The Biggest Winner in the Lose-Lose “Operation Protective Edge”
A shorter version (edited for tone and length) is up at American Interest. If you leave comments here, I recommend you also leave them there.
After weeks of combat in Gaza, pundits sort out “Who won?” The weak side (Hamas) claims points for just surviving, despite the massive hammering its leadership and its constituents endured, while the strong side (Israel), whatever its battle-field gains, lost the “cognitive war” — big time. In the topsy-turvy universe of Middle East politics, nothing succeeds like failure on the battlefield and nothing fails like military success.
Only one group emerged from OPE a grand winner: European Jihadis. During the weeks of Israel pounding Hamas while Hamas hid behind civilians, demonstrators spilled out into the streets of Western and Muslim cities the world over to protest “Israeli genocide of the Palestinians,” even as they shouted “Death to Jews!” #Hitlerwasright, “Jews to the ovens!” Shops ransacked, Jews refused medical services, attacked in riots, Jewish businesses boycotted. For Jihadis, OPE offered a whole new, and possibly permanent, level of public violence. In Germany: “Hamas! Hamas! Jews to the Gas!”; in France, “Death to Jews! Slit Jews Throats!” This time, the chant has become a battle cry for bands of “youths,” armed with metal bars, running after Jews. And European Jews are packing their bags.
In the Jewish diaspora community and Israel, the alarm was palpable. “Time to go?” asked Shmuel Trigano rhetorically about France. Why? Not only because once again, people killed and sought to kill Jews in the streets of Europe, but because the news media continually played down the amplitude of the violence and hatred, and the authorities, both police and judiciary, resisted it half-heartedly. In France, as in England, anti-Semites no longer hide; unafraid of police, they roam the streets like the brown shirts of yore. Is this the “beginning of the end” of a two-millennia-long Jewish presence in Europe?
Jihadis, of course, delight in these new levels of both hatred and violence. For them, it’s a quadruple win: 1) depict Israel as the Dajjal (Antichrist) to Western audiences; 2) roam through the streets of Western cities yelling Jihadi slogans; 3) accelerate the expulsion of Jews from Europe as preparation for its conquest; and 4) keep the Europeans thinking this violence only targets Jews, and only because of Israel. For Jihadis, these past weeks confirm what they have long believed: that this is the Muslim century in which, among others, Europe joins Dar al Islam.
Charles Enderlin posted at his blog an essay on “Netanyahu’s Vision,” which reveals all the sloppy prejudices that he has internalized from an international consensus that it’s all Israel’s fault. Victor Perez at his blog, manages to draw out many of the elements the explain why Charles’ readership is so fully misinformed.
Certains s’interrogent sur les raisons de la poussée de l’antisémitisme en Europe et principalement en France. Une hostilité systématique envers les Juifs cachée sous le paravent d’un anti-sionisme développé dans les médias nationaux par la bouche et/ou les écrits des journalistes à demeure, ou envoyés, en Israël.
L’envoyé permanent de France 2 à Jérusalem, pourtant juif, israélien et, paraît-il, ayant fait son service militaire ne déroge pas à la règle de ses employeurs. Charles Enderlin en bon petit soldat de la guerre larvée qui se joue contre l’Etat du peuple juif a une idéologie à soutenir.
La logique et le bon sens ont, vraisemblablement, déserté sa réflexion !
Dans un texte intitulé « La vision de Netanyahu », publié dans son blog, il confirme que tout le mal vient des Israéliens ! Il nous affirme qu’il « sera quasi impossible d’évacuer cent mille colons installés au cœur de la Cisjordanie, les 260000 autres étant regroupés dans des blocs d’implantations. En admettant que cela se fasse, resterait le problème de Jérusalem Est (…) »
Une nouvelle exposition controversée célèbre les meurtriers de masse et élève la propagande de guerre au niveau de grand art.
Richard Landes – 30 juillet 2013
Traduction d’Isabelle Sfez
Pour consulter liens hyperliens, consultez l’article originale.
Cet été le musée national français du Jeu de Paume, en son temps célèbre pour ses accrochages de peinture impressionniste, héberge une étonnante exposition de photographies, Phantom House. Le travail d’une femme bédouine israélienne, Ahlam Shibli, rassemblant une série éclectique de photos qui dépeignent un certain nombre de groupes différents, dont les maisons ne sont pas les leurs, ou qui n’en ont pas – des gens qui “vivent sous oppression”. Il s’agit de Bédouins “trackers” (pisteurs, traqueurs) qui s’enrôlent dans l’armée israélienne, de “palestiniens” vivant en Galilée et en Jordanie, d’enfants polonais dans des orphelinats, de militants LGBT du Moyen-Orient vivant dans des pays occidentaux, de français de Corrèze pendant l’occupation nazie, et, de loin les plus élaborés des séries de clichés, les familles de “martyrs” qui “résistèrent” à “l’occupation”, debout avec les photos, les affiches et les tombes de leurs proches “disparus”.
L’exposition a suscité une controverse prévisible. Ces prétendus “martyrs”, qui ont “pris le contrôle de leur propre mort”, objets d’une ardente dévotion par leur famille, sont en fait des meurtriers de masse qui se sont tués eux-mêmes dans le but d’assassiner le plus possible d’enfants, de femmes, de civils.
Comme la plupart des récits palestiniens, ces photos ne laissent aucune place à “l’autre”, exceptée celle de l’oppresseur colonial sans visage. Pour une femme juive, mécène du musée, l’expérience fut horrible. En regardant ces photos de “martyrs”, elle a reconnu ceux qui avaient fait exploser des restaurants, des bus, des marchés qui ont été choisis comme cible justement pour la présence d’enfants dans ces lieux.
Les réactions de protestations outrées affluèrent. La réponse du musée fut d’afficher un avis soulignant que cette exposition n’était pas de la propagande, et, à propos de l’artiste, précisant qu’elle n’était “pas une militante, qu’elle ne jugeait pas”.
Evidemment, tout cela est absurde. Si ce n’est pas de la propagande (comme la fameuse pipe qui n’en est pas une), c’est une exposition qui présente avec bienveillance des photos de propagande. L’artiste émet assurément des jugements, en présentant ses cousins bédouins qui servent dans l’armée israélienne, comme pathétiquement vendus à un régime colonial (ils apparaissent étonnement confortables et bien dans leur peau sur les photos), elle émaille son exposition de victimes françaises de l’occupation nazie, commentant la façon dont ils se retournèrent après la Libération et devinrent des oppresseurs coloniaux en Indochine et en Algérie. La parfaite admiration pour la “résistance à l’occupation” des Palestiniens, calquée sur celle de la résistance aux nazis, joue sur un thème commun, grotesque, de propagande palestinienne – que les israéliens sont les nouveaux nazis et les palestiniens les nouveaux juifs.
The Tablet Magazine just published a piece of mine on France’s cognitive disorientation, most recently demonstrated by their putting an exhibit of Palestinian war propaganda (exaltation of suicide terrorists as martyr-heroes) in their first class museum, the Jeu de Paume, with a sign saying, “this is not propaganda.”
A poster of the exhibit ‘Phantom Home,’ by Palestinian photographer Ahlam Shibli, outside the Jeu de Paume museum in Paris, June 2013. (AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere)
This Summer the French National Museum, the Jeu de Paume, once famous for its display of Impressionist paintings, is hosting an astonishing photography exhibit,Phantom House. The work of an Israeli Bedouin woman, Ahlam Shibli, it assembles an eclectic series of photographs that depict a number of different groups whose homes are really not theirs, or who do not have homes—people who “live under oppression.” These include Bedouin “Trackers” who enlist in the IDF, “Palestinians” living in the Galilee and Jordan, Polish children in orphanages, Middle Eastern LGBTs who live in Western countries, the French of Corrèze during the Nazi occupation, and, in by far the most elaborate of the exhibits, the Palestinian families of “martyrs” who “resisted” the “occupation,” standing with the pictures, posters, and graves of their “disappeared” relatives.
The exhibit has elicited predictable controversy. These alleged “martyrs” who “took control of their own deaths,” the object of loving devotion by their families, are actually mass murderers who killed themselves in order to murder as many children, women, civilians as they could. Like so much of the Palestinian narrative, these photos give no place to the “other” except as faceless colonial oppressors. For one Jewish woman, a patron of the museum, the experience was horrifying. Looking at these pictures of “martyrs,” she recognized people who had blown up restaurants and buses, which were chosen precisely because there were children there.
Outraged objections poured in. The museum’s response was to post a notice that insisted that this was not propaganda and quoted the artist insisting that she was “not a militant, not judgmental.”
Of course, all of this is nonsense. If not propaganda (like the famous pipe that is not a pipe), it is a display of lovingly presented photographs of propaganda. The artist is decidedly judgmental, presenting her fellow Bedouin who serve in the IDF as pathetic sell-outs to a colonial regime (they appear strikingly comfortable and secure with themselves in the photos), peppering her exhibit on French victims of the Nazi occupation with comments on how they turned around after liberation and became colonial oppressors in Indochina and Algeria. The unalloyed admiration for the “resistance to occupation” of the Palestinians, juxtaposed with that of the French resistance to the Nazis, plays on a common, if grotesque, theme of Palestinian propaganda—that the Israelis are the new Nazis and the Palestinians the new Jews.
Thus, cognitively disoriented by both their media and their academics to such a degree, it is altogether possible for the curators at the Jeu de Paume to put up an exhibit celebrating mass murderers—and to believe that, in so doing, they were siding with the innocent and “speaking truth” to Israeli “power.” And so they raise war propaganda that targets their own culture to the level of high art. Little wonder that, even as they celebrate Palestinian Jihadis who make martyr-heroes of mass murderers, they remain willfully blind to the fact that the “jeunes” in their own Muslim communities are doing the same to their very own child-killing Jihadi, Mohamed Merah.
I’ll be speaking in LA on the Al Durah affair, especially on its effects, the day before the French court’s decision. The title is meant both seriously and sarcastically (taken from an Al Awda subject line). Some people objected. I guess if I were to do it again, I’d call it “Save the Palestinian children”…
Please tell anyone who’s in the LA area whom you know who might be interested about the talk.
The Israeli government recently issued a report in which they not only claimed the Israel Defense Forces had not killed Muhammad al Durah, but that there is no evidence in the video footage of his death. Almost thirteen years (too) late, many, even Zionists, considered this non-news. On the contrary, the lateness of the report reflects some startling issues that everyone, even those highly critical of Israel, need to consider. In fact, the long delay in Israelis response derived in part from an overwhelming consensus among journalists that “a boy died on camera,” which Israeli officials were reluctant to contradict without seeming like conspiracy theorists.
What makes this consensus that the boy died (and that the IDF killed him) so remarkable is that the empirical evidence decisively confutes the claims of the journalist who broke the story, Charles Enderlin, and the cameraman who filmed the event, and yet their claims have dominated public perceptions to this day, even though their “story” has been extraordinarily destructive not just to Israelis, but to anyone who favors civil society. Indeed, this may be one of the longest-lasting and damaging media hoaxes that the world has witnessed in the era of modern journalism.
This talk will look at the wide range of destructive effects this “lethal narrative” has caused, the reason why a school of lethal journalism, led by French-Israeli correspondent Charles Enderlin has been able to dominate the entire field of Middle East journalism for the last thirteen years… and counting, and what can be done to change the dynamics involved.
Richard Landes is a professor of medieval history at BU. His work focuses on the role of religion in shaping and transforming the relationships between elites and commoners in various cultures, in particular the impact of “demotic religiosity” which prizes equality before the law, dignity of manual labor, and access to sacred texts and divinity for all believers.
In 2011 he published two volumes, Heave on Earth: The Variety of the Millennial Experience with a final chapter on Global Jihad, and he co-edited a volume on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion with Steven Katz: The Paranoid Apocalypse: A Hundred Year Retrospective on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, for which he wrote three chapters.
From 1996-2003, Landes directed the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University.
He is currently completing the book he set aside in order to write Heaven on Earth, that is, a study of the role of millennialism in the shaping of the first thousand years of Christian history: While God Tarried: Disappointed Millennialism from Jesus to the Peace of God, 33-1033. At the same time he is writing a more contemporary book entitled: They’re so Smart cause We’re so Stupid: A Medievalist’s Guide to the 21st Century.
Landes has written and lectured widely on millennialism, especially in the medieval period, and more recently on the role of communications technology – from the invention of writing to modern media – in shaping public awareness and discussion, and, in some cases, in establishing and maintaining civil society. His work on the apocalyptic currents that built up during the approach to 2000 has led him to focus on Global Jihad as a) an apocalyptic millennial movement of exceptional destructive potential; and b) a new religious movement whose relationship to the internet may parallel that of Protestantism to printing.
In 2005 Landes launched a media-oversight project called The Second Draft in which he proposes to look at what the news media calls their “first draft of history.” Since January 2005 he has been blogging at The Augean Stables, a name chosen to describe the current condition of the Mainstream News Media in the West. When he has completed his book on medieval history he plans to write a They’re so Smart Because We’re so Stupid: A Medievalist’s Guide to the 21st Century.
History professor at Boston University and director/co-founder of the Center for Millennial Studies, who became involved in 2003 when, after reading James Fallows’ article in The Atlantic Monthly, he went to Paris where Nidra Poller introduced him to MENA’s Gerard Huber. Landes subsequently met with Shahaf and was shown the raw footage of the event by Charles Enderlin. Convinced that the entire scene was staged, Landes has produced a series of documentaries about the event entitled, According to Palestinian Sources: Pallywood, Al Durah, and Icon of Hatred.
WHAT IS THE AL DURAH PROJECT?
THE SHOCKING DEATH OF A CHILD AT THE HANDS OF ISRAELI SOLDIERS IN 2000 TURNS OUT, ON CLOSER EXAMINATION, TO BE AN EXERCISE IN LETHAL JOURNALISM. THE AL DURAH PROJECT WAS FORMED TO EXPOSE AND RESIST THE FORCES THAT MAKE SUCH GLOBALLY DAMAGING HOAXES POSSIBLE. – See more at: The Al Durah Project
Please join us for this important event. Because the truth matters…
$15 per person – cash or check at the door
You can also register by email to [email protected]
(Please indicate Professor Richard Landes in the subject line)
In his mea culpa, Shmuel Rosner talks about how he was one of the people I described as “attacking ferociously” the investigation set up by Yom Tov Samia and run by Nachum Shahaf. Now he regrets it, and in his honesty, raises many significant issues. On the other side, there are Arabs capable of appreciating the value for civil society of acknowledging the Al Durah icon of hatred, that injected a death cult into the culture, as a way to wake up from the nightmare they are now undergoing. He reports that in his talk with Gazans, many really wish their leaders would make peace with Israel, the Jewish state, so they live decent lives.
Haaretz, apparently, is still in scorn, smear and ridicule mode, as they were the first time round.
It’s a bit ironic on the part of Israelis to spit on good news about themselves, a trait I learned painfully to identify over ten years working on Al Durah with government spokesmen: Israelis – and especially those who had to speak on her behalf to outsiders – were completely psyched out by this story. And the people psyching them out were Charles – “I cut the horrible death throes, so don’t ask for the tapes” Enderlin, and his crowd of journalists at places like Haaretz and the Guardian who set the lethal tone.
Israel and Israelis, for 13 years, willy nilly, have participated in this lethal procession that targeted her. Finally after a decade of consensus building, a government committee breaks free of this suicidal madness with a report that states the obvious, and reporters from Haaretz heap their co-citizens with scorn for doing so. In the history of suicidal cultures, early 21st-century Haaretz will hold a special place.
There’s, of course, an interesting problem here. Oudeh is an Israeli Arab, indeed a prominent member of the Hadash (Communist) party. In the framework of the alliance (marriage?) of pre-modern sadism – “you (the other as enemy) are horrible” – and post-modern masochism – “you (the other to be embraced) are right,” – it’s important to ask if his voice represents the commitment to not being partisan that we hear, for example, in Shmuel Rosner’s reflections, or the voice of a lethal narrator?
Here, it seems quite clear that Haaretz has given the microphone to someone who defends his lethal narrative with unrelenting sarcasm.
Dear committee members, as you wish, Mohammed al-Dura wasn’t killed; he’s safe and sound and hiding somewhere. But what about the 951 children that human rights group B’Tselem says were killed during the second intifada?
There hasn’t been anything like it since Jesus resurrected Lazurus at Bethany. It turns out it’s not only God who can “give life to rotten bones,” as the Koran puts it. Israeli investigative committees have taken this task upon themselves.
The only reason that Oudeh can play this card is because journalists were stupid enough to be fooled by a cheap fake in the first place and now don’t want to admit they were taken for fools. So now, given this overwhelming consensus of fools, he can pretend that calling this stupidity/malignity into question, is the equivalent of raising the dead.
One of the more interesting spectacles that has arisen since the Kuperwasser Report has been the range of reaction, which pretty much separates the lethal journalists holding on to Al Durah as a dog does a bone on the one hand (most of whom have not examined the evidence), and those who, in terms of what “intellectual” first came to mean during the Dreyfus Affair, are willing to reconsider based on the evidence.
In this case we’re dealing with a senior editor at Open Zion, so not some raving lunatic who managed to slip a piece by the editors, but someone involved in shaping the message readers get from this blog. The language and the reasoning are perfect examples of lethal journalism on the defensive.
A September 30, 2000, file combo of TV grabs from France 2 footage taken during Israeli-Palestinian clashes in Netzarim in the Gaza Strip shows Jamal al-Dura and his son Mohammed, 12, hiding behind a barrel from Israeli-Palestinian cross fire. (AFP / Getty Images)
This week, the Israeli government released a report aimed at discrediting the story of a shooting death amid riots in the Gaza Strip in 2000 (yes: 13 years ago). In the incident, 12-year-old Muhammad Al-Dura was reportedly shot and killed by Israeli forces while cowering behind his father. The incident gained prominence after the French television channel France 2 ran a report showing footage of Al-Dura’s apparent shooting. The young boy became a symbol of the Second Intifada. The new document from the Israeli government sought to undermine the original French report and the reporter who produced it, the French-Israeli journalist Charles Enderlin. The Israelis initially said its military’s gunfire caused the death [sic], but within weeks blamed Palestinian gunfire instead. By 2007, the Israeli government already declared the boy’s death at Israel’s hands a “myth.” Now, a respected press advocacy organization is coming to Enderlin’s defense in his battle with the Israel’s Ministry of International Affairs and Strategy.
Among the defenses of Enderlin’s Al Durah story comes from an organization that considers itself “Reporters without Borders,” a variant of “Doctors without Borders,” and a “Human Rights” NGO that shares much of the agenda of the other global, progressive organizations of this kind. (When Reporters without Borders first launched it’s annual report on press freedom, it gave Israel a lower rating than the West Bank, a rating that would send most Palestinians into either fits or laughter or tears (depending on whether they wanted a decent society or not). Here note the lack of substance from an organization that considers itself a voice for the profession.
The Israeli government has just published a report of its investigation into French TV station France 2’s controversial coverage of 12-year-old Palestinian Muhammad al-Durrah’s death during rioting in the Gaza Strip on 30 September 2000 and the disputed claim that he was killed by a shot fired from Israeli positions.
The report’s release came three days ahead today’s announcement by a Paris appeal court that it will finally issue its ruling on 26 June in the defamation case between France 2’s Jerusalem correspondent, Charles Enderlin, and Media Rating founder Philippe Karsenty, who suggested that the teenager’s death was staged.
The Israeli report, which is very critical of France 2’s staff, was produced by a committee consisting of representatives of various ministries, the police and the Israel Defence Forces. It was appointed by Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu last September.
“While the Israeli government has the right to respond publicly to a media report it regards as damaging, the nature and substance of this report are questionable and give the impression of a smear operation,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.
Not clear whether Deloire has read the report, and if so, that he did more than realize that it was strongly critical of Enderlin. But unlike real smear tactics, all the criticism is considered, documented and reasoned. So what, in Deloire’s mind distinguishes “smear” from “criticism”?
Really didn’t want to do this. Have responded thrice in the Spring of 2008 to Dernfer’s rattling his cage about Al Durah – here, here, and here – and I probably should leave him to rattle in peace. But there’s something about his tone which I think is particularly revealing, and that readers should be aware of when they hear it. It’s the sound of a lethal journalist being denied his foundational myth.
And the irony is that, at the end of the article, he concedes major terrain in the argument, even as he maintains his tone of contempt… a little like the naked emperor who, realizing everyone knows he’s naked, continues his charade showing even more disdain for the crowd.
In the following article there is not one substantive argument, only one case where Derfner grapples (unsuccessfully) with the empirical evidence (which I’m beginning to think he hasn’t watched – or watched peremptorily). It’s all about name-calling (when it happens to them, people like Derfner like to use the word “smear,” as in the critics are “Desperately smearing Goldstone“), and circuitous arguments all drawn directly from Charles Enderlin. In some senses, the best parallel to Derfner’s prose is the Vultures, except that Derfner does it in public.
Warning in advance. This is long. I will extract the key issues for an article next week, but each of the elements of Derfner’s article deserve analysis, if only because so many people, especially journalists, share his attitude.
A look at the right-wing conspiracy-nut thinking that informed this week’s blue-ribbon report on the infamous 2000 killing of a Palestinian boy in Gaza.
In the 13 years since Muhammad al-Dura was killed in an Israeli-Palestinian shootout in Gaza while cowering behind his father, masses of right-wing Jews have eagerly embraced a conspiracy theory of the 12-year-oid boy’s killing – that it was staged, a hoax perpetrated by Palestinians to blacken Israel’s name. This theory, promoted most avidly by Boston University Prof. Richard Landes and French media analyst Philippe Karsenty, depends on a view of Palestinians being superhumanly clever and fiendish, and a view of reality that comes from the movies.
As I noted at your site: The difference between you and me is you think the journos are too sharp to be fooled by anything unless it’s a major conspiracy, whereas I, looking at the evidence, sadly come to the conclusion that the Palestinians can put out the shoddiest crap (Talal’s pathetic 60 seconds) and our journos (led by the lethal journalists who pass on anything the Palestinians cook up) will gobble it up. Given your long career as one who regularly feeds these Palestinian lethal narratives to your readers as news, it’s probably no surprise that you need to believe in the necessity of conspiracies that can’t exist, in order to keep on trucking.
The mentality here is essentially the same one that drives the 9/11 “truthers,” the anti-Obama “birthers,” those who say the Shin Bet assassinated Rabin, or those who say ultra-rightists assassinated JFK – a fevered imagination activated by political antagonism that knows no bounds. In the right-wing conspiracy theories of the al-Dura shooting, the boundless antagonism goes out to the Palestinians and their supporters.
Aside from comparing the Al Durah scam, where at most a couple of dozen people were necessary to pull it off, with schemes that took massive levels of participants (9-11, Kennedy Assassination), there’s a fascinating reversal embedded in this comment: the boundless antagonism in this conflict comes from the Palestinians, it not only drove the creation of the Al Durah story, but its systematic deployment as an icon of hatred in order to inject a death cult into Palestinian culture. Of course people like me are hostile to this kind of appalling behavior and hostile to people, like you, who, instead of condemning it roundly, constantly run interference for, and encourage it. As often in conspiracy theories, the person accusing the other of secretly evil intentions projects his own behavior and attitudes.
This week, the State of Israel officially joined the movement. Its report on the al-Dura affair adopts the conspiracy theory in full. (To be precise, it adopts the relatively “restrained” conspiracy theory – that the al-Duras were never shot. The other, wholly unrestrained conspiracy theory in circulation holds that the Palestinians killed the boy deliberately to create a martyr.)
In the flood of commentary and analysis of the Al Durah controversy, I’ve tried to fisk the most important typical responses. And of course, I have a backlog of articles to fisk. But this one by Shmuel Rosner jumped to the top of the pile because of its honest reappraisal. It helps to understand some of the factors that played at the time the story broke, and answer Vic Rosenthal’s question:
Why didn’t then Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and then Prime Minister Ehud Barak demand that all the footage shot by France 2 on that day be placed at Israel’s disposal to do a proper investigation?
Before adding my commentary to Rosner’s mea culpa, I’d like to acknowledge the courage involved in this piece, and the remarkable fact that the New York Times published it. As someone laboring in the wilderness for a decade, all I can say is, this is unexpected.
Ahmed Jadallah/ReutersOn Oct. 6, 2000, Palestinian boys in the Gaza strip walked past graffiti representing Muhammad al-Dura as he was shown in a television report.
TEL AVIV — In late September 2000, at the beginning of the second Palestinian intifada, the French TV station France 2 aired some 60 seconds of footage allegedly showing the killing of a Palestinian boy in the Gaza Strip.
Muhammad al-Dura, who was 12 at the time, and his father are shown caught in an exchange of fire between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian fighters. The boy cowers behind his father, with what sounds like gunshots crackling in the background. Smoke then blocks our view. When it lifts the boy is flattened, listless, and his father is lying against the wall, apparently in serious physical distress. The footage soon became one of the most memorable and heart-wrenching of the bloody Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
No one knows what happened exactly at the Netzarim Junction that day. The French broadcast claimed that gunfire from Israeli soldiers killed the boy. That version of the facts immediately became the official Palestinian account. Israel did not accept responsibility, nor did it deny being involved. And so the French-Palestinian narrative stuck.
But this Sunday, the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs released a report undermining that account. The document concludes there is “strong evidence” that Muhammad and his father “were not hit by bullets at all in the scenes filmed.” It also details many errors, omissions and open questions in the widely accepted narrative of the event.
I first heard that there might be a problem with the al-Dura story soon after the incident. I was the head of the news division at Haaretz at the time, and a young reporter approached me to say that a high-ranking official at the Israel Defense Force would be staging, in front of a crew from “60 Minutes,” a re-enactment of the shooting to prove the French and Palestinian chroniclers wrong.
I believed the initial story about al-Dura, and I was highly suspicious of the motivations of anyone attempting to disprove it.
Note a few things here. “I believed the initial story about al-Durah.” This readiness to believe the worst of the Israeli army – that they’d target a father and child and rain down bullets upon them, was pervasive, particularly among the journalists who were most proud of their self-critical attitude. As Bet Michael said to me in November of 2003 (after I had studied with Shahaf and seen the France2 raw footage with Enderlin),
BM: 100%. The israelis killed the boy.
RL: Really? Are you aware of the investigation and its findings?
BM: The investigator was a nut… some engineer with the army who argued a conspiracy theory that he kid committed suicide.
MS: (to me while BM waxed eloquent to NB)
NB) He’s being sarcastic.
RL: Were you being sarcastic?
BM: Not at all. I meant every word.
BM: Oh, that was sarcastic, but since then the IDF has killed over 200 palestinian children, you can check with B’tselem.
Here’s a close-up view of the world of aggressive lethal journalism, backed by their “researchers” who systematically compile the lethal narratives. At the time I did not realize it, but I should have after Jenin in 2002, that the lethal journalists – in the case of many, probably not even knowingly – were now dominant in the journalistic scene in Israel.
One of the more scandalous episodes of the Al Durah Affair came about after the judges saw the rushes and Karsenty won his appeal, much to the astonishment of the journalistic community who, under the aegis of Jean Daniel of Le Nouvel Observateur, put together a petition in his support. Below is a discussion of this development from an earlier post on Public Secrets (“they stage stuff all the time”) and Journalism.
In it I quote a remarkable response to Ha-aretz reporter Adi Schwartz’ question to Enderlin, “Why say ‘target of fire from the Israeli position” [when you didn't at the time have any evidence], to which Enderlin responded, “what would they say in Gaza if I didn’t report that the Israelis killed him?” This is an astonishing quote, whose discussion I’ll delay to after the discussion of the “Nouvel Obs Petition.”
But then the “friends of Charles” did something remarkable and remarkably foolish. They put up a letter of support for their colleague that bemoaned the “campaign of hatred and vilification” that had dogged his steps for lo! these seven years… accusing him of a hoax when he told the world that the boy was killed by fire coming from the Israeli position. The court’s decision, they declared, surprised and worried them: surprised, because the court “granted the same credibility to Karsenty,” a mere civilian, as it had to Enderlin, the veteran reporter “known for the seriousness and rigor of his work, who exercises his profession in sometimes difficult conditions”; worried, because the court’s decision “gives a ‘permission to defame’ journalists, which would permit anyone, in the name of ‘good faith’ and ‘the right of free criticism,’ to strike with impunity at the ‘honor and reputation of information professionals.’” This, they concluded, coming “at a time when the freedom of action of journalists is the object of repeated attacks,” would undermine “this fundamental principle, pillar of democracy” and therefore they “renew our support and solidarity with Charles Enderlin.”
The text of this petition, signed by many, is as revealing as the Cristiano letter both in its complete indifference to the public secret that the Cristiano letter revealed about the systematic intimidation of the correspondents in the field. Perhaps that’s what the petition meant by “difficult circumstances” that their “veteran reporter” sometimes operated in. But somehow (unless one posits deliberate deceit), it could not occur to them that their friend was systematically misrepresenting the “terrain” he knows so well, that he would misreport events because “what would they say in Gaza if I didn’t report that the Israelis killed him?”
On the contrary, the petition was written and signed by people who showed no interest in the evidence, who believe that their colleague should be given superior credibility because he is their colleague. And they clearly think that freedom from criticism by their readers guarantees their freedom of speech. It would be hard to imagine a more blatant expression of a privileged corporatist mentality redolent of the ancien régime. Ben Dror Yemini compares them to the “anti-Dreyfusards, who also stubbornly clung to the first version.”
And they just reared their ugly head again, the usual lethal suspects – journalists, photographers, and “Human Rights” NGOs, who call themselves the Vultures on Facebook, in response to the Kuperwasser Commission’s threat to their axiomatic belief: Al Durah is true. On rekaB Street.
And all this operates within the Augean Stables, whose parameters are
Palestinian intimidation (part of a larger context of the willingness of the “weak” in asymmetrical warfare to resort to violence)
journalistic self-esteem/honor-shame concerns about being “looking honorable”
advocacy for the underdog to the point of underdogma as a resolution to the dilemma.
Here Enderlin reveals that in the journalist’s daily and constant struggle navigating between loyalty to his sources, and loyalty to his audience, professional scruples of the most elemental sort – heavy accusations need heavy corroborating evidence – answered to the people of Gaza and neither to Israel, nor even to his professional standards. And the ease with which both he expresses it and Adi Schwartz accepts it, illustrates just how encrusted these bad attitudes had become.
A.S.: In hindsight, is it possible that you were too hasty that evening?
C.E.: I don’t think so. Besides, the moment I saw that nobody was asking me anything officially, I started feeling more strongly that the story was true.
Daniel Leconte was quite indignant about the public secret of the staging: “You [France2] may know it [that staging happens all the time], but the public doesn’t. But then, reportedly, Jacques Attali told him to stand down and both he and Denis Jeambar used the excuse of Juffa’s leaked report of their encounter to bow out. Two more Zolas that never happened.
Why didn’t then Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and then Prime Minister Ehud Barak demand that all the footage shot by France 2 on that day be placed at Israel’s disposal to do a proper investigation?
Because back then, it was unthinkable. I had to do Pallywood before Al Durah (2005-6) because people literally couldn’t believe that “staged” was even a possibility.
Even if they did believe, Enderlin had told everyone that he had more material he didn’t publish because it was “too horrible to see” – the famous “death throes.” In one move, he explained why he edited the original footage and, by invoking the “public’s sensibilities” he was able to implicitly blackmail me. The Israelis were afraid of what was on the tapes, and afraid that if they asked for it, he’d release the rest of the world.
What shocked and outraged Esther Schapira into her second movie was seeing the rushes in Paris in 2007, and realizing that there were only 60 seconds of the Al Durah sequence. She confronted Enderlin outside the court, and he just shrugged her off. I argued with the Israelis from the moment I saw them that there was nothing to afraid of in the tapes, but by then the attitude of fear of a reprisal had become pervasive.
Miri Eisen asked me if I thought it was staged. When I said yes, she said, “end of conversation.” When I asked her if she would like a crack forensic team to examine any future footage of Israeli carnage before she had to face the cameras in case it were clearly a fake (this was after Lebanon and Kafr Qana), and she said, “no.”
As you can imagine, we didn’t have lots to say to each other.
The Israeli government finally came out with a report – thirteen years late – on the Muhammad al Durah affair. It’s thirteen years late. But not too late. It can never be too late to take on so nasty a tale, and particularly from the perspective of any journalists, this may be the biggest hoax in modern history – at once the longest and the most damaging to everyone but the war mongers.
The scandal today is not that the Palestinians faked it. We’ve seen them at work time and again, exploiting every occasion to paint the Israelis as child-killers, even when they themselves killed their children. The scandal today is, thirteen years later, the journalists themselves not only have not confronted their shocking initial failure – dupes of a cheap fake – but their continued refusal to reconsider even as they continue to fall dupe to subsequent hoaxes. On the contrary, the go on practicing the kind of “lethal journalism” that the Al Durah affair epitomizes – injecting the information circulation system with malevolent lethal narratives designed to incite hatred, vengeance and war.
How many of the journalists who have written about this report have even seen the evidence? I’m betting, although I’d be glad to be proven wrong, that the Daily Telegraph Middle East correspondent, Robert Tait hasn’t even seen the evidence that the Israeli report analyzes. If so he’d be like so many of the journalists who signed the petition protecting Charles Enderlin from criticism from – horrors – non-journalists.
In part this is the Israeli government’s fault. They should have held a press conference and forced the journalists to look at the damning evidence. But anyone who wants to examine it can consult the best (only) compendium of the evidence at The Al Durah Project. Once they’ve viewed the evidence, they can move on to the analysis.
Tait, however, prefers a different line, one taken by a number of journalists who do not want to confront the unhappy truth that the community of journalists – including many Israeli ones – has, willy nilly, carried on a devastatingly damaging fraud for over a decade, despite the overwhelming evidence that it’s not only staged, but very badly done.
On the contrary, to inform his readers what to think of this new report, he goes for Charles Enderlin’s “conspiracy theory.” And to do so, he interviews the director of one of the most far left media sites (the equivalent of FAIR or Media Matters in the USA), on whose board Charles Enderlin sits.
“I believe [italics mine] that what we saw on the France 2 news item was exactly what happened and the camera caught exactly what happened,” [Yizhar Be’er] told The Daily Telegraph. “It is mission impossible to fake such a huge event. Nobody, least of all the Palestinians, can create such a fabrication.”
Now despite Tait’s assuring his readers that Be’er and his organization “have extensively studied the case,” their site shows no evidence of such a study.
Be’er’s use of the word “believe” may give us a clue to his astonishing statement that the camera caught exactly what happened (by which presumably he means what Charles Enderlin says happened). As Jon Randall told Anne-Elisabeth Moutet:
Charles Enderlin is an excellent journalist! I don’t care if it’s the Virgin Birth affair, I would tend to believe him. Someone like Charles simply doesn’t make a story up.
Neither Randall, nor Be’er could have seen the evidence and made such professions of belief. Even if you don’t want to see it, even if you want to claim it’s not staged, it’s impossible to look at the footage Talal Abu Rahma shot and insist that it confirms Enderlin’s narrative, not the “targeted by fire from the Israeli position” nor the “the child is dead” when twenty seconds later he’s moving quite deliberately. Asked how he could proclaim the child dead two scenes earlier, Enderlin replies:
I’m very sorry, but the fact is the child died. Maybe not at the precise moment I showed. But this is the way I do a story. “The child is dead,” is a statement. What’s your problem with it?
Not looking at the evidence is bad enough. But using a conspiracy theory to excuse it just compounds the problem. Be’er’s comment illustrates exactly what’s wrong with the current media scene:
“It is mission impossible to fake such a huge event. Nobody, least of all the Palestinians, can create such a fabrication.”
Be’er (and Enderlin whom he’s channeling) assume that the Palestinians are too incompetent to fool them, and only a massive conspiracy – which they assume couldn’t happen – could have fooled them. Enderlin, confronted with the extensive staging visible in his own cameraman’s footage, responded, “Oh they do that all the time.” But dismissed the possibility they did it with Al Durah: “they’re not good enough” – a comment echoed in Be’er’s “least of all the Palestinians.”
The sad thing, the pathetic thing, is that it didn’t take much to fool them. If I were a professor of videography and a student came to me with this footage, I’d give him an F: get better focus, have the kid look wounded rather than stretched out, have him clutch his stomach rather than his eyes, give him some blood to spill, don’t break it up into short clips. It turns out it’s “mission easy” to put together a shoddy piece and, as long as it’s the kind of story for which too many Westerners and way too many journalists have an insatiable appetite – lethal narratives about Israel – they’ll bite at the poison meat no matter how rancid, no matter how ultimately self-destructive for their own profession and society that depends on them.
The conspiracy theory depends on the idea that the news media is full of sharp, skeptical professional journalists who can’t be fooled easily and it would take a massive and elaborate scheme to do so. The story, alas, is the opposite: no need for conspiracy, not even for high quality staging. Apparently the journalists, like Charles Enderlin, are so used to looking at this staged material that they no longer see it as anything but “reality.” As Enderlin put it to Esther Schapira of ARD:
This is not staging, it’s playing for the camera. When they threw stones and Molotov cocktails, it was in part for the camera. That doesn’t mean it’s not true. They wanted to be filmed throwing stones and being hit by rubber bullets. All of us — the ARD too — did reports on kids confronting the Israeli army, in order to be filmed in Ramallah, in Gaza. That’s not staging, that’s reality.
This comes from a man who’s “gone native.” Staging is reality in the Palestinian world, and apparently his too. Enderlin has the famous quote from Tom Friedman at the top of his blog: “In the Middle East, if you can’t explain something with a conspiracy theory, don’t bother.” For Charles, if your own incompetence has put you in a terribly embarrassing situation, cry conspiracy theory. And count on journalists like Jon Randall and Robert Tait, and all the people who work on blind faith, to give him support. And alas, just as the Palestinians are right that they can put anything (French: n’importe quoi) out and have the Western media snap it up, so Charles Enderlin can make the most outrageous comments (at least where professional journalism is concerned), and have his colleagues circle the wagons.
Alas for Western civilization. Democracy and a free and honest press were such a good idea.
When the Daily Torygraph goes after the Al Durah investigation, it’s clear we’re dealing with an ecumenical movement in Europe that won’t let go of it’s moral Schadenfreude. Heaven forbid the Israelis are not guilty of killing that symbol of their brutality. Below, the Daily Telegraph’s Middle East Correspondent fisked.
A 12-year-old boy caught up in a notorious gunfight between Israel’s forces and Palestinian militants during the 2000 intifada may not have died in the event and was not hit by Israeli fire, a government inquiry has claimed.
It was the searing image that came to define the Palestinian intifada; a 12-year-old boy cowering in terror next to his father in the middle of a gunfight just minutes before being killed by an Israeli soldier’s bullet.
Now Israel has labelled famous footage supposedly depicting Mohammad al-Durra’s last moments “a blood libel” after publishing an official report that says he may have not have died at all and that he was never hit by Israeli gunfire.
An investigation commissioned by Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, has concluded that the episode may even have been fabricated or staged for propaganda purposes.
Television coverage of Mohammad and his father, Jamal, desperately seeking cover behind a wall after being caught in the crossfire at Netzarim Junction in Gaza in the early phases of the second Palestinian uprising were beamed around the world in September 2000.
It was widely assumed that the boy had died after being wounded in the stomach, with Israeli officials initially accepting that one of their soldiers may have fired the fatal shots in the “fog of war”.
Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s strategic affairs minister, presenting the new report, reversed that verdict by calling news coverage of the incident “a blood libel against Israel, alongside other blood libels like the claims of an alleged massacre in Jenin [in 2002]”.
I would not have used blood libel, although I do think its defensible. They’re really both excellent examples of of a more generic phenomenon of “lethal narratives,” that is stories told with the intention of arousing hatred and a desire for revenge against the accused. The report harshly (and, in my mind, completely justifiably) criticizes Charles Enderlin for his report whose narrative – the boy and father targeted by the Israelis, the boy killed – was repeatedly contradicted by the very footage that he systematically altered in order to make his claims plausible. And then the report goes on to criticize the influence this kind of reporting has had on journalistic standards when covering the conflict between Israel and its neighbors.
Indeed, the lethal journalism that systematically feeds Palestinian lethal narratives into the information circulation system of the West as news, which had already made its presence known since Lebanon in 1982, become a dominant school after Enderlin’s report of September 30, 2000: the era of Al Durah Journalism.
When the Guardian came out with their first article on the Israeli report on Al Durah, I thought that even though it was done by Harriet Sherwood, it was fairly neutral. I should have known that CiF would deliver the goods. Below the reaction of Rachel Shabi, with fisking.
Footage from the France 2 report showing Muhammad al-Dura and his father, Jamal. Photograph: EPA
If Israel’s government is to be believed, Palestinians have sunk so low as to be capable of faking their own deaths.
“So low?” Lots of people and lots of governments have faked deaths. It’s not a particularly heinous or rare phenomenon. But wait, the Palestinians have done much worse: they’ve killed their own children and then made a media circus of trying to blame Israel.
Or wait, maybe the Israeli accusation of fakery is itself the indication of a horrifying new nadir. An Israeli report has concluded that Muhammad al-Dura, the 12-year-old Palestinian whose death in 2000 in Gaza was captured by a French public TV channel, was not killed by Israelis – and may in fact not be dead at all.
Back then, a short film of Muhammad and his father, both caught in a shootout, trying helplessly to shelter against a barrage of gunfire, was narrated by French Channel 2 correspondent Charles Enderlin and relayed around the world, turning the boy into a symbol of the brutality of the second intifada and the Israeli occupation. Now, Israel says those same images are yet more proof of a global campaign to delegitimise Israel – and are, additionally, attempts to invoke the blood libel.
One of Charles Enderlin’s favorite defenses is to accuse his critics of believing in “conspiracy theories.” Here is Larry Derfner, whom Charles cites approvingly in his book on the subject, dismissing Philippe Karsenty and me as “conspiracy nuts”:
No doubt about it – Phillippe Karsenty and his allies have a lot of evidence that the killing of Mohammed al-Dura was a hoax, that it was staged by France 2 TV in cahoots with the Palestinians. In fact, Karsenty, Richard Landes and the rest of the conspiracy theorists have so much evidence that it may even add up to .001% [Enderlin mistranslates as 100% - rl] of the evidence that the Mafia, or Castro, or the Pentagon killed JFK. They may have the merest, slightest fraction of the evidence there is that Shimon Peres masterminded the Rabin assassination, or that the Mossad was behind 9/11.
There is, however, a fundamental difference between a “coup montée” (a planned sting) and a conspiracy.
In the former case, it’s a small group of people who coordinate their activities in order to violate rules without the knowledge of the wider public. In this case, we are dealing with a cognitive or narrative hoax, in which some group of players wants the public to believe even though it didn’t happen. These are common in the history of the modern press, and they play a key role in broader “propaganda” campaigns aimed at swaying public opinion.
The Al Durah coup was pulled off by a core of planners and actors, a larger circle of people who cooperated once the tale had been set in motion, and finally a broader circle of believers who were duped by the coup. In a basic sense, the issue is how many people need to know it’s a fake, and how many are duped? If it takes a really broad group of people who know it’s a fake and play along (including people at high public levels), then we’re dealing with a conspiracy. If it only takes a few who know and many more who are duped, it’s asting.
Here are a survey of the minimum of planners of the hoax to pull this off the Al Durah hoax:
the crew at the site:
certainly: Talal abu Rahmah, the gang around his shouting and yelling “The boy is dead” when he’s still sitting up, the al Durahs, the people charged producing automatic gunfire, the “street” who watched this, as other staged scenes.
possibly: The two other cameramen (AP Reuters) who left when their jobs were done, a Palestinian marksman tasked with firing at the scene, starting with the jeep scene…
at the hospitals (Gazan and Jordanian):
certainly: Gazan doctors willing to identify the body of an older boy with a tattoo as that of Muhammad al Durah and to produce an official report; Jordanian doctors willing to continue the hoax of the father’s “wounds”.
possibly: a wider range of hospital officials and journalists.
at the funeral:
certainly: the people who had already prepared posters of the “dead boy.”
possibly: a larger group of people who knew this was a fake
The key to understanding how this is not a conspiracy theory is to understand that it did not have to be a conspiracy, that on the contrary, a small group of people could work together to launch the hoax and a much larger circle of people, for various reasons well worth considering, eagerly adopted the hoax.
The circle of dupes involves most of the people Enderlin cites when he mocks the notion of a conspiracy:
in the media
a Western chief correspondent willing to edit the material in a way to give it believability and a TV station ready to run with the story. Charles Enderlin may or may not have been part of the planning committee. My guess is, he’s a dupe, at least in part because of his arrogance. When he admitted to me that the Palestinians stage scenes all the time, I asked him if so, why not al Durah? To which he responded, “They’re not good enough to fool me.” Apparently not. As for his superiors in France2 who gave him the green light, they were almost certainly fooled by believing in their correspondent.
a compliant press ready to run with the story once it broke. Among these, most notably, were journalists like Suzanne Goldenberg and Robert Fisk who found proof of abu Rahma’s account at every turn, and fed the flames of a post-moden blood libel.
in the higher echelons of Arab culture
King Hussein of Jordan, who visited Jamal al Durah in the hospital and donated blood almost certainly did not know that he was being duped. He had no reason to question the fact that the bandages and blood on Jamals wounds might not be real.
The difference between a conspiracy theory and a scam/hoax/sting is that in order for a conspiracy to take place on a large scale (e.g., the US government planning the 9-11 attacks, or the Jews planning to take over the world), it would take thousands of people in very high places. In order for a hoax to take place it just takes a lot of dupes. And in the case of Muhammad al Durah, it was a lot of willing, even eager dupes.
When people think that claiming al Durah was staged necessitates a conspiracy, they assume that the mainstream news media could not be fooled across the board by a fake, that if there were serious evidence against the story as the media reported it, then surely investigative journalists would have spoken up.
Alas, no. The current state of the mainstream media, especially where coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict is concerned, is an Augean Stables of encrusted bad habits. As Charles Enderlin said, when confronted with evidence that his cameraman Talal abu Rahma had filmed multiple staged scenes, “Oh yes, they do it all the time.” And the journalists who should have put an end to such behavior, apparently had/have no problem with that.
Here’s a fascinating exchange between a Jawwad Muhammad Amawwi, chief legal counsel of the Palestinian Prisoners Affairs Ministry and Ofir Gendelman, spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office on Arabic TV. (HT: Hadar Selah)
In particular, watch from 8:30, how the Palestinian spokesman uses Al Durah to accuse Israel for doing what the Palestinians do, namely, targeting children.
Anyone who remembers the halcyon dreams of the 1990s, of civil society spreading the world over, heralding a new peaceful, global millennium, must marvel at the path the young 21st century has taken. Even those who paid attention to global Jihad before the millennium could not imagine how vulnerable the West would prove in the coming, wildly asymmetrical war. Those who, over the course of the last 13 years, have awakened to the ever-growing danger of Islamism and to the astonishing inability of decent people – Muslims and non-Muslims – to effectively oppose its aggressions, owe themselves a brief lesson in cognitive warfare, and a second look at the nuclear bomb of that warfare, the Muhammad al Durah affair.
All asymmetrical wars take place primarily in the cognitive arena, with the major theater of war the enemy’s public sphere. The goal is to convince your far more powerful enemy not to fight. In defensive cases, from the Maccabees to the Vietnamese, this has meant getting imperial powers to “go home.” But Islamists who want to spread Dar al Islamconduct an offensive campaign: how to get your targets to surrender on their own home ground? In this seemingly absurd venture, they have had remarkable success.
The mainstream news media – their journalists, editors, producers – constitute a central front of this cognitive war: the “weak” but aggressive side cannot have success without the witting or unwitting cooperation of the enemy’s journalists. The success of global Jihad in eliciting our media’s cooperation with their goals
Palestinians, like most belligerent armies, propagate stories about how vicious and hateful the enemy. The primary audience for this propaganda is the home front, which it incites to vengeance of the most ruthless kind, even justifying killing children in cold blood.
But since 2000, and for reasons that beg for serious investigation, the Western media has almost systematically presented these “lethal narratives” as news even though some/many of them are patently false. The dominance of such “lethal journalism,” undermines the very fabric of the civil society upon which, ironically, Western journalists depend for their freedom.
The nuclear bomb of current Jihadi cognitive warfare, is the Al Durah Affair. The story first hit the airwaves on September 30, 2000, and marks the takeover of “lethal journalism” among Western Middle-East correspondents. According to France2’s correspondent from Jerusalem, Charles Enderlein, Israeli troops targeted and killed a defenceless 12-year-old boy and badly wounded his father. The story spread like wildfire, an icon of hatred. Not only did global Jihadis use it to recruit for Jihad, but Europeans seized upon it for a substitution theology that freed them of Holocaust guilt: the Israelis were the new Nazis and the Palestinians the new Jews
Since the Fall of 2000, the Western mainstream news media have taken a peculiar turn towards what one might call “lethal journalism.” In particular, the MSNM have consistently served as a major conduit for “lethal narratives” about Israel, largely concocted by Palestinians and other Arabs seeking to destroy Israel, which they, with an astonishingly consistent credulity, report as news. This turn represents not a creation of “lethal journalism” which had already shown its strength during the 1982 Israeli operation in Lebanon, but with the outbreak of the Oslo Intifada, it came to dominate the news media in unprecedented fashion.
Let’s begin with “lethal narratives.” These are stories that are told with the intention of creating hatred and a desire for revenge. Some are based on real events in which Palestinians and other Arabs die (Sabra and Shatilla, Gaza Beach, Kafr Qana), some are invented out of whole cloth (Jenin poisonings, Muhammad al Durah, Mavi Marmara). All involve the exaggeration of the number killed, the attribution of their deaths to Israeli soldiers, and, most significantly, the accusation of deliberate murder. These narratives are weapons of war, designed to both incense, incite, and provoke Muslims the world over to hate the Israelis and seek revenge, to alienate from Israel the support of peace-loving progressives in the West, and to dishearten Zionists in defense of their cause.
Lethal narratives partake of a larger discourse of hatred that has characterized warfare for millennia. They have a peculiarly virulent place in the “war against the Jews” especially in the “Blood Libels” that plagued European culture from the 12th to the 20th century, and continue to circulate widely in the Muslim world to this day. Lethal narratives embody a reactionary “us-them” scape-goating mentality that views the “enemy” as evil. Few phenomena hurt the possibility of peace more than their circulation, and nothing could more violate the basic progressive discourse than this kind of bellicose story-telling, especially when they are concocted out of malice.
Somewhat ironically, then, modern (or post-modern) journalism, which openly pursues a progressive agenda – often in the form of universal human rights – has shown itself particularly susceptible to Palestinian lethal narratives. The lethal journalist’s rule of thumb in dealing with evidence from the “war of images” (which is really a war of narratives) between Israel and its neighbors, is
believe what Palestinians say until proven wrong,
dismiss what the Israelis say until proven right,
and when that eventually becomes the case (after much damage), move on to the next story.
There were already plenty of lethal journalists before 2000, but they were mostly marginalized – except in 1982 when there was blood in the water. After the outbreak of the Intifada, however, they rapidly come to dominate most aspects of journalism about the conflict, pushing out and intimidating other approaches to the subject with activist fervor. Indeed, once in charge, the lethal journalists could pressure new journalists who come to cover the Middle East to conform to their epistemological principles – the priority of the Palestinian over the Israeli narrative. Whether the fear of hostility from Palestinian sources who brook criticism badly, or of ostracism from the circle of UN-NGO-journalist-activists where they have to spend most of their time, reporters rapidly learn the rules of the game, as Ricardo Cristiano assured Yasser Arafat, when he protested this his crews would never have circulated pictures of the Palestinian lynching at Ramallah in October of 2000:
We emphasize to all of you that the events did not happen this way, because we always respect (will continue to respect) the journalistic procedures with the Palestinian Authority for (journalistic) work in Palestine and we are credible in our precise work.
We thank you for your trust, and you can be sure that this is not our way of acting. We do not (will not) do such a thing.
As a result, the press’ coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict, especially since 2000, fall prey to a double inconsistency: on the one hand an uncritical embrace of these lethal narratives against Israel, and a corresponding reluctance to report real news about murderous Palestinians, their incitement, their targeting of civilians, their genocidal discourse. This double inversion of telling lies about Israel and not telling the truth about the Palestinians (who produce these lies), ends up not contributing to peace, but to war, feeding not the peacemakers but the worst warmongers. Perhaps the single greatest beneficiary of this reign of lethal journalists, has been global Islamic imperialism (Jihad) whose cause benefits from both the incitement of its own troops and the dissemination of culture disorientation and paralysis among its Western democratic foes. Historians will look back at the turn of the millennium and date the appearance of a global Muslim street whose increasing aggression has yet to visibly wane.
Al Durah: the blood libel and the victory of lethal journalism
Let’s begin not with the origins of lethal journalism, but the most lethal of all the “narratives” – Muhammad al Durah – and its consequences. Al Durah constitutes the most extreme example of lethal journalism in every aspect:
it was staged – quite crudely,
journalists both bought it hook line and sinker,
it had a mythical impact on the global imagination – it is the icon of hatred that inaugurated the 21st century
it has done untold damage to everyone on the planet who seeks peace – Israeli, Palestinian, Western, Muslim
and journalists – still! – resist correcting themselves.
Here is the footage, shot on Rosh Hashannah, 5760/2000 by Palestinian cameraman for CNN, Talal abu Rahmah as presented by Charles Enderlin on France2.
This became an instant global hit. Everyone who had a television saw this event, along with the accompanying narrative – that Israeli army had deliberately, in cold blood, murdered the boy in his defenseless father’s arms. This was the affirmation – the whole world saw it – of all that the Palestinians had been accusing Israel of for time out of mind: they were the murderous, rapist, massacring, Nazis.
American newspapers were not exempt from the feeding frenzy:
The story opened the gates to a morally sadistic equation of Israel with the Nazis (the ultimate lethal frame) even as it gave voice to genocide against the Jews.
Place de la République, Paris, October 6, 2000.
Here we have the opening round of the Muslim Street in Europe: an enthusiastic accusation against Israel of being the real Nazis even as, for the first time since the Nazis a European capital – Paris no less – heard the cry of “death to the Jews.”
Al Durah became a substitution theology. As one reporter, speaking for many, put it: This picture erases, replaces that of the boy in the ghetto.
Israel was the new Nazis, Palestinians were the new Jews: what had, in the 20th century, been considered the most ludicrous and grotesque moral claim – Arabs who openly embraced Nazi genocidal ideology accusing Israel of being the Nazis and claiming to be the Jews object of Israeli genocide – went mainstream. Sharansky was among the first to identify the problem, the 3 Ds: Demonization, Delegitimation, Double – really Quadruple Standard.
Think, for a moment, of the moral disorientation necessary to accept, much less advocate such a claim: the image of a boy, caught in a crossfire the Palestinians started, replacing a symbol of the deliberate murder of a million children and six million civilians. You have to be morally deranged to find such a supersessionist equation compelling. Deranged by what? Hatred? Denied guilt? Resentment? Of what?
Certainly someone like Bin Laden immediately grasped the value of the al Durah imagery for the cause of Jihad.
This video was used extensively by radical Muslim groups recruiting on college campuses.
What are the consequences of the al Durah story
Activated global Jihad: Israel was the Dajjal (Antichrist) of the Muslim apocalyptic scenario whereby they would conquer the world.
Disabled any Arabs in the peace camp: any Palestinian still dialoguing with Israelis/Jews after this footage appeared became a traitor to the cause.
Mobilizing an global anti-Zionist discourse: the “global Left” enthusiastically embraced the discourse in which Israel was the major cause of the conflict, and her elimination was the “solution.”
Thus, al Durah presided over a Red-Green alliance that reached its first climax less than a year later at the Durban “anti-racism” conference in late August of 20001. There the virulent denunciation of Israel, led by Muslim countries but taken up by Western progressives in a series of conferences and resolutions condemning Zionism and laying out plans for a global campaign against her. Jamal al durah was flown in on Arafat’s private jet, told everyone how the Israelis had killed his boy in cold blood, and Muhammad, carried in effigy became the “patron saint” of Durban’s hate-fest.
As a result of the remorseless media campaign against Israel, she became one of the most despised countries in the world, right down there with Iran among the most warlike countries.
The paradox of Western Peace journalism turning into War journalism:
Peace journalism became a major factor in the Oslo Peace Process, enthusiastically embraced not only by Israeli journalists in the peace camp, but academics as well. Peace journalism argues that the news media can contribute to peace by encouraging people to trust the other side, and by not emphasizing sensationalist news that might discourage people from supporting negotiations (e.g., terrorist strikes). This makes sense, however, only when both sides engage in such a process. If one side systematically suppresses information that might lead the readers to abandon peace and prepare for war, while the other side demonizes the other side and prepares its people for war, then it has the opposite effect, since it disarms the side committed to peace and arms the other for war.
This is precisely what happened in the period of the Oslo “Peace Process”: the Israeli and Western “peace press” played down any information that might alert the Israelis or the world to Palestinian intentions, and ostracized as right-wing war-mongers anyone who tried to bring this information – MEMRI and PMW were born in this period. Thus while the Palestinians spoke of Oslo as a Trojan Horse, the press played the role of Poseidon’s serpents who killed Laacoon and his sons when they proved the horse contained warriors. And then, when the war that anyone well-informed could have foreseen broke out, the liberal media, both in Israel and in the West, rather than admitting their error of judgment, blamed Israel. And al Durah played a key role in that process.
The overall picture of the period of lethal journalism after al Durah gives us the spectacle of an Arab-Israeli Bullfight. Israel is the Toreador, the Arabs are the Bull, the journalists are the Picadors that enrage the bull, and the crowd is made up of PETA fans rooting for the Bull and hating the matador. And the supporters of the matador are embarrassed to shout their support.
How do we reverse the consequence: ways that people who support Israel (Zionists!) can talk with their neighbors, friends, and co-workers, without getting angry or shrill when they run into resistance.
Cognitive Warfare: sometimes lethal narratives backfire:
Deir Yassin in the short run led to the Arabs fleeing; in the long run it has been a major accusation of massacre against the Israeli (along with Sabra and Shatilla, and Muhammad al Durah) – all lethal narratives.
how can we get these lethal narratives to backfire?
focussing on the media’s vulnerability to “lethal narratives” about Israel.
staying away from the anti-semitism accusations and reformulating the problem (e.g., why is there such an appetite for lethal narratives about Israel?)
disabling certain memes that people unthinkingly accept:
war is not the answer
violence never solved anything
if i’m being criticized by both sides i must be doing something right,
it’s racist to say nasty things about Arabs,
I’m not saying anything Jews don’t say.
Newspapers may make mistakes, but they’re not biased, and certainly not on purpose.
Examining some unconscious patterns
Racism: no moral expectations towards the Arabs
Quadruple Standards: the West is held to a higher standard than the third world, the Israelis are held to a higher standard than the West, and the Palestinians to a lower standard than the third world.
“Progressive” support for the Palestinians reinforces the scapegoating discourse of the Arab elite who use it to exploit their own people.
As much as it’s aimed at supporting peace, this all actually foments war and prolongs the conflict.
PC: Using “Left vs. Right” to identify players (e.g., pro-Palestinian is left-wing; pro-Israeli is right-wing), has become worse than misleading and useless, it’s now destructive and a sign of our utter disorientation.
Why are Westerners, including Jews, so attracted to lethal narratives about Israel and so loathe to hear them about their real enemies?
getting people to reflect on their unconscious (or unexamined) projections of their own mentality onto others (liberal cognitive egocentrism).