This week, only thirteen years too late, when all the damage has long been done, Israel officially announced that according to its investigations, Mohammed al-Dura was not hit by Israeli bullets, and in fact didn’t die in the incident.
“Contrary to the report’s claim that the boy was killed, the committee’s review of the raw footage showed that in the final scenes, which were not broadcast by France 2, the boy is seen to be alive,” the Ministry of International Affairs and Strategy report stated regarding the television report.
Minister of International Affairs and Strategy Yuval Steinitz called the accusations baseless and said the affair was “a modern-day blood libel against the State of Israel.”
The 55 seconds of edited footage, filmed two days after Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, contributed to the October 2000 protest in which 13 Arab citizens of Israel were killed and quickly became the defining image of the second Palestinian intifada uprising and terror war against Israel.
The picture of al-Dura, apparently dead across his father’s knees, was shown for days on Arab and international TV stations and was cited as inspiration by both Osama bin Laden and the killers of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.
Sunday’s report embraces what is known as the maximalist approach, asserting that not only was al-Dura not killed by IDF bullets but that, at the end of the raw footage, he was categorically alive. “Contrary to (France 2 reporter Charles) Enderlin’s claim, the raw footage shows clearly that in the final scenes, the boy is not dead. In the final seconds of the footage, the boy raises his arm and turns his head in the direction of (cameraman Talal) Abu-Rahma in what are clearly intentional and controlled movements. This should have been readily-apparent to Enderlin. Yet rather than reconsidering the claim before producing the report, or providing viewers with the full picture so that they could fairly judge the credibility of his declaration that ‘Muhammad is dead’, Enderlin edited out these last scenes from the report, thereby creating the false impression that the footage substantiated his claims.”
The committee’s report, issued by the Director General of the ministry, Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, who heard presentations from a leading electro-optics professor, a physicist and a former deputy head of the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute among others, found an array of inconsistencies and contradictions.
State-owned France 2′s raw footage, as shot by Palestinian cameraman Abu-Rahma, shows no sign of blood on the wall, ground, or barrel, the report stated. Reporters brought to the scene on October 1, however, were shown large blood stains in the vicinity of the barrel.
In addition, the report noted that no bullets, from either the father or the son, were ever produced; the time of admission to Shifa Hospital –10 a.m. — was well before the incident at Netzarim Junction occurred; and the 45-minute-long incident was oddly not noticed by any of the other reporters or cameramen in the area.
Kuperwasser’s report comes in advance of an anticipated May 22 ruling in a Paris Court of Appeals, where France 2′s bureau chief Enderlin sued Philippe Karsenty, a French Jew, for defamation. Karsenty wrote publicly that Enderlin should be fired for his broadcast of the confrontation at the Netzarim junction, which Karsenty called “a media hoax.”
Professor Richard Landes, a Boston University medievalist who runs the Al Durah Project, agreed with Karsenty and said that “Enderlin should retire in disgrace.”
“He not only edited out critical footage that undermined the story he wanted to tell,” — of Israeli troops killing Palestinian children — “but once the story hit and inspired horrific violence, he doubled down and tried to protect his reputation instead of re-examining his work, as a journalist with integrity should do,” Landes told The Times of Israel.
To recap: thirteen years ago, at the outset of the murderous Second Intifada, Mohammed al-Dura, a Palestinian boy, appeared to have been killed in crossfire between the IDF and Palestinian terrorists in Gaza. The boy became an inflammatory icon in the Arab war against Israel, and the emotive image of a terrified boy cowering behind his father became a cudgel with which to beat Israel for their ostensibly inhumane actions and purported “war crimes” against the Palestinians. The word was out that al-Dura was deliberately targeted by the IDF, although this would have made no sense militarily (why would an army target an unarmed boy?), and in any event the picture was clear enough that the boy and his father were accidentally caught in crossfire.
Notwithstanding all this circumstantial evidence, Israel was quick – much too quick – to admit fault, perhaps in the hope that an admission of guilt would make the picture go away. However this only compounded its assumed sin. As we all know, and readers of this blog will have learned long ago, Israel’s legal and moral standing is constantly under fire by very many hostile NGOs and international institutions, and the picture of Mohammed al-Dura served to crystallize its moral turpitude.
Doubts about the responsibility for the killing of al-Dura arose very quickly after the event, but the Big Lie was out there, and a biased world had no interest in digging up the truth.
However there were several Tzaddikim (righteous people) with a great interest in uncovering the truth, about whom I have written before. A short reminder:
The “killing” was eventually exposed as a hoax by Richard Landes, Philippe Karsenty and others. (h/t CiFWatch which has extensive coverage of the Al Dura affair here). None of this exposure and rebuttal has stopped the Israel-haters from continuing with their libel.
Today’s Honest Reporting daily newsletter has brought us an excellent round-up of the multiple reports on Israel’s revised official stance on the Al-Dura shooting:
Big Media’s interest in the Mohammed al-Dura affair continued. Martin Fletcher’s report for NBC News especially impressed me. More coverage at the Daily Mail, BBC, The Independent, Times of London, Irish Times, and UPI. Thumbs up to The Lede for embedding the Kuperwasser report.
One report that stood out for the worse was the Daily Telegraph. It quoted a very critical comment by Yitzhak Be’er, of Keshev, an Israeli media-monitoring site. But as HonestReporting pointed out, the Telegraph didn’t disclose that Charles Enderlin — the France 2 reporter at the heart of the al-Dura affair — is a member of Keshev’s board of directors.
Here are some excerpts from a couple of the links in the Honest Reporting post. (All emphases are mine).
First, from David Katz’s item, “Palestinian Fairytales”:
In 1917 in a village in the north of England, two young cousins named Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths borrowed the quarter plate camera of Elsie’s father Arthur Wright – one of England’s earliest qualified electrical engineers.
When he went to develop the pictures, Mr. Wright got more than his daughter playing with her friends, instead, he saw fairies. A rational man, he dismissed them as fake, and banned his daughter from using the camera again, however Elsie’s mother had very different ideas.
It was not until the early 1980’s that the cousins admitted that the pictures were fakes; Frances said ‘I don’t see how people could believe they’re real fairies. I could see the backs of them and the hatpins when the photo was being taken.”
Fast forward 83 years to September 30, 2000, and the start of the second Palestinian ‘Intifada.’ France2 TV broadcast footage of an episode that occurred earlier that day at Netzarim Junction in the Gaza Strip. The footage was by a Palestinian stringer — a freelancer — named Talal Abu Rahma, who claimed that even though the incident occurred over the course of an hour and numerous other cameramen were around who had not witnessed it, he alone had captured footage of a young Palestinian boy cowering behind his father, being shot to death by the Israeli army.
Charles Enderlin, France2 Jerusalem bureau chief, who during the incident had been more than 100 kilometers away in Ramallah, edited and added commentary to the piece that went out that night on France2, and then on networks and news outlets across the world, as the tale of Mohammed al-Dura went from being legend to history.
Yet even then, doubts over the authenticity of the footage were raised, as American professor Richard Landes labeled it a classic case of Palestinian media manipulation, or ‘Pallywood’.
This is a brief description of the events that took place that have led to where we are 13 years later.
Indeed, the research into and debate around the incident has filled the web and even impacted upon the French legal system. The website aldurah.com chronicles the incredible efforts of Prof. Landes and French media analyst Philippe Karsenty to prove this modern day blood libel was a staged fake.
However, as a photographer and imagery consultant, this image and its use over the past 13 years has been key to my motivation to use every bit of knowledge and experience I have to show how imagery is being used so effectively in the campaign to delegitimize the State of Israel.
It is said that the camera never lies. Whoever coined that term could not have been more misinformed. As a photographer of nearly 30 years, I can tell you that any half decent photographer can make a camera do anything he or she wants.
The moment the al-Dura image hit the screens it became iconic, and while a picture is worth a thousand words, this one cost a thousand lives.
Al-Dura became the poster child for the Palestinian wave of terrorism that followed over the next few years.
It is only really due to the persistence of Richard Landes and Phillipe Karsenty and a few others that fought tooth and nail that we are at the stage we are today, and that the Israeli Government has investigated and officially denounced the incident as fake.
Unfortunately, the damage is done, no matter what court rulings prove that the images were faked, the al-Dura image is forever etched in people’s minds, and to this day is still used in the Arab world to incite violence, and will continue to be.
The best we can do is hope at least we learned from it, as now with the advent of social media, this is going to become an even greater issue that we have to deal with, as images are being posted instantaneously across the world. In order for us to be able to challenge staged imagery we need to have experts at hand in the form of a dedicated imagery monitoring unit – something I have been advocating for years – to be able to identify and highlight fake or staged imagery, and deal with it in real-time, rather than once the damage is irreparable.
Read the whole of Katz’s excellent and thought-provoking article from the informed viewpoint of a photographer to understand how a sympathetic media and an iconic image can be manipulated to undermine Israel’s moral standing.
From the NBC News article:
A video showed the young Mohammed hiding behind his father, who himself was sheltering behind a barrel, as Israeli soldiers and Palestinians fought it out on a Gaza Strip street corner.
However an Israeli investigatory committee found that “contrary to the [France 2] report’s claim that the boy is killed, the committee’s review of the raw footage showed that in the final scenes, which were not broadcast by France 2, the boy is seen to be alive,” according to a statement issued by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office. The review was begun last year at a request of the prime minister.
[…]Media organizations in France and elsewhere have also cast doubt on the Palestinian’s narrative.
It is relevant today because Israel believes it is suffering from a campaign of “delegitimization” that ultimately is a strategic threat to its existence.
Netanyahu said in the statement that the incident had “slandered Israel’s reputation.”
Israel’s Minister of International Affairs, Strategy and Intelligence Yuval Steinitz described the claims that Israeli troops had shot the child as “a modern-day blood libel against the State of Israel.”
The term “blood libel” is used to refer to historic allegations that certain Jewish sects murdered Christian children in order to use their blood in rituals.
In an appendix to the Israeli report, an orthopedic surgeon said injuries to Jamal al-Dura’s arm that the father claimed to be from the shootout were actually incurred years earlier when he was attacked by members of the Palestinian Hamas party.
But this reporter, who met al-Dura days after the shooting in an apartment in Amman, Jordan, was shown his bandaged arm and told that he was undergoing medical treatment in a hospital paid for by Jordan’s King Hussein.
One reason Israel is so insistent that its case be accepted may be that a previous, iconic picture of Palestinian suffering turned out to be false.
In 1982 a photograph issued by the UPI agency showed a nurse holding a baby girl and carried a caption saying an Israeli bomb had blown off the child’s arms in South Lebanon.
The picture was reportedly placed on President Ronald Reagan’s desk as a symbol of the Palestinians plight. But Israel investigated and found that the supposedly armless baby girl was in fact a four-year-old boy with a broken arm. UPI apologized.
While it all may look obvious to us, the NY Times quotes Barak Ravid at Haaretz who doubts that anyone outside Israel is going to be convinced by Israel’s new claim:
It seems as though the report was written for use within Israel alone. The evidence and arguments that were presented might convince the already convinced, but no more than that. The committee could not present any “smoking gun” evidence showing the 25-year-old al-Dura sunbathing on a Gaza beach. Not even close. Any thought of getting such a report to change the globally accepted narrative after 13 years is akin to trying to put the toothpaste back into the tube.
That may be so, but that is still no excuse for not trying. If we just sit back and accept global media bias without countering it, our battle is lost.
Read all the links in the Honest Reporting article for an excellent overview of the whole sorry incident.
CiFWatch also has an excellent fisking of the original Guardian report about the al-Dura incident.
The major lesson that Israel must learn from this whole affair is firstly that we should never be quick to take the blame. There is always time to admit fault when and if it is found afterwards. And more importantly, Israel must get its public relations act – its hasbara – together. There must be better communication between all of Israel’s institutions: the IDF, the Foreign Ministry, the Prime Minister’s office, the diplomatic corps and the Government Press Office. Without coordination and correlation of facts we will end up, Heaven forbid, with another blood libel in our times.