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.

French TV sues over al-Dura killing

Almost six years after the September 30, 2000 Gaza Strip gun battle in which Muhammad al-Dura, 12, was killed, the Paris Lower Court of Justice on Thursday will hear a defamation case pressed by French state-run TV channel France 2 against individuals who claim the footage aired that day showing the death of the boy was a hoax.

Note that he informs his viewers right off the bat that “the boy was killed,” making the “hoax” sound like a denial of the reality.

Philippe Karsenty, 40, the leading defendant, claimed the video taken by Palestinian cameraman Talal Hassan Abu Rahma is a blatant forgery. Head of a Paris-based media analysis company named Media-Ratings, Karsenty sent a communique to most of the editorials of French and foreign media in November 2004 about what he termed the “deception,” “farce,” “imposture” and “fake death” of Dura. The terms of the communique were made public by Media-Ratings’ Web site.

“Blatant forgery,” is like Fallow’s “complete fabrication.” Doesn’t sound good. Nor does the list of terms Karsenty used in his article. Without reading the article how can one even imagine that Karsenty’s accusations are well founded.

Following publication, France 2 and its Jerusalem bureau chief Charles Enderlin, who had voiced-over the controversial footage, sued for defamation.

No mention of what Enderlin voiced over, including the poisonous libel of targetting the child (i.e. deliberate murder), nor the observation that none of the footage corroborates Enderlin’s “voice over,” his claim that the fire “came from the Israeli position.” I know journalists have limited space, but this is a bit strange. Does the author of the article even know what the details are? (Presumably he read Karsenty’s article, but did he just look for nasty words? Somewhat the way Enderlin and his colleagues rummage through Pallywood rushes, not noticing the staging, looking eagerly for some believable seconds that can be used in their broadcasts.)

Contrary to France 2’s extremely discreet attitude, Karsenty publicized the upcoming court hearing widely, hoping the media would pick up again the whole polemic around Dura’s death.

Okay, someone help me here. “Extremely discreet attitude?” Is that a euphemism for cover-up? And as opposed to that Karsenty looks like a publicity hound. Not a word of the kind of press blackout that Nidra has chronicled only days ago.

The footage showed an adult and a young boy crouching between two barrels filled with concrete in front of a wall. The two looked terrorized by the ongoing gunfight, the adult apparently trying to shelter the boy from the bullets. The next shot showed the boy lying apparently dead.

Has he viewed the tapes or is he working from memory and hearsay? There’s only one barrel. The two look terrified, most probably, because Palestinian bullets that they had not expected started hitting the wall over their heads. There’s no evidence of a gun battle during this sequence. If the father had wanted to shelter his son, he’d have put him against the barrel, and once “hit,” would have thrown himself on him to protect him, rather than turning away and not touching him.

Enderlin was not on the scene but he voiced-over the footage according to the information given to him by Abu Rahma. He explained that the footage showed a father and his son caught in a gunfight and that the boy was killed by shots coming from the IDF position at the Netzarim junction. France 2 offered the video for free to all television stations.

There’s a lot of loaded information here. First, Enderlin did not say the boy was killed by shots coming from the Israel position, but that the father and son were “targets of fire coming from the Israeli position.” Second, they did not give the full rushes, but just 3.5 minutes that left out most of the damning the evidence. Third, France2 may have offered the video for free to everyone not, as Enderlin claims, to avoid making any money from it, but to make coverage of the “death” a widespread faite-accompli. Indeed, normally one guards a “scoop” like this to oneself. At least the author could have written “exceptionally offered the video,” just to alert to the reader to yet one more anomaly in this case.

Dura was instantly turned into an icon of the Palestinian people. Arab stations aired the footage again and again.

And European, and Muslim stations around the world. And he was not only the icon of the Intifada, he was the icon of global Jihad.

The following day, Enderlin quoted on France 2 an official IDF statement saying it regretted the loss of human life and denouncing the cynical use of women and children by the terrorists.

On October 2, 2000, Enderlin interviewed then deputy chief of General Staff Maj.-Gen. Moshe Ya’alon, who said: “The child and his father were between our position and the place from which we were shot at. It is not impossible – this is a supposition, I don’t know – that a soldier, due to his angle of vision, and because one was shooting in his direction, had seen someone hidden in this line of fire and may have fired in the same direction.”

The IDF eventually acknowledged there was a “high probability” that its bullets had hit Dura.

This sounds like it was taken straight out of Enderlin’s playbook. “If the Israelis admitted it… it must be true.” And so much space spent on this. If we’re going to get anything this length on this case, how about a mention of how this was similar to mistakenly taking responsibility and apologizing for suspicious incidents made by Israelis more recently, like Gaza Beach and Qana?

Unhappy with these statements, OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yom Tov Samia initiated a reenactment of the scene at an IDF firing range, intending to prove the boy was hit by Palestinian fire.

This is classic language. As Bob Simon says, “But they made up their mind before a shot was fired.” Actually, it was the evidence of the tapes, the circular dust clouds that aroused suspicion as to where the shots came from. The “tests” were done to illustrate what kind of dust clouds various bullets and angles produce. Being a reproduceable result, it doesn’t have to be someone with an agenda to note the clear signs that the only two bullets to hit the wall during the sequence, came from the Palestinian position.

Based on Samia’s conclusions, Karsenty and his supporters have ever since relentlessly attacked both Enderlin and France 2.

Relentlessly attacked…? The whole things written as if Karsenty and his supporters were the unjustified aggressors.

Enderlin is a long-time bete noire of numerous French Jews who cannot stand his allegedly anti-Israel reports. According to France 2 news editors, almost all of Enderlin’s reports are harshly criticized by both pro-Israel and by pro-Palestinian viewers.

Reports of the hostility of French Jews for his “allegedly anti-Israel reports.” He can’t use alleged for al Durah killed at the junction, but to describe Enderlin’s documentable hostility to Israel and damage to Israel in the eyes of the French who watch his broadcasts as “alleged,” and then follow up with a France2 quote about complaints “from both sides,” makes these French critics of France2 sound hysterical. Never mind that the current wave of French aliyah started with the outbreak of Judeophobia provoked by al Durah’s footage in France.

Karsenty’s Web site developed a theory according to which the whole scene was a forgery, that Dura was not killed in front of the camera, and insinuating that the boy was in fact alive. Based on an analysis of the footage filmed by Abu Rahma prior to Dura’s death, Karsenty claimed that he was filming fake shoot-outs and staged casualties.

Karsenty’s website didn’t develop the theory. It was out long before Karsenty had a website, and was proposed by a long list of people — Shahaf, Lord, Juffa, Huber, Poller, etc. This is not Karsenty’s fevered brainchild.

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Enderlin said, “I don’t mind people elaborating any conspiracy theory about me and France 2 and writing about it. Another French guy even made a fortune by writing a book about 9/11 saying that it was a missile that hit the Pentagon. I can accept any polemic; what is unacceptable is to be publicly insulted and be called a liar. This is why we sued Karsenty, not for his eccentric theories.”

Okay, a good journalist goes to the source. But he should know enough to spot a phoney answer when he gets one. The “eccentric” theory is that Enderlin got fooled by his dishonest cameraman, whom he trusted blindly, and then lied to cover it up. The lies are now out. This is not even a polemic, but a cogently argued case. Enderlin can’t accept any polemic, he can’t even accept criticism, which he dismisses as “far-right-wing” polemic. And if he’s going to lie, he’s going to have to get used to be called a liar in public.

Remember, this is the man who told Esther Schapira that “there’s no manipulation… and if any one accuses us, it’s enough that we will take him to court.” This sounds like a man with a) a low tolerance for criticism, and b) a profound unwillingness to deal with criticism rationally — i.e., reason and give evidence rather than sue. Of course our reporter, had he known these matters might have asked some slightly harder questions rather than give Enderlin and France2 this platform for further dishonesty.

As for our serious reporter, if he couldn’t see through this patent dissembling, why didn’t he get a response from the other side? Maybe then he might have been able to articulate for his readers how, at least from one perspective, this is not a conspiracy at all; that Enderlin hides behind trying to tar anyone who suggests that he was duped by his own photographer with conspiracy; comparing those who think he’s a disastrous dupe (at best) with people who believe in 9-11 conspiracy theories. I didn’t know that when people (like Talal and his actors) cooperate to fool someone, that’s a conspiracy comparable to a president mobilizing a government to kill thousands of its own people. Nor did I know that to call Enderlin a dupe of that sting was either to call him a forger, or to be caught up in a conspiracy theory. Only dishonest correspondents caught making disastrous (and should be career-ending) mistakes trying to cover their tracks, and poorly informed reporters would be likely to take such positions. So what’s Zlotowski’s excuse?

As for being publicly insulted… as the Procureur said, “What Karsenty has written is definitely defamation of Charles Enderlin, but justifiable defamation.” What public figure gets off taking these airs, and what cub reporter can’t see through them? And when you lie about having “cut” footage that show the unbearable agony of the child and there are no such rushes, only a brief segment where the boy is looking up at the camera from his death scene, then you can’t get indignant when you are called a liar.

The Paris court will have to state whether Karsenty’s accusations against France 2 and Enderlin are acceptable. Karsenty will have to produce hard evidence supporting his opinion. If he fails to do so, he could be fined up to €12,000.

Well, that’s one way to put it. Reading this, I wouldn’t have given Karsenty much of a shot today. And it’s probably because Enderlin believes the same nonsense (which, till now, reporters like this have never challenged), that he made the colossal mistake of taking Karsenty and two others to trial. But you wouldn’t have a clue of anything like that after reading this article which sounds like it was written around a France2 press release.

And again, as I said, this is hardly from a left-wing paper.

Warning to reporters covering this case: Be careful. Accept no potted verities, including ours. And above all, do your homework.

Update: Michel Zlotowski has filed a report about the trial without, apparently, being there. Fisking follows:

Paris prosecutor calls for dismissal of al-Dura libel case

The defamation case pressed by French state-run TV channel France 2 against individuals who claim the footage aired September 30, 2000 showing the death of 12-year-old Muhammad al-Dura was a hoax was brought to court on Friday.

Philippe Karsenty, 40, the leading defendant, failed to prove his claim that the video taken by France 2′s Palestinian cameraman Talal Hassan Abu Rahma was a blatant forgery.

It’s not at all clear to me what this sentence means. In whose eyes did he fail? Michel Zlotowski’s? The court’s? Has he read the judge’s mind? How does a journalist make up his mind in such a manner? And how does he convey such a conclusion to his readers? And what is a non-blatant forgery?

Karsenty was submitted to a very thorough cross-examination by the judge, who seemed to think that he did not bring conclusive evidence to support his assertion that France 2′s Jerusalem Bureau Chief Charles Enderlin who had done the voice-over for the controversial footage was a liar and a forger.

Nidra Poller’s lengthy account of the trial is now available, and although I missed the first part, in which I understand the judge asked some hard questions of both Karsenty and the first two witnesses, the judge seems to have favored the “minimal thesis” that the Israeli’s almost surely didn’t kill him — which makes Talal’s account, if not staged, a fabric of lies in any case. But apparently from my testimony onwards (i.e., including Gerard Huber’s), the judge asked no further questions. Both Huber and I argued extensively for the staging. I emphasized Enderlin’s appalling attitude towards Talal’s filming of scenes faked by Palestinians at the site (“Oh, they do it all the time!), and Huber mentioned the completely counter-indicated behavior of both the father and the son, were the scenes real.

The public prosecutor thus surprised the court when he asked for the dismissal of the case against the defendant on account of his good faith.

Here’s what makes me doubt that Zlotowski was there. First, it’s the Procureur, not the “public prosecutor” and second, anyone present could not miss the fact that she was not a “he”. Nor can this be a typo, since he makes the same error again below. As for surprising the court, only if you had stopped listening around the time Huber and I gave testimony and didn’t hear the rambling and utterly vapid case made by the plaintiff’s lawyer could you have been surprised. (Or, of course, if you thought the French judicial system was riddled with cronyism and anti-Israel bias.)

He said France 2 should have called to the bar the medics and reporters who were present during and after the shootout.

She said a great deal more of great interest to the readers of the Jerusalem Post. What an anemic account.

The court’s decision was deferred to the end of October. The judge is not compelled to follow the conclusions of the public prosecution.

The 19th sounds like the middle of October to me, and a week before the next trial on the 26th.

At least five other France 2 defamation lawsuits against Karsenty are due to be brought to court in the coming months.

That’s two other trials, and they’re not against Karsenty but two other figures who criticized France2. What on earth is this Paris correspondant doing? Having “grands crêmes” in a café and making it up? How incompetent can one get?

Further Update: The Jerusalem Post takes down second article.

In response to complaints by several people, and considerable evidence that MZ was not present at the trial, the Jerusalem Post has taken down the second article I’ve fisked here and promised Karesenty a “right of response.” Their rapid response is a tribute to the paper’s commitment to good reporting.

5 Responses to On the Israeli Press and the Al Durah Affair

  1. Eliyahu says:

    Well, if you’ve embarassed the Post [perhaps that's unfair of me] or enlightened the Post’s editors into taking down the second Zlotowski article, then kol hakavod l’kha [tout l'honneur a vous]. By the way, MZ also appears on Israel Radio reporting from Paris. This may embarass Israel Radio into finding someone else in Paris.
    As to the Israeli press, Maqor Rishon has published several articles on the alleged al-Durah killing. Amnon Lord, the editor, has discussed it several times from a point of view more or less like yours. He used to be a film critic. Are you referring to Amnon Lord above when you write “Lord”?
    What indicated the phoniness of the story for me from near the beginning [not right away I confess] was the absurdity of any responsible father taking a kid anywhere near that location [the Netsarim intersection] on that day knowing that shooting was going on there, if indeed shooting was going on there.

  2. RL says:

    What’s MZ’s coverage like on Israel Radio? Is this coverage of al Durah a lapsus? or is he generally this far off?

    I know of Maqor Rishon (they actually did a piece on Pallywood), but so far nothing on the al Durah trials.

    as for your suspicions, as you say, “if indeed shooting was going on…” i think when they go there there wasn’t any shooting.

    what i find curious is that the father puts his son behind him — hence more exposed; and never touches him once he’s hurt — rather than throw his body on him.

    that’s what gerard huber referred to in the trial as counter-indicated behavior.

  3. Phil says:

    “If we’re going to get anything this length on this case, how about a mention of how this was similar to mistakes made by Israelis more recently, like Gaza Beach and Qana?”

    Your readers might misinterpret this statement. Perhaps you meant to write “similar to _purported_ mistakes made by Israelis”?

    By the way, your fisking job was brilliant!

  4. RL says:

    thank you. corrected. and thanks for the compliment. the nice thing about fisking is you really don’t need to structure your writing, the other person has already done it (more or less).

  5. The Plight of the Canary

    There are many reasons people have difficulty protecting themselves, ranging from confusion over what threatens them to uncertainty about what they are defending. At the moment, the West shows every indication of suffering from a wide range of ailments…

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