Tom Segev tackles the latest developments in the Al Durah affair. His efforts do not speak well either for his knowledge or his moral compass. Looks more like Enderlin called in a favor: “cover my naked behind.” The result is a fascinating exploration of how confused people like Segev have become in trying to deal with the “clash of myths” that mark Israeli and Palestinian “narratives.”
Paying for the sins of the sons
By Tom Segev
Who killed Mohammed al-Dura?
Mohammed al-Dura died on October 1, 2000 [sic], and his death gave the Palestinian people a national symbol. He was a boy who was killed in his father’s arms, near the Gaza Strip settlement of Netzarim, apparently by Israeli army fire. A television cameraman from France 2 filmed the event, and in the history of the struggle between the Zionist myth and the Palestinian myth there are few images as shocking as these. Naturally, many have tried to prove that the images were fabricated, an effort that persists to this day.
An interesting and telling summary, an only slightly altered version of what Segev might have written six years ago. He has apparently not looked at this material since then since his description of what happened bears little relationship to what’s on the tapes. And yet, as a friend of Enderlin’s, and a reporter for the newspaper most in tune with Enderlin’s political outlook, he could have access to the tapes just by calling up and asking for a viewing.
My favorite is, “the boy who was killed in his father’s arms.” One could fill a scrap book with the articles headlined with “Boy dies in father’s arms.” And yet, nothing of the sort. Not only didn’t he die in his father’s arms, but one of the most disturbing aspects of that brief 55 second sequence when he’s allegedly gunned down, is that from the time he’s allegedly hit — scene 4 — to the end, the father never even reaches for the boy, much less tries to draw him out of the line of fire.
Take 4: Al Durah declared dead by Enderlin in his report. Father, allegedly hit by 7-8 bullets and reeling from their impact, sits with his spotless Miami Dolphins t-shirt, his torso turned towards the camera.
Take 6: (cut by Enderlin in his report) Despite his multiple wounds, the father has turned away from the son and faces the barrel, leaving the son alone. The son lifts up his arm and looks out.
Then of course there’s the interesting lack of detail about who took the pictures: not a cameraman from France2, but a Palestinian cameraman from France2. Of course, for the politically correct Tom Segev and his Ha-aretz audience, saying he was Palestinian is unnecessary. Why should that detail make any difference. And of course, in a world where liberal cognitive egocentrism has something to do with reality (i.e., a cameraman is a professional and impartial journalist regardless of his national or ethnic origin), it would be perfectly reasonable not to mention the national identity just as it would be reasonable not to mention the color of his hair or his weight — irrelevant. But that’s not the case here, much as Segev wants to pretend. Talal is a member of a highly politicized journalist organization, and has made public avowals of “fighting with his camera.”
This week, a Paris court was to continue hearing the appeal of a man who claimed in a blog that the event was staged. France 2 sued him for libel. The man, Philippe Karsenty, lost, and this week his appeal is being heard. In Israel, too, there were some who tried to prove that the boy was not killed by the IDF. Magistrate’s Court Judge Shoshana Almagor found that this “investigation” was unprofessional and unscientific.
I’d say that’s a pretty unprofessional and unscientific summary of the court case. The court dealt with Yosef Doriel’s claim that he had been defamed by someone who wrote a letter to Ha-aretz claiming that the investigation was unprofessional and unscientific. But Doriel hadn’t claimed that the Israelis didn’t kill the boy — even such cautious figures as Esther Schapira and Yom Tov Samia have argued that. Doriel claimed the Palestinians had deliberately killed the boy — that the sequence Charles Enderlin ran on TV was a snuff film. The court agreed that the investigation was indeed unprofessional and unscientific. But whatever the flaws of the investigation — the court’s concern — its conclusion that the Israelis didn’t kill the boy remains by far the most likely explanation of all the anomalies.
There is something pathetic about the effort to prove that France 2 fabricated the story, as though this could demonstrate the justness of the Israeli occupation.
Now we get into high gear. For those who don’t understand Segev’s extraordinary segue here, let me recount two incidents that happened with close friends when I first got involved in the Al Durah affair. First, I called a friend whom I consider one of the smartest people I know. At the time, we hadn’t spent much time talking about politics (we met in the “halcyon” days of the Oslo “peace process” and talked about other issues). When I told him about the Al Durah story, his response was “You’re whitewashing the occupation!” I had no idea what he was talking about.
Second, I showed the Al Durah material to another friend, again whose politics I didn’t know. He looked at the tapes and sighed. “Look, if we hadn’t had a settlement at Netzarim, this wouldn’t have happened. We have only ourselves to blame for this even if it was a fake.” Here’a a good example of Israeli self-criticism. Even if it’s a fake, it’s our fault for even being there.
Behind these remarks lies the following twisted but powerful logic.
(I’m sending this to my friends and to Segev so they can comment on whether I’m right or not in the following speculation.)
1) Based on the PCP (1 or 2), the occupation is the source of the conflict (and of the corruption of Israeli youth who have to oppress Palestinians in order to keep the occupation effective), and ending the occupation will put an end to the hostilities.
2) The settlements are the major obstacle to giving back the “occupied territories” and therefore they are the greatest impediment to “peace.”
3) Pressuring Israel to abandon the settlements is the single best thing that anyone who wants peace in the Middle East can do.
4) Images of Israeli brutality in the “occupied territories” (including Pallywood fakes) are one of the most effective ways of pressuring Israel to withdraw both internally (by making Israelis feel guilty), and externally (by alienating world support for Israel).
5) Therefore, any effort to show that Israeli soldiers are not as bad as the Pallywood-saturated MSM show them to be both justifies the “occupation” and undermines efforts for peace.
(As a note to those who might think that, after the Gaza withdrawal in 2005 and the war with Hamas and Hizbullah in 2007 might make people who follow this logic think twice — obviously not Tom Segev — I report the following conversation with my first interlocutor above:
He: “The occupation corrupts our youth and must end, no matter what happens.”
RL: “Give back everything? Even East Jerusalem?”
RL: “Are you aware of the high probability that such a concession will lead to further aggression rather than peace?” [HJP]
He: “I don’t care. The occupation is morally corrupting and we must end it.”)
Not a few Palestinian children have been killed by Israeli army gunfire without their deaths being filmed.
You could see this coming: Fake but accurate. How many times have I heard people say to me, “but the Israelis have killed hundreds of children…” This comment (like the previous one about the occupation) has nothing to do with whether this particular image is staged. And, if it is, then this incident constitutes a shocking betrayal of journalistic ethics by Talal abu Rahmah and an even more shocking act of professional negligence (at best) by Charles Enderlin and France2, not mitigated by an appeal to a higher truth.
This is the kind of thinking that gives us the Palestinian appeal to a “higher” truth to justify creating a blood libel by inserting footage to frame Israel for deliberate murder. This kind of thinking allows Enderlin to claim that, whatever the status of the footage, “it corresponded to the situation on the West Bank and Gaza Strip at the time.” This is history backwards, in which a situation created by this footage is then used to justify its publication. Looking at some of the rushes of the “demonstration” at Netzarim Junction on day 3 of the Intifada, one doesn’t get much of an impression of murderous rage. Certainly not the kind of scene one finds 12 days later in Ramallah.
But it’s even worse. Before this picture enraged Palestinians and had them throwing their children at Israeli positions with men firing at the Israelis from behind them, there were virtually no cases of confirmed Israeli killing of Palestinian children – and certainly not intentional killings. The curve of MSM and NGO-affirmed Palestinian claims of Israeli soldiers killing Palestinian children shoots up after the al Durah footage hit the air — both because those images intensified Palestinian suicidal rage, and because, after al Durah, the MSM believed anything their Palestinian sources claimed. While I was in Enderlin’s office, he got a fax about a Palestinian boy shot deliberately by the Israelis, which he 0ffered to me as a sad confirmation of his narrative.
“What’s the source of the claim?” I asked, ever the medievalist.
He looked again. “The doctor at the hospital.”
“How does he know?” He wasn’t there? Who is his source?
He looked at me, exasperated, as if to even go there, was to be ludicrously, partisanly, skeptical.
Enderlin and Segev, like so many people driven by an ideology hostile to Israeli “aggression” rather than to professional ethics, weigh in habitually on the side of Palestinian narrative, rather than journalistic probity. They hold the Palestinians to no standards; if they do doubt, they do it privately. More often they use information of highly dubious origin to aggressively attack Israel and make any effort of hers to defend herself, an outrageous denial of their contribution to Palestinian suffering.
Be that as it may, these images have by now assumed a mythological viability that is no longer dependent on the question of whether what they seem to show actually happened.
Now we come to the point one hears so often. It’s too late. The images are mythical and no longer depend on whether they are real. How strange! Segev and his fellow “new historians” would never have undertaken their task of critiquing Israeli foundational “myths” had they taken so limp an attitude towards the power of “reality testing” to change a people’s narrative.
What’s really at work here is not myth vs. reality, but whose myths? Segev has long ago dismissed Israeli myths, but he has utterly failed to direct his laser-sharp critical mind at the question of Palestinian myths. On the contrary, he seems to have exchanged the latter for the former, those of his own society’s enemies for those of his own society.
The question here about Segev is: is he siding with the Palestinians because he thinks along the lines described above — by siding with their narrative he can force Israel to withdraw and lead to justice and peace — or because he’s so profoundly “culturalist” that he doesn’t think that Palestinians can engage in the kind of self-criticism he demands from his own culture?
I’m not arguing in favor of an attitude of “my society right or wrong” — which is the Palestinian, honor-shame, tribal position. But if you are going to be self-critical as Segev is about his own society, then you need to be careful about jumping from your frying pan into their fire. Segev, by failing to hold the Palestinians to standards of honesty, he’s basically adopting the position, “their society, right or wrong.”
Will Segev’s approach lead to peace? Does he care? Is he capable of examining the evidence and reconsidering. The ball is in his court.
However, the officials in charge of Israel’s media image are not giving up. Ahead of the hearing in the Paris appeal, the deputy IDF Spokesman, Colonel Shlomi Am-Shalom, asked the France 2 correspondent in Israel, Charles Enderlin, to give him the raw footage that was taken during the event, about 20 minutes of film. That is something like the army asking a journalist to hand over his notes. France 2 responded coldly: it is waiting for the judgment of the court in Paris.
No Tom. It’s not the equivalent of asking a reporter to hand over his notes. These are not records of confidential interviews given by people who could expect confidentiality. These are records of public behavior that pretends to be “real.” No one but the cameraman would be exposed by this record.
All in all, a rather sad account from Segev. Packed into a few short paragraphs, we get a revealing a combination of ignorance, cavalier treatement of the data, and perverse partisanship. When it comes to critiquing “myths,” he displays a dramatic untrustworthiness.