Muhammad al-Dura 224.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
The French Court of Appeals on Wednesday found in favor of media critic Philippe Karsenty, overturning a lower court decision that he had libeled France 2 and its Jerusalem correspondent Charles Enderlin when he accused them of knowingly misleading the watching world about the death of the Palestinian child Muhammad al-Dura in the Gaza Strip in 2000.
"The verdict means we have the right to say France 2 broadcast a fake news report, that [al-Dura's shooting] was a staged hoax and that they duped everybody - without being sued," Karsenty told The Jerusalem Post shortly after the verdict was issued at 1:30 p.m. Paris time.
Al-Dura was filmed cowering with his father, Jalal, behind a barrel at the Gaza Strip's Netzarim junction on September 30, 2000, during an apparent gun battle between Palestinians and IDF troops.
Fifty-five seconds of video footage were released to the world by France 2 at the time, out of some 18 minutes that were shown in court and even more footage that France 2's detractors claim is not being shown to the public.
The video, taken by Palestinian cameraman and France 2 stringer Talal Abu Rahma, shows al-Dura hiding, and then cuts to footage of him lying, apparently dead, at the junction. It does not show the child killed.
The footage, and Enderlin's broadcast assertion of Israeli responsibility for the killing of al-Dura, turned the 12-year-old's death into a cause cÃ©lÃ¨bre in the Muslim world.
According to Middle East and media expert Tom Gross, "Osama bin Laden referred to al-Dura in a post-9/11 video; the killers of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl placed a picture of him in their beheading video; streets, squares and academies have been named after al-Dura. He became a poster child for the [second] intifada."
Karsenty, the head of the media watchdog Media Ratings, was sued for libel after calling for Enderlin's and France 2 news director Arlette Chabot's dismissal, saying the footage was "a hoax."
Enderlin, who was not present in Gaza at the time of the incident, has vehemently denied the charge, expressing confidence in cameraman Abu Rahma's honesty.
Convicted of libel in 2006, Karsenty was slapped with two $1,380 fines - one to be paid to France 2 and one to the station's reporter - and ordered to pay another $4,000 in court costs when he wrote that the incident constituted a "masquerade that dishonors France and its public television."
On Wednesday, his appeal against that conviction was upheld.
The IDF, which initially apologized for the death of al-Dura, concluded after an investigation that the boy could not have been hit by Israeli bullets.
A statement forwarded to the Post from Enderlin said "the appeals court ruled that Karsenty's words were, in fact, libelous, and that Karsenty failed to prove that the news was staged and/or false."
The statement added that the case was nevertheless overturned because "the court believed Karsenty had the right to stridently criticize the [France 2] report, since it dealt with an emotional topic, and that Karsenty's investigation into the matter convinced the court he was being sincere."
A source close to Enderlin's side of the case explained that "you can get out of a libel suit either by proving you're right, or by showing you were sincere and had some research. The court found the latter to be the case."
The source also said Enderlin and France 2 would appeal the verdict, noting that they had won three out of four instances of judgment in the matter.
But, replied Karsenty, the only appeal left would be to France's Supreme Court.
"If they continue to insist they are correct," added Karsenty, "we will have victims of terror attacks that directly resulted from the [al-Dura] footage sue France 2."
Karsenty also called on French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who Karsenty sees as "ultimately responsible" for the publicly owned television station, "to take responsibility for the French state's defense of the worst anti-Semitic lie around. It's time to apologize to the world for broadcasting a fake news report that has inflamed the Muslim world and endangered world peace."
Karsenty's claims are based on inconsistencies in the footage, including a publicly available video-taped admission by Abu Rahma that there are untold secrets related to the case, the fact that only seven bullet holes are seen behind al-Dura despite Abu Rahma's repeated statements that the child survived 45 minutes of continuous shooting by Israeli forces directed at the boy, footage clearly showing pretend gun battles and faked ambulance runs at the junction that day, testimony of the IDF soldiers stationed at the junction who said they did not participate in any firefight that day, and the lack of footage of al-Dura's actual shooting.
Despite France 2's playing down of the verdict, some analysts believe it is significant. According to Gross, "Today's ruling shows there are serious doubts about France 2's version of events, and that the entire world press was irresponsible in being so quick to take at face value the claims of a local Palestinian cameraman, who has admitted his partisanship."
Several 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 France 2's Palestinian cameraman on September 30, 2000, 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 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]."
The text of Wednesday's ruling has not yet been released to the media.