Thoughts before the Court Viewing of the France2 Rushes

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.
    So?
    There are no bullets.
    So?
    The boy moves after he’s been declared dead.
    So?
    There’s no ambulance evacuation.
    So?
    All the footage Talal shot before this scene were staged.
    So?

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.

23 Responses to Thoughts before the Court Viewing of the France2 Rushes

  1. [...] Check it out! While looking through the blogosphere we stumbled on an interesting post today.Here’s a quick excerpt 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 wha [...]

  2. Eliyahu says:

    Frankly, RL, Nahman Shai is a dangerous fool, in my opinion. The sooner he shuts up the better. I don’t consider him a sharp journalist. Rather, he’s an old line Israeli hack, incompetent but probably protected by some kind of connection or connections [proteksiya] in the Labor Party. The way of thinking, especially in the Labor party, is stupid pragmatism. Pragmatism in Israel’s situation is very dumb and is one of the reasons why Israel is in the present predicament.

  3. fp says:

    rl,

    you have clearly provided plenty of justifications for the israeli position not to reopen the case!!!! you are validating the assumption that neither the public, not the people at the trial are likely to realize what’s going on.

    from your comments the chances of karsenty winning are slim. and if he loses, there will be a lot of damage.

    fp
    http://fallofknowledgeandreason.blogspot.com/

  4. Lorenz Gude says:

    A wonderful stage setting post. A critical moment in what could turn out to be the most important single incident in a long struggle to reform the media by what is essentially a new, net based, manifestation of civil society. Triggered, as you say, by the folly of one of their own. What you say about only some people getting Pallywood easily fits my experience of getting either derisive laughter or a puzzled look when I suggest to people that much of what they watch on TV news is fake.

  5. David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the – Web Reconnaissance for 11/140/2007 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day…

  6. fp says:

    lorenz,

    do you really think that a karesenty win will reform the media????????

  7. Diane says:

    RL,

    This is a little out of left field, but I’d like to broach the subject of why some Jews & Israelis champion Palestinian slanders, knowing full well what the facts are. It’s a puzzling phenomenon that, I would think, carries a lot of weight with disinterested parties who want to view the debate in a “balanced” way.

    One of the assumptions, I think, of outsiders watching this debate is that if the Israeli side were right, there wouldn’t be so many Jewish advocates for the pro-Palestinian narrative (coupled with almost no pro-Israel advocates among the Arabs.)

    So, what are the motives of Jewish Israel-bashers? I’m not talking about certifiable nut-jobs like Chomsky or Finkelstein, but mainstream folks like Nachman Shai, Charles Enderlin or Gideon Levy. I think the answer lies in the ideological underpinnings of the Israeli left.

    I recently read a Wikipedia entry on the origins of Hashomer Hatzair. I found it very enlightening. This movement – closely associated with the early Kibbutzim – is rooted in a deep-seated antipathy to Jewish religious identity. The one-state solution has always been the right path for this group. They were Jewish by chance, not by choice, and they regarded the Jewish identity of Israel as a tragic flaw. Benny Morris, I learned from Wikipedia, is one of the movement’s alumni; so, interestingly, was Menachim Begin.

    I have had a little personal contact with this movement, though I didn’t really understand it at the time. In 1976, as a teenager, I spent a summer volunteering at a Hashomer kibbutz called Sha’ar HaGolan. Even then, I was struck by the community’s open hostility to religious Zionism. The charter specifically forbade any rabbi setting foot on kibbutz land. In the dining hall, a vegetarian section was the only concession to kashrut. Friday nights were made special by a skinny-dipping party at the community pool. Were it not for the Hebrew language, I don’t believe aliens deposited on this scene I would have known this was a Jewish community. (Though we did spend one evening in a bomb shelter, after a section of cut fencing was found along the nearby Jordanian border.)

    I assumed that times had changed, but I find from the Wikipedia entry that the Hashomer movement is alive and well not just in Israel byt the world over. Even in the face of Oslo’s failure, nearly 20 years of intifadah, vicious suicide bombings, and the open teaching and preaching of anti-semitism in Arab schools, mosques and media, the Jewish left has not modified its belief that Israel’s Jewish identity is a tragic mistake and that a non-religious state (call it Palestine) populated by an Arab majority (beefed up by several million returned refugees) remains the political ideal. And they think religious Jews are delusional!!

  8. Exit Zero says:

    Today’s the day…

    Richard Landes describes his thoughts before the viewing of the France 2 al Dura tapes:

    The viewing of the tapes at this afternoon’s trial has created a good deal of excitement, at le…

  9. Solomonia says:

    Al Dura in the French Court

    Reports from today’s court session are beginning to come in. Melanie Phillips at The Spectator: The al Durah blood libel …the judge ordered France 2 to produce the unscreened footage of this incident; today it did so. Well, sort of….

  10. Lynne T says:

    Diane:

    Judging by Enderlin’s conduct in this whole matter, I’d put him right up there with Chomsky and Finkelstein as Enderlin clearly has no regard for facts if they vindicate Israel or the US in any matter.

    It’s long been known that the bullets whizzing past the Al-Durahs could not possibly have been fired by the IDF because they would have had to travel around a 90 degree corner. Enderlin continues to situate the IDF in a very different position.

    Why? Because to believe otherwise is to conclude that the bullets flying past the Al-Durahs were fired by Palestinian “militants”, who recklessly endangered their own in an attempted assault on the IDF.

    How does that differ from Chomksy denying the genocidal massacre of millians by the Khmer Rouge and never retracting his idiotic allegation of an impending “silent genocide” in Afghanistan by NATO, or Finkelstein accusing Jews of grossly exagerating the extent of the Nazi genocide against Europe’s Jews for the sole purpose of extorting reparations and the recognition of a Jewish State within the old Palestinian Mandate.

    All three are operating with a blind hatred.

  11. Joanne says:

    I just don’t understand about the 18 minutes instead of 27. France2 should be cited for contempt of court. You don’t just bring in 2/3 of what you were asked for. Can’t someone do something about that?

    Also, I can’t believe that it’s beyond the abilities of the French to install larger screens facing the court, so that the judges can have their screens up close, but the press and interested parties can see the rest.

  12. fp says:

    diane,

    for those of us who lived in israel for a long time this is well known. there has always been a large leftist component in israel — in fact the country was founded by it in large part — and they had a long conflict with the right component which often associated with the religious. with time the left component shrank and the consequences are the same as in the US — the nation became anathema and they associated with the enemy.

    joanne,

    french justice is a contradiction in terms.

  13. Phil says:

    “I saw 21 minutes of rushes in the France2 offices in Jerusalem. France2 has given the court 18. What’s up?”

    The answer is obvious. You had originally seen a video that was slowed down 14%. (Or, perhaps, the video shown in court was sped up 17%.)

    Just kidding.

  14. Almost all the footage from the al-Durah blood lib

    Melanie Phillips went to Paris to witness the court hearing in which the footage was finally produced for everyone to see regarding Mohammed al-Durah. Well, almost all the footage. What Charles Enderlin and his cameraman had to offer was 18 minutes o…

  15. Almost all the footage from the al-Durah blood libel has been presented to the court

    Melanie Phillips went to Paris to witness the court hearing in which the footage was finally produced for everyone to see regarding Mohammed al-Durah. Well, almost all the footage. What Charles Enderlin and his cameraman had to offer was 18

  16. ALMOST ALL THE FOOTAGE FROM THE AL-DURAH BLOOD LIBEL HAS BEEN PRESENTED TO THE COURT

    Melanie Phillips went to Paris to witness the court hearing in which the footage was finally produced

  17. Media Ignored Blows Dealt to Terrorist-Inspiring al-Dura Footage

    NewsBusters.org – Exposing Liberal Media Bias

    Shouldn’t the media cover the debunking of an event which stirred violent anti-Israel sentiment and even became a talking point for Osama Bin Ladin? Instead, the media ignored a French judge’s investig…

  18. Diane says:

    It’s too soon the say the media have ignored this story. The story can’t be written until the judges rule. The only possible article, at this point, would properly belong on the editorials page. When the verdict comes down, if it comes down in Karsenty’s favor, mark my words, the media will be all over the story. Look at how they lapped up the disgrace of Dan Rather. Bottom line: scandal sells papers. And Enderlin’s official fall from grace – if it comes to pass – will be a must-see spectacle.

  19. fp says:

    it’s just hard for me to believe — given what has transpired to date — that enderlin will lose.

    as to whether the media will “lapp it up”, as the account of the trial day reveals, there are countering forces in the media, some of which are dead set to protect its status and power, given that they know they are guilty of the same sins as enderlin. so it remains to be seen which force will dominate.

  20. Eliyahu says:

    Diane & fp, under Chrirac, the al-Durah myth was an “official lie” in France. Maybe now, under Sarkozy, this will change. As an official lie, it could not be challenged. But if it has lost its status there, the outcome could be different than a year ago. We’ll see.

  21. [...] of the Beast: Outrage in Paris! The Ghost of Rose Mary Woods Stalks the Court Room Richard Landes: Thoughts Before the Viewing Palestinian Center for Hman Rights Statement of Talal Abu Rahma, Arab Cameraman for France 2 Yid [...]

  22. fp says:

    eliyahu,

    my own opinion is that he is a delusion of wishful thinkers.

    there is considerable evidence already that sarkozy is different than chirac at best in style and talk, not where it counts in deeds. most of the difference, if any, will probably be in internal/economic policy, not foreign, and it depends on whether he will back down like his predecessors or not.

    foreign policy will be all tough talk and chirac-like deeds.

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