Still Not At Rest (Extract)

More than seven years after the images were broadcast around the world, questions about the death of 12-year-old Mohammed a-Dura, icon of the Palestinian struggle, have not been resolved

24dura (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Extract of article in Issue 24, March 18, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. The compelling 55 seconds of footage are singed in our collective memories: Mohammed a-Dura dies on camera as his father screams helplessly, trying to shield him during a gunfight at the Netzarim Junction in the Gaza Strip at the outbreak of the second intifada, on September 30, 2000. And the voice-over of Charles Enderlin, Israel correspondent for France 2 TV, translated into scores of languages: "The Palestinians open up with live fire and the Israelis shoot back. Ambulance drivers, journalists and passersby are caught in between. Jamal (a-Dura) and his son Mohammed are targeted by fire from the Israeli position. A new burst of shots - Mohammed is dead and his father is seriously wounded." The image and words flash across television screens all over the world. The cringing child and desperate father have provided the Palestinians with the mythic image that every struggle needs. Mohammed a-Dura becomes a global icon, his effigy borne aloft during violent demonstrations, his image reproduced on postage stamps in Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan. Israeli officials are quick to assume responsibility. On Monday, October 2, Maj. Gen. Moshe Ya'alon, then-deputy chief of staff (and later chief of staff) of the Israel Defense Forces, says: "It could very much be - this is an estimation - that a soldier in our position, who has a very narrow field of vision, saw somebody hiding behind a cement block in the direction from which he was being fired at and he shot in that direction." The next day, Maj. General Giora Eiland tells the BBC, "The shots were apparently fired by Israeli soldiers from the outpost of Netzarim." But within days, doubts begin to surface as to who fired the fatal shots. And even now, seven and a half years after Enderlin's veteran cameraman, Palestinian Talal Abu Rahmeh, filmed some of the most recognizable news footage ever recorded, the question of who killed Mohammed a-Dura - or whether he was actually killed - has not been convincingly resolved. In fact, as time passes, the controversy has become more heated and the questions surrounding the event and its aftermath have become even more troubling. "The episode and its aftermath have gone long beyond a legitimate discussion of journalistic values to an unnecessary discussion of Jewish and Zionist values and loyalties. The whole discussion is wrong, and it is being used in the wrong manner, by all sides," warns Haifa University communications Prof. Gabriel Weimann. In interviews with The Report, Enderlin stressed that almost immediately after the initial airing of the tape, he went on prime time television several times to report that the Israeli army was casting strong doubt about whether the fatal shots could have been fired by its soldiers. Enderlin, who was not there when the shooting occurred, had based his first account on what Abu-Rahmeh, who has worked for France 2 in Gaza since 1988, said he observed. But this has not appeased some pro-Israel activists, who accuse Enderlin of fabricating the footage and bearing responsibility for all that followed. Throughout 2000 and 2001, Enderlin, a Franco-Israeli binational, and his family, who have lived in Jerusalem since 1968, were accosted, insulted and compared to Hitler by French-speaking individuals. Israeli police advised France 2 to provide Enderlin with protection, which the station did. In 2002, a number of Jewish organizations in Paris, among them the Jewish Defense League, demonstrated in front of France 2's offices, offering the "Prize for Disinformation" to Enderlin and his employers. Phillippe Karsenty, 41, born in Paris to a Jewish North African family and owner of Media Ratings, a pro-Israel media watchdog based in Paris, is convinced that Enderlin, 62, doctored the tapes. Heatedly, Karsenty tells The Report, "Hundreds of people have been killed because of this report ... These pictures are more potent than the 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion.' Very few people read that fabricated book but everyone has seen this TV clip." He screens an Al-Qaeda propaganda video tape, which features terror leader Osama Bin Laden preaching amid shots of the dying boy, and adds, "The tape in which Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl said, 'My father is a Jew, my mother is a Jew, I am a Jew…' before being murdered before the camera also features the a-Dura incident. The whole world knows about this. Two Israeli reservist soldiers were torn to bits in Ramallah by a frenzied mob chanting a-Dura's name and, even as far away as the West African state of Mali, a central square in the capital Bamako was named after 'the martyr' Mohammed a-Dura. But I say that the clip is a fake from start to end. And I'll prove it in court." In response to these accusations, some of which were published on Karsenty's website, Enderlin and France 2 sued Karsenty for libel in a French court. Karsenty lost the case and was ordered to pay symbolic damages of one euro each to Enderlin and Arlette Chabot, France 2 news chief, plus a small fine and court costs. Karsenty appealed and, in late February, these two headstrong Jews will face each other yet again in a Paris Appeals court. Karsenty believes the wind is changing in his direction. On November 14, 2007, in a prior hearing, the court ordered France 2 to air the "rushes" (raw footage) of the incident, which had never before been publicly aired. Some of those present were particularly impressed with a clip that seemingly shows the boy fleetingly lifting his elbow and peering at the camera - after he was supposed to have been killed. Karsenty also says that other footage that Abu-Rahmeh filmed that day in other parts of the Gaza Strip show what clearly appear to be events that were staged by the Palestinians. Karsenty now devotes himself nearly full-time to his campaign against Enderlin, which he has taken to Jewish and pro-Israel organizations abroad, most notably in the United States, where he has gained support of media watchdog organizations, such as the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). Karsenty also says that Enderlin may have been "taken in" by Abu Rahmeh as part of a vast Palestinian hoax, and that neither Jamal a-Dura or his son Mohammed were shot. "The father supposedly took 12 bullets and the boy was hit by three, including one which went into his chest and out his back. And [in the TV footage] there isn't a drop of blood on either of them, or on the wall behind? Well, it's science fiction." But Enderlin, Karsenty says, is too proud to admit that he has been duped. "Mohammed a-Dura was not killed on September 30, 2000," Karsenty insists. And I will present the court with documents from Tel Hashomer Hospital in Tel Aviv, which explain the scars which the father shows today." "Come on, let's be serious," retorts Enderlin. "These accusations mean that hundreds of people took part in a setup. It would mean that Shifa Hospital in Gaza, the Jordanian ambassador to Israel who took him [the father] to Jordan, the military hospital in Amman, all took part in a charade. We did carry out some checks. We have the father's X-rays, all the medical reports and everything was in order. I asked an Israeli security chief if they would know about such a 'grand scheme.' He laughed and said, 'We would know about it, immediately.' If someone thinks the boy is alive, then produce him." And Enderlin stands by his cameraman. "Talal Abu Rahmeh is an entirely trustworthy newsman and cameraman. He has never been accused of anything whatsoever by Israeli authorities." There have been numerous investigations into the a-Dura shooting, including an investigation by respected journalists Jim Fallows writing in the Atlantic Monthly and Esther Schapira, who produced a documentary film for German television, ARD. Most conclude that a-Dura could not have been shot by Israeli forces. Other investigations, some of them known to have been carried out by elements allied to Israel's right wing, conclude that the death was staged. Official Israeli statements are contradictory and confusing. After initially admitting responsibility, the army's statements became increasingly equivocal. In November 2000, Major General Yom Tov Samia, then head of the southern command, provided support for an investigative initiative by two Israeli civilians, Nahum Shahaf, a physicist, and Yosef Doriel, an engineer. The investigation by Shahaf and Doriel was widely ridiculed in the Israeli media, since neither are ballistics experts, they did not have access to film footage from any known news agency and, by that time, the actual site of the shooting had been razed so their investigation was based on a reconstruction of the scene. At the conclusion, later in 2000, Samia declared that the probability that a-Dura was killed by Palestinian fire is greater than the probability that he was killed by Israeli fire. Last year, Colonel Shlomi Am-Shalom, deputy commander of the IDF Spokesman's Office, when asked about the status of Samia's investigation, told The Report "...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 a-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 time 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]." Yet in response to queries regarding the IDF's official position on the case, requested in mid-February for this report, the IDF spokesman told The Report, in a tersely worded written statement, only that Samia had "presented his findings to the press." In contrast to the IDF spokesman's statements, speaking with The Report in late February, Aviv Shir-On, deputy director general for media and public affairs at the Foreign Ministry, stated, "The Foreign Ministry has not formed a definitive opinion [regarding the death of a-Dura], since we have no conclusive proof to support any position. We do recognize the fact that numerous questions marks still hover over the issue and we welcome a full, impartial investigation." And, in contradiction to all other official Israeli positions, this fall, Government Press Office (GPO) Director Daniel Seaman issued his own written statement, declaring, "The creation of the myth of Mohammed a-Dura has caused great damage to the State of Israel. This is an explicit blood libel against the state. And just as blood libels in the old days have led to pogroms, this one has also caused damage and dozens of dead." Speaking off the record, sources close to the Prime Minister's Office (which is responsible for the GPO), the Foreign Ministry, and the IDF have disavowed and seriously criticized Seaman's statements, but none would say so officially. Thus, current theories regarding a-Dura's death can be placed along a continuum: from the theory that Israeli soldiers killed him deliberately; to the theory that Israeli soldiers killed him in a cross fire; to the theory that the Palestinians killed him in a cross fire; to the theory that the boy is alive and that his death was staged without Enderlin's knowledge; to the theory that his death was staged with Enderlin's knowledge; to the theory that the Palestinians killed him deliberately, in order to create a media martyr. "Israel made a strategic and tactical mistake by not conducting a proper investigation from the beginning," says communications expert Weimann. "Strategic because by not conducting an investigation, we allowed the Palestinians to create a national myth. Tactical because, even before we were sure, we admitted responsibility. In retrospect, Weimann says, it is clear that the footage of Mohammed and Jamal a-Dura was fated to become a cause cָlֻbre. "Every war, every crisis, needs its image," he notes, citing the image of the Jewish child raising his hands to Nazi SS troopers in the ruins of the Warsaw ghetto; the Vietnamese girl running naked with napalm burns on her back; the student facing the tanks in Tiananmen Square; the World Trade Center melting into ground zero. "Journalists are under pressure to create a good story. All of the television stations - including the Israeli stations - ran that footage. Electronic journalism doesn't have the time to think, they work in sound bites," he explains. Weimann, who knows Enderlin and has spoken with him, says he doubts that Enderlin knowingly fabricated anything, "and he certainly is not an Israel-basher." Although his own investigations have convinced him that Israelis could not have shot a-Dura, based on his own consultations with ballistics and military experts, Weimann says that "a large number of oddities and things that don't really add up" still surround the case. "The seams of this story have been sewn very crudely. If we shake the story, the truth might fall through those seams. So far, all that I know is that Israeli soldiers didn't shoot him. But we'll never really know anything else." He does, however, fault Enderlin for not initiating an investigation much earlier and for not making his full footage, including all of the rushes (the rough, pre-edited tapes) available. "It has left everyone with a bad feeling," he says. "It's human to dig your heels in when you're under attack," he says, but as a professional journalist, this has not served Enderlin well." Extract of article in Issue 24, March 18, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.