I will be giving a talk tomorrow at the IDC in Herzliya on Muhammad al Durah. The invitation reads as follows:
The Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center in conjunction with the Raphael Recanati International School (RRIS), the Ambassador’s Club and StandWithUs International, is pleased to invite you to a symposium with
Professor Richard Landes, Boston University
“Icon of Hatred:
The Muhammad al Dura Affair: From Media to Internet to Courtroom”
On Wednesday, January 9, 2008, from 18:00 – 19:45
In the Arison building, room A318
17:30- Light meal in the Arison Lobby
On September 30, 2000, Palestinian photographer Talal abu Rahmah filmed a father and son allegedly shot by Israeli troops at Netzarim Junction in the Gaza Strip. Charles Enderlin, correspondent for France2, showed the film on television claiming the Israelis targeted the defenceless pair, killing the boy and wounding his father badly. The story became a global sensation, a symbolic image of the Intifada’s struggle against a murderous Israeli army.
Despite extensive contradictions between Talal’s account and the evidence of his own footage, most of which point to the strong likelihood that he staged the whole scene, the media accepted this version and has resisted efforts bring these doubts to the public’s attention. But with investigators writing on the Internet the story took on a life of its own. Enderlin, in an attempt to suppress even these marginal voices, sued several of these cyber-critics for defamation. Despite early victories, his offensive turned against him last month when the court viewed some of Talal’s raw footage.
Historian Richard Landes has maintained the most extensively documented website concerning this affair, and has closely followed and reported on the Muhammad al-Dura story since it began. He will discuss the affair, its implications and impact, and will also show and analyze film clips, some of which have not been seen before publicly.
The event will be conducted in English and start with opening remarks by Prof. Barry Rubin, Director, The GLORIA Center, followed by a short lecture on the use of propaganda in the media from Dr. Yariv Ben-Eliezar from IDC Herzliya’s Sammy Ofer School of Communications. Prof. Landes will make his presentation immediately afterwards.
For more information or any special requests, please contact Keren Ribo, Director of Operations, The GLORIA Center (http://www.gloriacenter.org), at: firstname.lastname@example.org.Tel: 972-9-960-2736, Cell: 972-52-390-0609.
Or Jeremy Ruden, Director, International Media Relations, Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, at: email@example.com. Tel: 972-9-960-2754, Cell: 972- 52- 407-0775.
The invitation was sent to all major press agencies in Israel, including France2. As a result, the organizers of the conference received the following letter from the lawyers representing France2 (translated from the Hebrew, if anyone wants a copy of the Hebrew original, please let me know):
Aharonson Sher Abulafia Amoday & Co. Law Offices
To: The GLORIA Center
The Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya
P.O. Box 167
Re: Conference on the Muhammad al-Dura affair
Our clients, France 2 and Mr. Charles Enderlin, have instructed me to address you as follows:
1. This letter is intended to express our client’s firm protest concerning “the Muhammad al-Dura Affair” conference to be held on January 9, 2008, and concerning the invitation to this event, which makes a broad and misleading use of our clients’ names, and without even obtaining their view.
2. The conference, according to the above invitation, plans to deal with the footage of French television photographer Talal abu Rahmah and the reporting of network correspondent Mr. Charles Enderlin regarding the September 30, 2000 shots fired toward Jamal and Muhammad al-Dura, which resulted in Muhammad’s death and his father, Jamal, being seriously wounded.
3. Beyond the fact that the conference invitation is full of accusations and inaccuracies, to say the least in everything concerning this matter, it is not acceptable from any perspective that such a conference be held in such a one-sided manner, without bringing forth our clients’ response and moreover without addressing them on this matter.
4. In order to present the matters accurately, I will cite the correct facts relating to the information appearing on the invitation:
a. The tape which was filmed by Mr. Talal abu Rahmah is authentic footage of the events which occurred at the Netzarim Junction on September 30, 2000. This does not refer to something staged, and our clients view this offhanded accusation gravely.
b. Mr. Enderlin has never acted, and is not acting, to cancel the criticism against him and France 2. Even in real time, our clients broadcast every relevant response, even if it was opposed to the events as our clients viewed them. It is not clear where you obtained the audacity to note on the conference invitation that criticism against our clients has been “blocked” by libel suits. Our clients are acting with the tools provided to them by law in order to prevent damage to their good name—and nothing more. The insinuation that our clients have acted otherwise is truly outrageous.
c. The tape of the footage of the event from September 30, 2000 was presented in its entirety in the French court of appeals. Until this date the court’s position concerning this tape had not been heard. Any other statement is simply not correct and is misleading.
5. Our clients regret your choice, as a respected academic institution, to hold a conference on this subject, while the matter is being debated in several forums, in [Israel] and abroad, while presenting a distorted, sometimes false, view, which is not based upon fact but upon unfounded assessments and accusations.
6. Our clients further regret that you chose to conduct this conference in such a demonstrably, one-sided manner, while harming our clients’ reputation.
7. We believe that fairness dictates that no conference should be held on the matter which is being debated in the courts, or at a minimum our clients’ position be obtained beforehand.
8. We regret you chose the way you did.
9. I would be happy to be at your service on any matter at telephone number: 02-561-8677.
Respectfully and cordially yours,
Louise Sportas, Attorney at Law
Aharonson Sher Abulafia Amoday & Co.
Attorneys at Law
CC: Prof. Barry Rubin
Dr. Yariv Ben Eliezer
Note, no copy to me.
I have written the following response, an abbreviated version of which will be circulated along with France2′s response at the talk:
This missive is riddled with errors and misrepresentations. If this letter represents France2 and Charles Enderlin’s notion of “true facts” and “straightening things out,” then we can begin to understand how the al Durah Affair could have played out as it has for the past seven years. Responses grouped by topic:
On the subject of one-sidedness.
France2 has maintained a near-monopoly of Mainstream Media discussion of this matter for the past seven years and done everything it could to block criticism from reaching the larger public. When Enderlin did deal with criticism in a November 2000 news report on IDF General Yom Tov Samia’s investigation which found that the boy and father could not have been hit by the Israeli bullets, he dismissed it from his own podium as an “impartial” journalist, without debate, without representation from the IDF. He presented to France2 viewers only what he saw fit.
Charles Enderlin has, moreover, turned down multiple invitations to share a podium with his critics, most recently in the case of a conference on Journalistic Ethics held at Mishkenot Sha’ananim on December 30, 2007. For a giant mainstream media corporation that has 24-hour access to a public of millions of viewers, to complain that it must be given equal time in discussions it has done its best to marginalize, redefines chutzpah.
On the subject of blocking criticism.
In 2002 France2 blocked the showing of a French version of the German documentary of their sister-station ARD on the al Durah affair by Esther Schapira. Although this documentary did not pursue the hypothesis of staging, it gave ample exposure to Yom Tov Samia’s investigation. Moreover, Enderlin and France2 refuse to give the IDF a copy of the disputed footage so that they can conduct their own investigation. In an interview with Schapira, Enderlin asserted that he would not give the raw footage to the IDF “so that they can whitewash themselves.” At no time has any major French television station, much less France2, allowed the public to hear the case for staging. On the contrary, when they do mention that hypothesis, they ridicule it as “extreme right-wing conspiracy theory.”
On the subject of using the libel courts to intimidate and silence critics.
In the ARD documentary, Enderlin tells Schapira that if anyone accuses Talal, him, or France2 of manipulation or fabrication, it’s reason to go to court. And three of the four accused in France2’s defamation trials did not even go so far as to claim staging. So France2 has defined criticism as a cause for litigation and this very letter illustrates how they want to use the existence of their litigation to prevent alternative positions from reaching the public whose perceptions they have fundamentally shaped.Using the law to “prevent [others] from hurting [France2’s] reputation,” and using the law to intimidate criticism are two different aspects of the same maneuver. It is disingenuous to say the least to pretend they mutually exclusive, and to wax indignant about the “outrageous” allegation that France2 is doing the latter. In any case, the honest way to protect one’s reputation is to answer the criticisms, not attack them as defamation.
On the showing of the tapes.
No one contests that Talal’s tape is authentic footage of what happened at Netzarim Junction on September 30, 2000. The real question is, does this “authentic footage” corroborate the claims that Talal abu Rahmeh and Charles Enderlin make about what happened there. Close observation suggests many more contradictions between the evidence of the tapes and the reports of the journalists. There is nothing “off-handed” about the carefully phrased assertion in the invitation to this talk that there is a “strong likelihood that [Talal] staged the whole scene.”
As for showing these tapes in the French Appeals court last November, it seems passing strange that this letter puts the words “was presented in its entirety” in bold underline, since this is precisely what did not happen. The tape of the Talal’s footage of the event was cut by several minutes, something Enderlin admitted in court when he explained why there were only 18 minutes. The passages he cut, he claimed, were “not relevant.” But since I have seen the Talal’s tapes three times, I can testify that he cut scenes from Netzarim Junction that day, and that at least one of the passages cut shows the ludicrous efforts at staging news that the Palestinians on site engaged in all that day and that Talal eagerly filmed.
The “facts” of the case.
There are few firmly established “facts” in this case. Mostly there are assertions – e.g., “eventually Mohamed found his death and his father, Jamal, was badly injured” (above) – whose reliability has been extensively put in question. For example, the claims from Palestinian hospitals about Jamal’s serious injuries have now come under new examination since every injury claimed by the Palestinian sources corresponds to injuries Jamal received from his fellow Palestinians years earlier and for which he was treated in an Israeli hospital. In any case, those who attend the IDC Conference will see and hear a comparison of the “factual” claims made by Talal and Enderlin in this case, compared with the hard evidence (especially evidence from Talal’s own footage). The contrast has every reason to concern France2 in their effort to protect their reputation. They have every reason to be distressed at the public’s exposure to the evidence.
France2’s “Position” on al Durah.
France2 should indeed clarify its “position” in this affair. Do they still stand by Enderlin’s original broadcast in which the al Durah’s are “the target of fire coming from the Israeli position”? Has Talal in fact sent a fax disclaiming his sworn testimony of October 3, 2000? And if so, what has he specifically retracted? Where are the “unbearable” scenes of the boy’s “death throes” that Enderlin claimed he cut?
It’s one of the characteristics of an “emperor’s new clothes” scenario that, as long as the hegemonic discourse can compel people to deny what their own eyes behold, the public discourse remains favorable. But once the word starts to get out, the mask slips, and the spell is broken. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!
When all is said and done in this case, Charles Enderlin will rue the day he convinced France2 to sue Philippe Karsenty. Those whom the gods would destroy, first they make arrogant.