Gaza media battle in French court
By Henri Astier
Memorial in Mali to Muhammad al-Durrah based on the disputed images
At the start of the second intifada, pictures of Muhammad al-Durrah and his father seeking shelter from gunfire were seen everywhere as a powerful symbol of Palestinian suffering and the brutality of the Israeli occupation.
Seven years on, a Paris court is set to look at the footage on Wednesday, as part of a libel case that could in turn become a cause celebre.
For both sides, the stakes could hardly be higher.
I understand that the journalist wants his story to be hot, but in fact, the stakes are high for Enderlin and France2, but less for Karsenty and we critics. Given the alleatory if not capricious nature of French justice, a decision against Karsenty by the judges will not slow us down as much as a decision against France2 would be devastating for them.
The report is a fake that has fuelled hatred of Israel, the Jews and the West around the world
Defendant Philippe Karsenty, who runs a French media watchdog website, says he wants to expose a forgery that he says could be every bit as damaging as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion — the notorious forged document that alleges a Jewish plot to rule the world.
“The report is a fake that has fuelled hatred of Israel, the Jews and the West around the world,” he told the BBC News website.
The plaintiff, state-owned TV channel France 2, says it is both fighting a smear campaign by conspiracy theorists and standing up for honest reporting.
“The arguments of the people we have sued run counter to the values and practice of journalism,” the author of the original report, France 2’s Jerusalem correspondent Charles Enderlin, told the BBC News website.
That is somewhat astonishing. Here we are, criticizing Enderlin for 1) running staged footage as if it were real; 2) lying repeatedly to cover up; 3) trusting his cameraman despite extensive evidence that he is dishonest, specifically on this story; 4) obstructing justice; 5) showing almost no familiarity with the details of the incident despite the controversy. And our “arguments run counter to the values and practice of journalism”?
The incident occurred on 30 September 2000 at the Netzarim junction in the central Gaza Strip, and was filmed by Gaza cameraman Talal Abu-Rahma.
The report shows Jamal al-Durrah and Muhammad, 12, cowering in front of a wall marked with seven bullet holes. In his comment, Mr Enderlin says the pair was being targeted from Israeli positions.
It would be nice, at this point, for the journalist, Henri Astier, to point out that nothing beyond Talal’s testimony offers the slightest evidence that the boy was targeted by Israelis, and that that statement from Enderlin fed the global demonstrations about Israeli murder. Too much to ask?
I can’t imagine that a court can vindicate people who say that Muhammad al-Durrah’s death was staged. That would mean that you can cast doubt on any report
When Muhammad slumps to the ground, the reporter’s script says the boy is dead and the father wounded.
The Israeli army first said there was a “high probability” its soldiers had killed Muhammad and apologised. But amid the international outcry that the footage caused, a second inquiry revised the findings, concluding – it said from the angle of the shots – that it was unlikely to have been Israeli fire.
As someone pointed out to me tonight at the gathering of the Al Durah clique which has gathered here in Paris, since Enderlin had been an officer in the Israeli army and worked in the IDF’s spokesman’s office, it never occured to them that he would be pushing false footage, and given the riotous developments of those days, they didn’t even examine the footage till later.
Muhammad was most probably shot dead by Palestinian gunmen, the Israeli army suggested.
“Probably” is a weak term for the findings of the commission (and of the independent reports from Esther Schapira in Germany and James Fallows in the US. And it would not have taken much more space to specify that, based on the angles of fire, the Israelis could not have hit the father even more often than the son. As it stands, it just sounds like the Israelis arbitrarily (and quite callously) fobbed off responsibility on the Palestinians.
But Mr Enderlin stuck to his story and expressed full confidence in Mr Abu-Rahma, a veteran cameraman who has worked for France 2 since 1988.
In an effort to quell the doubts, the journalist released an edited three-minute version of the footage – not the full raw footage, which he said was too distressing.
However sceptics continued to investigate, examining every frame.
Just how vague can you get? Has Astier seen the footage? Does he know what the skeptics say: that the tape contradicts virtually every claim that Talal makes — that the boy and father took shelter behind the barrel in a hail of bullets, that the boy bled for twenty minutes, that the fire was coming from the Israeli side. Is our case so powerful that he dare not mention anything specific to his readership?
And what about this “distressing footage” which no one has seen, and doesn’t exist (unless Enderlin and France2 have been laying a trap for us).
KEY DATES (ones in italics added by RL)
30 September 2000: Mohammad al-Durrah killed at Netzarim crossing in Gaza
1-2 October: rioting in Israel by Arabs infuriated at the footage
6 October: beginning of massive demonstrations all over the world by Muslims and “Radical Leftists” protesting Israel’s Nazi-like behavior.
12 October: Two Israeli reservists beaten to death and dismembered by a mob in Ramallah to shouts of “Revenge for the blood of Muhammad al Durah”
November 2000: Israeli investigation concludes that the Israelis could not have killed the boy.
January 1, 2001: Time Magazine makes Muhammad al Durah one of the “people of the year.”
Late 2000/early 2001: Bin Laden uses al Durah footage in a film to recruit for global Jihad.
January 1 2001: First suicide terror attack, “martyr” invokes vengeance for Muhammad al Durah as a motive
19 October 2006: Court rules that Philippe Karsenty libelled France 2
14 November 2007: Appeal court views all footage relating to incident
Appeal decision in February 2008
Disputed al-Durrah footage
Eventually a third version of events began to circulate on the internet – Muhammad was struck by neither Israeli nor Palestinian bullets. The whole scene, it was said, had been staged.
Some observers were allowed to see the full recording, which they said also contained scenes of boys pretending to be injured by Israeli fire.
Mr Karsenty was among those who concluded that France 2 had been tricked into broadcasting a fake.
In November 2004 he wrote on his Media-Ratings website that the channel’s decision to stand by its story had “disgraced France and its public broadcasting system”.
France 2 and Mr Enderlin sued him for libel – and won.
In late 2006, Mr Karsenty was required to pay a symbolic Euro in compensation, as well as 3,000 euros in costs. He immediately filed an appeal.
Burden of proof
When the case returned to court in September, Mr Karsenty claimed a significant victory when France 2 was ordered to show the raw footage to the court on 14 November.
He is convinced he will be vindicated by the full 27-minute recording.
“The burden of the proof is on France 2 now,” he says. “Where is their evidence of the brutal murder?”
Of course the reader cannot understand the power of this argument, since he doesn’t know that Talal’s 27 minutes of the 45 minutes of wild Israeli firing don’t exist (they’re the “rushes” of earlier fakes), and that Enderlin didn’t cut any “death throes” (he cut the final scene where the boy not only moves, but shows no sign of a stomach injury.
The footage contains several features which Mr Karsenty says supports his allegation of fraud:
The cameraman spoke of 45 minutes of continuous Israeli gunfire aimed at the pair, yet there are only seven bullet impacts on the wall
No blood is seen
At one point, an ambulance apparently rushes to rescue a wounded Palestinian before he falls down
At the end of the recording, Muhammad, who is said to have already been killed, moves his arm.
I find it hard to believe that Philippe was this incoherent. Let me rerun these reasons (in bold) with an explanation in italics, so the reader can have a sense of what the journalist either didn’t get or didn’t explain to his audience.
The cameraman spoke of 45 minutes of continuous Israeli gunfire aimed at the pair, yet there are only seven bullet impacts on the wall and they appear to come from head on, not from the Israeli position
No blood is seen despite the fact that Talal tells us he bled from a stomach wound for 20 minutes.
At one point, an ambulance apparently rushes to rescue a wounded Palestinian before he falls down [this is one of the least important points, and has nothing to do with the al Durah footage, but with the larger phenomenon of Pallywood which Talal excels at filming, and does not even belong on this list.]
At the end of the recording, Muhammad, who is said to have already been killed, holds his hand over his eyes, not his stomach, moves his arm, lifting up his elbow, looks out and then slowly resumes his prone position.
Mr Enderlin, for his part, expresses equal confidence ahead of the viewing.
“There’s nothing suspicious about the raw footage – you see stones being thrown, shots being fired by Palestinians, kids running for cover,” he says.
“Nothing is staged. Footage of the same events filmed by other news organisations confirms this.”
Now that last one is a doozy. You mean this film confirms that nothing is staged? The film I made Pallywood from?
Mr Enderlin says Israeli soldiers were metres away from the scene, and it would have been impossible for anyone to fake a shooting incident there.
That’s a new one, and so unlikely. What on earth could the Israelis make out of what was going on, expecially when they were being shot at?
“We are ready to take part in any official inquiry with legal safeguards that conform to international standards,” he says.
“We were never asked to be part or to testify before such a commission. There was never any official or other complaint against our crews.”
What does he mean by international standards? But anyway, I think an international commission of CSI cold case specialists would be most valuable.
He concedes the actual moment of Muhammad’s death may not have been caught on film, but he is convinced that the boy was killed on that day.
That’s a big concession. How about asking why Talal only got 55 seconds of a 45 minute ordeal, and even that is chopped up into 6 extremely short “takes.”
Mr Enderlin insists he is the victim of a “campaign of intimidation” that has already had a chilling effect in some French newsrooms, where he says coverage of Israel’s treatment in Palestinians in the occupied territories is being toned down.
Given how hysterical it’s been, I’d say that’s not chilling but calming, sobering. His remark reminds me of the comment by Bruno Stevens about how the bloggers are in bad faith because they want to prevent us from talking about massacres:
The Belgian photographer Bruno Stevens, who has worked a lot in Lebanon, remarks that often the bloggers act “in bad faith. They do not search for the truth, but mix truth and falsehood, to turn the debate so that we do not talk any more of massacres.”
It’s as if, asking the media to act responsibiy in regards to its inflammatory Middle East coverage is like taking away their favorite toy… and this from the man whom history may designate as a significant contributor to the outbreak of global Jihad that gained so much momentum in the first years of the 21st century!
“I can’t imagine that a court can vindicate people who say that Muhammad al-Durrah’s death was staged. That would mean that you can cast doubt on any report,” he adds.
This is pure Enderlin. The court is not vindicating anyone by finding Karsenty innocent. It’s saying he has a right to criticize a journalist like Enderlin without being sued for defamation. And why should we not be able to cast doubt on reports that have so many inconsistencies that you can drive a truck through them. Enderlin lives in a bubble: what he says must be true, since to question it means people can question what journalists say.
The Paris appeals court will decide on Mr Karsenty’s appeal next February.
Poor article. Vague, uninformed, at points incoherent. Journalist has not done his homework. Again, alas.
I suspect that Henri Astier is new on the caper and hasn’t seen any of the evidence. Alas, more crud on the walls of the Augean Stables. How foolish this all will look when the chips fall.