Media and the Middle EastVideo & Audio

Closing Pandora’s Box

On May 21, 2008, the French Court of Appeals found in favor of Philippe Karsenty, the head of the media watchdog group Media Ratings, by overturning a lower court decision that found Karsenty had libeled France-2 TV and its Jerusalem Bureau Chief Charles Enderlin when he accused them of knowingly misleading the world about the death of a Palestinian child (Muhammad al-Dura) in the Gaza Strip in September 2000.

In the footage used by France-2 in its report, both father and son are shown crouching against a wall following which there is a cut to an apparently dead boy lying in his father’s arms. The clip does not show the child being shot although a voice-over by Enderlin (who was not on the scene at the time) informs viewers that the boy had been shot to death by the Israelis. But from an analysis of all the data from the scene including the location of the IDF position, the trajectory of the bullets, the location of the father and the son behind a barrier, the cadence of the bullet fire, the angle at which the bullets penetrated the wall behind them, the hours of the events, and the fact that only seven bullet holes can be seen behind the al-Duras despite repeated statements by the Palestinian cameraman that the child survived forty-five minutes of continuous gunfire from Israeli forces – all the evidence suggested that the bullet that apparently killed the child could not have been fired by IDF soldiers but was almost certainly fired from Palestinian positions, if in fact, the boy had been shot at all. It transpired that the Palestinians that day had deliberately “created” many other scenes for the cameras. (1) As David Gelernter writing in the Los Angeles Times (September 9, 2005) reminds us about video lies: “A boy named Mohammed al Dura did die in a Gaza hospital that day, (but) his face doesn’t match the face in the (France-2) video.”

Subsequent investigations proved that the France-2 TV film broadcast on September 20, 2000 had been significantly doctored. Video taken by other photographers at the time showed passersby walking unconcernedly between the al-Duras crouching behind a concrete barrel and the Israeli position from which the bullets were supposedly fired. As Denis Jeambar, editor-in-chief of the French news weekly l’Express, and filmmaker Daniel Leconte, who saw raw, unedited video of the shooting taken by the France-2 network noted: “If they had been Israeli bullets, they would be very strange bullets because they would have needed to go around the corner.” The last frames – which come after the heart-rending sequence that concluded the broadcast version – show the “dead” boy moving his arm and opening his eyes in front of the camera after he had been “killed”.

In 2004, Karsenty published an article calling for the resignation of Enderlin and another France-2 employee for staging the Al-Dura boy’s death. France-2 sued Karsenty for libel and won the case in October, 2006. Karsenty’s lawyer had asked that the court rule in favor of Karsenty in light of the evidence that had been provided, but the court found him guilty of libel. Enderlin and France-2 were awarded symbolic damages of one euro each, and Karsenty was ordered to pay a small fine and court costs. Karsenty, however, demanded justice. He appealed the court decision and the Appeals Court overturned the libel decision.  The al-Dura “tragedy” has finally been exposed as another piece of tragic Palestinian street theater with the Arab propaganda machine being enabled, magnified, and laundered by the international media.

Unfortunately, justice delayed is now justice denied. The story of the apparent 55-second filmed death of the 12-year old became the symbol of the second Palestinian intifada and the fallout from the al-Dura lie has had global implications. Millions of TV viewers witnessed the al-Dura child’s “death” and heard the accusation that the Israelis had caused it. Overnight, al-Dura became the symbol of Palestinian suffering, the Palestinian martyr whose blood had to be avenged by the Muslim and Western world and Israel would pay dearly for it. As Nidra Poller wrote in the March 2004 issue of Commentary:” Wafa Samir al-Bis, an aspiring twenty-one-year-old shahida, or “martyr,” was apprehended by Israeli guards at the Erez checkpoint in Gaza and found to be carrying 20 pounds of explosives in her underwear. The young woman intended to make a last trip to the Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva where she had been receiving medical treatment for severe burns incurred in a domestic accident. Her goal this time was to blow herself up and kill as many young people as possible. Asked why she was aiming specifically at children, she replied that she wanted to retaliate for the death of Muhammad al-Dura.”

Nor was she alone. Al Dura’s death turned into a blood libel accompanied by terror and violence, and it has become the altar upon which Israel is to be sacrificed. The images of the father bobbing back and forth over the body of his dead child quickly became a symbol used by Arabs to fan the flames of anti-Israel hatred and to reinforce the Palestinian “struggle” against the Israeli “occupation”. Streets, squares, and schools have since been named for the young Islamic shahid. His death scene has been replicated on postage stamps and has even made an iconic appearance in the video of Daniel Pearl’s beheading. In the immediate aftermath of the al-Dura incident, two Israeli reservists were lynched and mutilated in Ramallah by Arab rioters screaming al-Dura’s name. Bin Laden even referred to the al-Dura incident in a post 9/11 video. A doctored photo was produced for Arab-Muslim viewers featuring a superimposed image of an Israeli soldier shooting the boy at close range. The Arab League dedicated October 1st as the Day of Arab Children in honor of Muhammad al-Dura and Iran named more than one hundred and fifty schools after the boy. The al Dura blood libel has accounted for countless murals and wall posters, an al-Qaeda recruiting video and even an epic Palestinian poem by Mahmoud Darwish. The world has been flooded with pictures of the dead child and the gullible international media published headlines that read: “Israel murders Palestinian children.” If it bleeds; it reads, especially if Israel is deemed the perpetrator.

The al Dura hoax has reinforced one of Europe’s most cherished assumptions – that Israel was, is and remains a vicious Nazi-like entity that deliberately murders Palestinian children. Polls conducted in Europe after the al Dura “slaughter” identified Israel as the greatest threat to world peace, greater than Iran, North Korea, Pakistan and Syria. The case has become one of the pillars upon which these assumptions relied. The fact that it was all a vicious lie is irrelevant. The harm has already been done. The al-Dura frenzy has become part of an insidious campaign in which Western media outlets have allowed themselves to be manipulated by dishonest, politically motivated sources as was the case with the 2002 Jenin “massacre” that never was, the doctored Reuters photographs from Israel’s war against Hezbollah in 2006, the “murder” of Rachel Corrie, the “apartheid wall” allegations and the Hamas-directed humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

In Greek mythology, Pandora opened a box that contained all the evils of mankind – greed, vanity, slander, envy and lying. The al Dura case stands as testament that once evil have been released, it is impossible to control it. There is no way to undo the damage that has been inflicted on Israel’s international image by the France-2 TV report or to restore the lives of the Israeli and Jewish victims destroyed as vengeance for al-Dura’s “death.” Lies can kill, and in this case, they have.


1. Israeli commentator Amnon Lord’s account of the larger scene at Netzarim Junction when the boy was supposedly shot to death describes “incongruous battle scenes complete with wounded combatants and screeching ambulances played out in front of an audience of laughing onlookers, while makeshift movie directors do retakes of botched scenes.”

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