The viewing of the tapes at this afternoon’s trial has created a good deal of excitement, at least in the small corner of the news world that cares about things like Pallywood and Al Durah. At least five journalists have come to Paris for this event, including Stephane Juffa from Metulla, and Esther Schapira from Frankfurt, both of whom made the first documentaries on the story, Melanie Phillips and Tom Gross. Journalists have started taking an interest and making calls.
But we don’t know what will happen tomorrow, nor how what happens effects not only the case (February 27), but the direction of this entire affair. So let me present some of the issues I think relevant.
1) It’s not obvious to everyone that the staged scenes are staged.
As one commenter noted here, when first viewing the rushes I’ve put up, it’s not clear what I mean by Pallywood. It takes a practiced eye. Only after viewing the material several times and keeping certain facts in mind (position of the Israelis relative to the scene), and overcoming a certain predisposition to believe that what you’re seeing is true, can you begin to realize what’s afoot. (For material to work with, go here.)
It takes getting used to what’s happening because everything you see defies your expectations until you realize it’s being staged. So people who view it are torn between imposing their expectations on reality and absorbing what’s going on — the modus operandi of Pallywood. That is, someone fakes an injury, others pick him up and run him to an ambulance, past cameramen like Talal, and then everyone goes home in the evening to see if they got on TV.
Like CSI, it’s often the smallest details that reveal the larger problem, and if you’re busy working on “making this work” in terms of your expectations, you can miss/dismiss those critical details. In his discussion of anomalies to paradigms, Kuhn spoke about the disorientation people felt when they were shown a black heart or red spade. Viewing the rushes puts the attentive viewer into a a kind of information vertigo — a particularly intense form of cognitive dissonance.
But perfectly sharp journalists have looked at the tapes and seen nothing worthy of note (most recently former IDF Spokesman Nachman Shai). But then, Leconte, Jeambar and Rosenzweig agree with me.
As a result of the inertial weight of expectations, it’s hard to predict what either the judges or anyone else thinks tomorrow. The reports from the last trial, in particular the fact that the judge asked the France2 lawyer if there were any staged scenes (there shouldn’t be any), makes me cautiously optimistic. If that’s her attitude going in (unless she’s already seen them with the other judges — I hope so), then good. There are a couple of scenes that are comic (that I would have dearly loved to put in Pallywood), but they may have been cut (see below). It’s possible that there will be no “smoking gun” of fakes, if the film runs once through without reruns and analysis.
2) How Shocking?
Behind this difference of reaction to the rushes lies something else: how amazed are you that this is going on, that the Western media has no apparent problem with it? If you are like Clement Weill-Raynal or Charles Enderlin, there’s nothing to say. It happens all the time. Anyone who expresses astonishment is just naïve.
Philippe Karsenty’s comic riff on talking to French journalists about the evidence comes to mind:
There’s no blood.
There are no bullets.
The boy moves after he’s been declared dead.
There’s no ambulance evacuation.
All the footage Talal shot before this scene were staged.
But if that’s just a ho-hum, then why the trial? What’s Enderlin’s beef about being defamed if Philippe just said he did something that’s not a big deal?
Ultimately one’s ability to understand the stakes in this has an enormous impact on how indignant one gets. If the world is doing okay and we’ll muddle through this latest problem with the “religion of peace,” then these supposedly egregious sins of staging don’t seem that important. It’s how things work: the media need footage, the Palestinians supply it, the media have deadlines… what do you want from them?
On the other hand, if you think that this kind of journalism has disoriented us terribly at a moment of great danger (indeed it has contributed to that danger), then your tolerance for such “foibles” may not be as forgiving.
What I am hoping is that those who have seen Pallywood, and know the basic operating principles, will spot it right away. I wouldn’t even mind if the place started laughing at some of the scenes. But we’ll have to see what the chemistry in the courtroom is like.
3) The Situation in Court
Nidra tells me the court is considerably smaller than the (already small) earlier courtroom, and that the people on the right side will not be able to see much since the screen will be turned to the judges. So we don’t know how many people will get in (I’m going two hours early), nor what the general atmosphere will be. I gather there will be cameras outside the courtroom, so we should have some immediate reactions on tape.
4) The famous 27/18 minutes.
Talal says he took 27 minutes of the 45-minute of the gunbattle in which Jamal and Muhammad were cut down in a rain of bullets. I saw 21 minutes of rushes in the France2 offices in Jerusalem. France2 has given the court 18. What’s up?
The 27 minutes played an important role in the early controversy. Talal referred to them in his sworn statement.
I spent approximately 27 minutes photographing the incident which took place for 45 minutes. After the father and the child were evacuated by an ambulance to the hospital, I stayed 30-40 minutes. I could not leave the area, because all of those who were in the area, including me, were being shot at and endangered.
Enderlin alluded to the existence of more footage of the shooting when he explained that he cut some scenes of the boy’s death throes that were too unbearable to show:
J’ai coupé l’agonie de l’enfant. C’était trop insupportable. L’histoire a été racontée, l’information donnée, ça n’aurait rien rajouté.
[I cut the child's death throes. It was unbearable. The story had been told, the information provided, it would have added nothing.]
(Télérama, 25 octobre 2000 [no. 2650], p.10)
This had the desired effect, among other things, of frightening the Israelis from doing any serious investigation lest this even more damaging footage come out as well.
But, it turns out, they don’t exist. Those who have seen the rushes know that none of them concern the boy and his father behind the barrel. On the contrary, on a day that Enderlin believed the Gaza Strip had erupted in anger at the killings on the West Bank the previous day, his cameraman’s rushes are actually filled with comic Pallywood. As for the “death agony,” Enderlin now speaks of “the few seconds”:
…les quelques secondes de l’agonie de l’enfant que j’avais coupé considérant à l’époque que celà rendait le sujet trop dur.
[... the few seconds of the child's death throes which I had cut, believing at the time that they made the subject too difficult.]
If it’s “the few seconds,” he’s talking about this. In my not so humble opinion, the scenes he cut were unbearable, not to the viewer, but to his (and Talal’s) narrative. If the public had seen the last scene, there would have been an immediate outcry. But giving that scene to his colleagues in the media produced nothing but silence.
If you don’t understand these details, you can come away from a viewing of the rushes with the impression that there’s nothing here. Certainly nothing about the al Durahs.
So which is it? 21 minutes or 18 minutes? In fact there’s got to be much more than either of those totals. Talal was filming from 7AM, and, according to his own testimony (to explain why he kept starting and stopping his camera during the 55 seconds he took of the actual shooting), he told Enderlin his batteries were dying (so Enderlin told me). So, like the other cameraman there, from whom we have almost two hours of rushes, I suspect that Talal took a lot more footage than any of us who are shown the rushes by France2 have seen.
But what about the smaller discrepency. The only way that France2 didn’t conceal material is if they sent the 18 minutes that no one has seen outside their studios, and not the final 3 minutes that Enderlin distributed so generously to the other news agencies in the hopes they’d run the story too (which you can view here). But according to Adi Schwartz of Ha-Aretz, who saw the 18 minutes recently, they include these final scenes. So it’s entirely possible that France2 has sent in doctored tapes.
We’ll have to wait till tomorrow, before judging. If, however, France2 has pulled a “Rosemary Woods” and cut the most embarrassing scenes, I’ll know it (have three in mind), and so will Luc Rosenzweig. And we won’t hesitate to let Karsenty’s lawyer know.
5) The Meaning of Tomorrow’s Viewing and of the Karsenty Case
Even if Karsenty wins, this is still the early stages of the process of exorcising the blood libel of al Durah and the chronic weaknesses of a MSM that launders Pallywood. The al Durah dossier is a many faceted stone that sheds light on a wide range of issues, and whose understanding makes it possible to (begin to) grasp the nature of our problematic media, our dysfunctional relationship with the Muslim world, and the ways that a misguided media contributes to the very belligerence it thinks it is trying to avoid.
Perhaps in direct correlation with how mutli-faceted and revealing it is, the dossier is also problematic. Unlike the Dreyfus affair, where the evidence was a slam-dunk and anyone honest who saw it had to agree (like Rathergate), this material is only a dunk. And given the predispositions of people in viewing it, it’s more like a long 3-pointer. Many people look at the evidence both with their own common sense eye, and with the eye of some imaginary viewer whom they want to convince. They might be convinced according to their common sense, without feeling that that view will carry the day. That’s why when I first got started on this, people said, “We need 110% proof.” That’s why to this day, people of good intentions in the Israeli and Jewish public diplomacy circles continue to think that this is not a good dossier to work with, that it risks too much blowback to take the chance.
On one level, this is the emperor’s new clothes. The chamberlain, Enderlin, has come out from the tailor (abu Rahmah)’s quarters, and told us, “this is real.” All the MSM courtiers lined up, and (in this case) a wildly cheering audience greeted the public appearance. All of us early whistle-blowers on this — Shahaf, Juffa, Huber, Poller, Karsenty, me — all got told what the father told his son, “Hush child, be silent.” And not just by the media, but by the people most damaged by this image — Israeli and Jewish leaders who feared the dossier.
The problem in the case of al Durah is, in order to experience that terrifying cognitive dissonance that that crowd experienced as they watched the emperor parading naked — my common sense tells me he’s naked, “everyone” tells me it’s a fine new suit — you have to see the rushes, you have to examine and think about the evidence. And even the best of our MSM is still far too steeped in their protective assumptions (including professional courtesy) to do so.
The importance of the trial has been to bring attention to this dossier (Enderlin — your bad; what a mistake.) But the tapes remain in France2′s hands — they have refused the IDF’s request now twice. And until we get a hold of those tapes, can study them and present them, people will not have the tools to explore the amazing world of staging that lies within and behind the al Durah affair. At some point, hopefully, the Al Durah affair will be a basic curriculum for journalism students — the nadir of journalism at the dawn of the 21st century. That is, if civil society makes it through this particular challenge.
Strategy for the Future
This dossier is immensely complicated, and involves not only journalistic, but diplomatic and military dimensions that play out in four major venues — Israel, France, the USA, and ultimately, the Arab world. There is no quick victory, indeed such a quick victory is less desireable than a slow unfolding of the many facets of this tale, the rich texture of its revelations on so many aspects of our current dilemma.
Some blood libels have been disproven (the child in question had been hidden and was found). But no blood libel in the history of the genre has ever been reversed. At best, the attacks cease, but the rumors and private convictions that Jews need Christian blood for Matzah on Passover continued to grip the imagination of Christians (and now, with variants, Muslims). Jews repeatedly lived between libel and, when it was proved false, silence. This one is a new kind of blood libel, and its impact has been to inject a hateful poison in the very veins of global information systems: so it’s no longer merely a question of whether Jews suffer or not.
Turning this one around may — should — take years. Unlike Herakles, who cleaned the Augean Stables in a day, this one may take us all a decade to filter out the poisons. Already the blogosphere has had a salutory affect on a media grown so accustomed to circulating libels that it thinks it’s one of their professional “rights.” As Enderlin lamented to the BBC, “as a result of the scrutiny his case has received, coverage of Israel’s treatment in Palestinians in the occupied territories is being toned down in newsrooms.”
Enderlin calls it a “campaign of intimidation.” It’s actually just basic criticism, essential element of a civil society. Indeed, it’s Enderlin’s inability to distinguish between criticism and intimidation, his inability to view receiving criticism as a part of his professional duties, rather than considering it an “attack on his honor and estimation”, that led him to the folly of attacking three French individuals in court for “defamation.”
How foolish this will all look, someday. Hopefully, sooner rather than later.