Larry Derfner sets his cap on being the only informed and responsible media expert willing to take on the al Durah case which, he seems to believe, is now dominated by the extreme “right-wing,” at least in the Anglophone press. He’s informed, I’ll grant him that. Can he analyze evidence? Doubtful. What’s his problem? The strictures of politically correct utterances about the Palestinians.
The piece is long and involved and riddled with error. For those who are interested, it offers important insights into a kind of bizarre thinking disorder in which a priori established boundaries of what is moral or immoral to say, not only prevent someone like Derfner from thinking through the evidence, but heaping scorn on anyone who follows that evidence where it leads. As a detailed study of how the PCP (with its commitment to Liberal Cognitive Egocentrism, and cultural relativism) processes evidence it’s close to incomparable.
If I thought Jerusalem Post readers were being exposed to a full debate about the Muhammad al-Dura affair, I wouldn’t feel the need now to go into the specifics of why I think it’s ludicrous and morally blind to claim that the Palestinian boy’s killing was a “hoax,” a staged event. If there were other people writing in English against the hoax theores, I would rest my case with my column (“Al-Dura and the conspiracy freaks,” May 29), and not react to the rebuttals by Philippe Karsenty and Richard Landes (“Conspiracy theories and Al-Dura,” June 12), Jonathan Rosenblum (“For once, the good guys win,” June 13), and a couple of hundred Talkbackers.
“Ludicrous and morally blind…” I can think of lots of reasons to argue that the al Durah affair was not staged, but “morally blind”? What’s that supposed to mean? That if you think it’s staged (an issue of evidence, I believe), then your are somehow defective morally? (Apparently, when one reads on, yes.)
But the debate on al-Dura, at least in English, is completely one-sided. The Web is swamped with right-wing Jewish writers continually piling up the “evidence” for their conspiracy theories, while all the prominent, disinterested investigative journalists who waved off that idea – even while disputing the original story that the IDF killed the boy – have moved on to other things. So since no other writer I know of is still busy taking up the cause of reason and decency in this unrelenting, supremely charged Israeli-Arab issue, I guess I’ll have one more try.
Why is arguing staged a “right-wing” phenomenon? Because we who believe it are depraved enough to believe that the Palestinians would stage such an event? Does that mean that in order to be a member of the “Left” (which apparently Derfner believes he represents), you have to be credulous on principle?
FIRST OF all, let me restate my basic point of view. I think it was probably Palestinian gunmen, not Israeli soldiers as first believed, who shot al-Dura to death and wounded his father, Jamal, at Gaza’s Netzarim Junction on September 30, 2000. I never believed that Israeli soldiers deliberately, with malice aforethought, shot a cowering boy and a father pleading for mercy, which is how the Islamic world and the international Left typically portrayed the killing. As I wrote: “Israel and the Jewish world are right to be appalled at how the Palestinians and the Arab world distorted and exploited al-Dura’s death as grotesquely as they did. They took what was at worst an accidental IDF shooting and turned it into a mind-shattering act of Israeli sadism.”
In that column, I didn’t make any judgments on the original reporting by France-2 TV correspondent Charles Enderlin and cameraman Talal Abu Rahme, or on their handling of the challenges to their story afterward, except to say it was absurd to claim they cooked the whole thing up. (I was writing in reaction to Karsenty’s May 21 acquittal on appeal of the libel charges filed against him in France by Enderlin and France-2 TV.)
NOW, THOUGH, I think it’s fair to say that Abu Rahme – the only cameraman who filmed the shooting – made extremely rash, hot-headed accusations against the Israeli soldiers involved, which damages his reliability and that of his assertions to Enderlin that the IDF had positively shot al-Dura, which is what launched the story in the first place.
This is good. Of course, if Talal is so unreliable, then why is he not capable of staging the scene? (more below)
As for Enderlin, he has been accused of shoddy reporting, stonewalling and even lying not only by the conspiracy theorists, but by some of those prominent, disinterested investigators who nevertheless dismiss the idea of a hoax. After speaking by phone with him, I don’t say he stonewalled or lied. He has reasonable answers to the accusations against him, and he still believes that what he reported and what Abu Rahme told him – that Muhammad and Jamal al-Dura were shot by Israeli soldiers – was accurate. He even has a reasonable answer to what seems the most damning accusation against him – that since there is no raw footage of Muhammad clearly dying, Enderlin had to have been lying all those years when he said he’d edited the boy’s “death throes” out of the broadcast because they were “too unbearable” to watch.
In response to my questions, Enderlin stands by his statement that the death throes can be seen in the raw footage. Evidently, he is referring to the final seconds of film that show the prone Muhammad raising his arm a little, then gradually drooping back down to a prone position. “The French term I used [translated as ‘death throes’] was ‘agonie,’ which means the moments preceding death, not ‘agony’ as in the English term. We showed the tape to a coroner in France, and he said it was absolutely consistent with the moments just before death,” said Enderlin.
Now it gets interesting. Thank you LD for calling CE, because I think this is the first time we have Charles addressing the issue of what happened to the “agonie.” Did you ask him if he has the “coroner’s report”? Did you ask him why, if the boy is still not dead in “take 6″, he told his viewers that he was dead two takes earlier, and Talal’s audience was screaming he was dead three takes earlier? Why would you accept so unlikely an explanation from Charles and be so ferociously skeptical of what we have to say? Because Charles is a “colleague”?
I DO, however, make one criticism of the veteran journalist. In his broadcast, he shouldn’t have stated that the al-Duras were “targeted” by IDF soldiers. Instead, he should have allowed that they might have been shot either by the Israeli or Palestinian side.
At first, his narration makes it clear that there were bullets flying from both directions. He even reported that the Palestinians started the shooting: “The Palestinians open up with live fire and the Israelis shoot back. Ambulance drivers, journalists and passersby are caught in between.” That’s no Israel-bashing hatchet job; that sounds like impartial reporting. The problem is what Enderlin says right afterward: “Jamal [al-Dura] and his son Muhammad are targeted by fire from the Israeli position. A new burst of shots – Muhammad is dead and the father is seriously wounded.”
After describing a scene of crossfire between Israelis and Palestinians, Enderlin jumped to the conclusion, based on what Abu Rahme filmed and told him from Gaza, that it was the Israeli side that shot the al-Duras. Many other international reporters, however, were more cautious. “Print outlets were generally careful to say that Muhammad al-Dura was killed in ‘the crossfire’ or ‘an exchange of fire’ between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians,” noted James Fallows in his June 2003 Atlantic Monthly article on the controversy. Whatever one believes about the al-Dura case, the critical sentence in Enderlin’s story represented a rush to judgment.
Print outlets in the USA may have been cautious. Certainly not so in Europe. Here Suzanne Goldenberg, prize winning journalist for the impartial Guardian notes that the pattern of the bullet holes support the claim that the Israelis targeted the boy:
But by the end of the weekend the evidence was pointing to a still more chilling conclusion: that the 12-year-old boy and his father were deliberately targeted by Israeli soldiers…. The result of that salvo is visible on the cinderblock wall. Aside from the circle of bullet holes – most of them below waist level – the expanse of wall is largely unscarred. This appeared to suggest that the Israeli fire was targeted at the father and son.
Now any serious student of ballistics would have asked why the bullet holes were round (i.e., came from head on), and why some of them are too close to the barrel to have come from the Israeli position unless they curved around the barrel, and why, if it was “bullets like rain” there were only a dozen holes.
But by “the end of the weekend,” the pack was off and running, and laughable analysis was the order of the day. And it all begins with Charles’ “target of fire.” No matter how he tries to minimize the “deliberate targeting” charge, this remains one of the most outrageous elements of Enderlin’s broadcast. It is at the core of the “blood libel” leveled at the Israelis, and more broadly, at the Jews. Does Derfner actually think that Catherine Nay would say the picture “erases, replaces that of the boy in the Warsaw Ghetto” if she thought that the kid were accidentally killed in a cross fire?
BUT LET’S have a little sense of proportion. Even if Enderlin had reported that it wasn’t clear which side killed Muhammad al-Dura, the boy still would have become the icon of the intifada. His father was blaming the Israelis, all the Palestinians were blaming the Israelis – the change of a phrase in Enderlin’s report wouldn’t have made any difference to them or the rest of the Islamic world.
I think it’s reasonable to disagree here. Derfner can minimize the significance of Endelrin’s phrasing on what the Arabs would have said. First, I think that, as the Goldenberg and Nay quotations above point out, the West, and particularly the “Left” were as unhinged with accusations of murder as were the Arabs and Muslims. Second, I think the fact that Enderlin’s phrasing, and Western eagerness to echo it, played a significant role in the attitude of the Arabs. Repeatedly one reads or hears them speaking about how “the whole world saw” how the Israelis “murdered” Muhammad al Durah. Indeed, Enderlin was challenged by Adi Schwartz of Ha-Aretz on why he phrased his broadcast with the term “targeted” when he had no evidence, to which he responded:
If I hadn’t said that the father and son were the victims (Korbanot) of fire from the Israeli position, they would have said in Gaza, ‘How is it that Enderlin doesn’t say it was the IDF?’
Note that the reason this text must be read in Hebrew is that Ha-Aretz does not include this segment in its English version of the article. Obviously the folks in Gaza want Enderlin to tell “their” story, and apparently Enderlin has no problem reporting it that way because they insist on it. Shades of Riccardo Christiano. Where’s Derfner’s investigative instinct when the path down which it leads is not flattering to a colleague?
And to cite the images of Muhammad al-Dura as having ignited the intifada is likewise stretching things way too far. The pictures of the al-Dura killing definitely threw a lot of fuel on the flames, but the intifada had been ignited the previous day when six or seven Palestinian rioters were killed by Israeli police on the Temple Mount, following the riot there the day before in response to Ariel Sharon’s visit. By the time al-Dura was killed and Enderlin’s report aired, the rioting had spread from the Temple Mount to the rest of Arab Jerusalem, to the West Bank, and to Gaza. The Palestinians were already calling it the “al-Aksa intifada.” On the day al-Dura was killed, 10 other Palestinians were killed as well, the New York Times reported.
I think that when historians look at all the evidence — the extensive use of al Durah footage (doctored or put to music) in inciting violence — they will give it considerably more significance than Derfner’s dismissive (and largely uninformed) comments here. As one commentator noted you could predict the violence the next day by MDPH, images of Muhammad al Durah per hour on Palestinian TV. The role of Muhammad al Durah in turning suicide terrorism from a marginal phenomenon (25% support in the 1990s) to a dominant trait of Palestinian society (70-80% support after 2000) deserves particular attention here.
If that poor boy hadn’t become the intifada’s inspirational symbol, some other Palestinian victim would have been found. Blaming the intifada on the tale of Muhammad al-Dura is like blaming settler vigilantism on the tale [sic!] of Shalhevet Pass, the Hebron infant killed by a Palestinian sniper. Martyrs don’t create the bloodshed – bloodshed creates the martyrs.
Here’s Derfner’s “historical logic” at its most deficient. “Martyrs don’t create bloodshed – bloodshed creates the martyrs”? Is this a dogmatic axiom? Something like, “Chickens don’t produce eggs, eggs produce chickens!”
TO GO back to the question of who shot the al-Duras, the reason I figure it was not Israeli soldiers is because that was the finding not only of the IDF probe, but also of Fallows and three other highly respected, disinterested journalists. They include Esther Schapira, a German documentary filmmaker; Denis Jeambar, editor of the French news magazine L’Expresse; and French documentary filmmaker Daniel Leconte. Add to this list Haifa University communications Prof. Gabriel Weimann, whose students in a class he taught at the Israel Military Academy also investigated the shooting.
The key finding by these investigators was that the al-Duras, by crouching behind an impenetrable concrete cylinder, were out of the line of fire from the IDF outpost at Netzarim Junction. At the same time, the father and son were in the line of fire of Palestinian gunmen.
This conclusion, reached by Fallows, Schapira, Jeambar, Leconte and Weimann, is the decisive reason why I believe the al-Duras were shot accidentally by Palestinians, not by the IDF. Furthermore, that each of these investigators also dismissed the possibility that the shooting was “staged” – I think that alone is reason enough to brush aside the idea that Abu Rahme, the al-Duras and a cast of helpers pulled off a colossal hoax to blacken Israel’s name by faking the death of a 12-year-old boy. As far as I know, there is not one impartial observer, someone unconnected to the reflexively pro-Israel/anti-Arab media, who believes the al-Dura killing was staged. While one of the conspiracy theorists, Luc Rozenzweig, is a former editor of Le Monde, he became a contributor to Metula News Agency (MENA), a French Jewish Web site that’s been one of the chief disseminators of hoax “evidence.”
Okay. So you go by the person, not the evidence. Of your list, I think you should check with all of them. Note that Leconte and Jeambar never did any investigation, they merely saw the footage once, and got caught in a controversy where the pressures on them to back off were severe. I know you’re aware of that data, even if you don’t inform your readers.
As for Schapira, she’s responded to your invoking her in support of your argument quite severely. In particular, she writes:
It has been said several times that I didn’t find any hints supporting the accusation that the famous scene at the Netzarim junction was a hoax and this was why I didn’t include it in my film. This is wrong. Indeed even in 2001 I already came across a number of interesting hints indicating that the so called „killing of Mohammed Al Durah“ might be a Palestinian propaganda fabrication… Now, in retrospect with the knowledge of today, I know that it is very justified to question if he did get killed at all.
(Does this then reclass her among the “right-wing Jews” despite the fact that she is neither?)
As for Weimann, cautious scholar that he is, he has never, not in print, not in his exchange with you, ruled out the “staged” hypothesis. He does not support it because he doesn’t have decisive evidence; but like a good scholar, he’s not ruling it out. He wrote me a comment for quotation:
I told the journalist [Derfner] that I can’t support any scenario but I certainly can’t reject any for the very same reason.
And as long as we’re being careful here, you should acknowledge that none of these figures actually concluded “Palestinians by accident.” They just took the informed (by Yom Tov Samia’s account) minimalist position: “the Israelis didn’t do it either by accident or on purpose.” (The uninformed minimalist position [i/e., before that report] is, as Derfner and Barnavi both point out they responded right off the bat — “the Israelis didn’t do it on purpose.”) Note that the vast majority of the world believed (and for those who were around when it happened, still believe) one of these two now completely rejected positions.
But the reason your “disinterested” journalists stop there is not that the evidence doesn’t point to what happened, but because it’s politically volatile to then ask the next, obvious question: “Who did kill the kid?” — or better yet, “What accounts for the footage we have?”
The position Derfner invokes here as “hard” conclusions, is actually a soft position taken by default and under heavy pressure. Schapira writes about the ferocity of the response to her “minimalist” movie:
My findings, that it is most unlikely that he was killed by the Israeli soldiers for a number of reasons came as a surprise to me and already caused an outcry and I got life threats and needed police protections when I appeared in public. As I was aware of the emotional impact of that scene I stuck strictly to facts and findings and left out everything that seemed like speculation.
What you, Larry, today, insist on as the rational conclusion (you’re opening statement) was a ticket to ferocious denunciation only a few years ago. To invoke people who stopped there, as doing so because the trail of evidence stops there, and thereore as a way to disqualify any further exploration about what happened, is at once anachronistic and pays no attention to the volatility of the topic (something you, above all, should appreciate).
No offense, Larry, but this is awful logic. Because (you think) some people who are, in your opinion, disinterested (as if only “right wing Jews” had agendas or felt pressures) say “no,” then that’s reason enough to put the “staged” hypothesis to bed? This is the mimetic logic that gives us the emperor’s new clothes.
YET THE affiliations and agendas of the investigators are only part of why I know, about as well as I can know anything, that Jamal al-Dura was really wounded that day in Gaza, that Muhammad al-Dura was really killed, and that all the conspiracy theories flying around the right-wing Jewish cyberspace are nothing but Arab-bashing nonsense.
Wow. Let’s start with Jamal. Have you spoken with Dr. Yehuda David who treated those wounds six years earlier? I know you’re aware of this evidence, so why do you assert as an acquired certainty that “Jamal was really wounded that day in Gaza”?
As for Muhammad really dead, if that happened, then it happened after Talal’s filming of the pair (take 6), but before he’s taken his last camera shot (when the father and son are gone and there’s no trace of blood on the wall or the ground).
[Still from the final seconds of Talal’s footage, after the ambulance evacuation (for which there is no footage whatsoever)]
So whence your “certainty”? Because Talal told you? GIGO.
Finally we come to the most revealing argument. To claim staging, is “Arab-bashing nonsense.” In other words, in order that we not “bash” Arabs (i.e., criticize them), we have to be credulous fools, and any suggestion that they stage (i.e., by our rules “cheat”) in the production of news is by definition “nonsense”? One couldn’t hope for a clearer statement of politically correct dogma that explains why the “Left” (as represented by you here) serve so often as useful idiots.
I start with the basic facts. The father and son were at Netzarim Junction on the third day of the intifada; there was real shooting going on there between Palestinians and IDF soldiers. In the footage (which can be viewed on YouTube), you see bullets hitting the wall a foot or so from where the al-Duras were crouched. There is a blood stain on Muhammad’s midsection after he is hit.
Boston University medieval history Prof. Richard Landes’s explanation for the bullets hitting the wall is that a “marksman” probably was brought in on the hoax.
I never said precisely that, but okay, I have said that a marksman is the most realistic explanation. If one dismisses that, and one accepts, the way Derfner does, that the bullets hitting the wall come from the Palestinian position, then we have to explain why they were fired. For politically correct reasons, Derfner prefers the “Palestinians by accident” hypothesis.
But why on earth was some Palestinian gunman shooting in that direction from the pita — i.e. far from any Israeli. We’re talking missing by 80-90 degrees and shooting at Palestinians!
And were not talking about the accidental spray of gunfire or shooting at the Israelis from behind the al Durahs (which they did), but at least three distinct and solo bullets. Now if Derfner has a better explanation than the idea that, as part of the staging, the Palestinians have people laying down carefully aimed gunfire designed to give the scene verisimilitude, but not to hit anyone, then I’d like to hear it. Indeed, I’d argue, any explanation for how this could have happened accidentally — the Palestinians are so inept they literally couldn’t hit the side of a barn from inside; they fire on their own people without the slightest concern for human life — sound much more like “Arab bashing” to me.
Physicist Nahum Shahaf, who pioneered the field of al-Dura conspiracy theory after cutting his teeth on the Rabin assassination, explains the blood stain as a “red cloth” that was concealed in the boy’s shirt and fell out on cue, giving the appearance on camera of blood.
Mind you, if you want to argue that this is not a rag, but real blood, you then have to explain how it disappears from the leg wound (one of those claimed by the doctors at the hospital) in the following “take” where, instead of clutching his “fatally wounded” stomach, the boy holds his hand over his eyes.
Dear God. People really believe this stuff.
Dear God. There are people who can look at this evidence and blow it away lest they be taken for “Arab bashers.”
ANOTHER PLAIN and simple reason why the hoax theory is bunk came to mind from reading a quote from Enderlin, which reminded me of the kind of numbers of people who, after the shooting, were around Muhammad’s corpse and/or his father. How many people had to have been in on this conspiracy? How many people must still be hiding this explosive secret?
Before we get to the list, let me establish a couple of parameters.
First: Conspiracy theories are generally derided, especially in democracies, because the engage lots of people at very high levels. For 9-11 to be a Bush special as UN appointed commissioner for investigating how the Israelis oppress the Palestinians, Richard Falk, argues, we have to be talking about thousands of active participants and tens of thousands of passive ones unwilling to blow the whistle. For al Durah to work, you need a dozen active players and dozens of passive ones. That’s what I’d call “loose change.” This is not a conspiracy by any of the standards that makes conspiracy theory a priori unlikely. This is just a cheap fake pulled off with a minimum of effort. In order to dismiss it as a possibility a priori, you have to dismiss the very idea that people get involved in elaborate deceptions.
Second: Whistle-blowing, upon which Derfner’s argument rests, is a peculiarily Western (democratic) phenomenon. In many cultures — and certainly in Palestinian culture — whistle-blowing is not a courageous act, but an act of betrayal. If any Palestinian were able to overcome the honor of having participated in a major hoax that fooled the West into self-destructive behavior, and say to himself, “I’m going to tell” — who would he tell it to? All those journalists eager to let their readership know how they’ve been duped? To progressives who would not even believe it lest they seem like “Arab bashers” and lest they lose so valuable a story with which to “Israel bash”?
And if he did spill the beans… what would his fate be? When I showed an early version of this to an Israeli Arab and told him, don’t show it to anyone, it’s still in draft form, he replied: “Are you kidding? The boy is a martyr. I could get killed just for having this tape.”
Larry where do you think the people who appear in your list live, Connecticut?
In reading the following list, ask yourself four questions:
1) What advantages (personal and collective) do they gain by playing their role?
2) What motivation would these people have for “telling”?
3) Is that motivation enough to overide both the advantages of playing along, and the fairly serious consequences blowing the whistle?
4) At what stage in the drama do they become players? — the later, the higher the barrier to breaking the silence, and the easier it is to go with the already established (and wildly successful) consensus that the Israelis killed a little boy.
The doctors at Gaza’s Shifa Hospital who pronounced Muhammad dead of multiple gunshot wounds, and the doctors, nurses and other staffers who treated Jamal for what the hospital said were also multiple gunshot wounds;
We’re talking maybe a dozen people if we add the ambulance driver and attendants.
The Jordanian ambassador to Israel, who brought Jamal from Gaza to Amman to be treated at a military hospital;
The doctors, nurses and other staffers at the Amman hospital, where Jamal stayed for four months;
All latecomers. Another couple of dozen, since access to Jamal could be restricted.
The bystanders around the wall where the al-Duras were shot;
You mean the same people that were watching and staging scenes all day that day? Those bystanders?
The al-Dura family.
You mean the family that became celebrities in Palestine and the Muslim world? Who got on TV and had reporters from all over the world come? Whose father had royal blood running in his veins after getting a transfusion from King Abdullah (who need not have known)? Whose father had almost lost his life to Hamas in an altercation in the 1990s?
This list puzzles me. Who here do you see blowing the whistle, Larry? Why would any of them “tell”? Even unhappy ones, like someone in the family?
AND THESE are just the people who had first-hand knowledge of the “truth” – that Muhammad al-Dura was still alive and his father unharmed, or, in the alternative theory, that Muhammad had been shot deliberately by Palestinians determined to produce an intifada “poster boy.” But just think: Aside from the al-Dura family, the staffs of the two hospitals, the Jordanian ambassador and who knows which other people, how many of all these co-conspirators’ family members, friends and acquaintances must also know about the great hoax? And how many more people did they tell? And so on. A story like that would be kind of hard to keep under wraps.
And since when do you think that, even if it were widely known that al Durah was a hoax in Gazan circles, that you’d hear about it? Do you really think they’d tell you or any other journalist, no matter how friendly, something like that? This is cognitive egocentrism on the level of “what Arafat says in the op-ed page of the NYT is essentially the same as what he says in Arabic.” Go study anthropology on the problems of the testimony of the community under study; and then add the dimensions of honor-shame and retaliation for treason, and ask your question again.
As implausible as this argument may appear once one factors in the cultural variables, it is the core of the resistance to the “staged hypothesis.” It’s the argument that Fallows has been sticking to for years now. It strikes me as an astonishingly naive argument, a criticism that tends to inspire not modesty but irritation among those who espouse it. Alas.
So how has this priceless information escaped the Shin Bet and the rest of official Israel? How has this historic scoop evaded all the news media in the Middle East and beyond?
Excellent questions. And rather than use them as rhetorical questions in order to ignore the evidence, use the evidence to ask them seriously. I don’t expect you to go into why the Israelis have not investigated — a mystery of ineffable proportions — but at least ask yourself why your own profession has failed. You can start with your opening admission — Enderlin behaved badly in this affair. Why has no one in the profession managed to challenge him seriously until now? Why do Charles French colleagues flock to his defense even now, regardless of/despite the evidence?
A question that offers the beginning of a profound investigation of what’s wrong with journalism today and includes the revolt of cyberspace to some, becomes, with Derfner’s logic, a dismissal of everything that troubles the present consensus. Dinosaur logic if I ever saw it.
And where is Barry Chamish when we need him?
For those who don’t understand, Chamish is the main Rabin conspiracy guy. This is Derfner’s idea of sarcasm, aimed at his “choir.”
Finally, you have to ask: Even if this really were the Twilight Zone and such a hoax could have been pulled off, why would Talal Abu Rahme et al. stage a Palestinian boy’s death when 1) they couldn’t have known in advance the kind of reaction it would get, and 2) Abu Rahme and other Palestinian cameramen had already filmed literally thousands of Palestinians – children and adults – actually being wounded or killed in clashes with the IDF?
1) They couldn’t have known how successful it would be… that, I grant you, was beyond their wildest dreams. But they had every reason to believe it would be successful. The appetite for this kind of dirt on Israel in the world media has been a long-standing phenomenon, responsible, I argue, for the emergence of Pallywood as early as the first Lebanese war (1982).
2) Larry, if you know of any footage of a kid being killed (or even hurt) “on camera,” please let me know about it. All that I’m aware people like Talal had produced was the endless scenes of ambulance evacuation and injured kids in hospitals (some real, some fake). It was the “live” quality of the footage, along with its incendiary “narrative” that had such a huge impact. Your assumption that Palestinian cameramen had “filmed literally thousands of Palestinians — children and adults — actually being wounded or killed,” means that in your mind there is scarcely a step from their claims to hard evidence. Are you credulous by principle?
This is the problem with Landes’s popular “Pallywood” concept: Despite his claims, the Palestinians don’t need to stage scenes of death and suffering; they’ve got hours upon hours upon hours of the real thing, and they get fresh material just about every day.
This reminds me of the professor in Budapest who responded to a talk I gave on al Durah in which I referred to it as a “blood libel,” with the remark, “It’s not a blood libel; it’s just simple murder of children, which we know for a fact Israelis are doing every day.”
Let me turn the logic around, Larry. If you have seen Pallywood (I assume you wouldn’t write disparagingly of it without having at least looked at the evidence), then if they have these hours and hours of footage as you claim they do, why are they faking these scenes? Unless, of course, you’re going to tell me that this stuff isn’t faked (in which case you reveal yourself as terminally credulous).
HOWEVER, I know that Jeambar, Leconte and some other level-headed observers of the al-Dura case say that in the raw footage, they’ve identified scenes of Palestinian youths, cameramen and ambulance drivers staging injuries and evacuations. (Again, they stress that the brief scenes of the al-Duras cowering from the bullets and finally getting shot don’t appear staged to them at all.) Myself, I didn’t see the full 27 minutes of raw footage that Jeambar and Leconte (along with hoax theorist Rozenzweig) watched, I only saw the 18 minutes shown in court, along with Landes’s 14-minute documentary “Al Durah – The Birth of an Icon,” both of which are on YouTube.
I must say, I didn’t see or hear any stagings, just chaos – stone-throwing, shooting, smoke, fire, tear gas, lots of high-spirited Palestinian boys running, ambulances driving in and out. In the middle of all this, the idea that Talal Abu Rahme, Jamal al-Dura, Muhammad al-Dura and their accomplices are staging a fatal shooting is beyond incredible.
Okay, let’s take it from the top. Given these remarks, I guess you haven’t seen Pallywood. You can see it here at Youtube, see the raw footage from which I took most of the material, shot that very day at Netzarim, and selections here.
You look at the 18 minutes and see nothing but chaos. But please, take a couple of hours and watch the footage that another cameraman shot that same day, same place. It’s mostly very boring, and the action sequences are very problematic. This is not the “explosion of outrage and violence in the Gaza Strip” that Charles imagined when he said that he believed Talal because it “corresponded to the situation on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.”
Maybe you have to train your eye a bit more. I’ll be posting on one of the more obvious staged scenes in Talal’s “18” minutes shortly. Meantime, I recommend you view this analysis of the relationship between a clearly staged scene (Molotov cocktail guy), and the way France2 used it in their court presentation. What strikes you as chaos, strikes the practiced eye as cheap fakes. I wouldn’t mind your unfamiliarity with the material, if you weren’t so aggressive in your naivete.
Yet to the conspiracy theorists, it’s plain as day.
And yet the courtiers say, “the emperor’s clothes are beautiful.”
For instance, when Abu Rahme holds up two fingers in front of his lens while filming the al-Duras being shot, this is the cameraman making “a take two sign,” according to the narrator of Landes’s documentary.
I am unaware of making that argument in my film (others have). What’s your rejoinder? It does come at the end of that “take” and there are six inexpicably short takes that make up the sequence.
For another instance, when a group of young Palestinians run past the al-Duras while the father and son remain crouched against the wall, the narrator wonders – over the sound of gunfire – “Were they running away, or clearing the set?”
Yes. That was part of the argument that they were not, as Talal claimed, “pinned behind the barrel.” I show many people between them and the Israeli position, some standing nonchalantly in the middle of the intersection while we hear gunfire, all while the father and son were allegedly hiding from “bullets like rain.” And given that we have other examples of “clearing the set,” why not here?
THE AL-DURA conspiracy theories are wild and irrational, but they’re also more (or less) than that – they’re indecent. To believe that the boy is still alive and that the father was never shot, you have to assume that every Palestinian, from the highest to the lowest, is the biggest liar imaginable, and that when Palestinians work together, they invent hoaxes and cover-ups of inhuman genius and precision. To believe that the bullets never even hit the al-Duras, you have to explain away everything that doesn’t fit your theory about the implacably evil nature of Palestinian behavior by saying: Someone’s lying, or someone’s covering up for a lie.
Thank you Larry. Let’s take this one by one and consider the alternative. First, I don’t argue the boy’s alive, but I will say that if you think he’s dead and you factor in the evidence that he’s not only alive but seems rather well in the final scene, then you have to come up with the even more indecent conclusion that after staging this, off-scene, the Palestinians killed him “for the cause.” That’s horrific and I certainly hope the boy is alive and that’s not true.
Second, you don’t need every Palestinian from the highest to the lowest, but some of the lowest (the street) and some middle level ones. But we don’t have to restrict it. We have the evidence of the Gaza blackout to show that the very highest — the entire legislature — is capable of this level of hoax. And if you think “doctors wouldn’t lie like that,” then look at Pierre Rehov’s documntary, The Road to Jenin for several excellent examples of doctors participating in bald-faced lies (two of which are taken over into Pallywood).
Third, it’s hardly inhuman to create propaganda demonizing your enemy. It’s standard practice in most cultures. Here again you’re giving away your liberal cognitive egocentrism. “Their culture must be like ours. Are you saying they’d lie like this? I am shocked, deeply shocked that you could think so little of them.” Indeed, you are forced to think very badly of us in order to preserve your good opinion of the Palestinians. Please, Larry, spend some time at Palestinian Media Watch and get a sense of how their official culture operates, the extensive lies and poisons they feed their public, and then tell me you can’t believe “they don’t invent lies of inhuman genius.” Give us all a break.
Fourth, the coverups don’t need to be of inhuman precision. On the contrary, given a press corps that goes into feeding frenzies when they can go after Israel, and “disinterested” journalists like yourself who refuse to believe them capable of it, why do they need precision. They can produce crap (to use your term) and expect fools like you to get indignant with anyone who questions it. That’s the shocker here: you (and Charles) argue, “no, they wouldn’t… couldn’t do it” and precisely because you are so determinedly credulous, they don’t even have to do a good job to get away with it.
If I were teaching film and a student came to me with Talal’s footage and said, “this is a boy being shot,” I’d send him away with instructions to do a whole lot better. (At least give him a bag of red liquid to pop when he’s supposed to be hit, and tell him not to look at the camera when he’s supposed to be dead.)
Finally, mine is not a “theory about the implacably evil nature of the Palestinian behavior.” There’s plenty of evidence for that — suicide terror and the industry of hate that drives it comes to mind — but that’s not what my analysis here is about. The evidence is overwhelming that Palestinian elites will say anything about Israel no matter how disgusting and dishonest. There’s plenty of evidence that they fake scenes, including massacres that they stage for what they consider “historical documentaries.”
For example, Karsenty and Landes had no difficulty solving the puzzle of how Jamal al-Dura suffered no injuries that day in Gaza, yet an Amman military hospital let him lay there in bed (for four months) faking his recovery for the cameras, and even for King Abdallah’s visit. “As for the doctors in the Amman hospital,” they wrote, “once this story had ‘taken,’ who were they to blow the whistle on so powerful and successful a blow against Israel? Like Enderlin, even after realizing it was fake, they couldn’t admit it publicly.”
Karsenty and Landes are actually satisfied with that explanation. Such rigorous detectives.
This is interesting. I can, in fact, imagine that, once this coup had been pulled off, it would be very hard for the doctors in Amann to blow the whistle. After all, it would not only invalidate this case, but call all of Palestinian footage into question. So I’d say, yes, there was high motivation to stay in line. If it were faked, what scenario can Derfner imagine that would lead them to “blow the whistle”? As for the four months, which, I’ll grant, is a long time, that’s the first time I hear that. What’s your evidence?
Of course how do you deal with the fact that Jamal got an immediate offer to come to an Israeli hospital (fully paid) by his Israeli employer and friend. Given how many wounded Palestinians come to Israeli hospitals specifically for the superior treatment, why not Jamal?
And then if you believe the alternative conspiracy theory – that Palestinians carried out a planned murder of the boy for the sake of propaganda – you not only have to assume Palestinians are naturally satanic liars, you have to assume they’re naturally satanic child-killers, too. You have to be convinced that even Muhammad’s father, mother and the rest of the al-Dura family are playing along with the boy’s assassination.
Again, I don’t know where the term “satanic” comes from. This is actually a fairly mild form of the kind of revolting things that Palestinians say on a regular basis about Israelis. As for child-killers, that only comes with the scenario “Palestinians on purpose.” I consider that highly unlikely given the lack of blood on the scene, the lack of ambulance evacuation scenes from any of the many cameramen there or at the hospital in Gaza City. So what this paragraph comes down to is a bunch of straw-men described with inappropriate adjectives, all so you can dismiss an argument you still don’t understand.
What the paragraph does do, however, is explain what kind of a hopeless straightjacket you’re in when you think about Palestinian behavior. And the irony is, you’d rather ridicule and demonize those of us who look at the evidence rather than even suspect those who constantly manipulate it. Aggressive, nay sadistic, naivete? It is a characteristic of certain personalities who want to please others that they will be ferocious on their friends and family and go sychophantic around people whom they don’t even know.
SO ENOUGH already, conspiracy freaks. What you’re doing is sickening. And you’re not helping Israel’s cause, either, you’re damaging it. Outside the right-wing Jewish echo chamber, you’re making Israel look bad.
More revelations, now about the imagined audiences involved in Derfner’s thinking. Arguing that Israel is framed by Palestinians, with a great deal of hard evidence to support it, is, by definition, hurting the Israeli cause. (This, by the way, does explain much of the hostility of Zionists to the claim that al Durah was a fake. They don’t want to offend “progressives” who will take it as “satanizing” the Palestinians.)
Why come to this conclusion? Because the only people in your echo chamber are people who are so dogmatic that any effort to look critically at the Palestinians gets denounced as “blaming the victims.” This was certainly the case in the early aughts (’00s), when, for example, Yom Tov Samia got assaulted by Ha-Aretz for “blaming the Palestinians” and Esther Schapira got death threats for merely arguing that the Israelis didn’t kill him. But now, I think, Larry, you should read the decision of the court in Paris, and realize that you don’t have to be a Zionist to realize that something’s foul both among Palestinian journalists and among the Western media who funnel their products.
To anyone else who’s interested, there is a very reasonable, decent-minded defense of the IDF’s conduct in the al-Dura shooting to be made – and it has been made by people such as James Fallows, Esther Schapira, Denis Jeambar, Daniel Leconte and Gabriel Weimann. What’s more, I think their efforts have had an effect; my sense is that journalists in general are no longer convinced that al-Dura was killed by the IDF, and that they’ve taken a cautionary lesson from this story.
No offense, Larry, but if we had to count on their work, we’d be nowhere. Every source you name published at the latest in early 2005. Go back then and I think you’ll find that few, if any, journalists accepted their argument (and if they did, they didn’t advertise that fact). Please cite one article in support of this generalization.
On the contrary, the reason why these guys are so popular now is that the weight of the evidence points towards what was, when I began work on this, the most unbelievable (but not the most horrible) hypothesis… to say “staged” made one automatically marginal, rejected, ridiculed. Now, you’re trying to split the difference. Pure anachronism from a new-comer to the story. Again, I can accept your lack of familiarity with the material, I just don’t understand how you can be so aggressive when you know so little?
ONE LAST thing about conspiracy theories: Years ago I was interviewing someone who believed that the Shin Bet, or Shimon Peres, or both of them together were behind the Rabin assassination. The man pointed up a telltale detail at Kings of Israel (now Rabin) Square shortly after the murder: “There were hundreds of yartzeit candles burning there. Now most homes keep a maximum of one yartzeit candle on hand. It was Saturday night, all the grocery stores were closed, so there was no place to go out and buy so many yartzeit candles. How did they all appear so fast in the square? There’s no other explanation except that they were prepared in advance.”
I was at the square that night after the assassination. I remembered lots of yartzeit candles burning – but my memory was mainly of Hanukka candles. “There are what, 20 Hanukka candles in a box?” I said. “Most families keep a box or two at home. How many people would have had to bring a box of Hanukka candles to the square to light it up like that? Not that many.”
The guy thought for a moment. “That’s an interesting point,” he said. “We’ll look into it.”
The al-Dura conspiracy theorists have an endless supply of supposedly telltale details and damning discrepancies, and neither I nor anyone else can explain them all because you’d have to be able to prove what happened at every moment, in every spot, and what was going through every relevant mind, and nobody can do that.
To compare this with our evidence and claim that it’s just too much to keep track of, is a sign of a weak mind. You would never make it through the first semester of graduate school in history.
But since every major historical event from the Lincoln assassination to the moon landing to 9/11 seems to have legions of conspiracy theorists, and they’ve all got reams and reams of telltale details and damning discrepancies, that’s no reason to take the hoax theories about al-Dura seriously. There’s a simple, reasonable explanation for what happened: The boy and his father, who were shielding themselves from the direction of the IDF outpost, got caught in a crossfire. Abu Rahme and Enderlin jumped to the conclusion that they were shot by the Israeli soldiers. The boy became the icon of the intifada, and the story was wildly distorted by the Islamic world to demonize Israel and motivate Palestinians to fight.
So there’s no need for fabulous hoaxes to explain what happened, especially fabulous hoaxes that demonize the Palestinians. The truth, at least in this case, isn’t terribly strange at all.
Right. Just squint your eyes and hold your head at the right angle, and the sun looks like a coin about the size of a Guinea. Turn the exceptional into the banal, and keep moving on. Red spades, black hearts? I don’t see any. As for “demonizing” the Palestinians, heaven forfend.
If some people want to prove Muhammad al-Dura is still alive, let them produce him. If some people want to prove that Palestinians deliberately assassinated the boy, let them start by producing a witness. Until then, this case finally ought to be closed.
This case ought to be closed.” The motto of a “Left” increasingly isolated from reality. Good luck, Larry. I’m sure your echo chamber choir will help shut out the world.
Fatal Attraction: The shared antichrist of the Global Progressive Left and Jihad Richard Landes, Boston University, History Department From: The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel, edited by Read More »
[A Polish translation of this essay, “Liberalny egocentryzm poznawczy” is available at Listy z nas zego sadu]. The highly controversial White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism ventured Read More »