Thursday, February 07, 2008

7-Feb-08: Getting to the truth behind a lethal icon: the Al-Dura scandal

One of this blog's authors is published in today's YNet. Frimet Roth calls for some long-overdue corrective action by our government.
Truth about lethal icon
Israeli government’s admission of guilt helps perpetuate al-Dura myth
Frimet Roth
Published by YNet: 7-Feb-08

A landmark ruling about the death of the boy Mohammed al-Dura is about to be handed down by a French court. If many are unaware of this, it is no accident. Recent developments regarding the accuracy of that story have received no coverage by any of the major networks. The growing suspicions about the official, tragic version - that the boy was shot by Israeli soldiers - have been reported almost exclusively by the Jewish media. The global news networks were eager consumers and purveyors of the iconic image of that child when it emerged in 2000. But they are studiously avoiding the matter now that it is looking more and more like a hoax. Expressing mea culpa is probably not something they relish.

Of course, their correspondents could have followed Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy's example (See his Oct '07 Haaretz column: "Note what a fuss is being made about the case of the killing of Mohammed al-Dura"). A noted apologist for the Palestinians, he has conceded that al-Dura may not have been killed by Israelis after all, yet wrote in November, 2007: The "question of who killed al-Dura is not important" and the quest for the truth about it is "an eccentric obsession."

But there are some Israelis to whom the truth does still matter. For them, the shameful role of one of the key players in the affair is probably not well known: that of their own government. Israel's role in perpetuating the al-Dura myth has been baffling.

The purported shooting was filmed by a Palestinian stringer, Talal abu-Rama, for France 2 on September 30, 2000. The television network's Israel-based correspondent Charles Enderlin edited the raw footage. Shortly afterwards, a 59 second clip was distributed to media outlets. Three days later, Israel officially admitted its guilt and expressed remorse over the child's death. After a hasty preliminary investigation and absent an autopsy or examination of any bullets - none were ever retrieved - the IDF stated: "There is no way to prove who shot him. But from the angles from which we fired, it is likely that he was hit from our gunfire... It is very reasonable that they were hit from our gunfire."

The area commander and other senior IDF officers present were convinced that, on the contrary, the IDF could not possibly have shot them. Their views were ignored.

To date, the only critical government voice belongs to Danny Seaman, head of Israel's Government Press Office. In October 2007, he said: "...It was not even possible to hit the (boy and his father) in the place they were hiding according to the report." Rejecting the validity of the official story, he continued: "The creation of the myth of Muhammad al-Dura has caused great damage to the State of Israel". He termed it "an explicit blood libel against the state" that "caused damage and dozens of dead."

But he is alone. This country's seven year-long silence in the face of strong evidence contradicting its official position has caused grievous harm to every Israeli. Richard Landes, an American historian and academic who has labored tirelessly to expose the hoax, summarized it thus: "Palestinian leaders declared Muhammad al-Dura a martyr and brainwashed a generation of children to want death by killing Israelis ... All the first suicide bombers... invoked al-Dura... No single image has created more violent hatred in this enraged 21st century."

In 2006, France 2 and Enderlin sued the director of a media watch-dog, Philippe Karsenty, for saying that the al-Dura story was a lie that had caused innocent deaths. The court determined that Karsenty was guilty without ever viewing the disputed film footage. Karsenty appealed and a year later the court ordered that France 2 deliver all its raw footage.

This was shown to the appellate court last November. To those present, it was evident that the 12 year old child, crouching with his father behind a protective steel barrel, was not shot by the Israelis. The bullet holes and puffs of smoke behind them indicate fire coming from a direction that makes Israeli culpability impossible.

It was also clear that preceding events were staged. To cite just a few instances:
  • Young men are seen running to and fro while throwing stones, presumably at Israeli soldiers. But none of these "embattled" youths is crouching to avoid bullets.
  • Interspersed among them while the shooting allegedly is underway are plainly-unconcerned passers-by.
  • One child is seen calmly riding through the melee on a bicycle.
  • Several people are dragged onto stretchers and into ambulances which materialize within seconds.
  • No one exhibits signs of actual injury or pain.
It was reported that the judge and spectators in the courtroom seemed stunned and laughed occasionally at the Palestinians' crude acting.

However, the most damning was the final frame: After a voice (either of the father or of the cameraman) yells in Arabic "The boy is dead", Mohammed uncovers his eyes and peers out from under a shielding hand. He is never shown dead, or even bleeding at any point in the film.

In 2003, Enderlin showed a visitor the full footage, explaining his blind faith in its authenticity with kindergarten logic: "I know (the stringer, Talal) well. Our families have met", adding: "He would not lie to me... It never would have even occurred to Talal to attempt this. Because in order to do so, he would have had to imagine that he could get such a farce by me, and since he would have known that would be impossible, he never would have even entertained the idea."

Last week, Charles Enderlin spoke to a small audience at Harvard's Center for European Studies. There to promote his new book, he revealed that Yasser Arafat had faked his headline-grabbing blood donation to the victims of the September 11th attacks. Enderlin said the event had been staged for the media to counteract the embarrassing images of Palestinians celebrating in the streets after the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.

His choice of subject – a Palestinian hoax - illustrates how brazen he and everyone involved in disseminating the al-Dura myth have remained. And with good reason. They enjoy the support of a French government dedicated to defending the reputation of its TV station. Toward that end, President Jacques Chirac submitted an unsolicited character reference on their behalf to the court hearing their libel suit.

Then there is the reassuring silence of the Israeli government.

In fact Enderlin relies heavily on Israel's failure to defend itself. A journalist in attendance at his Harvard address asked him: "If you know that the story of Arafat donating blood was fabricated, why do you reject any possibility that the shooting of Mohammed al-Dura was staged as well?" Enderlin's first response was: "We had an Israeli military reaction that admitted it was probably them."

The lower court that convicted Karsenty also referred in its reasoning to Israel's failure to retract its admission of guilt.

We are now several weeks before the endgame. Karsenty's appeal has afforded the Israeli government a second chance. This country's leaders have evidently been convinced that if the name al-Dura was never again mentioned, the story would eventually be forgotten. We have suffered enough for this catastrophic blunder.

The Israeli government must officially retract its admission of guilt and state unequivocally that it in no way contributed to Mohammed al-Dura's death, if indeed he was killed. A clear and public statement to this effect must be made well in advance of the February 27th court decision. The French judges will undoubtedly be listening raptly.

The question is: Are our leaders up to the challenge?
Frimet Roth, a freelance writer, lives in Jerusalem. She and her husband founded the Malki Foundation in their daughter's memory. Malki Roth was murdered in the Sbarro restaurant massacre in 2001. The foundation in her name provides concrete support for Israeli families of all faiths who care at home for a special-needs child.

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