Muhammad al-Dura 224.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
The upcoming showing in a French court of raw footage taken on the day of the shooting of Mohammad Al-Dura - September 30, 2000 - has brought the two sides in the case into sharp relief.
In support of Phillipe Karsenty, the appealing defendant in a libel case brought by the France 2 television station which took the footage, stand Israeli government officials such as Government Press Office director Danny Seaman, senior IDF officers and many French Jews. In opposition stand, among others, the Israeli ambassador to Paris, representatives of Jewish organizations and some Israeli officials who believe the case is doing needless damage to Israel's image.
The image of 12-year-old Dura, shot dead during a gunfight at the Netzarim Junction at the outbreak of the intifada - allegedly by IDF troops - has become a symbol for anti-Israel sentiment throughout the Muslim world and even in Europe. From Tunisian postage stamps showing the boy under fire to public squares and monuments named for him in major cities throughout the Muslim world, the Dura death quickly became a potent symbol of Palestinian victimhood.
Yet many questions remain unanswered about that day - from the handful of bullet holes in the wall behind Mohammad and his father Jamal (when cameraman Talal Abu-Rahma spoke of 45 minutes of continuous IDF gunfire aimed at the pair), to the embarrassed admission by Abu-Rahma in an interview with German television that "we have some secrets for ourselves" regarding the location of the bullets involved in the shooting, which were never recovered.
"The version that has been accepted and shown - in which [France 2 bureau chief in Israel Charles] Enderlin said Israelis were shooting and the boy is dead - has killed people," believes Richard Prasquier, head of the Representative Council of French Jewry (CRIF). "It has promoted hate for Israel and a large part of the negative reaction at the beginning of the intifada. These pictures are not like any pictures. They are [important] because of the reaction to them."
One Israeli supporter of Karsenty's legal struggle, launched after he publicly demanded the resignation of Enderlin, accusing him of presenting staged footage of a staged event, said "the problem isn't going to go away, no matter how much people in [the Israeli] government want it to."
Unlike some conspiracy theorists, Karsenty has not maintained that the boy is still alive, but insists that images of shootings and wounded were being staged that day at the Netzarim Junction. Karsenty has said that Israeli soldiers stationed at Netzarim did not shoot al-Dura, but that the shots came from Palestinian gunmen who were intentionally trying to create the image of Israelis killing Palestinian children.
France 2 has refused for seven years to release footage beyond the edited 3-minute version given out in 2000, reportedly saying it was either irrelevant or that the child's death-throes would be too traumatic for the public to see. It will present the 27-minute footage to the court on November 14, showing it publicly for the first time, after it was asked to do so by the presiding judge hearing the appeal.
Reached for comment, Enderlin noted that "no formal [Israeli] official asked us to join an official investigation that meets international standards. The first letter from the IDF, I got in September [from deputy commander of the IDF Spokesman's Office Col. Shlomi Am-Shalom] after seven years. I'm willing to present the [footage] to the deputy chief of General Staff, but we won't give tapes to someone who wants to help someone who is on trial for libel."
Enderlin added he was convinced France 2 would win the case. "There is no staging. The pictures weren't staged. There are witnesses from 2002 that say Karsenty and others planned a campaign [around the al-Dura footage]. I'm willing to take a polygraph test, and so is Talal Abu-Rahma. But I want all the soldiers [who were at the roadblock] to do so as well, and where is the incident report from the IDF officer at the scene?"
The call for a comprehensive inquiry is echoed on both sides of the issue. According to Prasquier, "a very harsh inquiry should be made. I do not want to accuse anybody, but I think things have been hidden, and they should be shown to the public. Some people have seen the [uncut footage], and they were very surprised."
While the Israeli government has yet to decide on its official position regarding the Karsenty case or the veracity of the France 2 footage, different officials have made opposite statements to the media and behind closed doors. While the GPO's Seaman and others in the Foreign Ministry, the army and elsewhere have expressed doubt as to France 2's version of events, Israeli ambassador to Paris Danny Sheck and other officials have blasted Karsenty for reviving the issue.
One Israeli official said the government has been too lax. "The prime minister doesn't know the details, and they haven't been presented to him," he said. "The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee has to check into this, and find out why the government bureaucracy hasn't come up with a position."
The official, who supports Karsenty, accused Israeli government officials of not fulfilling their duties toward the country. "Charles Enderlin defamed Israel, and those people, paid by Israeli taxpayers to defend the country, are not doing that," he declared.