But it wasn't Israel that murdered 4-year-old Mohammed Sadallah,
it appears to have been Hamas.
In a grotesque irony, one of the thousands of
rockets Hamas had aimed at Israeli children reportedly landed on the 4-year-old
Gazan boy instead. The Islamist group thought nothing of turning the child into
a PR weapon -- and the international press obliged. That same week, Palestinian
activists repeatedly tried to pass off photos of dead Arab children as
Israel's doing. The photos were in fact of Syrian children massacred
weeks earlier by Bashar Assad.
And this month, following unprecedented public
criticism, the UN fired Kulhood
Badawi, one of its senior public affairs officers in Jerusalem. Badawi had
tried to peddle a photo of a girl killed in an accident in 2006 as a victim of
Israel. These activists, Badawi and Hamas -- whose minister boasted in
2009 of its use of "human shields of the women, the children... to
challenge the Zionist bombing machine" - assumed that the international
press would simply take them at their word, as it had always done.
Bloggers exposed their lies, but the
damage had been done. And the damage when journalists help certain Palestinian
activists abuse public compassion to demonize Israel is counted in lives lost
-- on both sides.
In the war for hearts and minds, some propagandists for the
Palestinian cause understood long ago that feelings trump facts. Images
and accusations that molest the emotions and exploit the public's natural empathy are irreplaceable
ammunition to coerce sympathy with the Palestinians and hostility to Israel.
Yasser Arafat himself in January 2002 -- two days before his own Fatah organization murdered six guests at a Bat Mitzvah
celebration in Israel -- cynically underlined the value of dead Palestinian children as propaganda tools: "the
Palestinian child holding a stone, facing a tank - is that not the greatest
message to the world, when that hero becomes a 'martyr'?"
When Arafat spoke those words, he was thinking of the
heart-wrenching images of the death of Mohammed Al Durah. That 50-second clip,
filmed and distributed globally by France 2 in September 2000, shows a boy and
his father caught in crossfire, crouching fearfully behind a concrete cylinder
in Gaza. Some arresting moments later, the picture jumps, final shots ring out,
and a cloud of dust dissipates to reveal the boy strewn lifeless at his
father's feet. France 2's reporter, Charles Enderlin, narrating the scene
though he did not witness it, decrees to the world that the boy and his father
were "the targets of Israeli fire."
Enderlin's report went viral and was instrumental in fueling the Second Intifada. Within
days, an enraged mob in Ramallah shouted "revenge for the blood of Muhammad al
Durah" as they dismembered two lost Israelis.
A deluge of Palestinian suicide bombers
often claimed the same motive before
murdering hundreds of Israeli civilians in horrific attacks on restaurants, schools, buses and malls. Al
Qaeda used al Durah as a major recruiting theme, and jihadists beheaded Daniel Pearl in 2002 with al
Durah's picture behind them. In the West, Enderlin's report irreversibly indicted Israel and provided moral cover for Palestinian
groups' terror attacks; many went so far as to equate Israel with Nazi Germany.
Twelve years on, is it any wonder that Mohammed Merah gunned down Jewish school
children in Toulouse to avenge the killing of
"Palestinian children" by Israelis? Assisted by the mainstream news
media, one child's death has become a global license to kill Jews, westerners,
and their children.
But it wasn't Israel that shot Mohammed Al Durah.
Critics rapidly exposed the yawninggaps in Enderlin's report: Al Durah was said to have died
of blood loss but the footage shows no blood; the picture of his body in a Gaza
morgue was shown to be that of another boy; the
wounds that his father said he sustained from Israeli fire were from a stabbing, years prior. Most damning, from
their position, the Israelis simply could not have hit Al Durah that day.
Ironically, one of the activists working tirelessly to unearth the
truth, Philippe Karsenty, was charged with defamation for publicly
questioning the credibility of Enderlin's work. But when the French court
ordered France 2 to produce the unedited reels used by Enderlin in
his report, things rapidly unraveled for the accusers. In the footage, after
Enderlin had declared Al Durah dead, the boy miraculously moves his body, lifts his arm and looks out. Instead of
gun battles, the footage showed Palestinian participants faking injuries,
staging and choreographing "battle" scenes in full view of dozens of
reporters from leading news agencies -- all as children wander in front of the
Israeli position, unperturbed. The Al Durah story -- the trigger for an explosion
of violence and suffering -- was a lie. "You know, it's always
like that" and "oh, they do that all the time," France 2officials and Enderlin are reported to have said
when confronted with the staged "news".
Badawi's firing last week should not cause false hope. France 2
and Enderlin are unrepentant, and the French media
establishment is closing ranks behind them. The dearth
of stories on this affair indicates that they may be successful in shielding
Enderlin - and their profession - from accountability.
The international press should rather ask itself what the cost of
its collusion in a propaganda campaign of calumny is. Is peace advanced by allowing for those
Palestinian groups who target and usechildren to artificially focus world ire on Israel
instead? Why is the media creating an incentive for Fatah, Hamas and others
to put children in harm's way while cameras roll? And, no
less important, how many innocents continue to die because of sloppy journalism
on the Arab-Israeli conflict?
Talal Abu Rahmeh, the Palestinian cameraman who shot Al Durah's
death, said to a Moroccan paper in 2001 that
he went into journalism to fight for the Palestinian people. Those words - a
stinging rebuke of the international press' lack of diligence with respect to
its Palestinian stringers - are eerily reminiscent of Hamas' charter: "Jihad is not confined to the carrying of arms
and the confrontation of the enemy. The effective word, the good article... are
elements of the Jihad." How much longer will the international press serve
as an accessory to mediatic jihad?