at the top of the Israeli government which has, till now, been extremely reluctant to touch this third rail.
Shahaf’s insistence that the boy is alive continues to get attention (note that the article leads with that claim), but, I suspect, continues to alienate most people who come across it (note the journalist’s visible hostility to Shahaf). Our position at Second Draft is that we cannot know what happened after the film was shot that day at Netzarim. The last time we see Muhammed on film, he is alive and apparently quite well. So we’re willing to argue, less tentatively than General Eiland, that we do not see him shot on film. But what has happened to him since is not something we think it makes sense to speculate on, much less make sensationalist claims about.
On the other hand, the fact that no journalist has seen worthy to investigate further suggests a) the laziness of the “investigative” wing of journalism on this score, all happy, like Rappoport, to adhere to the court version of the Emperor’s new clothes; and b) the intimidating atmosphere in Gaza, where the journalist would have to search for evidence debunking a martyr. As for the IDF and the famed Israeli intelligence services… where are they?
Quibbles aside, all told, it’s nice that things continue to cook on this case. Who knows, maybe the Israeli media will begin to come out of hibernation and begin to address it. Except for the war-mongers in the Arab and Muslim world (and their admirers on the radical left like Ramsey Clark), everyone would benefit, not just including, but especially the Palestinian people.