Muhammad al-Dura 224.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Supporters of Philippe Karsenty in his appeal against France 2 and its reporter Charles Enderlin are crying "foul" against the television network after last Wednesday's viewing of footage from the September 30, 2000 apparent shooting death of 12-year-old Muhammad al-Dura at Gaza's Netzarim Junction.
For some in the courtroom, the key to last week's dramatic showing of footage from the 2000 shooting is the length of the footage shown. France 2 failed to produce the 27 minutes of raw footage that were said to exist from that day, instead delivering roughly 18 minutes to the court.
"We're going to sue them for not bringing the [full] tape," declared Karsenty, who is the appealing defendant in the libel suit brought against him after he called for Enderlin's and France 2 news director Arlette Chabot's dismissal because the al-Dura footage was "a hoax."
"[France 2] was under a court order to bring a piece of evidence and they didn't do it," Karsenty added. "Others have seen at least 20 minutes. Talal Abu Rahma himself [the independent cameraman who took the footage that day while Enderlin was in Ramallah] testified under oath that there were 27 minutes." This testimony is publicly available through the Web site of the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights.
Enderlin was quoted by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) as telling the court that the missing nine minutes were erased when the footage was transferred to a master tape, as is standard practice.
He said after the hearing that France 2 had produced all the raw footage it had, based on "an original tape that was kept in a safe until now. We presented a DVD that was made in front of a bailiff from the original tape... not from the various copies you can find here and there."
Prof. Richard Landes, who has closely followed and written extensively about the case, particularly in his on-line blog "Augean Stables," said after the screening that "the big story is that France 2 presented tampered evidence to the court. They cut scenes."
Landes lists "at least two scenes I remember and one I can prove" that were tampered with, including one showing a man pretending to have been shot in the leg and then, when he believes no one is watching, walking away unharmed.
Middle East and media expert Tom Gross, who attended last week's court hearing, told The Jerusalem Post that after seeing the footage he was surprised that France 2 was standing by its claim that Israel killed al-Dura.
"France 2 told the court that this was all the raw footage they had. And yet when they played it for the court, we didn't see even one instance during the 18-minute film of an Israeli soldier shooting. And we didn't see the boy Muhammad al-Dura die," said Gross. "Enderlin has acknowledged that Palestinians were playacting various injuries for the cameras at Netzarim Junction that day. So for Enderlin, who wasn't then in Gaza, to broadcast that this boy was killed, and killed by Israel, was a potentially very inflammatory thing to do."
"As we know," added Gross, "al-Dura's name was then screamed by a mob who lynched two Israeli reservists in Ramallah a few days later. Al-Dura was referred to by Osama bin Laden in his post-9/11 video. And al-Dura's picture can be seen in the videotape of Daniel Pearl's beheading."
A report by Hugh Schofield in the UK's Sunday Herald echoed some of these themes: "The most startling new evidence to emerge is that at the moment when millions of television viewers were led to believe Muhammad al-Dura had died, the boy was in fact alive. The last frames [of the court-screened footage] - which come after the heart-rending sequence that concluded the broadcast version - show him lifting his arm and looking towards the camera.
"What this proves is, of course, open to endless interpretation," Schofield went on. "The fact he moved does not mean Muhammad al-Dura did not subsequently die, and no evidence has ever been produced to suggest he is alive. And if he died, the arguments over who shot him remain unchanged. But the importance may be greater for the actual libel case, which centers on Karsenty's charge that the report 'disgraces France and its public broadcasting system.' If the judge thinks Enderlin played fast and loose with journalistic rules in order to make his report more dramatic, he could well decide Karsenty has a case."
For British commentator Melanie Phillips, writing in her blog shortly after the courtroom screening, "this sequence was not a continuous narrative but was repeatedly broken up and spliced onto footage of other scenes from the demonstration. Although the France 2 cameraman had told a German film-maker, Esther Schapira, that he had filmed six minutes of the al-Dura father and son under continuous Israeli fire, the footage of them lasted for less than one minute," and included "no evidence of the boy actually being hit."
The added footage beyond the original three minutes released to the media showed boys throwing rocks at the Israeli troop position at the Netzarim Junction, but "there was no evidence of any of them being killed or injured," writes Phillips.
The 55-second footage released by France 2 to the general media in 2000 did not in fact show the child killed, and showed only seven bullet holes in the wall behind al-Dura, despite Abu Rahma's repeated statements that there had been 45 minutes of continuous shooting by Israeli forces at the boy and his father Jalal, who are seen cowering behind a barrel.
In the film, 12 seconds before the boy is shown lying down and apparently dead, there is a scream of The boy is dead! The boy is dead!" Asked about this in court, Enderlin explained that in Arabic one says the boy is dead when one means that the boy might die soon.
Karsenty claimed that France 2's lawyers "spent their time [during the screening] building a human shield with their bodies to prevent people from watching the tape. It was ridiculous."
"Perhaps out of sympathy, perhaps out of laziness, perhaps out of vanity, Enderlin has put his credibility at the service of Rahma's forgery," concluded David Frum, writing over the weekend in the Canadian newspaper National Post.
The JTA published a report following last week's hearing with the headline "Raw footage in al-Dura case shows boy may not be dead." It noted that "many of those who saw it in court Wednesday said the footage showed that seconds after al-Dura was seen lying motionless and apparently dead in the arms of his father after supposedly being shot, the boy lifted his arm and peered through his fingers at the camera."
According to the JTA: "Witnesses said they were taken aback when they saw al-Dura lift his head up after allegedly being shot."
"Enderlin had cut that scene from the report that was originally broadcast in September 2000," said the former editor of Le Monde, Luc Rosensweig. "But when everyone in the courtroom saw it, you could feel the tension and the surprise. I believe that this screening of the raw footage in court was very damaging for France 2 officials and Enderlin, largely because of that last scene."
Following the incident seven years ago, al-Dura became an instant icon for Palestinians suffering at the hands of Israeli brutality. However, the IDF, which initially apologized for the death, concluded after an investigation that the boy could not have been hit by Israeli bullets.
Two months ago, the deputy commander of the IDF Spokesman's Office, Col. Shlomi Am-Shalom, wrote to France 2 asking for the entire unedited 27-minute film shot by Abu-Rahma that day, as well as footage the cameraman filmed on October 1, 2000. Am-Shalom stressed that the IDF had "ruled out" the notion that al-Dura was killed by Israeli fire.
Citing the findings of the IDF's probe into the incident, ordered by then-OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yom Tov Samia, Am-Shalom wrote, "The general has made clear that 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 [Jamal al-Dura] and the son behind an obstacle, the cadence of the bullet fire, the angle at which the bullets penetrated the wall behind the father and his son, and the hours of the events, we can rule out with the greatest certainty the possibility that the gunfire that apparently harmed the boy and his father was fired by IDF soldiers, who were at the time located only inside their fixed position [at the junction]."
After the previous court hearing in the case, in September, France 2 communications director Christine de la Vena told JTA these "hearings are of little importance." "Enderlin is a top professional journalist and the images are real," she said. "Everyone has forgotten about this case except this man in the hearing and a couple of others who refuse to give it up. Only in France could a couple of individuals cause so much trouble."
Karsenty had complained his claims have been ignored by French media outlets. After last week's hearing, media outlets from London to New York carried stories about the shocking footage, but the only news in France of the trial came from on-line Jewish sources. "The story has left the domain of the Jewish activist blog sites and is now in the general public," Rosensweig pronounced.
Karsenty said the footage proves his case - and that al-Dura may not even be dead. "How much longer will French politicians and media bosses continue covering up for France 2 and for Enderlin?" Karsenty said. "The claims of al-Dura's death have now become ridiculous."
The court is scheduled to rule in the case in late February.
Meanwhile, over the weekend, Hamas security officials in Gaza briefly detained al-Dura's father Jamal for allegedly shooting in the air during a family wedding. Jamal al-Dura, 44, said he was held for four hours in a central Gaza police station and interrogated. A Fatah supporter, he denied the accusations and said he can't carry guns because of his medical condition.
JTA and AP contributed to this report.
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