Analysis: Words vs. pictures in al-Dura affair

It is not entirely clear whose interests are served by resurrecting the potent image of Muhammad al-Dura.

Muhammad al-Dura mural 390 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Muhammad al-Dura mural 390
(photo credit: REUTERS)
CBS News correspondent Lesley Stahl, the tale is told, put together an unflattering piece on former US president Ronald Reagan in 1984, during the heat of that year’s election campaign, trying to show the contradictions between what Reagan had promised during his first years in office, and what he delivered.
Stahl, who wrote about the incident in her 1999 book Reporting Live, said she knew the nearly six-minute segment would have an impact, and thought that the White House would be furious.
After the piece – which showed favorable footage of Reagan over negative commentary – aired, Stahl did indeed receive a call from White House advisor Dick Darman. But he called to praise, not berate, her.
“Way to go, kiddo. What a great piece. We love it,” he told the correspondent.
Stahl, confused because her piece was highly critical, asked, “Didn’t you hear what I said?” To which Darman replied, “Nobody heard what you said. You guys in Televisionland haven’t figured it out, have you? When the pictures are powerful and emotional, they override if not completely drown out the sound. I mean it, Lesley. Nobody heard you.”
The same might be said of the government panel that on Sunday issued its conclusions that the IDF did not kill 12-year-old Muhammad al-Dura in 2000. Were Palestinian leaders to phone the members of the panel, they probably would say that the al-Dura image is so powerful, it is drowning out all the committee’s words.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, upon receiving the report on Sunday, said, “It is important to focus on this incident – which has slandered Israel’s reputation. This is a manifestation of the ongoing, mendacious campaign to delegitimize Israel. There is only one way to counter lies, and that is through the truth. Only the truth can prevail over lies.”
True, and indeed a noble sentiment, one that Netanyahu repeats often.
The only problem is that the panel, as convincing as it might be, did not incontrovertibly demonstrate the truth. Rather, it put out – 13 years after the event – a strongly argued Israeli version of those events.
For those who despise Israel, all the learned arguments in the world are not going to convince them that Israel did not shoot the 12- year-old Gazan boy in cold blood. To those who truly know Israel, they do not need this document to know that IDF soldiers do not intentionally target children hiding behind their parents.
And those in the middle – well, they have probably long forgotten the story, inasmuch as it took place in September 2000.
Until now. Now the image is once again on television.
Now that picture is again in the newspapers. Now those in the middle are reminded about it again and again.
A strong argument can be made that by arguing forcefully against the accepted version of events in this case, by punching holes in the accepted narrative, by demonstrating how events can be edited and manipulated, the government is weakening overall Palestinian credibility and making it easier down the line to knock down fabricated Palestinian stories about Israeli “atrocities” (Think “Jenin Massacre”).
But still. Israel, by releasing this report 13 years on, has put this picture back into people’s minds, and it is not entirely clear whose interests are served by resurrecting this potent image.
Or, as Darman told Stahl, “When the pictures are powerful and emotional, they override if not completely drown out the sound.”