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Mohammed al-Durah redux

November 12, 2007

al durahTomorrow — or whenever it’s Wednesday in France — is a kind of high noon in the seven-year struggle to get to the truth of what it was that happened, or did not happen, to a Palestinian child, Mohammed al-Durah, at Netzarim junction in the Gaza Strip just days after the eruption of the second Intifada in September 2000.

Richard Landes of Augean Stables has waged an almost solitary battle in the English-speaking world to demonstrate that the boy’s ‘killing’, which inflamed the Intifada with irrevocable force and led to the deaths of thousands on both sides, was faked. His latest, indispensable summary is here. It’s up at Pajamas Media as well.

On the information available, I believe that on that day of 30 September, 2000, out of sight and out of the line of fire of a local Israeli police post, Palestinian kids and some adults were playing games. They were acting out a series of tableaux for the benefit of attendant cameramen, who wanted library footage to accompany stories of ‘violent’ clashes in (then) occupied Gaza — film which they could safely retrieve from their databases and include as real-life footage, without having to venture into harm’s way to get it.

One of them, a Palestinian stringer named Talal Abu Rahmah, shot some footage of a boy and his father acting out the scene ‘crouching terrified under withering Israeli fire, boy then agonisingly killed’. He recognised its particularly powerful impact, notwithstanding it was staged, and sent it off to France2’s Jerusalem editor, Charles Enderlin, as coverage of a real event. Enderlin had it broadcast, the world picked it up, and the rest is history.

Tomorrow the rushes of the footage will be shown in a French court. They have already been viewed by senior journalists, and Landes himself, and all are agreed they depict no more than play-acting by a bunch of Palestinian kids.

But what will the media make of it? I’m a pessimist in this regard. I doubt the MSM will touch it. And if they do, it will be along these lines:

(Note: Just to be clear. What follows is an imagined pre-construction. It is not a news report.)

Anger, sadness greet ‘smear’ of Palestinian boy martyr

GAZA CITY, 15 Nov., 2007. Palestinians reacted yesterday with a mixture of sadness and anger to allegations in a French court that the death of 12-year old Mohammed al-Durah, killed by IDF gunfire at Netzarim Junction in the Gaza Strip in 2000, had been ‘faked’.

The allegations, which have not been supported by either the Israeli or French governments, arose from a little-known libel case in France, which involved a so-called ‘independent’ analysis of the seven-year old killing by pro-Israeli activists in France and the US. Some of them have been described by world-renowned US journalist James Fallows as fanatics.

The dead boy’s father, Jamal, reacted bitterly to news of the allegations. ‘My son was a martyr slaughtered at their hands’, he said angrily, ‘and now they smear and slander him in his death and dishonour his memory, and the memory of all the Palestinian children they have destroyed’.

Veteran Ha’aretz journalist Gideon Levy – regarded as one of the finest and most fiercely independent of Israeli journalists – agreed, though more cautiously. ‘Undoubtedly the allegations are designed to deflect attention from the IDF’s appalling human rights record in the Occupied Territories,’ Mr Levy said, ‘especially its proven history of killing innocent children.’

Mr Levy also questioned the timing of the allegations, just days before the crucial summit in Annapolis, where the hopes of moderate Israelis and Palestinians for a negotiated peaceful settlement will rely heavily on the goodwill of both sides. Mr Levy thought the sudden appearance of these allegations might derail the peace conference by destroying the atmosphere of trust. ‘Is this what Olmert actually wants? Is this what’s behind the resurrection of a story that was dead seven years ago? The death of the peace process?’, Mr Levy asked.

Meanwhile, in Gaza, the site of the boy’s death, Hamas spokespeople were playing down the possibility of violence in response to the charges. In Gaza, Mohammed al-Durah remains an icon of the Intifada, and an adored role model for thousands of Gazan children. Allegations that his death was ‘faked’ could be expected to be controversial, to say the least.

However, Government spokesman Hamid Ismail said the mood in the Strip was sad rather than angry. ‘We understand’, he said, ‘why Israel has to do this, why they will stop at nothing to tear down the shrine of this martyr. Even in death and silence he condemns them’.

He added: ‘There remains the chance that some will be so outraged that it will be difficult to prevent them shouting out loud in the streets, and possibly firing weapons into the air.’ But he was confident restraint would prevail.

The charges in the French court were sparked by claims that examination of the footage of the shooting broadcast by France2 showed some scenes might have been staged.

No-one, including the veteran journalist and cameraman who broadcast the story, has admitted any wrong-doing and no-one has ever been charged with any breach of professional ethics.

These claims have not been taken seriously by any court or tribunal in seven years. As for the case before the French court, it is actually an appeal by one of the pro-Israel activists, Philippe Karsenty, against his conviction in a lower court on a charge of libelling France2 and its Jerusalem editor, Charles Enderlin, who is both Jewish and an Israeli citizen.

Satire ends.

There are at least seventeen conscious and identifiable spins in that ‘article’. If it were a real one, and I were writing it, I would be careful to say nothing that was factually inaccurate. Spin’s easy. Everything can be spun. That’s why journalists do it.

Update: When word got around that the court hearing Philippe Karsenty’s appeal had ordered France2 to produce the rushes — which comprise 27 minutes of footage — cynics predicted that the TV station would ‘lose’ the film or censor it in some way. According to this video from Karsenty (and I’ve seen similar reports around the blogosphere), France 2 is going to show only 18 minutes of the footage. Hmm.

Hat tip: Carl in Jerusalem.

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6 comments

  1. […] You can read the rest of this blog post by going to the original source, here […]


  2. […] a very clever spoof, the author of the blog Better Part of Valor, has speculated as follows on how the MSM would treat this story (if they dealt with it): Tomorrow […]


  3. […] a straight faced satire of contemporary reporting, Rob at The Better Part of Valour, pre-constructs a news item spinning […]


  4. I am skeptical of the outcome, while of course wishing Karsenty luck. Even if he wins, it will be impossible to destroy the myth that it is too deeply entrenched in the minds of people who were prejudiced to start with.


  5. Oh, I agree, Snoopy. It won’t change people’s opinions, and the media, even if Karsenty wins, will record the result unemotionally and without comment and walk on by.

    But I think Landes’ and Karsenty’s endeavour has been heroic and, in time, will get the recognition it deserves. But not from this generation of the media.


  6. Thanks for coming by, Yankee Wombat. I dropped a comment over at your place.



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