Between Art and News: Duped by a Scoop

This is the Part II of Ellen Horowitz’s piece on Charles Enderlin’s difficulties in understanding the elementary boundaries between news (based on reality), and art (based on imagination).

“A lie would have no sense unless the truth were felt as dangerous.” Alfred Adler

When interviewed by Le Figaro over his role in the Al Dura affair, French Television’s Charles Enderlin was asked the million dollar question. Why did he narrate the story with the claim that Mohammed and Jamal Al-Dura were the “targets of fire coming from the Israeli position”? Enderlin, Jerusalem Bureau Chief for France 2, was nowhere near the scene that day, and the video clip of the episode couldn’t substantiate that claim.

Elderin’s response with regards to his handling and presentation of the footage was, “for me, it corresponded to the situation on the West Bank and Gaza.”

Enderlin’s “for me” should raise alarm bells. This writer and artist is concerned that the bureau chief, charged with dispatching the news for a major television station (and in this case, the world), felt free to present the public with images that corresponded to what he thought the circumstances were, regardless of whether they were true.

Unsure as to what situation Enderlin was referring to, and to why he assessed things as he did, I combed through the news archives in order to gauge the actual atmosphere in Gaza and the West Bank in the weeks and days leading up to, and on the day of the Al Dura happening.

The weeks before: Everything’s coming up roses

Save for the occasional volley of rubber bullets in response to increasingly aggressive demonstrations, and a serious exchange of live fire with Palestinian security forces in May 2000, things had been relatively quiet for the Palestinians. No incidents of little boys, or even big boys with mustaches, being shot dead by the Israeli Defense Forces. There was, however, a six year old Palestinian girl who died in July after being shot in the head during a wedding, when Palestinian celebrants fired into the air.

Save for some lingering poverty and looming corruption, CNN painted an exceedingly rosy (sic) picture in their mid-July 2000 report:

“Where once the residents endured a curfew, now they enjoy a thriving nightlife.

Parents no longer agonize when their children play outdoors. The children of Gaza can pursue the simple pleasures most children take for granted because they no longer run the risk of being wounded or killed in the violent clashes that were the hallmark of the intifada [of 1987].

The city of Gaza itself is in bloom — literally. Hundreds of trees have been planted along newly paved roads…”

Alas, maintaining the Garden of Eden proved too much of a challenge for the Palestinians. Concerts in an EU-funded park were not their cup of tea. On the contrary, the absence of Israelis and the absence of conflict seem to have irritated rather than soothed. Although one is hard-pressed to find any reports of live fire incidents emanating from the Israeli side in the weeks and days prior to the outbreak of the Al Aqsa Intifada, the Palestinians — at least the leadership — seemed to be itching for action.

The days before:

Between mid August the end of September 2000, it was the Israelis who were taking a beating in the West Bank and Gaza. Shootings, bombings, ambushes, weapons theft, and an unusually heavy hail of fire and stones, sniper and automatic weapons fire – compliments of the Palestinian Authority – ruled the day. And all with little retaliation. The guidelines: “Save the peace, do not provoke.”

And Gaza’s frustrated and flower-saturated public was encouraged to join in the fray and vent. Indeed, Palestinian Media Watch detected a sharp shift towards demonizing and warmongering in the PA-run Palestinian media in the summer of 2000, just as CNN thought the grass was finally growing greener over the septic tank.

Several archived reports indicate that the Israelis were conscious of and concerned by the alarming increase in violence – at Gaza’s Netzarim junction in particular – and had filed complaints with the Palestinian Authority. The most notable among the various incidents would be the September 27th double bombings at Netzarim Junction which killed Israeli soldier David Biri and wounded another soldier, as well as a Jewish resident of the area. There was a general feeling that another Intifada – a far more dangerous one – could be in the offing. Two days later, on September 29th, Israeli Border Policeman Yosef Tabeja would be shot to death at point-blank range by his Palestinian counterpart while on a joint patrol near the West Bank village of Kalkilya.

There were no Palestinian deaths reported in Gaza and the West Bank just prior to Al Dura Day on September 30, 2000.

The Day:

Then Enderlin must have factored in the Jerusalem riots of September 29th, which ensued following Friday’s Muslim prayers. Indeed there was live fire which resulted in four Palestinian deaths and scores of injured. It should be noted that these riots were attributed to the previous days visit to the Temple Mount by Ariel Sharon, in which 30 Israeli policemen and 4 Palestinians were injured in serious scuffles not involving live fire.

The situation in Jerusalem in combination with Cameraman Talal Abu Rahma’s reports of wild firing in Gaza , and other reports of rioting on the West Bank, may have given Charles Enderlin the latitude that he needed in order to know what the situation was like at Netzarim Junction.

But if that’s the case, then why did he not factor in the reckless and wide-spread sniper and machine gun fire coming from the Palestinian areas with their numerous and erratic terrorist and militia groups? Under what appeared to be chaotic circumstances, how could he be sure of anything?

And once Enderlin received the footage, why didn’t he bother to closely examine his camerman’s rushes? Had he done so, he would have found that in and among the stones, molotov cocktails, bravado, comical evacuations to ever-ready ambulances, and the trademark show of Palestinian automatic weapons fire, he could have seen casual pedestrian traffic and Palestinians standing around nonchalantly laughing, smoking, and talking on cell phones directly in front of the Israeli position. September 30, 2000 at Netzarim Junction was not the explosion of violence he imagined. It was Pallywood as usual.

In fact, the reported death toll on that infamous day in Gaza, which shook the world, stands at a very questionable three (the only confirmed one, a Palestinian policeman who had been firing on the Israelis) – with weapons fire coming from both the Palestinians and Israelis, and an undetermined number of real and faked injuries.

Prior to Enderlin’s report, the martyring trend was not yet in vogue. But Enderlin’s understanding and rendering of the situation, as he saw it, would cause Shahid status to become the post Al-Dura fad and rage. The media would now embrace the boy icon and line up for a chance at their very own macabre photo op — whether real or staged. Within a week Arafat upped the martyrs’ ante by offering families $2,000 per child killed and $300 per child wounded.

And in making his “call,” Enderlin made a critical mistake. He rendered reality, to untold millions of viewers, bereft of the facts and evidence. Had he used correct judgment and waited for a proper investigation of the Al Dura affair (and had Israel had an effective apparatus in place to respond to the press), the Intifada 2 may have dissipated into yet another short-lived flare-up – and it could have saved all of us — Israelis, Palestinians, the global community — a lot of grief. But it seems Charles Enderlin got duped by his fierce desire for a very big scoop, and his readiness to believe anything he got from his Palestinian sources.

He got what he wished for. The story became self-fulfilling. All Hell broke loose once these explosive and false images hit the air.

Next: Drawing the Line on Al Durah

4 Responses to Between Art and News: Duped by a Scoop

  1. Hershel Ginsburg says:

    The mistake in dealing with the al-Dura affair appears to have been to expect justice from the French courts.

    Perhaps a better strategy would be to identify at least one American citizen(s) who is a victim of Palestinian and / or Islamic terrorism (injured or family member killed; e.g., Daniel Pearl, the American victims of the Sbarro’s Pizza bombing; and many others) where the terrorists claimed their act was avenging the “death” of al-Dura. These victims might be able to sue France2 for damgages in an **AMERICAN** court on the grounds that the story was obviously fabricated, Enderlin & France2 either were aware of of the fabrication or should have been aware of the fabrication, and that they should have understood that the fabricated story would inflame Palestinian / Islamic passions to the point of terrorism.

    As a precedent, look at the Kahan Commission’s decision holding Ariel Sharon indirectly responsible for Sabra and Shatilla — they ruled he should have realized that letting the Phalagists into the refugee camps would produce a massacre.

    I strongly suspect that an American jury is far more likely to be sympathetic to the victims of a media fraud by French TV than will a French court. Especially if it can be emphasized to the jury that suing for damages is the only way that the media can be held accountable (a very American – but not European or Israeli – concept) for being reasonably truthful in their broadcasts or publications. It’s analogous to a libel suit — same purpose and effect.

    Maybe some Israeli / American lawyers could be encouraged to do this as a class action suit.

    Hershel (Heshy) Ginsburg,

  2. Eliyahu says:

    Excellent Ellen! As a Jerusalemite, I can tell you that there were at least two stabbing incidents in the Neveh Ya`aqov Jewish neighborhood of northern Jerusalem, which is adjacent to the Arab neighborhoods of Beyt Hanina, Daliyat al-Barid, and al-Ram. I definitely felt that tension was rising in the period BEFORE Sharon went up on the Temple Mount.

    David Biri was killed by a bomb that exploded the day before Sharon went up on the Temple Mount, as I recall. Yosef Tabeja was an Ethiopian, by the way. He was shot in the back, from what I heard. You are correct to say that he was killed by his partner on a joint patrol. The joint patrol notion was another screwball idea from whom I don’t know. [for those who don’t know, these were joint patrols of Israeli and “palestinian authority” forces.]

  3. Eliyahu says:

    The stabbings in Neveh Ya`aqov took place in the month before Sharon went up on the Temple Mount, if this was not clear.

  4. Eliyahu says:

    Hesh of Efrat,
    you’ve got a good idea. Good luck with it.

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