Jerusalem Post Editorial: Lessons of Al Durah Scandal

May 29, 2008 17:59 | Updated May 30, 2008 2:47
Myth & Muhammad al-Dura

Last week, a surprising decision handed down by the French Court of Appeals shed rare light on how both news and myths are made in this part of the world.

On September 30, 2000, two days after prime minister Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount, a 12-year-old Palestinian boy, Muhammad al-Dura, was filmed cowering with his father, Jalal, at the Gaza Strip’s Netzarim junction during an apparent gun battle between Palestinians and IDF troops.

The video, taken by Palestinian cameraman and France 2 stringer Talal Abu Rahma, shows al-Dura hiding, and then cuts to footage of him lying, apparently dead, in the arms of his distraught father. Although he was not in Gaza that day, France 2′s correspondent Charles Enderlin (a French Jew who became an Israeli citizen some 20 years ago) added a voice-over narration, ascribing the boy’s death to “gunfire from the direction of the Israeli positions,” and released his report to the world.

Actually it was worse: Enderlin claimed that the father and son were “the target of gunfire coming from the Israeli position.” This is the core of the blood-libel (intentional killing “in cold blood”). Talal made these claims under oath, the PA doctored the footage to make them stick, and then defended their work as a “higher truth.”

The effect of the image of wounded father and murdered son, a kind of modern pieta taken as a potent symbol of Israeli brutality, was electrifying. Al-Dura’s death, a cause celebre of the second intifada, provoked worldwide outrage. Streets, public squares, and schools in Muslim cities bore his name. He was featured on a Tunisian stamp, a poem by Mahmoud Darwish, and an al-Qaida recruitment video. “In killing this boy the Israelis killed every child in the world,” Osama bin Laden said. In June 2005, Wafa Samir al-Bis, an aspiring 21-year-old “martyr,” after being apprehended by Israeli guards at the Erez checkpoint in Gaza with 20 pounds of explosives in her underwear, said that she intended to carry out a suicide attack to retaliate for al-Dura’s death.

And that was the tail end of the vengeance attacks. All the earliest ones in 2001 invoked Al Durah.

BUT THE video report – 55 seconds of footage out of some 18 minutes that were shown in court – also aroused doubts. It does not show the boy being killed. No bullets are seen hitting the alleged victims. No blood is visible on their clothes, on the wall, or on the ground. It never shows Israeli soldiers aiming at the al-Duras. More than a dozen cameramen filmed the junction that day. Reuters, AP, and France-2 outtakes show apparently staged scenes and faked ambulance runs.

The IDF, which initially apologized for the death of al-Dura, concluded that the boy could not have been hit by Israeli bullets. Citing the findings of the army’s probe into the incident, ordered by then-OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yom Tov Samia, the deputy commander of the IDF Spokesman’s Office, Col. Shlomi Am-Shalom wrote, “we can rule out with the greatest certainty the possibility that the gunfire that apparently harmed the boy and his father was fired by IDF soldiers.”

France 2 stuck to its story. On October 3, 2000, testifying under oath before the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, Talal Abu Rahmeh alleged that Israeli soldiers had intentionally murdered the boy. The station also initiated libel suits against several writers and Web sites who challenged the veracity of its story.

One of the defendants was Philippe Karsenty, director of the Media-Ratings watchdog site, who had called the report “a hoax.” France 2 won three out of four judgments, including against Karsenty, who was convicted of libel in 2006. Last week, to bring matters around full circle, the appellate court overturned that decision.

THE RECENT verdict, besides usefully underscoring the right to criticize the press and its sometimes dangerously hasty product, also calls much-needed attention to the ways in which world opinion is shaped by perceptions that are themselves shaped by a not infallible media. The al-Dura affair, like the myth of a massacre in Jenin in April 2002, has been so fervently seized by those who seek confirmation for their belief in Israeli culpability, that it is likely never to be erased from international consciousness. It by now stands well beyond the reach of refutation.

Even among alleged Zionists like Larry Derfner who seem immutably attached to the myth of Israeli culpability.

That fact ought to give pause to Israeli officials, like Israeli ambassador to Paris Danny Sheck, who criticized Karsenty for so doggedly pursuing the matter. As for the rest of us, the sordid affair teaches a valuable lesson about the dangerous enthusiasms, especially in Muslim societies, and especially among those who claim to speak for an awakened conscience, for modern myths of Jewish evil.

Thank you, Jerusalem Post, the best MSM publication during this long, painful affair… which is not yet over. Indeed, if we want to understand what really went on, the tale is just beginning.

7 Responses to Jerusalem Post Editorial: Lessons of Al Durah Scandal

  1. Phil says:

    Nice post.
    One little suggestion:
    I suggest that this sentence be changed a bit:
    “Actually it was worse: they were “the TARGET of gunfire…”
    It is unclear who the “they” refer to. It took two reads to understand you meant the Israeli position.

    suggestion accepted – RL

  2. diane says:

    Richard,

    Remember my long-ago contention that the pro-Israel side could stand a good fisking from time to time. Case in point: Check out the opinion piece in Saturday’s Miami Herald, “The dramatic killing that wasn’t” by Frida Ghitis (http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/other_views/story/552993.html) The author righteously rebukes the MSM for its wretched performance on initially fact-checking and subsequently failing to retract the al Durrah blood libel.

    So far so good. But the piece is riddled with factual errors – leaving the author subject to the same accusation you level against Derfner: did she even view the rushes and review the available documentation on the case?

    Earlier today I sent a letter to the Herald, which I attached below. I’d be curious to know what you think of this approach to countering well-intentioned misinformation presented by the pro-Israel side. The alternative — keeping silent — seems unethical (we are the side, after all, that is interested in the truth, not propaganda). Failing to correct the record could be counterproductive in the long run: the anti-Israel side might then capitalize on it as proof that the pro-Israel side lies.

    Frida Ghita has written an important article, unfortunately marred by some factual errors.

    “The boy is seen walking away after he’s declared dead,”

    Is this a typo? If so, it’s a doosy. He is NOT seen walking away. He does move slightly, shielding his eyes, perhaps to glance up at the cameraman. The clip ends there.

    Also, her characterization of Charles Enderlin as a “fervent foe of Israel” isn’t quite right. Enderlin is a Jew whose family fled Austria after the Anschlus. He was raised in France, but holds dual citizenship in Israel, where he has lived since 1968. It would be more correct to say he is a part of the Israeli left and a harsh critic of the occupation.

    There are a few other minor inaccuracies. “Detailed ballistic reports” never happened. No bullets were ever recovered. Rather, the puffs of dust created by the bullets on impact with the wall behind the Al Durrahs, as seen in the France 2 footage, are inconsistent with the bullets originating from the Israeli position. Also, it isn’t quite right to say the Palestinians are seen “repeatedly falling and getting up” … it’s more subtle than that.

    Ghita’s linking of the Pearl assassination and the Al Durrah affair, on the other hand, is brilliant and dead-on. Thanks for covering this important controversy.

  3. E.G. says:

    diane,

    I fully agree with your above post.

    Not that it’s of great importance, but I’ve read different dates regarding his Aliya. Some state it was at the beginning of the ’80s. What’s the most reliable source?

  4. [...] rare light on how both news and myths are made in this part of the world. On September 30, 2000,http://www.theaugeanstables.com/2008/05/30/jerusalem-post-editorial-lessons-of-al-durah-scandal/Being banned from my children drove me to the brink of madness – and the truth about me and Gordon [...]

  5. oao says:

    i think the problem is that the collapse of knowledge and reason is approaching universality, such that even the good guys are not careful anymore.

  6. Diane, I agree that sometimes people on our side make foolish mistakes. And they too need correction. However, I for one do not agree with your characterization of Enderlin. Nor do I agree that there is an “occupation.” Please bear in mind that Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip were all part of the Jewish National Home juridically erected by the San Remo Conference [1920], endorsed by the League of Nations [1922], confirmed by the UN charter [article 80], and not altered by the 11-29-1947 partition recommendation of the UN general assembly [all general assembly political resolutions are mere recommendations, see UN charter, articles 10-12].

    As to Enderlin, I see him as a faithful servant of his govt [France under Chirac]. He faithfully executed French govt policy in the Chirac period. Chirac was called “Chirac d’Arabie” [on the model of Lawrence of Arabia] in the title of a political biography of him published in France in 2006 or 2007.

    Enderlin is also a “leftist” but that doesn’t mean much anymore. Today, it seems that most of the “Left” is a body of public opinion manipulated by psywar experts usually linked to governments. It is curious that ex-Prez carter of the US, State Dept advisors walt-mearsheimer, are now talking a line virtually indistinguishable from that of the “Left,” of chomsky, Michael Lerner [who pretends to be a "rabbi"], and in some ways like that of Pat Buchanan, a “right-winger.” etc etc

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