Monthly Archives: September 2006

The Pope’s Remarks about Islam: The Joke Too Few Get

The Pope’s recent remarks have set off a particularly revealing firestorm of criticism. Distracted by the Al Durah trial, I haven’t paid close attention until now.

Dismaying is probably putting it mildly. At a distance, one gets the following impression. The Pope expressed disapproval of Jihadi “thinking” in Islam; Muslims the world over expressed vigorous if not violent objection to the Pope’s remarks; and responsible Westerners waxed indignant at the pope’s unnecessary provocation. Under the double pressure of a politically-correct public sphere and a violent or threatening Muslim “street,” the pope apologized.

Of course, the second stage of this story — the Muslim response — is nothing less than a very bad joke. “Call me violent? I’ll show you! I’ll riot and rampage until you stop calling me violent!” This is the kind of silliness even a five-year-old can get.

pope in effigy

But the “adults” are not laughing, at least not in public. So what happened?

Le Monde Tackles Fauxtography at Last: Surprised by the Results?

Stuart, one of the commentaters at this site has sent in a translation of a Le Monde article on the Fauxtography Scandal. It represents a good example of how ill-informed the French MSM is about their Augean Stables, and how ill-equipped to even understand much less deal with the challenge of the blogosphere in this regard. The author, Claire Guillot (CG) does not appear to be ill-intentioned; on the contrary, she seems to want to try and be even-handed. The results, however, are telling.

[Note: Le Monde article in blockquote bold; quotes from other sources in blockquote italic; a previous post of the end of the article has been included and developed.]

War in Lebanon and Fauxtography

The conflict has triggered a controversy on the Net of conservative bloggers suspecting images of being manipulated.

It was “Little Green Footballs” that broke the scandal at the beginning of August. The conservative American blog accused Adnan Hajj, stringer photographer of the Reuters Agency, of having manipulated by computer a photo of Beirut to thicken the smoke after an Israeli bombing. Indeed, the retouching was crude.

The agency presented its excuses and removed the incriminating photo. But the blog then presented as evidence another of Mr Hajj’s photos where he had duplicated a rocket fired by an Israeli plane. The photographer, who apparently does not know how to use Photoshop very well was sacked and all of his archives deleted.

“There was a chain of human errors” pleads Tom Szulkovenyi, director of photography at Reuters. “This story is contrary to all our principles and has never happened before.”

Of course, at this point, an astute journalist might say, “how can Tom Skzukolvenyi (TS) know this, especially given how he was fooled by the admittedly crude work of his stringer… and how can others check the validity of this claim, when TS has removed the large cache of photos from this apparently unreliable stringer from their archives, thus making any further examination of his work impossible? And the latest news from Reuters is that TS’s CEO Tom Glocer thinks just the opposite, that these matters are widespread.

But nothing like those observations follow… on to right-wing cabals:

“Reutergate” becomes the starting point of a cabal on the Internet: dozens of bloggers, for the most part Americans or Israelis, of the right or extreme right, self-declared “citizen journalists” who set themselves up to investigate from their living rooms. If you believe them, the case of the “fauxtography”, according to this neologism which is typical of the Internet, splatters the whole profession in Lebanon: photographs which have been manipulated or are manipulating, handed over to be retouched, or even set up to give a truncated image that is pro-Hezbollah, or even anti-semitic, of the conflict.

Wow! Nothing like letting your readership know just who they’re dealing with. Shades of Charles Enderlin dismissing his critics as “groupuscules d’extrême droite.” And like Enderlin and the rest of the die-hard, bien pensant “left,” this ready resort to splattering the whole group of critics, actually gets the issue exactly wrong. Most of the folks now labeled “right-wing” are actually refugees and exiles from a “left” that lives in a fantasy-world of denial. MENA is not right-wing; indeed it has an explicitly progressive agenda. They’re just not fellow travelers. Same with Charles Johnson, Roger Simon, Neo-Con, and many of the players in the blogosphere. They’re just not still in dogmatic slumber.

The Fauxtographer’s Temptations: Advocacy Journalism and the Lebanese War

Stuart, one of the commentaters at this site has sent in a translation of a Le Monde article on the Fauxtography Scandal. It is emblematic of everything that ails the MSM, everything that created and maintains the Augean Stables.

I will post a fisking later of the whole piece in his translation, followed by the original for those who either prefer French or want to check his/my translation. But in the meantime, there is a particularly revealing passage at the end of the article about matters of “unethical behavior” among journalists working for Western media outlets in the Middle East, and the reluctance to reveal its presence that, I think, sheds a bright light on the problems we face. So I will first post this segment of the analysis here, and follow with the full fisking later.

War in Lebanon and Fauxtography

The conflict has triggered a controversy on the Net of conservative bloggers suspecting images of being manipulated.

…………

The photographers admit with difficulty the existance of little arrangements. One of them admitted on the Net having seen photographers in Lebanon asking rescuers to pose with the victims adding that “the dead bodies, they were real.”

Today he regrets having made the statement and wishes to remain anonymous. “I wanted to encourage the handful of photographers who have carried out such condemnable practices to act with greater ethics.” In reality, my statement mostly harmed the Lebanese people. Rather than reflecting on the atrocities carried out on one side and the other, each one is searching in the images for the means to prove that there were no war crimes…”

Now as a medievalist who is trained to look for evidence of supressed material, this is precious. The journalist herself tells us that photographers admit these manipulations “with difficulty” — obviously they’re not supposed to do it, and if they can they’ll deny it. Like the ad for mouthwash that has someone asking advice “for a friend with bad breath,” the reluctant photographer admits that a “handful” of photographers do this, but hastily adds “the bodies were real.” (As if manipulating real dead bodies for sensational pictures were somehow a mitigating circumstance.)

But even that is too much. He now regrets his remarks and seeks to assure his anonymity. In the primary community to which this photographer “reports back,” this was not a “good” thing to say. So he self-censors.

Who is it who so objects to these remarks that it makes him regret them? What is this primary group to which he answers back? Not, apparently, his public, who clearly would like to know what’s going on “behind the scenes” as it were.

He insists of anonymity. Why? What does he risk having it known that he’s admitted that a minimal amount of staging goes on? The obvious answer is, he risks offending the powers that be on the scene, i.e., Hezbollah, and thus at the very least losing “access” to more pictures, and more seriously losing the use of any or all of his limbs. But to say that outright would be to admit to intimidation. That’s also not supposed to happen.

Instead we get a marvelous piece of ideological justification that clues us in to the intellectual world this anonymous photographer inhabits and reports from, and answers back to.

In reality, my statement mostly harmed the Lebanese people. Rather than reflecting on the atrocities carried out on one side and the other, each one is searching in the images for the means to prove that there were no war crimes…”

Wow! Let me unpack this for those not used to the language of PCP advocacy journalism (i.e., those who brought us Pallywood). Our anonymous’ statement “mostly harmed the Lebanese people,” and therefore he should not let his public (us!) know even that watered-down admission. Among other things, this means that he gauges his statements according to their effect and not either their relevance or accuracy.

According to what criteria do we judge this “greater good”? The answer appears to be: “According to a calculus in which the perceived interests of the Lebanese people are at the front of my concerns, indeed sufficiently strong that these perceived interests override my willingness to give outsiders information that they might find important to know.”

In other words, “I won’t offer them any support for the argument that they’re being given Pallywood as news.” This is remarkably close to the remark that Charles Enderlin made to Esther Shapira that “I will not give the Israeli Army the rushes so they can whitewash themselves.”

He’s saying in effect that as part of his advocacy journalism, he militates for that which he believes to be the “right” or “deserving” side, and controls information with an eye to implementing that which works towards his goal. In this case, “the good of the Lebanese people.”

So what issues determine what the good of the Lebanese people is?

Rather than reflecting on the attrocities carried out on one side and the other, each one is searching in the images for the means to prove that there were no war crimes…”

Now that’s a really good one. Strictly speaking, it is strictly neutral. “Both sides” are carrying out atrocities; “each one” is searching for the means to exonerate its side; let us journalists and photographers not let that happen.

But the reality here is, that Hezbollah is not trying to exonerate its side from targetting Israeli civilians — it revels in the number of Israelis killed. And of course, Israelis don’t orchestrate media events around dead civilians. Indeed the media seems largely uninterested in showing Israeli civilian casualties, and none of the outspoken moral institutions — from the UN to the NGOs to the “statesmen” seem inclined to hold Hezbollah accountable.

Hezbollywood, on the other hand — the images here in question — serve a particular one-sided goal: they consistently demonize the Israelis and if not justify, certainly to buoy the hopes of Hezbollah. That’s why Hezbollah spends so much time courting and intimidating the press…. it matters.

So even-handed appearances aside, this remark basically means: “I’m sorry I mentioned the staging because it gives Israel the opportunity to get off the moral hook by claiming that phony coverage is manipulating Western outrage. Moreover, as I see it, it is in the interests of the Lebanese people to have Israel on that moral hook since they are the ones bombing the Lebanese, and getting them to stop will make the Lebanese situation better.”

What if PCP is Wrong? The Consequences of Well-Intentioned Error

But now we come to our real problem. What if our photographer — talented perhaps, but not a particularly deep thinker on matters of morality and geopolitics — is part of a community that systematically misreads the situation with the mistake only a beginner in liberalism persists in repeating: liberal cognitive egocentrism? That is to say, he systematically interprets the “other side” (the one whose culture is so different from his own) in the most generous liberal terms? What if his exclusive concern for the Lebanese people and loud silence about the good of the Israeli people reflects the degree to which his Politically Correct Paradigm (PCP) has imbibed the demonizing of the Israelis — they are the Goliath, why should he give them any sympathy?

But what if there are dead bodies here in such profusion on both sides of the line not because Israelis like to kill innocent civilians (Hizbullah’s account), but because Lebanon is in the grip of religious zealots who worship death and thrive on it? What if the vast weight of responsibility for the catastrophe that just befell the southern Lebanese was a) a mere fraction of the devastation that would have reigned down had it been, say, the Syrians who were reacting to an attack by declared mortal enemies hiding among civilians, and b) overwhelmingly the result of both long-range and short-range behavior from Hizbullah that systematically sought not only to shield themselves behind their civilians to take advantage of Israel’s constraints, but also to further spread hatred and violence throughout the world with their lethal narratives.

What if… ?

Then the entire reasoning of our photographer and the larger journalistic culture in which we need to place his solidarity (i.e., his desire for anonymity among, his regrets at breaking rank with) is working against his and their stated concern, the Lebanese people. What if the peer-group pressure of the an unconscious advocacy journalism pushes people to make terrible mistakes, to play the dupe to the demopaths, and, as with the Palestinian case, by running the “lethal narratives,” empower the very people who victimize the Lebanese people. In other words, what if our well-intentioned journalists were actually encouraging Jihad with their advocacy journalism based on the PC Paradigm and not the Jihad Paradigm.

One would imagine that a true advocacy reporter — i.e., someone truly committed to the principles of a civil society and concerned for civilians on both sides — would to expose the full range of sources of Lebanese suffering, rather than this confected demonization of the Israelis intended to help the Lebanese.

And certainly, among these sources, our intrepid reporter would emphasize to Westerners who have difficulty imagining what this world is like unless they’ve studied the Middle Ages and the early Modern period — what it means to be increasingly in the grip of a powerful mafioso-like organization which invokes religious war with calls to genocide, promotes a death cult, targets enemy civilians and easily sacrifices its own people, desecrating the corpses for PR victories.

But he need not be that much of a hero… just an honest and reasonably modest individual who does his job as he’s supposed to. With rare exceptions, journalists are not supposed to be visionaries who make decisions about what to tell people based on how that will lead them to the “higher good.” Journalists are supposed to give us clean, accurate, relevant information and let us make decisions as to what it means, and how to get to the “higher good.” The difference between propaganda and journalism is that one manipulates and the other informs; the former disempowers, the latter empowers the reader. Our journalists have no business making these kinds of decisions, for which they are completely unqualified.

Here what the readers (i.e., we still living in free societies and capable of making decisions on the basis of a free press) need most is an honest appraisal of how accurate the information our MSM provide us with. If the information is staged, if photographers break their ethical rules in order to get “exciting” pictures that get into the MSM, and if those “spectacular” photos lead the opinion makers to get morally hysterical about one side of the conflict while overlooking the moral depravity of the other… then I’d say we’re all in trouble.

The word is that when US Intelligence people wanted advice at the end of WWII, they went to medievalists because we’re trained to reconstruct a large picture from fragmentary evidence. When I saw Talal’s work, heard Enderlin’s reaction, and watched Bob Simon “cover” the Al Durah affair, I realized that Pallywood never could have happened without a wide-ranging and systemic failure in the MSM.

And nothing embodies that failure better than this passage from a typical product of Le Monde, on the brave new world of accountable MSM that the blogosphere heralds. Nothing makes it clearer that the members of the MSM who do work in the Middle East have to come clean about what’s going on. In a time of crisis like the current, we cannot afford a MSM that stinks like the Augean Stables.

Global Jihad Warming and the Media Greenhouse Effect

And when the MSM plays into this manipulation rather than denounce it, they not only sacrifice the innocent Lebanese people who do not want this religious mafia to take over and use them as sacrificial shields, but they damage civil society the world over. On the one hand, they blind us to the deeds and motivations of organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah, so that demopaths can ask us to join demonstrations under the rubric: “We are all Hizbullah!”. And on the other hand, they encourage the hatreds and angry desires for revenge that feed the global Jihadi appeal. Global Jihad warming shot up by 5 degrees after Qana as Muslims the world over looked in growing horror and outrage at the spectacles of these dead children milked transmitted by a misguided and eager media.

If it had turned into an international PR disaster for Hezbollywood, in which the world looked aghast at the ghoulish manipulation of dead bodies, whose very deaths were primarily the responsibility of a religious death cult, one can imagine that the temperature might have dropped considerably. Not only would the Jihadis not have found new fuel for their hatreds, but the real moderates would have found much strength.

But instead of exposing Hezbollah, our photographer reports in ways that channel Hezbollah’s agenda in the name of the Lebanese people. Instead of helping a people in the death-grip of a vicious elite, the media helps the vicious elite by broadcasting it’s poisonous propaganda as news — “the bodies were really dead.” And in so doing, they act like a hot-house, increasing the temperature of Global Jihadi passions by advertising these lethal narratives and incensing the world. How can a Muslim anywhere be anything but outraged that the USA would support a bunch of murdering maniacs like the picture he gets of the Israelis from the MSM?

Why?

Why does the same media who never cease to chide George Bush, Benedict XVI and any other critic of Islam with “making things worse” engage in such consistently dangerous activity that almost unquestionably makes this worse. Why don’t they speak out? Why don’t they denounce?

There are many troubling answers to this question including psychological ones. Here I want to focus on two: Intimidation and Advocacy.

We do not know, and our media will not let us know, just how bad the intimidation. If you don’t look closely at incidents like the kidnapping of Bob Simon (January 21, 1991), or the recent forced conversion of two Fox correspondants, then you have very little clue as to the degree of terror against the media that is currently operative in Arab, increasingly any Muslim culture. In the Arab-Israeli conflict, the assassination and kidnapping of reporters became a chronic feature of the landscape in the 1970s and 1980s, just the time Pallywood got going according to our current estimation.

This should not be surprising. It is characteristic of honor-shame cultures that criticism of those with power is viewed as an assault and a legitimate object of retaliation… all the more when a death-cult takes over.

What appears in the allusions to intimidation our anonymous journalist has made — and whose implications seem to have escaped Le Monde‘s reporter — suggests that this culture of enforced solidarity operates at nearly full force in this arena of Middle East newsreporting. It’s the only way to understand how Pallywood not only takes place but persists, year after year… how something like Al Durah can remain uncorrected for now six long years of constant, visible damage.

But there is an alternative explanation: that these journalists are committed ideologues and advocates, that they either don’t know what they’re encouraging global Jihad or don’t agree that that’s what they’re doing, people like anonymous who readily back down on even mentioning photographers giving into the temptation to “fix” scenes, “for the good of the Lebanese people.”

These are the ones who must decide now, whether they will continue to ignore the stench of the Augean Stables, continue to call those who pay attention to it “right-wing,” continue to adhere to a now clearly destructive — as well as dishonest — paradigm that holds Israel fundamentally responsible for Arab suffering.

These are the ones who need to find enough modesty to consider that they might most resemble the members of the Emperor’s court the day he processed naked in front of his people, who have swallowed a “line” that denies the very reality before our eyes, who need to be a good deal more professional and less ideological. As I said to Charles Enderlin the first day I met him and watched the rushes: “at least consider as a working hypothesis the possibility that you’ve been duped.” (And please don’t answer as he did: “Impossible, they would never even think of cheating like that because I’d catch it right away.”)

Time for honesty, no matter how painful. It is not for you to decide what information is “good for the Lebanese, or Palestinian people.”

An Appeal to Members of the MSM

So please, Mr. Anonymous, and all the other reporters and photographers who know better… how about some honesty? How about some accountability not to your handlers who give you “access” but to your readers who depend on you? How about some small cracks in the omertà that has created our Augean Stables?

Then people might be able to assess for themselves who they hold responsible for the victimization of the Lebanese people, rather than you telling us. Then people might be able to defend against an emotional manipulation by the Jihadis that plays on precisely those humane feelings that these Jihadis do not share (indeed they despise), in order to demonize Israelis, who do share those concerns for life and innocence.

That’s how blood libels work. They project the hatred of the libelers onto the libeled and hope to arouse violent hatred with the resulting tale. Why on earth would our modern MSM want to vehiculate such medieval cruelties?

Al Durah in the Arab/Muslim World: Reception and Consequences Part I

For those who might wonder why I have lavished so much effort, attention and time on the Al Durrah affair, I post here an updated version of an essay from The Second Draft on Reception and Consequences.

AL-DURAH: IMPACT ARAB WORLD

AL DURAH AND THE PA

The impact of the pictures of al-Dura on the Arab world were instantaneous, explosive, and enduring. As soon as the footage ran – on Israeli TV – Israeli Arabs began to riot in a number of places, including Nazareth and Jaffa. This had not occurred among Israeli Arabs since the foundation of the state. It seemed as if a massive uprising (intifada) had spread to both sides of the Green Line (1948-67 borders). And the role of Muhamed’s picture is confirmed by every discussion of the issue, including the Ohr Commission’s report. As Dr. Sabikh, an Israeli Arab explained to Stephan Juffa of the Metula News Agency:

You understand, Steph, when we saw these pictures [of Mohamed al-Dura], we said that there was a radical change in the way Jews considered us. We had never seen or imagined Israeli soldiers shooting a child to kill him, and for forty minutes. In the towns and villages, at Sakhnin, Nazareth, Rameh, we thought that if you had no pity for Arab children, you were going to massacre us all! So it was urgent to go out into the streets and show you that we were not about to give up and it would cost you dearly.

[Never mind that if they really thought the Israelis were going to massacre them all, they hardly would have taken to the streets and given the Israelis an excuse to do so.]

The Arab rioting, which was, like the attack on Tuvya Grossman in Jerusalem the 29th of September, really violent, drew police fire, killing 13 Israeli Arabs, and further inflaming hatreds. Not only did the West Bank become hostile territory, but areas within Israel as well.

On the West Bank, rioting that had broken out in response to Sharon’s visit and subsequent crackdowns became widespread and far more deadly. The staggeringly violent affect it had can best be gauged by the fate of two army reserve soldiers who took the wrong turn and fell into the hands of the Palestinian police in Ramallah (seat of government of the PA, some dozen km from Jerusalem), some of whom, along with an enraged mob literally tore the policemen apart with their bare hands and dragged their body parts through the city. The savagery stunned journalists who witnessed it, who report hearing repeatedly “Revenge for the blood of Muhammed!

ramallah blood

Palestinian culture immediately seized upon this image of Muhammed al Durah and made it the icon of the Intifada – far more potent than any picture of Sharon on the Haram al Sharif. Palestinian TV inserted a picture from the riots in Nazereth into the footage, clearing up any ambiguity that might remain from Talal’s work, clearly indicating the Israeli soldier who killed Muhammed in cold blood — yet another stage in the Pallywood production, which posed no moral dilemma for those doing the editing.

Muhammed became the call to a ferocious uprising that would devour everyone. Certainly the educators in Palestinian territories were ready to send every last child to their deaths for revenge. The paroxysm of violence it had inspired in Ramallah became a rite of passage, with kindergarten children taught to dip their hands in red paint and show them, the way one of the killers at Ramallah did from the window of the station, crying:

“In the name of the Shahid (martyr) Mohammed al-Dura and the Shahida, the infant Iman al-Haju, we promise to continue with the Jihad, the resistance and the Intifada”.

It was the very emblem of an unquenchable hatred, and fueled the Intifada long after Sharon’s visit became a Palestinian trope for blaming the violence on Israel.

kindergarten blood

This hatred fed a genocidal rhetoric that fueled the Intifada’s attack on Israelis on either side of the green line. Sermon after sermon, rerun on Palestinian TV, had imams calling for killing the Jews wherever they are in the world. The apocalyptic hadith about how at the end of time, the Muslims will slaughter the Jews and the Jews will take refuge, and even the rocks and the trees will call out, “Oh Muslim, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come kill him,” became a staple of Palestinian rhetoric.

Guide to Al Durah: Recent Posts

For those coming here to get background on the Al Durah Affair and the ongoing trials, I offer a quick survey of the material I’ve posted with a few other links:

The full dossier on both Pallywood and Al Durah can be found at The Second Draft.

For those who have yet to see either of the two “video essays” we’ve done on Pallywood and Al Durah: The Making of an Icon, go to Pallywood and Al Durah Up at YouTube for the easiest links. There is a French version of Pallywood, and of Al Durah: The Making of an Icon, and a Spanish version of Pallywood.

For a general introduction to the upcoming trials and the larger stakes involved, see The Al Durah Trials: Portrait of French Culture at the Beginning of the 21st Century.

In French: Procès Al-Durah : état d’esprit de la France du début du XXIe siècle

For a discussion of the raw footage shot by Talal abu Rahmeh, the France2 cameraman who alone caught the “Al Durah footage,” see Al Durah Affair I: France2 Rushes by Talal Abu Rahmeh. It was viewing these rushes that inspired the term Pallywood.

For a discussion of some of the evidence surrounding the most curious thing about footage depicting a child killed by a bullet to the stomach who bled for twenty minutes in front of the cameraman — the absence of blood — see Blood? We’ve Got Some.

For a discussion of the remarkable resistance to even imagining, much less accepting the “staged” hypothesis, see Al Durah as Staged: The Resistance.

For a discussion of the “five scenarios” and James Fallows current position on the matter, see Fallows on al Durah: What is your Position?

For a long meditation (response to Zombietime) on what’s wrong with the media that such cheap fakes get by so consistently, see Meditations on Reutersgate: What’s Going on in the MSM?.

For a discussion of the impact of Al Durah in the Arab and Muslim world, see:
Al Durah in the Arab/Muslim World: Reception and Consequences Part I

For a discussion of the toxic effect of al Durah on French (and by extension, European) society in the early 21st century (including the advent of the Arab/Muslim “street” in Europe, see: On the hidden costs of Media Error: Muhamed al Durah and the French Intifada, and now en français au site d’Alain Jean-Mairet: Les coûts cachés des erreurs des médias: Mohammed al Dura et l’intifada française.

Pretrial Musings:
Mine: Paris Thoughts: Meditations on the Eve of the Trial
Nidra Poller’s: Al Durah the Trial: Part I

On the first trial, see:

My initial reactions at: Vive la France Republicaine: Elle Vit Toujours!

Nidra Poller’s two accounts at Pajamas Media: Part I (Pre-trial thoughts), Part II (initial post-trial reaction), and Part III (blow-by-blow).

Also one of the better MSM accounts with references to others:Cybercast News Service Weighs in on Al Durah Trial

Neo-con has a number of excellent meditations on the trials and the al Durah affair:
What’s behind France2′s stance in the al Durah case?: the press and honesty
Fake but accurate: what if it’s turtles all the way down?
and more.

For those who want to read farther, go to the Introductory Essays section at the Second Draft or the exhaustive linked bibliography at Menahem Macina’s Debriefing.org.

If anyone knows of other articles, or has written reflections on this issue that they’d like posted here, please feel free to send them to me. As anyone who has read me on the topic knows, I think this story has wide-ranging and profound implications for our entire dilemma today. I welcome the thoughts of other observers and analysts. I also particularly invite French comment.

On the Israeli Press and the Al Durah Affair

One of the most common questions people ask when they see the Al Durah and Pallywood footage is, “why don’t the Israelis say anything?” — actually one of Charles Enderlin’s favorite defenses. The answer is complex, and some day I’ll try and address it in detail. But for now, I just want to remark that one of the reasons is that the Israeli press is remarkably aggressive and largely leftish (if not more). Ha-Aretz trashed both the investigation and the investigators when they first came out with their claims that the odds were enormous against it being Israeli bullets.

One of my students asked if Ha-Aretz was an Israeli paper. Why? “Because it sounds like it’s written by Palestinians.”

Ah, Israeli self-criticism. It’s hard to realize how hard the Israeli media is on Israel.

Thus when I first got started on al Durah, I was in a cafe in Jerusalem and in walked B. Michael, a well known writer for Yediot Acharonot.

    “What do you think of the Muhammad al Durah case?”
    “A hundred percent the Israelis killed him.”
    “Do you know about the investigation?”
    “You mean the one by the engineer with the conspiracy theories?” [Apparently he read Ha-Aretz.] “The one with the theory that the kid committed suicide.”
    “Committed suicide?” I said to BM’s table companion?
    “He’s being sarcastic.”
    “Were you being sarcastic?” I asked BM.
    “No. I’m never sarcastic.”
    “Suicide?”
    “Well, maybe a little.”

I was stunned by his almost arrogant sense of certainty, his contempt of any questioning… even though this was one of the single most damaging “news items” ever to hit the stand. But it’s everywhere.

Virtually no one knows details. As late as 2005, a leading candidate for the Labor party’s leadership knew it might have been Palestinians, but had never heard that it might have been staged. When the Al Durah movie went up at Second Draft in December 2005, I received letters from Israelis — soldiers during 2000 — who also had never even heard of the possibility that it was staged, and when I asked an Israeli friend, he told me the Israelis don’t even know that Al Durah was not their fault.

As a result, the Israeli media is lamentably behind on this case. I fisked an earlier article in Maariv, written by a journalist who combined lack of knowledge in the case with the typical sneering attitude of the MSM towards “right-wing” people like Shahaf.

Indeed, when I told an Israeli friend about the trial in Paris, one of them said, “Why didn’t any of the Israeli press cover this?”

Why do I mention all this? Because we have another example of shoddy reporting — the only Israeli paper to cover the trial — this time from a paper that most Israeli journalists would call “right-wing,” The Jerusalem Post. I fisk it, not because it’s that bad — there’s far worse, but because I think that journalists should get up to speed on Al Durah before writing the articles. We’re now in the second draft of history, and it takes some research to inform your public well. Moreover, he has just filed a second report, from the Paris courtroom that continues to replicate both his attitudes and his inaccuracies.

Al Durah: Guide pour les francophones

J’indique ici les liens à mes articles à propos de l’affaire al Durah (et surtout ce qui concerne les procès qui ont lieu à Paris cet automne).

Pour ceux et celles qui ne les ont pas encore vus, il existe une version française de Pallywood, et de Al Durah: La Confection d’un Icone.

Concernant les enjeux du procès, voir Procès Al-Durah : état d’esprit de la France du début du XXIe siècle

Pour les connexions que je vois entre la diffusion des images d’al Durah et l’arrivée de la “rue arabe-musulmane” en France et le lien avec les émeutes de novembre dernier, voir Les coûts cachés des erreurs des médias: Mohammed al Dura et l’intifada française.

Pour une discussion de ce que j’ai expérimenté en visionnant les rushes de Talal abu Rahmeh, le cameraman de France2 qui a filmé l’épisode “al Durah”, voir Les Rushes de Talal abu Rahmeh et l’affaire al Durah

Pour un compte rendu de mes conversations avec Charles Enderlin au sujet de l’affaire et des rushes que nous avons visionner ensemble, voir
Conversations avec Charles Enderlin: Aux origines de mon témoignage.

En effet, le contenu de ces deux articles est à la base de mon témoignage devant la Cour de Paris.

Pour mes premières réactions au procès numéro 1 (contre Karsenty), voir Vive la France républicaine : Elle vit toujours !

Voir aussi deux comptes-rendus du procès en français :
“L’image choc de l’intifada en procès” du 16 septembre, dans Le Figaro,
et
Veronique Chemla, “La justice française se prononcera sur les images controversées de la mort de Mohamed al-Dura” du 19 septembre dans Guysen News.

Enfin, on trouvera sur le site de Menahem Macina, Debriefing.org, la meilleur compilation d’articles ayant trait à l’affaire Al-Dura (plus de 140, continuellement mise à jour). Voir la rubrique A-Dura – France2.

Cybercast News Service Weighs in on Al Durah Trial

There has been a fair amount of reporting on the al-Durah affair in the MSM — far more than anticipated. Some of it has been good if brief (Le Figaro), some brief and awful (The Jerusalem Post), some more longer and mixed (The International Herald Tribune). The best so far is from Eva Cahen at CNS (below), who was the only one to actually interview people at the trial (including me), and to cite more than the same predictable comments from France2.

Cahen’s is below (and not only because she cites me at length). I reserve my fisking of Michel Zlotowski of TJP for the moment. And Philippe Karsenty, who has prepared a response to Zlotowski’s work, has sent out a round up at Media Ratings, but I can’t find it at the site. Nidra’s Part III is now up at Pajamas Media, and Véronique Chemla’s account at Guysen.

French TV Network Sues Over Palestinian Shooting Controversy
By Eva Cahen
CNSNews.com Correspondent
September 18, 2006

Paris (CNSNews.com) – Six years after the world was gripped by media images showing a 12-year-old boy’s death during an Israeli-Palestinian gun battle in Gaza, a French state-owned television channel — accused of spreading misinformation — is defending its reputation in court.

In a series of lawsuits, France 2 Television is suing Philippe Karsenty, director of an online media watchdog agency, for alleged defamation, after he published an article urging that the network’s news director Arlette Chabot and reporter Charles Enderlin “be stripped of their positions immediately.”

A public prosecutor [Procureur de la République] here asked the judges to drop the charges against Karsenty, acknowledging that he had defamed Chabot and Enderlin, but declaring that the accusations against them were based on serious and impartial investigations and offered “relatively convincing proof” of fraud.

The France 2 news report, broadcast in September 2000, was seen around the world after the network distributed it internationally — for free.

In the report, Enderlin — who had not been present when his Palestinian cameraman Talal Abu Rahma filmed the incident — said the clip was recorded during a gun battle between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli soldiers at Gaza’s Netzarim junction.

Enderlin said the 55-second clip showed Mohammed al-Durra being shot by Israeli bullets, while a man identified as his father tried to shield him. The images became a symbol of the second Palestinian intifada (uprising), which had erupted several days earlier.

In the Nov. 2004 article published on his Media-Ratings website, Karsenty cited a detailed, frame-by-frame analysis of the video by the Metula News Agency, a small Israeli organization.

The analysis sought to demonstrate that many of the scenes were staged, and claimed there was evidence that the child had not been hit by bullets and did not appear to be dead.

The two France 2 journalists have stood by their story in interviews given to the French press. Enderlin says that 27 minutes of raw footage from which the clip was taken also contained images of the child dying. He had not included that footage in order to spare viewers, he said.

Last year, a France 2 representative told the Cybercast News Service that none of the scenes was staged and warned that the station would sue anyone who questioned the authenticity of the story.

Karsenty’s defense case included showing parts of a Metula documentary which contained footage from a Reuters cameraman showing the fighting scenes were staged by actors. The analysis also showed frame shots of the boy apparently moving after he was allegedly dead. Although several cameramen were present, only France 2′s Abu Rahma taped the child’s alleged shooting.

Four witnesses testified that they were convinced the video was a hoax.

One of them, Richard Landes, a professor of medieval history at Boston University, said Enderlin had shown him the original rushes during a visit to Israel in October 2003.

“I saw the rushes with Charles Enderlin and I was stunned. I was just blown away because everything was staged. They’d fake injuries, then people would rush them off in ambulances, the cameramen would take pictures and the ambulances would rush off with their sirens blaring, then they’d turn around and come back,” he said.

Landes exclaimed to Enderlin that the scenes were all fake and Enderlin had responded: “They always do that. It’s a cultural style, they exaggerate.”

However, despite the staging of various scenes, Enderlin denied that he could have been duped about the death of the child.

France 2′s original raw footage has only been shown to a select few journalists and the network has ignored requests to make it public.

Other allegations

Some who have analyzed the rushes, while concluding that most of the gun battle was staged, have not questioned the death of the child. Instead, they have refuted Enderlin’s claim that the boy was struck by Israeli bullets.

Esther Shapira, a German film maker, concluded in a 2002 documentary that the bullets could not have been fired from the Israeli positions but had to have come from the Palestinian side.

Two French journalists, Daniel Leconte and Denis Jeambar, who were shown the raw footage by France 2, also came to the same conclusion. They caused a public stir in January 2005, when they said in an editorial in the French daily, Le Figaro, that most of the scenes in the video had been staged.

Landes said he believed the child’s death itself had been staged. At the moment when al-Durra was said to have been fatally shot fatally, he said, the boy was seen lifting his elbow and taking a peek.

Landes said he got some of the available television footage together and started showing it to media organizations in the U.S.

“I went to ABC, NBC, WGBH, the Boston Globe and I showed it to them and they all told me to forget it,” he said.

He was given various reasons for the lack of interest. One producer said he had been convinced but there wasn’t much of an “appetite” for “that.” Another said the organization would have to find something the Israelis had done to provide balance and evenhandedness.

Neither Chabot nor Enderlin were present at the court hearing. France 2 based its case on written testimony about the integrity of the network and its reporter. These included a statement by President Jacques Chirac supportive of Enderlin.

In asking for the defamation charges against Karsentyto be dismissed, prosecutor Sandrine Alimi-Uzan said France 2 could have made a stronger case if it had made available the original raw footage to back its assertion that the story was not a hoax.

Following the hearing, a relieved Karsenty said his faith in the French judicial system had been restored.

“Wherever I went, people refused to listen and to look at the evidence,” he said.

“This was a huge problem because the evidence was obvious — as the public prosecutor has agreed. French society will be redeeming itself through its judicial system if the judges confirm the fact that the charges should be dropped because I showed the evidence.”

The judges, who will pronounce their judgment on October 19, are not obliged to abide by the public prosecutor’s recommendation.

In the meantime, Karsenty said he worried about the possibility that political pressure could have an impact on the eventual judgment.

See Also:
French TV Sticks by Story That Fueled Palestinian Intifada (Feb. 2, 2005)
French TV Allegedly Using Threats to Avert Fraud Probe (Jan. 13, 2005)
TV Documentary: Palestinian ‘Martyr’ Likely Shot By Palestinians (April 2, 2002)

Tom Paine interviews me in a Podcast on Al Durah Trials

I was recently interviewed by Thomas Paine and the Podcast is now up. Please excuse my one-time use of a venerable Anglo-Saxon four letter word to describe the MSM in explaining why I chose of the name Augean Stables for my blog.

I welcome comments both critical and not.

Les Rushes de Talal abu Rahmeh et l’affaire al Durah

Ici une traduction d’un essai sur ce que les rushes de France2 du jour même et du lendemain de la “mort” du “petit Mohammed” nous apprennent sur l’affaire. (Traduit par Pistache)

LES CASSETTES DE FRANCE2 : LES RUSHES DE L’AFFAIRE AL-DURAH

Notes de Richard Landes après trois visionnages.

L’essentiel du matériel disponible sur les cassettes de France2 a déjà été longuement discuté en ce qui concerne ses rapports avec Pallywood. Je vais ici m’attacher à parler de ce que les cassettes nous disent de plus sur l’affaire Al Durah, en dehors de leur rôle de témoignage direct.

La dernière scène figurant sur les bandes de Talal du 30 septembre, juste après la séquence des al-Durah, montre un homme que l’on charge dans une ambulance au carrefour. Cette séquence, qui ressemble a beaucoup d’autres scènes pallywoodiennes filmées plus tôt ce jour-là (pas de civière, pas trace de sang, évacuation maladroite), ne concerne manifestement ni le père, ni l’enfant (puisqu’ils auraient dus être très ensanglantés, et évacués de derrière le baril). Si Talal avait eu des batteries encore suffisamment pleines que pour filmer cette séquence après celle des Al-Durah, pourquoi n’a-t-il pas pris plus de plans de la soi-disant bien plus macabre séquence des al-Durah – l’enfant « saignant pendant vingt minutes », la pluie de balles, leur évacuation ?

Les informations les plus importantes quant aux al-Durah sur ces cassettes proviennent peut-être de ce qui concerne le lendemain. Sur ce qui a été filmé le jour d’après figure une terrible photo prise la veille à l’hôpital, montrant un garçon (qui n’est pas nécessairement Mohamed al-Durah) au ventre déchiré et aux entrailles apparentes (je n’ai su obtenir une copie de ce cliché, et serais heureux si quelqu’un l’ayant pouvait m’en fournir une). Il est difficile d’imaginer que ce trou béant puisse être le point d’entrée d’une balle ; il suggère plutôt ou un tir par derrière, ou un élargissement pratiqué par les médecins à l’hopital. Dans tous les cas, une telle blessure aurait certainement laissé une quantité de sang massive sur le sol derrière le baril.

Cependant, sur ce que Talal a filmé tôt le matin figurent plusieurs plans du baril qui ne montrent pas trace de sang à l’endroit où le père et le fils étaient assis. Le sol est légèrement plus foncé derrière le baril, ce qui incita Enderlin à me faire la remarque que, peut-être, la mare de sang avait été nettoyée, ou recouverte de sable. Etant donné que le mur aurait dû être éclaboussé de sang, et que le saignement aurait du s’étendre sur une zone bien plus grande que celle qui est légèrement plus foncée, cela ne paraît pas une explication plausible.

Quoi qu’il en soit, les Palestiniens impliqués ont visiblement compris que le manque de sang posait un sérieux problème pour leur « narratif », et fournirent du sang frais avant la visite des journalistes qui arrivèrent plus tard ce jour là. La photo ci-dessous montre la scène vers midi (à en juger le peu d’ombres). Notez la couleur rouge vermillon du sang, chose qu’aucun journaliste n’a commenté dans son compte-rendu. (Goldenberg, en fait, fait référence au « sang s’assombrissant… » – un jour après ?). De plus, il n’y a pas de sang sur le mur, où, vraisemblablement, un total de neuf blessures par balles aurait dû laisser un fameux tableau.

thumbnail aldura\'s blood
AP photo, October 1, 2000

Pour exhorter France2 à rendre publiques les cassettes contenant le travail de Talal le 30 septembre 2000 et le lendemain, 1er octobre 2000, quelques adresses :

Arlette Chabot est la Directrice de l’Information de France2 Télévision qui était présente lorsque Denis Jeambar, Daniel Leconte et Luc Rosenzweig ont vu les rushes. Elle sait à quel point la situation est mauvaise, et doit être prévenue que nous ne lâcherons pas cette histoire. A ce jour, Enderlin et Abou Rahmeh continuent à travailler ensemble pour France2 et à informer le public français de la situation au Moyen-Orient.

Pour lui envoyer un courriel : [email protected]

Patrick de Carolis est le Président de France Télévision nommé depuis peu. Il devrait être mis au courant du fait que ses prédécesseurs ont été à la tête d’une énorme incompétence journalistique.
Ecrire à : [email protected]

Dominique Baudis est le Président du Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel, dont l’avis est que les journalistes ne devraient pas diffuser des histoires qui ne puissent être prouvées de manière concluante et qu’ils devraient corriger les comptes-rendus rapidement et en donnant à ces correctifs la même importance que les récits originels.

Vous pouvez leur soumettre un commentaire via la page suivante :

http://www.csa.fr/outils/contact/contacteznous_formulaire.php

Texte-type:
Madame, Monsieur,

Je vous écris pour vous demander de bien vouloir rendre publics les rushes qui ont été tournés par Talal Abou Rahma le 30 septembre et le 1er octobre 2000. Ceux qui ont vu ces images affirment que ces rushes contiennent de nombreuses mises en scène, que votre correspondant, Charles Enderlin a présenté comme des informations réelles. Compte tenu du fort impact de ces images et des doutes sérieux concernant son travail, le public devrait avoir le droit d’accéder à l’information brute, tourné par Abou Rahma, qui lui a permis de tirer ses conclusions dramatiques.

Je vous remercie de bien vouloir tenir compte de ma demande et de m’informer personnellement de la suite que vous comptez donner à ma requête.

Bien à vous,

XXXXX

Conversations avec Charles Enderlin: Aux origines de mon témoignage

Ci-dessous je mets une traduction française de mon essai, Conversations with Charles Enderlin. Ce fut la base de ce que j’ai témoigner devant le tribunal. Si Charles Enderlin a envie de m’attaquer en justice, qu’il le fasse. Si j’ai bien compris, ce n’est pas suffisant de diffamer son caractère, il faut aussi que ce que je dis est faux. (Traduit par Pistache)

CONVERSATIONS AVEC CHARLES ENDERLIN DANS LES STUDIOS DE FRANCE2 À JÉRUSALEM

Charles Enderlin est un citoyen israélien né en France qui est correspondent de France2 au Moyen-Orient depuis plusieurs décennies. C’est à lui que Talal abu Rahme, le cameraman palestinien qui captura les seules images des al-Durah sous le feu le 30 septembre 2000 au carrefour de Netzarim, envoya le matériel filmé. Il monta et présenta ces images avec un commentaire basé sur le témoignage de Talal, et distribua gratuitement quelques 3 minutes de ce que Talal avait tourné à toute chaîne qui le désirait. Cependant, ni lui, ni France2 n’a accepté de remettre le jeu complet des rushes de Talal de ce jour là et du lendemain à la commission d’enquête israélienne ni à d’autres investigateurs indépendants.

Le 31 octobre 2003, j’ai eu le privilège de visionner ces cassettes et de parler d’elles avec Charles Enderlin et un caméraman israélien qui travaille pour France2 et accompagnait Enderlin a Ramallah le jour fatal du 30 septembre 2000. J’ai obtenu de revoir ces enregistrements et d’avoir des conversations supplémentaires avec Enderlin à deux reprises par la suite.

Charles Enderlin joue un rôle critique dans l’affaire al-Durah. Sans ses efforts énergiques à la fois pour présenter la version des évènements donnée par Talal en tant qu’ « actualités » et pour distribuer les extraits tournés gratuitement à tout le monde, le récit n’aurait jamais eu autant de poids. En fait, s’il avait plutôt licencié Talal sur le champ pour avoir essayé de lui soumettre un faux aussi grotesque, l’histoire aurait pu prendre une tournure très différente – et l’Intifada de même. Et si Enderlin avait revu sa position et admit ses erreurs, une rectification aurait pu voir le jour bien plus tôt.

Parmi ceux d’entre nous qui pensent que la séquence est une mise en scène (Shahaf, Poller, Juffa, Huber, etc.), la question quant à Enderlin se résume à : à quel moment a-t-il réalisé que la scène était truquée ? Les partisans de la ligne dure soutiennent qu’il était au courant dès le début et que, complice de Talal, il a dupé le grand public autant que lui. D’autres concèdent que, dans son empressement à diffuser un tel scoop, les signes qui auraient du l’alerter lui ont échappés, et qu’il n’a réalisé son erreur que plus tard. Mais combien de temps plus tard ?

Honnêtement, je n’en sais rien. Je reste très humble face au pouvoir de la dissonance cognitive, à la capacité que peut avoir quelqu’un d’aussi futé que Charles Enderlin à se convaincre lui-même que ces séquences sont authentiques – comme il continue de le soutenir – parce que le fait de réaliser son erreur aurait un coût accablant. Il m’a assurément tenu assez de propos témoignant d’une crédulité spectaculaire envers Talal et d’autres sources palestiniennes pour me permettre de faire l’interprétation qu’Enderlin est « sincèrement » inconscient de son erreur. D’un autre côté, Enderlin a une réputation de dissimulateur suffisante pour envisager que tout ceci puisse n’être que de la comédie. En fin de compte, seul Charles Enderlin connaît la vérité.

Ce qu’Enderlin savait ou sait importe beaucoup, tout spécialement pour toute personne préoccupée par la probité journalistique. Ce que je rapporte ci-dessous résulte d’entretiens avec Charles Enderlin tenues en trois occasions différentes. La première a eu lieu le 31 octobre 2003, et les deux conversations ultérieures dans les six mois qui ont suivi… Autrement dit, après que les principales attaques concernant son travail aient été publiées – Yom Tov Samya, Esther Schapira, James Fallows. Chacune de mes rencontres avec lui a duré au moins une heure, pendant laquelle je pouvais visionner les cassettes. Je présente ces souvenirs en guise de témoignages à prendre en considération si on essaie de déterminer ce que ses connaissances et son attitude peuvent nous dire quant à son professionnalisme.

Enderlin et les sources palestiniennes, dont Talal.

Mon premier choc advint lorsque je réalisais que les prises de vues étaient tantôt sans intérêt (des jets de pierre), tantôt des séquences comiquement mises en scène. Lorsque le cameraman israélien qui visionnait ces séquences avec nous rit d’une séquence particulièrement bébête, je lui demandais pourquoi.

    « Elles semblent toutes tellement fausses », répondit-il.
    « C’est mon impression », acquiesçais-je.
    Sur quoi Enderlin observa : « Oh, ils font ça tout le temps ».
    « Mais », demandais-je alors, « s’ils font tout le temps des mises en scène, pourquoi ne peut-il en être de même avec l’affaire al-Durah ? ».
    « Oh », répliqua Enderlin nonchalamment, « ils ne sont pas assez futé pour ça. »

[Ce n’est que bien plus tard que j’ai réalisé les implications de cette remarque – sans l’assistance d’Enderlin à la rédaction, leur travail n’arriverait jamais à « faire » l’actualité.]

Les preuves de la crédulité d’Enderlin envers les sources palestiniennes abondent. Durant notre entretien, il reçut un message qu’il me montra bien évidemment, preuve additionnelle de la véracité de la séquence al-Durah. Il s’agissait d’une dépêche de presse émanant d’un hôpital palestinien, qui déclarait qu’un garçon avait été atteint par une balle israélienne. Lorsque je lui demandais comment l’hôpital connaissait la provenance du tir, il me toisa d’un air calme et méprisant, comme pour dire : « de quelle autre provenance pourrait-il s’agir ? » Apparemment, la proportion considérable de victimes palestiniennes tombées sous le feu palestinien durant l’Intifada (et de manière souvent intentionnelle) n’a pas retenu son attention.

Il évoqua Talal à de nombreuses reprises comme un journaliste éminemment professionnel et digne de confiance. « Il commençait à manquer de batteries ; c’est pourquoi il n’a pas filmé beaucoup de plans de l’incident… Il m’a appelé un certain nombre de fois depuis le site, en panique… il craignait pour sa vie. » Je demandais à Charles comment il pouvait être sûr que ces déclarations et ces messages ne faisaient pas partie d’une mise en scène. « Je le connais bien. Nos familles se sont rencontrées », insista-t-il, « il ne me mentirait pas. Vous devez comprendre la signification culturelle de ce genre de choses. »

Moi, qui avais vu Talal mentir à Esther Schapira, trouvais ces assurances douteuses. Quant à la signification culturelle de telles rencontres familiales, je trouvais difficile de croire que Talal placerait sa loyauté envers Enderlin (aussi flatté que ce dernier ait pu être de ces contacts sociaux avec un Palestinien) au-dessus de sa loyauté à la cause palestinienne. Talal est et était membre de l’Association des Jounalistes Palestiniens, un groupe pro-OLP qui transmet les menaces de l’Autorité Palestinienne aux journalistes palestiniens, avertissant des conséquences qui attendent ceux qui présenteraient l’A.P. sous un mauvais jour.

Plus tard lors de notre premier entretien, j’essayais à nouveau, très doucement, de suggérer qu’il pourrait revoir l’affaire.

    « Je pense que vous devriez au moins considérer comme hypothèse de travail que vous puissiez avoir été dupé. »
    « Impossible », répondit-il, « il ne serait même jamais venu à l’idée de Talal d’essayer de faire cela. »
    « Pourquoi ? », demandais-je, incapable d’imaginer la raison.
    « Parce que pour faire cela, il aurait du s’imaginer pouvoir me faire gober un tel faux, et comme il savait que ce serait impossible, il n’aurait jamais ne fut-ce qu’envisagé une telle idée. »

Aussi tragique que soit cette affaire, je ne pus que rester ébahi devant la combinaison de logique talmudique et d’arrogance française contenue dans son explication.

Carte de l’incident du carrefour de Netzarim dessinée de la main d’Enderlin

Ma seconde grande surprise, lors de cette première rencontre, se produisit lorsqu’Enderlin me dessina une carte du carrefour de Netzarim (voir ci-dessous avec vrai carte).

enderlin's map

Non seulement fit-il des erreurs mineures mais significatives, par exemple quant à l’emplacement de la fourgonnette derrière laquelle Talal se trouvait en filmant les scènes clés (trop en avant), mais il plaça la position israélienne du mauvais côté du carrefour (entre autres problèmes, cette erreur rend le fait que Talal se soit abrité derrière la fourgonnette incompréhensible, ce qu’Enderlin remarqua et tenta de corriger en avançant la camionnette hors de la ligne de tir).

C’est une « erreur » stupéfiante qui démontre ou bien une ignorance flagrante de la situation – et dès lors de tous les signes dont il est question –, ou purement et simplement un acte de malhonnêteté, tablant sur ma méconnaissance pour réussir. Je penche personnellement pour l’ignorance, parce qu’Enderlin ne fit aucun effort pour protéger cette preuve accablante et que je suis reparti avec elle dans mes notes. Mais ce n’est guère concluant. Il a pu juste supposer que j’étais stupide, ignorant ou paresseux.

Cette carte mérite réflexion. Ce qui ressort du rapport Yom Tov Samya est que a) étant donné les angles de tir, les Israéliens n’auraient pas pu toucher l’enfant, et b) étant donné les nuages de poussière circulaires éjectés par les deux balles que l’on voit atteindre le mur, au moins une partie des tirs venaient du côté palestinien. En positionnant les Israéliens au Nord-Est plutôt qu’au Nord-Ouest du carrefour, Enderlin révèle sa méconnaissance fondamentale à ce sujet. Toute personne qui a lu les rapports, même superficiellement, peut se rendre compte de l’endroit où les Israéliens se trouvaient. Quant à Enderlin, on supposerait qu’il connaissait déjà la disposition des lieu avant de diffuser les prises de vues accompagnées de l’affirmation selon laquelle les tirs provenaient des Israéliens.

En plaçant les Israéliens du côté faisant face au baril, Enderlin, à sa façon, admettait que les tirs venaient de cette direction tout en tentant d’en rendre les Israéliens responsables. L’indigence de cette manœuvre, qui ne pouvait convaincre que le plus ignorant des observateurs, me laissait pantois. Et je ne pus que me demander si l’erreur était intentionnelle (c’est à dire un mensonge d’Enderlin), inconsciente (c’est-à-dire qu’Enderlin, ayant lu le rapport sur la direction des balles, ne pouvait admettre ses conclusions et avait besoin de réinventer la disposition du carrefour pour préserver son ‘innocence »), ou reflétait une ignorance ahurissante à propos de ce carrefour, ce qui impliquait qu’Enderlin n’ait jamais lu le rapport Yom Tov Samya ni aucune des autres critiques de son travail. (J’ai entendu dire qu’il avait dessiné des cartes semblables à l’intention d’autres visiteurs, et si quelqu’un a eu une expérience similaire je serais très intéressé d’en avoir connaissance).

Dans tous les cas, cette carte fait d’Enderlin au mieux un journaliste remarquablement négligent, inexcusablement mal informé de détails cruciaux concernant l’un de ses reportages les plus importants, et, au pire, un menteur méprisant. C’est à lui d’éclaircir les choses.

Du sang et des balles

Au cours de visites ultérieures dans les bureaux de France2, je soulevais d’autres aspects troublants du dossier, en particulier l’absence de balles israéliennes retrouvées ou sur le site ou dans les corps de Mohamed et de son père Jamal (il fut proclamé qu’ils avaient reçu 11 blessures par balles).

    « Il n’y a pas de balles », protestais-je, ayant en tête le visage de Talal souriant nerveusement lorsqu’il est pris dans son mensonge par Esther Schapira.
    « Le général les a », répondit Enderlin, comme s’il connaissait la première manœuvre de Talal (“Interrogez le général… il pourra vous le dire”), mais pas à quel point cette tentative s’était mal terminée.
    « Alors pourquoi n’y a-t-il aucune archive officielle quant au type de balle, aucune enquête balistique – où sont les balles ? », demandais-je.
    « Le général les a », répondit-il, « dans un sac dans son tiroir. »
    A ce point, j’étais sidéré (on aurait dit qu’il parlait d’un sac de billes). « Et vous le croyez ? », demandais-je avec incrédulité.
    « Pourquoi ne le croirais-je pas ? », répondit-il. « Je lui fait tout autant confiance qu’à Yom Tov Samya ! »

Comme pour la carte dessinée par Enderlin, cette réponse mérite qu’on s’y arrête. D’une certaine façon, Enderlin semblait jouer le jeu de l’équivalence morale, de « l’impartialité ». En évoquant un général israélien dans sa comparaison, il me mettait en principe dans une position où je serais passé pour raciste en ne faisant pas autant confiance au général palestinien qu’au général israélien. Qu’importe alors que le général israélien ait dirigé une enquête approfondie dont il a tiré de prudentes conclusions, et que le général palestinien ne l’ait pas fait parce que « lorsqu’on sait qui est le coupable nous ne faisons pas d’enquête » ? Pour Enderlin, c’est apparemment kif-kif.

Mais les apparences sont trompeuses. Sa déclaration inverse en fait la confiance qu’il accorde à ces hommes. Si l’on tient compte de la carte qu’il a dessiné, s’il ne me mentait pas sciemment, alors c’est qu’Enderlin n’avait pas lu le rapport d’enquête de Yom Tov Samya, et qu’il avait de toute façon immédiatement balayé ses conclusions – à un point tel qu’il ne connaissait toujours pas les aspects les plus élémentaires de l’affaire. Donc en réalité, il ne fait pas confiance à Yom Tov Samya malgré son enquête, et il fait confiance au général palestinien en dépit de la mentalité de lyncheur de cet homme pour qui on n’enquête pas si on « connaît » déjà les coupables.

Durant ma dernière visite, j’ai aussi soulevé le fait que les plans du baril pris par Talal tôt le lendemain matin ne montrent pas de sang sur le sol ni sur le mur à l’endroit où le père et l’enfant étaient réfugiés. Enderlin examina cela de près et affirma que l’on pouvait voir une zone légèrement plus foncée derrière le baril, qui pouvait être du sable recouvrant le sang. « Pourquoi les Palestiniens voudraient-ils faire disparaître le sang ? Et pourquoi n’y a-t-il pas de sang sur le mur et là où le petit est tombé ? », demandais-je, repensant à la photo prise plus tard ce jour-là qui montre qu’ils ont rajouté du sang à la scène avant l’arrivée de la presse étrangère (mais pas sur le mur). « Comment le saurais-je ? », répondit Enderlin avec impatience, comme si ce n’était pas son boulot de s’occuper de telles vétilles.

S’entretenir avec Enderlin, dans son bureau et au tribunal

M’entretenir avec Enderlin fut toujours une tâche difficile. Je devais lui paraître suffisamment bien disposé pour qu’il me laisse visionner les rushes, mais je ne lui cachais jamais mes réactions face aux indices ni mon sentiment qu’il avait été dupé. A chaque fois que j’étais près de l’affronter, il s’énervait et commençait à crier – une réaction dont une autre personne qui l’a longuement interviewé a également fait l’expérience (Gutmann, The Other War, p. 72-3). Je n’ai pas beaucoup insisté sur certaines de ses affirmations les plus extravagantes, telles que les « plans de l’agonie de l’enfant » qu’il a coupé parce qu’ils étaient « trop pénibles à regarder », bien que ceci se soit avéré être l’un de ses mensonges les plus énormes.

Son argument favori est « Ecoutez, les Israéliens ont admis [avoir commis ceci], et s’ils avaient eu le moindre soupçon de malversation ils auraient arrêté Talal il y a longtemps. » Et, bien qu’il vaille la peine de se demander pourquoi les Israéliens ne sont pas revenus sur cette affaire, ceci reste au mieux une réponse extrêmement évasive puisqu’elle évite d’examiner les importants indices qu’il s’agit d’une tromperie – de la part de Talal et peut-être aussi d’Enderlin. Son autre « échappatoire » est de déclarer qu’il a perdu trop de temps avec cette histoire ; que ses adversaires ne sont que des monomaniaques et des gens d’extrême droite ; et qu’il a autre chose à faire. « J’en ai assez ! »

Il a peut-être perdu du temps, mais beaucoup de gens ont perdu la vie ou celles de leurs proches dans ce qui a suivi la diffusion de ce reportage cherchant à provoquer la haine. A ce point, se prémunir de sa fatigue personnelle me semble constituer un sommet de mauvaise foi.

En fin de compte, je pense que seule un procès, dans lequel Talal et Enderlin seraient tous deux soumis à un contre-interrogatoire rigoureux et ne pourraient se dérober à la myriade de contradictions que leurs déclarations et les indices disponibles font naître, pourrait nous aider à comprendre ce qui s’est exactement passé lorsque cette farce tragique a frappé la planète avec la force d’une bombe atomique psychologique.

Enderlin n’a jamais cessé de clamer qu’il poursuivrait en justice quiconque oserait mettre en doute sa bonne foi, et il a mené certaines choses devant les tribunaux. Sans doute ce que j’ai écrit ici mérite-t-il sa réponse légale s’il pense vraiment être innocent. Que le procès commence. Que le monde puisse voir la matière première scandaleuse filmée par Talal et dont Enderlin fit régulièrement ses choux gras ; que Charles Enderlin et Talal abu Rahmeh s’avancent à la barre des témoins et que, sous serment, ils expliquent au monde ce qu’ils ont fait et pourquoi.

Vive la France républicaine : Elle vit toujours !

Vive la France républicaine : Elle vit toujours !

[Paris, le 14 septembre 2006]
Il est tard, et je repars demain. Mais vite, un mot sur le procès de ce jour. J’en ai manqué une grande part, attendant dans une antichambre avec les autres témoins. J’étais l’avant-dernier. Après ma propre déposition (voir mes conversation avec Enderlin, à propos du plan des lieux) j’ai pu assister à celle de Gérard Huber, auteur de Contre-expertise d’une mise en scène seul livre complet sur l’affaire Al-Durah (mis à part, peut-être, celui de Stephanie Gutmann, The Other War: Israelis, Palestinians and the Struggle for Media Supremacy). Puis vinrent les plaidoiries. L’avocate de France 2 ne posa aucune question aux témoins, et ne produisit aucun témoignage. Aucun des deux plaignants, Charles Enderlin et Arlette Chabot, n’étaient présents.

Après le dernier témoignage, de Gérard Huber, les juges suspendent l’audience pendant six minutes. Il est maintenant plus de 7 heures du soir. Pendant la pause, Nidra Poller me dit à quel point elle est impressionnée par le niveau des débats, en particulier les questions posées par le président du tribunal. L’audience reprend, d’abord avec l’avocate de France 2, puis le procureur de la République, une fonction que j’ignorais jusqu’à avant-hier. Ce magistrat, représentant le ministère public, donne son interprétation des faits du point de vue de l’intérêt de la Société et formule des recommandations.

L’avocate de la chaîne nous gratifia d’une plaidoirie remarquablement terne, répétant le credo que Charles Enderlin et France 2 ressassent depuis des années, comme si elle n’avait rien entendu des déclarations des témoins cités ni rien lu du volumineux dossier préparé par la défense. Elle mit en doute la confiance que l’on pouvait accorder aux témoins, minimisant leurs déclarations et récusant leur qualification. Il paraîtrait que j’aurais dit, euh…, ne pas savoir grand chose, et, de toute façon, qu’est-ce qu’un médiéviste peut connaître en images [et en falsifications] ? Jamais critique ridicule ne m’avait autant amusé.

Puis vint le tour de Madame la procureur de la République. Un auteur n’aurait pu écrire un plus excellent discours.

Vive la France Republicaine: Elle Vit Toujours!

It’s late and I leave tomorrow. But a brief note on today’s proceedings. I missed most of it, waiting in a back room with the other witnesses. I went second to last. But I was there for my testimony (see my Conversations with Enderlin — we discussed the map), and Gerard Huber, author of the only extant book on Al Durah (unless you want to include Stephanie Gutmann‘s). Then came the summations. France2′s lawyer asked no questions of any of the witnesses and offered no witnesses for her case. Neither Charles Enderlin nor Arlette Chabot, the two plaintiffs, appeared.

After the last witness, Gerard Huber, the judges took a 6 minute break — by now it’s past 7 at night. Outside the courtroom Nidra told me how impressed she was with the level of the proceedings including the nature of the judge’s questions. We went back in for summations. First the lawyer for France2, then the Procureur de la République, an office I did not know about until two days ago. This court-appointed official represents “la société civile,” and summarizes from the point of view of the public interest how to he or she reads the evidence presented and finally makes a recommendation.

The lawyer for France2 gave a strikingly lackluster speech in which she repeated the basic presentation that France2 (via Charles Enderlin) has been repeating for years, as if she had heard none of the witnesses, nor read any of the voluminous work that Philippe and his lawyer had prepared. She questioned the trustworthiness of the witnesses, summarizing their comments and dismissing their qualifications. I apparently said, euh… euh… that I didn’t know much, “and anyway, what does he know about images [and fakes], he’s a medievalist.” I never so reveled in lame criticism.

Then came Madame le Procureur de la République. A screen writer could not have written a better speech. All the best tropes of civil society — honesty, accountability, fairness, transparency, context… the dangerous powers of an uncriticized quatrième état (fourth estate)… the right of the public to know, and therefore the responsibility of France2 to show the tapes of their cameraman Talal abu Rahmeh… the fact that what Phillipe had said was in fact defamation of Charles Enderlin’s reputation as a journalist, but that the evidence more than supported such an accusation… that this was not the typical case of libel, where the person slings unconsidered insults at another, but a carefully studied and considered criticism… that any sharp language was more than justified in the context of a case where one wants to attract attention… that it was not malice to want que Charles Enderlin tombe [that Charles Enderlin should fall].

Oh, and did I mention that she made numerous references to the testimony, that witnesses had come from far away to testify, that this was not just a French issue, but an international issue, and that many had suffered a great deal because of these images.

Then came Philippe’s lawyer, then Philippe, who made seven lapidary remarks, the last of which was the only thing missing from Madame le Procureur’s remarks: That Charles Enderlin and France2 are trying to use the courts [instrumentaliser la justice] to avoid facing the criticism leveled at them, and that if they would produce the rushes and abide by an open inquiry, then we wouldn’t even be in court.

Wow. French Republican values have scored a great first round victory today. This is the France that I fell in love with as a kid, and as a student reading Jules Michelet, and doing medieval history with intellectually vibrant people, the great souled people with wise and fair-minded institutions, and real ideals and commitment to integrity… the people of the Peace of God, and the early, heady days of the French Revolution.

Not to get too excited too soon… that was just one important court officer exercising her functions impeccably, a model of integrity and an accused who defended himself with great diligence and intelligence.

The judges make their decision known on October 19 (a week before the next trial on October 26 at which I will also be testifying… ).

This game is not over, and France2 (and the French MSM) has more than a bored lawyer working their side of the board. No one undergoes thorough, career-ending humiliation lightly, and there are so many resources for the aggrieved individuals in this case — Charles Enderlin, Arlette Chabot, and France2 — to make use of…

Stay tuned, and read Nidra.

Update: Philippe’s final remarks:

“I am of good faith and thiss is what I’d like to remind the court to prove it:
- They are too many incoherences, contradictions, unliklihoods in the film of France2 and the commentaries that followed its diffusion. To realize that one has only to look at the photos on the cover of Gerard Huber’s book.
- The false report was produced by the Palestinian cameraman, Talal abu Rahmeh and covered up by Charles Enderlin and his hierarchy.
- When all is said and done, there are only images, and the accusations are based on the images… so let’s analyze the images.
- I was transparent throughout this long process and this procedure. I presented all the elements at my disposal to affirm that in good faith it was staged.
- France 2 hides its 27 minutes of rushes which are supposed to prove its version and its good faith. Why? Why didn’t they just produce their 27 minutes to shut us up?
- I cannot prove that an even that didn’t happen didn’t take place. The burden of proof is on France2.
- France 2 wanted to use justice to silence its critics and give credence to its reporting. Do not let them do it.

Paris Thoughts: Meditations on the Eve of the Trial

When Monicagate broke out in the US, I remember a French friend saying to me, “You Americans are so bizarre, you would actually impeach a president for getting some nooky in the corridors of the White House” (or words to that effect). For them it was at once astonishing and laughable that a political career would founder on a sex scandal. Not unless there were treasonous pillow talk or something like that.

Now, as I speak to the French (largely to the Jews, almost no non-Jews I know have any knowledge of or interest in the al Durah affair, much less the upcoming trials), I hear things that would strike any American as astonishing, from the actual charges (criticizing the media), to the anticipated loss, to the assumption that the judges will rule narrowly on technical matters. Astonishing, perhaps, but no laughing matter, unless, of course, you read Nidra Poller.

French Justice an Oxymoron?

The Jews say:

    “The atmosphere here is suffocating… when you read the press, the only breath of fresh air is Ivan Riouffol (Figaro)…”
    At dinner, at a pause in the conversation (normally unbearable for the French), one person sighs deeply, looks in the distance, and says, “Mais, quand on pense à la France, c’est terrifiant…” [When you think of France, it’s terrifying.]
    “If you had told me in the summer of 2000, that in six years many French Jews would be thinking primarily of how to time their leaving France, I’d have told you you were crazy. In six years, everything has been turned upside-down [tout a bousculé].”

The irony of that last remark is that Charles Enderlin began his report on al Durah, the turning point in this history of Jewish flight from France, with the remark:

Quinze heures, tout bascule dans le Carrefour de Netzarim dans la Bande de Gaza…” [3PM, everything flips at Netzarim Junction in the Gaza Strip].

And then he shows the scene of the man “shot” in the right leg by the jeep with which we began Pallywood. But nothing flips in Gaza at 3pm. The Reuter’s photographer wandered away from the site where, supposedly 40 minutes of withering fire was just getting under way (Segments 10-12). But everything does bascules when Enderlin makes his newscast.

I have been in Paris for two days, getting ready for the al Durah trials in which I testify on behalf of the defendant, Philippe Karsenty of Media Ratings.

The situation reflects the kinds of fissures in French society that I’ve discussed for almost a decade now. On the one hand a small embattled Jewish community, not clear on what to do, and how to plan a well-timed exit, feeling suffocated.

    “No one listens, no one pays attention. Al Durah? No one even knows him, and if you mention ‘le petit Mohammed’ they’ll tell you, it’s so long ago…”
    “Forget it, the French media will never cover this.”
    “Yes they will, but only if Karsenty loses and France2 wins. If Karsenty wins, they’ll give it five lines in the back of the edition.”

And yet Paris shines in the late summer sun, beautiful women, good food, pleasant neighborhoods like Belleville (north-eastern Paris) where people of every ethnicity mix easily, including Muslims walking by Kosher restaurants with tables spilling out into the large sidewalks.

Nagle Responds: On the Value of Frank Discussion

Michael Nagle has sent me a number of lengthy comments/questions/challenges, and I responded to the last set in an independent post. Here I post his response, with few comments (since he agrees with me :-)). This time I am in blockquotes.

Richard,

Thanks for an honest reply to my questions. I’m taking the opportunity to respond to them, in the hope that you won’t feel I’m demanding too much of your time. Anything you wish to post, please feel free.

You’ve made me rethink. I had what you might call a Eureka Moment. I was, as you say, going frame by frame through footage shot by a cameraman who is proven to have told lies designed to incriminate the IDF, and I was doing so on the unspoken assumption that, unless there were something in that footage which proved the Israelis innocent, we would be unable to exonerate them. I see now that this is to fall into precisely the pattern of thinking that Talal would hope we would.

So let me start again: Israel’s army is accused by Palestinians of murdering an unarmed child. Israel is entitled to be presumed innocent unless Talal’s footage somehow proves it guilty. Talal’s footage proves nothing except that his words are lies, and his words prove nothing, except that his footage is a lie. On that basis, Israel is innocent of the murder of Muhammed al-Dura.

I’d like to reply in more detail to your responses.

The key passages are Segments 10-12 in the rushes . There you’ll note that when the firing begins there are Palestinians who make no move to take cover. My suspicion is that they know this is firing in the air. What other explanation could be plausible?

You’re right. People stroll around, another ambles calmly along on a bicycle. It is inconceivable that hostile fire is coming from the nearby IDF position. Also, we seem to see shots impacting the side of the IDF outpost. Though we hear heavy gunfire, I agree with you that it does not seem to be coming from the IDF, and the Palestinian civilians present seem to agree with that assessment. This footage also reminded me of those scenes in Pallywood, scenes which demonstrated one thing clearly: large numbers of Palestinians are happy to take part in large-scale staged scenes, and stringers are happy to film them. This has to be the starting point for credible examination and assessment of Talal’s footage.

Procès Al-Durah : état d’esprit de la France du début du XXIe siècle

[For my English readers, this is one of several posts in French that I am including to reach out to a Francophone audience at this particularly important time. The English version of this has already been posted, and if you want to see English posts, just scroll down.]

Voici une traduction francaise de mon essai sur les procès qui commencent jeudi le 14 septembre. Pour les liens à l’interieur de l’article, je suggère que, pour l’instant, vous consultez l’original en anglais (américain :-)) jusqu’à ce que j’ai le temps de les transférer ici.

Procès Al-Durah : état d’esprit de la France du début du XXIe siècle

Article original : The Al Durah Trials: Portrait of French Culture at the Beginning of the 21st Century

Trois procès se dérouleront à Paris cet automne au Palais de Justice de l’île de la Cité autour de l’affaire Al-Durah.

palais de justice
Palais de Justice
J’assurerai personnellement, pour ce blog, la couverture de ces trois procès et encourage chacun à suivre de près leur déroulement car ces procès – leurs problématiques, les mécanismes judiciaires, les réactions de l’opinion – nous en apprendront beaucoup sur la société française à l’aube du XXIe siècle. Pour cela, je m’efforcerai de publier quotidiennement ce qui ressortira des débats, les enjeux et les tendances qui apparaîtront. Ce premier article est un résumé de l’ensemble des procédures.

Introduction

À partir du 14 septembre 2006 se tiendront successivement les trois procès de plusieurs citoyens français qui ont publiquement critiqué, sur des sites Internet, la couverture de l’affaire Mohammed Al-Durah par la chaîne publique France 2. Ces actions ont toutes été intentées au titre de la loi de 1881 sur la liberté de la presse, qui protège les individus, groupes et religions des accusations diffamatoires qui « portent atteinte à l’honneur ou à la considération » des individus ou institutions concernées en l’occurrence, France 2 ou Charles Enderlin.

Les déclarations à l’origine de ces poursuites sont modérées au regard des normes américaines :

    « Venez manifester contre l’énorme manipulation de France 2… »
    « Charles Enderlin a commis de graves fautes professionnelles… »
    « de graves présomptions de désinformation planent sur cette affaire… »
    « l’obstination de France 2 [à refuser l’ouverture d’une enquête] est une brutale et inacceptable obstruction à la recherche de la vérité et à sa manifestation. »

Cependant, beaucoup de ceux que j’ai consultés sur ce dossier pensent que France 2 gagnera. « La justice française n’est pas la justice américaine, m’a rappelé un Français, c’est trucquée. »

Ces audiences sont toutes convoquées devant la dix-septième chambre correctionnelle du Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris. C’est une salle d’audience majestueuse du Palais de Justice, haut lieu de la justice française.

grande instance
Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris

Les débats seront plutôt courts, deux à trois heures pour chaque procès, et les jugements devraient être rendus plusieurs semaines après.

Deux de ces procédures ont été initiées par France 2 et Charles Enderlin fin 2002, quand sont apparues les premières preuves de grave négligence ou de manipulation criminelle, entraînant des manifestations autour de l’affaire. Ces éléments de preuve étaient un court documentaire de l’agence Mena et le reportage, plus long, d’Esther Schapira Trois balles et un enfant mort. La troisième, mais qui sera jugée en premier, a débuté deux ans plus tard et concerne un article de Philippe Karsenty, sur son site de surveillance des médias, Media Ratings, dans lequel il affirme explicitement que le reportage Al-Durah est une mise en scène et que des têtes [à la direction de France 2] devraient tomber. Les poursuites ont été lancées à une époque où la version de France 2 était pratiquement admises par tous, y compris par les Juifs. En ce temps-là, France 2 pouvait compter sur un large soutien des autres journalistes. Les plaignants tentent de s’appuyer sur la loi de 1881, conçue pour empêcher les journalistes d’abuser de la liberté de la presse pour diffamer des personnes, pour réprimer la critique publique d’une négligence journalistique qui diffame tout un peuple.

Mais depuis, bien des choses ont changé. Le texte de James Fallows dans Atlantic Monthly, de nombreux articles sur le Web et le billet de Nidra Poller dans Commentary ont ébranlé les milieux informés. Seuls ceux qui n’ont pas eu connaissance des éléments apparus adhèrent encore à la thèse 1 (le petit Mohammed tué délibérément par les Israéliens) même si la plupart des autres n’osent envisager la thèse 5 (mise en scène). De plus, les documents publiés sur le site Second Draft permettent à tout un chacun de se faire sa propre opinion, et le terme Pallywood s’est non seulement répandu, mais a encouragé un regard sceptique sur les efforts palestiniens et aujourd’hui libanais de produire de nouvelles images emblématiques de sympathie et de haine.

Mais cette évolution va bien plus loin, jusqu’à toucher la crème des médias français. En novembre 2005, le scandale a failli éclater quand deux journalistes indépendants, Daniel Leconte, d’Arte et Denis Jeanbar, de l’Express, ont visionné les rushes du caméraman palestinien Talal Abou Rahmeh, filmés dans la demi-heure précédant l’affaire. Leur embarras était palpable. Apparemment, Denis Jeanbar et Daniel Leconte ont été aussi surpris que je l’avais été [en découvrant ces rushes en octobre 2003], et ont exprimé leur sentiment sur ces mises en scène à répétition. Le patron d’Enderlin Didier Epelbaum leur fit la même réponse qu’Enderlin m’avait faite : « Oh, ils font ça tout le temps. » À quoi Denis Jeanbar répondit « peut-être que vous, vous le savez, mais pas les téléspectateurs. »

Et ils ne le savent toujours pas. Les mécanismes qui préservent les médias d’avoir à admettre leur erreur dans cette affaire se sont déployés. Des gens influents n’ont pas ménagé leurs efforts pour détourner les deux journalistes indépendants du dossier. Si le public pouvait voir ces rushes, ce trouble privé pourrait se transformer en catastrophe fatale pour France 2.

En fin de compte, les enjeux ne résident pas dans les subtilités des méandres de la justice française, mais dans l’aptitude de la France à faire face aux défis du XXIe siècle. C’est une affaire Dreyfus à l’échelle internationale ; un succès ou un échec auront des conséquences mondiales.

Contexte de l’affaire

Le reportage sur la mort du jeune Mohammed Al-Durah a agit dans le monde arabo-islamique et, dans une moindre mesure, dans les milieux médiatiques et intellectuels de l’Occident, comme une accusation, renforcée par la puissance de l’image, de crime rituel. Un père assiste, impuissant, au meurtre de sang froid par les Israéliens, de son fils, pathétique et terrorisé. Les Israéliens tuent délibérément des enfants innocents et sans défense. En Occident, il a été perçu comme la preuve visible de la nocivité d’Israël et une cause bien compréhensible de la révolte d’un peuple coalisé en lutte pour son indépendance.

Presque aussitôt, dans toute l’Europe, des manifestations amalgamant extrême gauche et immigrés musulmans ont dénoncé la barbarie d’Israël. La véhémence de ces protestations répétées a souvent dégénéré en violences, en particulier contre les Juifs. L’Europe a maintenant sa “rue arabe”, avec à la clef une vulnérabilité accrue de l’ordre public et un retour en force du discours antisémite.

manif place de la republique
Manifestation place de la République, Octobre 2000.

Mais les faits ne concordent pas avec la thèsed’un crime israélien délibéré ni même d’une responsabilité accidentelle, et l’icône a opéré moins comme un appel à la libération de la Palestine qu’au djihad mondial. Les Européens qui ont cru voir dans cette image l’occasion de relativiser la culpabilité de l’Holocauste ont en réalité, face à leurs populations musulmanes, agité le drapeau de la Guerre Sainte, qui pourtant les vise, en tant qu’infidèles, au moins autant que les Israéliens, et avalisé, ou tout au moins ignoré, les agressions de plus en plus inquiétantes contre les Juifs.

L’affaire Al-Durah est un récit aux multiples facettes, riche d’enseignements sur le cours dérangeant des choses en Europe et en Occident depuis l’an 2000. Elle met en jeu :

Par-dessus tout, les péripéties de l’affaire Al-Durah en France depuis six ans illustrent douloureusement les dysfonctionnements de l’idéologie française et le mode d’action d’Eurabia. Dans les raisons et les conséquences du succès des productions pallywoodiennes auprès des responsables des médias, nous discernons à quel point l’Europe est devenue réceptive à l’islamisme agressif et au djihadisme. Les médias européens sont étonnamment crédules devant des reportages si manifestement malhonnêtes.

Si le public pouvait voir la vidéo Al-Durah en entier (les rushes de Talal Abou Rahmeh) je pense que sa réaction serait la surprise, et l’indignation contre les médias. La corrélation directe entre les manipulations de l’information et la popularité des thèses antisionistes deviendrait évidente Mais en l’absence de la vidéo complète, la complaisance avec laquelle les Européens ont “gobé” le meurtre du petit Mohammed par les Israéliens, ont aidé à faire passer la supercherie.

Sur le même mode, les nouvelles épouvantables en provenance de Cana, au Liban, ont déclenché un appel horrifié à un cessez-le-feu immédiat. Les occidentaux sont victimes de la manipulation des images par leurs ennemis, car leurs médias acceptent sans recul critique, sinon avec enthousiasme, ces images trompeuses et ces reportages bidonnés. Compte tenu de cette synergie entre malveillance islamiste et crédulité médiatique, comment l’opinion publique occidentale pourrait-elle prendre les décisions intelligentes ?

L’affaire Al-Durah symbolise la faillite des médias français qui ont bien du mal à être à la hauteur de leur code déontologique. Les conséquences de cette faute-là ont été catastrophiques à la fois pour les Israéliens, détruisant leur réputation, et les Palestiniens, entraînés par cette image dans une Intifada perdue. Des atteintes graves ont aussi été portées au tissu social des sociétés civiles de par le monde. Si des médias indépendants et responsables, et par conséquent raisonnablement pertinents, sont les yeux et les oreilles de la société civile, alors nous survolons en aveugles un terrain très dangereux. L’aptitude des juges français à défendre le droits des citoyens à critiquer le travail des médias et à rendre public ces critiques, à examiner impartialement les éléments de preuve qui leur sont présentés, et à comprendre les enjeux sous-jacents, c’est tout cela qui sera en jeu cet automne au Palais.

Beaucoup de choses, dans ce monde troublé, seront suspendues à leur balance. Plus les gens seront informés, plus les juges soupèseront leur verdict, et plus nous serons en droit d’espérer que la France tranchera dans le sens de la sagesse, qu’il s’agisse des médias ou de la loi. Et si les tribunaux de la République en venaient à condamner les accusés, tous ceux qui sont aujourd’hui attentifs sauraient quel crédit accorder à la rationalité de la société française, aujourd’hui et dans les années à venir.

Questions about the Events of September 30: Responses to M. Nagle

Here’s further honest questioning from Nagle. Good questions, not all of which I can answer.

Dear Richard Landes,

Many thanks for addressing my question in so full, so prompt, and unexpectedly public a way. As I have commented at Augean Stables, you cleared up my confusion.

I still have doubts. A chronological timeline of the day’s events would be hugely useful, and one seems to be in preparation here. Any news of how long that might take?

Working on it now. But it’s more of the larger-picture chronology. I know that Gabi Weimann’s students (including the Druze commander of the post that day), did a systematic chronology of the Reuter’s rushes. I’m still trying to get a hold of that.

Partly, my doubts are inspired by the chronology. As far as I can make out from the material available, the Palestinians began their day of violence by throwing tires, rocks, molotov cocktails etc towards the IDF post, and the Israelis did very little in response. However. I get the impression that, later, the day turned even more violent, with exchanges of heavy gunfire, as can be heard in the France 2 Raw footage, which also seems to show genuine casualties being loaded into an ambulance.

You’re right. The key passages are Segments 10-12 in the rushes. There you’ll note that when the firing begins there are Palestinians who make no move to take cover. My suspicion is that they know this is firing in the air. What other explanation could be plausible?

Talal’s footage seems to be of an entirely different order from the (earlier?) footage that we see in the excellent Pallywood documentary, it seems somehow more genuinely chaotic, less rehearsed and staged. In short, it kind of ‘looks’ convincing, as though beyond all the phoney gun battles and staging, things had got out of control.

Well, it’s the final 3.5 seconds, and it’s far “better” than anything he’d done that day. But it sure looks staged to me. You’ve got to see it in conjunction with the Reuter’s footage for the same time, and AP’s footage. The man shot in the leg by the jeep looks very suspicious to me, especially since they drag him by his injured leg and put him in the ambulance on that leg, and there’s no blood. Anyone really injured would have been screaming bloody murder., A runner goes across the street and tells the guy lying on one elbow and gesticulating wildly, looking like a a survivor of the Radeau de la Meduse, to drive the jeep away. Up he gets and off he goes.

I’m wrestling hard with myself here. I truly want the IDF to be innocent of this death, even though they were in the midst of a violent situation engineered by the Palestinians. However, I cannot allow my heart to overrule my head – it doesn’t feel good when I do that!

This is a fine description of intellectual integrity… and boy do we need some of that!

So, here are my problems:

a) There was a violent and, at times, heavy exchange of fire, including firing by the IDF towards Palestinian positions located close to where the father and son were crouching.

b) From diagrams and aerial photographs, I am not yet convinced that the physics make it impossible for the IDF to have shot Mohammed and his father. The fact that they were aiming in that direction would seem to be suggested even by those who seek to exonerate them, when they say in some accounts that there were indeed bullet marks on the other side of the concrete barrel, but that they did not penetrate it. If there were bullet marks there, then snipers were aiming towards it, and if they were aiming towards it, it’s because they had a target. In short, if it was possible to SEE a target there, surely it was by extension possible to HIT that target?

Eight times the father, three times the son?

There are only two holes in the barrel the next day, and no signs of shots that didn’t penetrate, no signs of the kind of sustained wild firing that Talal describes. Nothing says that two bullet holes could have been added by the PA later. You are assuming these tapes represent honest work and therefore what they show things as they really are. The alternate hypothesis — staging — represents a hypothesis of last resort, that is, when nothing else works. You have to consider staging as at least as plausible. The holes tell us nothing certain, and hardly accord with the argument that the barrel was the object of withering fire for 40 minutes.

c) The footage I have seen makes it all but impossible to see clearly that the bullets MUST have come from roughly ninety degrees to the wall. They appear as roughly circular pixel clusters. I need to see far more detail before being convinced that this detail alone exonerates the IDF. Given the historic and dramatic nature of this event, are there not more detailed photographs of the scene – of blood or bullet holes in particular – from later that day, or from the following day?

Cute. No. No bullets, no blood. The bullet shots need to be examined in the frame after impact (which we do in the documentary ASP II). There it’s circular. By the second frame the cloud has begun to blow downstream. But a shot from the Israeli angle would immediately produce on large cloud away from their position.

See my comments on the next day’s footage.

d) Similarly with the blood: There does appear to me to be a large darkish patch visible on the boy’s top as he lies at his father’s side after the purported shooting. It could be shadow, but it could be bleeding. I cannot in all honesty tell myself there is ‘no blood’, even though I may be surprised that there is not more. I would also love to SEE the evidence that there was little or no blood visible the following morning, until more was added for the media.

It’s hard to say what’s going on. Talal’s photography is (I think intentionally) poor and out of focus. I have seen sharper versions of this in Shahaf’s office frame by frame. The red (bleeding?) is on his thigh in the first (take 4), but has migrated to his stomach for the next two scenes (takes 5-6). You are right, though, I should not say “no blood.” Just not anywhere near what a stomach wound and twenty minutes of bleeding on the ground would produce. Look here for an example of what we might expect.

In essence, the IDF were firing; they had targets in broadly the same direction as the hiding father and child. I am not totally sure from the aerial photographs or diagrams that it was impossible for the IDF to have shot them, thinking them a legitimate target. I cannot see enough bullet hole detail to be sure that the shots did not come from the direction of the IDF post, and I seem to be able to see what might be blood in Talal’s footage.

That’s true: even though the holes in the wall seem like they’re from head on (circular entry holes), none of it is probative. But I think your standards are very low. If seeing what seems to be blood is all you’ve got for a scene in which a child bled to death for 40 minutes and an ambulance man was also shot to death, then that’s really not in the slightest convincing. No?

As for Talal’s palpable and obvious lies – it would be easy to explain them as partisan embellishments woven around an actual event.

It could be. But there’s no corroborating evidence except a bunch of “well if I squint my eyes and postulate several highly unlikely coincidences, then maybe…” Lying about the bullets? You’ve got to be kidding. Have you no standards? And yes, of course it’s partisan. That’s what Pallywood is.

Richard, please do not think this a hostile or argumentative message – I am a keen reader of your work, and think your efforts to get to the bottom of this killing are admirable and important.

It’s just that, supporting Israel as I do, and even knowing the propensity of the Palestinians to lie about these things, my head will still not let me entirely exonerate the IDF in this matter. It’s not a question of psychological resistance, it’s merely that the evidence as presented so far does not convince me as much as I would like it to.

You have the “we need 110% proof” problem. You’re right. It would be nice if we had the smoking gun to convince even the most skeptical. It’s still possible to look at all this and say, “It might have happened the way Talal says.” It’s the “we can argue about every frame” attitude of the media folk in comparison with the “no duh it’s a fake” response of your average teenager. It’s a legitimate concern, but, I’d argue, that concern reflects a typically (and in this region of the world, uniquely Israeli/Jewish attitude of self-criticism. So keep your scruples. But don’t project them by default onto the partisans of the other side.

The Extra Footage: Answer to Nagle

I received this from a reader at the Second Draft.

Dear Richard Landes,

Firstly, thank you for your informative and crucial work.

I have a question which I hope you can answer. I have just been reading the article ‘Who Killed Muhammed Al Dura?‘ by Amnon Lord, in which he states that: “Some twenty TV photographers were in the area and not one of them filmed it [the shooting of the ambulance driver], while the scene depicting the death of Al-Dura was filmed by Abu-Rahma and one other photographer. (Shahaf later discovered the second photographer’s film.)”

One of the things that made me highly suspicious of the Al-Dura scene was that it was based on the testimony and witness of one, evidently dishonest Palestinian stringer. The fact that other, independant footage of the event exists makes me less certain that we have been deceived. Why have I heard so little mention of this alternative footage? I would like to know who was it made by, and what does it show?

Two other cameramen were at the scene while the Al Durahs were allegedly pinned behind the barrel although they got no footage of the shooting scene. You can view the AP cameraman’s footage and the Reuter’s cameraman’s footage, along with all the other relevant material available — just not the rest of Talal’s rushes — at the Second Draft, The Raw Footage.

This footage raises important questions: if, as Talal reported, the al Durahs took refuge behind the barrel and were pinned by a hail of bullets for 40 minutes, then:
1) why do camera crewmen continue to come behind them, unprotected by the barrel and manage to leave but not take the father and son with them?
2) why do the cameramen, like the Reuter’s cameraman, leave the area (segments 10-12) rather than stay and film? As Talal says, “why I send throwing stones when I have shooting?”
3) why, with all the cameramen there, once the father and son had been shot, an ambulance driver also shot, and the bodies and badly wounded father finally loaded onto an ambulance, did none of them come by to get some footage — very valuable footage! — and none call ahead to Shiffa hospital in Gaza City (20 minutes away) and warn photographers there are the scoop of the century coming their way?

I would be enormously grateful if you could fill this gap in my knowledge, as I have failed to find any mention of a second witness to the event in other writings.

Hope this has helped.

Many thanks, and please continue your invauable work – Augean Stables is among the most fascinating and thought-provoking writing on a situation that often generates more heat then light – or should that be \’more hate than light?\’.

I got yelled at when I put the site up for not being more of an advocate. I believe that people a) have common sense, and b) need to make up their own mind. I don’t hide what I think, but I don’t think people should be pushed into positions they’re not convinced by.

Fallows on al Durah: What is your Position?

James Fallows has posted at his blog about the al Durah affair, in which he apparently continues to keep his distance from what he calls the “complete fabrication” hypothesis. Interesting language suggesting a totalistic position. What’s wrong with plain fabrication? What would “partial fabrication” involve? What’s wrong with “staged”?

The strange case of Muhamed al-Durah

Three and a half years ago, during the invasion of Iraq, I was not there but in Israel, reporting for this story in the Atlantic. It concerned whether al-Durah, the famous Palestinian child martyr of the Second Intifada, had in fact been killed by Israeli forces, or indeed whether he had been killed at all.

A year or so later I met Richard Landes, an academic who has pursued the possibility that the event was staged from beginning to end. He has published a new summary of his views. He correctly reports that I have not accepted his “complete fabrication” hypothesis, but this is a good way to grasp his side’s argument.

Let me right off thank James Fallows for that article, which was the beginning for me of the journey I’ve been on since then (and for his subsequent help in pursuing leads). Indeed, in his piece he allowed Shahaf to articulate his position so cogently that a number of people I spoke with subsequently thought that Fallows took that position as well, even though he scrupulously avoided pronouncing on the more controversial aspects of Shahaf’s position.

I call his position, the “minimalist” position, because although he does conclude that both scenarios 1 and 2 (Israelis on purpose and by accident) are so unlikely as to be nearly impossible, he does not really pursue the matter and investigate the probabilities of 3-5 (Palestinians by accident, on purpose, and staged). Thus rather than follow up on the stunning revelation that we’ve be profoundly decieved, he has stopped at a preliminary finding.

Now granted that that finding is fairly obvious, nonetheless, given the vast consensus against it at the time Fallows wrote his piece in 2003, just making that point took a good deal of courage. On the other hand, it seems that by now — with three more years of increasing violence of the sort first aroused by Muhammad’s image beamed around the world — that we should go beyond this initial finding to ask: if not the Israelis, then what did happen?

Part of what’s so striking about the whole affair is that the alternative explanations (1-4) have so many problems that they strike me as “Rube Goldberg machines” and hence, extremely unlikely.

So my question to James Fallows is, “how do you explain take 6, and the lack of blood, not to mention the absence of footage of the ambulance evacuation and of recovered bullets?

My estimation is that the probability of the staged scenario is above 95%. What’s yours? And what other scenario do you think even remotely plausible?

Update:

James Fallows has added to his posting in response to this query, which I reproduce here:

On his site, Landes asks which “side” I myself take in the al-Durah case. He lays out five possibilities:

1. That Israeli soldiers killed the boy on purpose;
2. That Israelis killed him by accident;
3. That Palestinians killed him by accident;
4. That Palestinians killed him on purpose;
5. That nobody killed him and the whole “death” was staged.

My article was devoted to proving what I called the “minimum” case — that explanations 1 and 2 could not be true. As a matter of physics and forensics, the Israeli soldiers know to have been on the scene that day could not have shot the boy.

I was then, and remain now, agnostic on what I called the “maximum” case, scenarios 3 through 5. To me this case has analogies to a criminal trial. In presenting a defense, the accused doesn’t have to prove who actually did commit the crime; it is sufficient to show that he himself could not have done so — though of course it helps, legally and dramatically, if he can finger another culprit. Since the Israeli soldiers had essentially been convicted in world opinion of killing the boy, there seemed to me value in establishing that they themselves were in all probability innocent — whoever else might have been guilty of whatever the crime in this case turned out to be.

I have listened for hours to explanations of why the event “had” to have been staged; many of them are reproduced in Landes’s various postings. Those could be true. I myself am not yet convinced that they must be true. (For instance: there is a staged event involving many hundreds of people, and not one of them has broken discipline to brag or confess about what happened?) My position is genuinely agnostic — and reflects my experience that there are many episodes whose underlying truth we never come to know.

On this point I wrote three years in my article, “The truth about this case will probably never be determined. Or, to put it more precisely, no version of truth that is considered believable by all sides will ever emerge.” That last sentence has become more obviously true with the passing years. The first still reflects my views.

I understand and agree with Fallows, although I approach this not as a lawyer in a trial, but an historian doing research. Therefore, given the limited number of possibilities, having eliminated the ones most widely accepted, I think the obvious thing to do is explore which of the remaining ones is more likely. And again, without a “smoking gun” none of this is “proven.”

But, take for example, the following reasoning:

there is a staged event involving many hundreds of people, and not one of them has broken discipline to brag or confess about what happened?

First of all, given the kind of culture of “solidarity” that prevails among Palestinians, breaking ranks and whistleblowing (which we in the West might expect) is not only counter-indicated, but potentially suicidal. As one Arab said to me when I told him not to show a copy of an early draft of Al Durah to anyone: “Are you kidding? The boy is a martyr; just having this in my possession could be a death warrant.”

Second, if Western reporters had been as investigative as Fallows, and pressed for the story (also at the risk of their own lives), they might well have gotten someone to brag about it. But no one tried; on the contrary they rushed to affirm the tale they were being told by Talal et al. It took me five minutes with an Arab cab driver in Jerusalem who was initially indignant at the mere suggestion, to have him accept the likelihood that al Durah was a fake. All I had to do was phrase my claim as an occasion for admiration of how the Arabs fool the Western media, and not as condemnation.

Third, if it wasn’t a fake, but he was killed by Palestinian fire, either by accident (less likely) or on purpose (second most likely hypothesis) — in either case, hit by 11 Palestinian bullets! — why would there not have also been a leak, if leaking were “in the cards” as Fallows presumes? The lack of “breaking rank” does not, it seems to me, constitute any kind of evidence for or against the staged hypothesis, certainly not a decisive argument against it.

Finally, if we are interested in understanding the nature of the conflict and the dynamics of media coverage in affecting what the media are covering, then it seems of vital importance to discuss whether this is indeed a fake or not. Getting Israel “off the hook,” and admittedly only for a small group of people willing to consider the evidence dispassionately, is just the beginning of the job. Waking up people — the Europeans! — to the way in which their lives and their culture are being damaged by an irresponsible media which, instead of acting like a dialysis machine and filtering out the poisons, actually pumps those poisons into their information system, seems like a fairly important task for anyone concerned with the future of a free press and the civil society which makes it possible.

Al Durah as Staged: The Resistance

Al Durah as “Staged”:
Reflections on the Resistance
Richard Landes

Like everyone who saw the initial footage, in early October 2000, I was horrified at the sight of Muhamed al Durah dying on camera in what seemed like a hail of bullets. But I was equally dismayed by the wave of virulent hate-speech that filled both the Arab media and, to a lesser but significant extent, the European and radical “left”, in its aftermath. As a medievalist who specializes in millennialism, I had suggested that 2000 might mark a shift – fairly common in the Middle Ages – from a sustained period of philo-Judaism since the end of the Holocaust, especially in the USA, to a shift towards anti-semitism, and these developments gave me the unenviable role of Cassandra.

The specific image of Al Durah returned to my attention in the summer of 2003, when I read James Fallows’ article on the case. Although Fallows himself does not give the case his assent, he does give voice to Nahum Shahaf’s argument that the scene was staged. The issue came round full circle to the Middle Ages when I read an article by Gérard Huber and Nidra Poller entitled “Blood libel international.” By then I was well behind the times. A small but growing group of people who had looked closely at the evidence, were convinced that it had been staged. I first met Nidra Poller and Gerard Huber in Paris in the summer of 2003 where I had my first viewing of footage shot that day. It did not take a great deal of footage to convince me that I was viewing a fake. The evidence seemed overwhelming… as did its implications. What revelations this story had for us not only about the Middle East conflict, but about our own media’s most elemental incompetence!

But the story, for all its explosive impact in the past, and the equally explosive potential impact, was having trouble getting out. The initial investigation by Shahaf and Doriel had run into problems with the media as early as late 2000, when both Ha-Aretz and Bob Simon on 60 minutes dismissed it as unprofessional. As Simon put it, “they came to their conclusions before a shot was fired” – without a mention that the shots fired confirmed the obvious hypothesis that the round clouds of dust kicked up by the only two bullets caught on tape, came from the Palestinian position.

The story stayed buried until the 2002 German documentary by Esther Schapira, which aired neither in France (where as a sister-station of Hessische Rundfunk [link to station], one might have expected coverage of an issue of national import (it was France2 that had “broken” the story), nor in the US or Britain. The story became better known to a larger audience when, in the Spring of 2003, when a series of articles appeared, the most widely circulated of which was James Fallows in the Atlantic Monthly. Neither Schapira nor Fallows espoused the thesis that the footage was staged, preferring the minimal position that it was most unlikely that Israeli fire, intentional or accidental, had struck the al Durahs. Implicitly, that meant Palestinian bullets in the cross-fire, but even to question the initial story was difficult, no one wanted to tread the path of how the Palestinians might have killed the boy.

I soon found out why they had taken such a cautious position. Virtually everyone I spoke to, no matter how “skeptical” of Palestinian media sources, found the thesis of a fake so outlandish that they warned me about sounding like a conspiracy-theorist. Indeed. I should have taken note of the fate of Gerard Huber, whose book, the only full length analysis of the al Durah Affair, Contre-expertise d’une mise en scène, had garnered him comparisons with the people (on the other side) who thought that 9-11 was a plot of the Israeli secret services. As one commentator put it:

In the Muslim community there are extremists who think that Mossad did 9-11, and in the Jewish community extremists who think Al Durah was staged.”

This is the line that Enderlin is still pushing. In response to a recent article in La Libre Belgique he wrote:

That serious newspapers like Libération and La Libre Belgique publish even on the debate page, the feverish nightime workings (élucubrations, apparently Enderlin’s equivalent of Dan Rather’s “pajamas” remark) and defamatory accusations appalls me. Are you also going to publish an “opinion” from an author affirming the the towers of NY were destroyed by the CIA?

The idea that one can compare a cheap fake that fooled a reporter as appallingly complacent about his own cameraman’s sending him staged footage with the argument that the CIA planned 9-11 in 9 months, is pretty amazing in itself. But it gets at the core of Enderlin’s strategy: marginalize the dissenters. As he put it to me in conversation, “groupuscules d’extrême droite” [tiny groups from the far right].

As I continued to work on the subject, I found that, for reasons I still don’t understand fully, the resistance to seeing the footage as fake was enormous. Fallows, who admits to viewing the footage over a hundred times, and each time hoping the boy would get up, describes nonetheless how “[t]he final few seconds of [Muhamed al Durah’s] life, when he crouched in terror behind his father, Jamal, and then slumped to the ground after bullets ripped through his torso, were captured by a television camera and broadcast around the world.” The footage broadcast around the world showed nothing of the sort, and the cliip Enderlin cut, the final “take” of the sequence (after Enderlin had pronounced the boy dead in showing the previous “takes”), showed him, hands over his eyes rather than clutching his fatal stomach wound, picking up his elbow and looking around.

take 6
[Take 6 of the 59 seconds of “al Durah under fire”. He has already been hit take 4 where he clutches his stomach, take 5, where his hand is over his eyes. This take is the only section of Talal’s mere 59 seconds that Enderlin cut from his broadcast. Enderlin did admit to cutting some of the footage, but assured his audience that it was the “death throes” of the child, and too unbearable to show.]

Apparently viewing, even repeated viewing, did not prevent people from seeing what they expected no matter how little the footage supported those expectations. How many articles and poems have described – often in the headline – how the boy “died in his father’s lap”, when in fact he “dies” at his father’s feet and his father never makes any motion towards him?

[Note, the “fifteen bullet holes” that Suzanne Goldenberg found the next day are not yet up, like the blood.]

It was only gradually that I became aware of how hard it was to get people to even think of this possibility of staging. Most people, when I told them I thought neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians killed the boy, could not even imagine a fifth option.

    “The father?”
    “No, that would be a Palestinian.”
    “Suicide?”
    “Again Palestinian.”
    “The Red Cross?”
    “The Press?”

It was almost as if anything was more credible than “staged.”

It was then that I began to realize the role of cognitive egocentrism in this case: most of us could not even imagine a journalistic culture that would lie so baldly. As one investigative reporter put it to me, “I didn’t believe it was faked because I assumed that at least someone there would spill the beans.” [Note, that probably applies best to the likelihood that something as dastardly as a CIA plot to blow up the WTC and Pentagon would take place without one of the thousands of US civil servants who had to be involved, not spilling the beans.] After all, it would happen that way here. Hopefully. In principle, it would happen in a civil society that had overcome omertà.

Add to this resistance, that of an intellectual culture in which siding with the underdog is a sign of moral integrity. As one of my students remarked after seeing the footage: “The evidence seems clear, but I feel like if I agree, then I’m taking sides with the Israelis, and I don’t want to take sides in this conflict.” Then I understood how “even-handedness” contributes to the positions people take. Bob Simon notes in reference to Muhamed al Durah, “In the Middle East, one picture can be worth a thousand weapons…” Indeed. And since many people feel that the Israelis have all the weapons, it seems only fair to “level the playing field” by giving the Palestinians the “PR” victory.

This may seem logical, and offer some emotional benefits, but upon reflection, it turns out to victimize the very people it allegedly supports. By affirming these “lethal narratives” as Nidra Poller calls them, actually empower those who oppress the Palestinians the most, their elites who feed them hatred, rile them up to violence and cash in on the sympathy the world feels for those innocents hit when Israel strikes back at their cruel captors. By leveling a playing field of war in this fashion we do not show sympathy for the Palestinian people who are the first and constant victims of their leaders’ violent ambitions, we prolong a war that can only hurt everyone but the warmongers. For reasons I still don’t understand, not too many people seem to want to make that reflection… so far.

Add to all this resistance, the understandable reluctance of the media to admit so striking, so damning a mistake, Enderlin and France2 for sure, and the rest of the purveyors of Pallywood as well. I showed this to a reporter for ABC (presumably a rival network), and he admitted to being convinced by the evidence. But when I asked him if his show might be interested in breaking at least the story of Pallywood, he replied, “I don’t know how much appetite there is at this station for something like this.”

Of course, he had enough honesty to admit to being convinced. Most “media experts” refused to even go that far. Gerry Holmes, Middle East correspondant for ABC, posted in Israel from 1999-2002, told me he had never seen anything even remotely resembling the making of fakes in his entire period of working there, and after seeing the Pallywood footage, remarked, “We could argue about every frame.” After that visit, he never answered another call to discuss “every frame.” What a 12-year-old would look at and say, “No duh! It’s fake,” a sophisticated producer would insist “could be” true.

I became increasingly convinced that this story was like the emperor’s new clothes. Here Talal and his gang of assistants were the tailors who spun the ludicrous lie, Enderlin was the Chamberlain who affirmed it, the MSM were the court that accepted it and made it politically correct, and the crowd was the public expected to “consume it.”

I showed an early version to an Israeli “new historian.” He watched it with interest, showing the kind of reactions that suggested he agreed. But in the end, he said, “I don’t think you have enough proof.” “What do you mean?” “It won’t convince the public.” As I meditated on what he meant, it occurred to me that he, and many, watched this with two sets of eyes, their own (in which it was pretty clearly fake) and the eyes of some larger public which they imagined, rightfully, to be more resistant (in which it was not clearly enough fake). What happens if you say the emperor’s naked and the crowd turns on you and tells you to hush?

Furthermore, in the tale, the motivation for accepting the storyline was so as not to appear stupid. Here I suspect that other factors played, not the least the eagerness with which the public — especially in the Arab/Muslim world and in Europe — seized on the story of Israeli maleficence. Just as the Arab world seems to have an insatiable thirst for demonizing images that permit them to hate the Israelis, the Europeans have an insatiable thirst for images that permit them to despise the Israelis. As one commentater, journalist Catherine Nay proclaimed on Europe1 TV:

The Death of Muhammed cancels out, erases that of the Jewish child, his hands in the air from the SS in the Warsaw Ghetto.

iac

[From Ramsey Clark’s International Action website.]

With the picture playing such a key role in absolving Europeans of Holocaust guilt, who could stand in the way? As the French say, “il ne faut pas mettre le doit entre l’arbre et l’ecorce.” [Don't put your hand between the tree and the bark.] And as the Chinese say, “A man needs ‘face’ the way a tree needs bark.”

In a larger sense, the reason I think the tale found such ready acceptance especially among the media even in the USA (which has little Holocaust guilt) was because it confirmed the overriding paradigm that the Palestinians were the David and the Israelis the Goliath in this conflict. To question that, was to challenge the paradigm, with troubling consequences. Indeed the very day before, a similar distortion of images from the region had occurred via AP in the NYT. An Arab mob had beaten a Jewish student nearly to death, and the boy, Tuvya Grossman, had fled to the protection of an Israeli policeman who, protecting him, brandished his club angrily at the mob. AP identified the Tuvya as a Palestinian and the Israeli as his attacker and identified the location of the “Israeli” assault on the Temple Mount despite the gas station visible in the background. (It took the NYT four days to correct itself and seven to tell the real story.)

On another level, of course, to question the al Durah stuff — especially once it had made the rounds — meant confronting an intimidating opposition to anything that shed the Palestinian leadership in an unflattering light. As one Arab to whom I gave an early copy of the work, urging him to keep it confidential put it, “Are you kidding. This boy is a martyr. I could be killed for having this tape.”

Indeed, I found that the organizations I expected would be most eager to hear this news – American and French Jewish and Israeli leaders, Israeli government officials — found the case too dangerous to risk. Some of them, committed to the “Oslo Peace Process” long after it had been killed by suicide terrorism, felt that to attack al Durah would wreck the prospects for peace. No argument that it was precisely the opposite — that as long as the Palestinians could trash any agreement by producing these lethal narratives and get world sympathy in the process, they would never hold to any negotiated commitments — made a dent.

Even the vocal critics of Oslo, the pro-Israel Media-Watch groups eager to criticize the MSM’s coverage, were reluctant to take it on. Understandably. These groups have worked hard to establish their credibility, to avoid getting labeled right-wing nut cases, and they understood the risks to their reputation, the danger of an even bigger backlash (as happened when Shahaf’s investigation first appeared) without a “smoking gun.” As one person put it to me, “without 110% proof we dare not go public with this.” And as another put it, “if you go public with this and fail, you only remind people of this terrible image and make things worse.”

Many of these remarks reminded me of when I first read the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in 1985. I was astonished at the argument – I thought it was about Jews using the capitalism to enslave mankind – but it was more than that. It’s actually a relatively sophisticated argument that the Jews used democracy, including free press, as a way to enslave mankind (i.e., the Jews were malevolent demopaths). And the individual accusations were repeated without people knowing where they came from, I wanted to prepare a scholarly edition of the Protocols to alert the public. “You think you are inoculating people, but you’ll only spread the virus,” a major German scholar told me.

That was before the internet hit. Now the Protocols are everywhere, and daily feeding an growing culture of conspiracy theory [http://www.seconddraft.org./ess_conspiracy.php]. The internet has changed everything. And I personally feel – and this is one of the most elementary aspects of liberalism to which I adhere passionately – that if you can’t trust the public to exercise intelligence and good judgment, then democracy is not possible. To those people in cyberspace and beyond, who are capable of such critical intelligence and good judgment, therefore, I address my work on Pallywood and Muhamed al Durah.

A child, however, who had no important job and could only see things as his eyes showed them to him, went up to the carriage.

“The Emperor is naked,” he said.

“Fool!” his father reprimanded, running after him. “Don’t talk nonsense!” He grabbed his child and took him away. But the boy’s remark, which had been heard by the bystanders, was repeated over and over again until everyone cried:

“The boy is right! The Emperor is naked! It’s true!”

The blogosphere is that venue whereby the words of the Nahum Shahaf make the rounds. I am one of those bystanders who heard him and have repeated it… may it be “over and over again.”