The al-Dura incident was the defining moment of the second intifada. It occurred
on September 30, 2000, which is considered the first day of the second
Although the process leading up to it was long and included
political milestones such as Camp David, and violent incidents such as Ariel
Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount, the large-scale fighting only began
immediately following the incident at Netzarim junction.
France 2 TV footage of Jamal al-Dura protecting his son Muhammad from live fire
was one of the most memorable moments of the new Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I
included this incident in the research study I prepared due to its
newsworthiness – how often do we see a person shot to death in front of a
camera? – as well as for its far-reaching repercussions that are still valid
The truth must be told. In the case of al-Dura, there were
questions from the beginning about the validity of the incident that made it
difficult to reach a clear-cut conclusion.
Firstly, why did only one
cameraman, Tallal Abu Rachman, a freelancer for the French TV station, catch
this footage, while all of the other photographers and journalists were busy
focusing on the Israeli outpost?
Secondly, why did the IDF respond so slowly and
uncertainly immediately following the Netzarim incident, while the French
station’s report appeared in headlines worldwide?
Also, why did Maj.-Gen. (res.)
Giora Eiland, the former head of Israel’s National Security Council, so quickly
admit that Israel was responsible for the incident?
And why was the
investigation which was led by Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yom Tov Samia, the former head
of IDF Southern Command, and came to the exact opposite conclusion as Eiland,
The only conclusion I have been able to reach is that Israel was not
responsible for the death of al-Dura. The junction was teeming with people and
Jamal and Muhammad were no doubt caught in the crossfire. Photos acquired by
Nahum Shahaf, an Israeli physicist who thoroughly researched this subject, show
The position of the IDF outpost, which was the initial
target of the Palestinian throngs that day, made it impossible for bullets fired
from it to penetrate the cement blockade at the intersection.
made the investigation so difficult was the fact that the IDF Southern Command
decided to raze Netzarim junction, including the scene of the
The scene had to be reconstructed later on so that the
investigation could be carried out. It didn’t occur to anyone to collect
evidence before it was all destroyed.
Over the years, there have been a
number of attempts to reexamine the incident, mostly due to the perseverance of
two highly motivated individuals: Philippe Karsenty, a French media watchdog,
and American historian Professor Richard Landes from Boston University, both of
whom invested a great deal of effort in their research.
embroiled in lengthy legal battles in France, but despite the great price he
paid, he succeeded in undermining the credibility of the French TV network.
Landes’s aim was to prove that the incident was but another example of the
“Pallywood” phenomenon in which Palestinians stage and film incidents for media
I do not agree with all of their findings, but in the
al-Dura case, there is no doubt that Karsenty and Landes’s research helped to
uncover what truly happened on that day.
Every time I asked why Israel
did not try to verify the validity of the French TV footage, I was given the
same banal response: “Why should we bring this subject up again? The dust has
And yet, we all know that this incident has not been
forgotten. It has been appearing in the French media with the libel lawsuit
against Karsenty and its eventual overturning, and Israeli physician Yehuda
David was sued after claiming that scars Jamal al-Dura showed the media were the
actually the result of an attack years before by Hamas operatives who suspected
him of collaborating with Israel, and not from the Netzarim
Al-Dura’s name has continuously appeared in the media.
Therefore I recommended that if Israel is truly convinced it was not responsible
for his death, it was imperative to officially reopen the investigation. It was
my belief that this was the only way to prove that we are not afraid of dealing
with this ghost, and to reshape the event in the eyes of the public.
important to remind ourselves that we are engaged in a battle of hearts and
minds. In this type of battle, it is not good enough to present the media with
How the event is perceived by the public and then later stored
in its memory are much more important.
This past Tuesday, the government
review committee published a new report that concludes that al-Dura was not
killed or wounded at Netzarim junction by IDF fire on that day. This is the
conclusion that specialists involved in the investigation reached after
reviewing the raw footage and other material that was collected for that
Years ago when I first heard this claim, I refused to endorse it
out of caution.
But now the professionals’ claim is backed by facts which
I believe are reliable.
My only concern is that there may be parties who
fail to accept this thesis and who are suggesting that 13 years after the event
the body should be exhumed and examined. I do not recommend doing
From my point of view, we should be satisfied with the current
claim that Muhammad al-Dura was not shot by IDF soldiers. He was shot by
Palestinian policemen who were firing indiscriminately that morning of September
30, 2000. From Israel’s point of view, this is enough.
Now comes the most
intriguing and significant stage: How will the international media cover this
announcement – especially the France 2 TV channel? Throughout the intifada,
there was extensive evidence that the international media were being pressured
and sometimes even threatened by the Palestinian Authority.
uncovered following another incident – the Ramallah lynching of two IDF
reservists, Vadim Nurzhitz and Yossi Avrahami, who mistakenly passed an Israeli
checkpoint and entered Ramallah.
The question is whether this pressure
affected the coverage of incidents such as the al-Dura one. It is essential to
examine whether the tragedy that occurred at the Netzarim junction was dealt
with according to internationally accepted journalistic standards. Did the
international media take these questions and the doubt about the veracity of
these reports into account? And now that Israel has made its new official
decision public, will media around the world admit their mistake? This is how
battles of hearts and minds are waged.The writer is a Labor MK and is
the author of Media Wars, which was published recently and deals with the second
intifada. The book is based on his PhD thesis.
Translated by Hannah