Think Again: For once, the good guys win

Charles Enderlin's libel suit ended up destroying his own reputation.

jonathanrosenblum88 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Charles Enderlin is not going quietly into the night. On May 23 a French appeals court dismissed the libel suit he and France2 brought against media critic Phillippe Karsenty, arising out of the latter's charge that Enderlin and France2 had duped the French public with their September 30, 2000 broadcast of the "death of Muhammed al-Dura" at Netzarim Junction. In his voice-over that night, Enderlin, who was not at Netzarim Junction during the events in question, unambiguously claimed that the boy in the film clip had been killed by Israeli fire that deliberately targeted him. With the dismissal of his suit, Enderlin joined Oscar Wilde and Alger Hiss in the pantheon of those who brought libel suits and ended up destroying their own reputations. He has announced, however, that he will appeal to the French Supreme Court. And his friends in the French journalistic community are circulating a petition claiming that he is the victim of insane conspiracy theorists. My friend Larry Derfner apparently shares that view. He wrote in these pages on May 28 that anyone who believes that France 2's broadcast was a hoax belongs in an asylum along with 9/11 deniers. According to Derfner, Karsenty, Boston University history professor Richard Landes, and Luc Rosenzweig, former editor-in-chief of Le Monde, are victims of Jewish paranoia. Larry admits that every word Enderlin said in his voice-over was false: There is no evidence that the boy and his father were targets of Israeli fire. Nor was he killed by Israeli fire. Yet, he writes, evidence of a journalistic hoax does not amount to .001 percent of the evidence that Shimon Peres masterminded the Rabin assassination. At most, Karsenty, Landes, et al. have gathered a few of the "oddities" favored by wacked-out conspiracy theorists. ENDERLIN DISTRIBUTED the France 2 clip free of charge, and it was subsequently broadcast thousands of times. The image of the terrified boy cowering behind his father quickly assumed iconic status. It featured prominently in mass anti-Israel demonstrations in Europe, where it was juxtaposed to the image of the Jewish boy with his hands raised in the Warsaw ghetto. To heighten its impact, Palestinian TV cropped into the France 2-clip pictures of an Israeli soldier firing. The image of "Muhammed al-Dura" beckoning other Palestinian children to join him as martyrs in paradise features prominently in the Palestinian death cult. His name was invoked by the Ramallah mob that disemboweled two Israeli reservists, in Osama bin Laden's 9/11 video, and in that of Daniel Pearl's beheading. One would have thought that those who doggedly exposed one falsehood after another and provoked Enderlin and France 2 into their ill-fated libel suit are deserving of praise, not ridicule. At the very least, we would expect their accusers to show some minimal familiarity with the evidence they have amassed and to make some attempt to refute it. Let's consider some of the "oddities" that are firmly established. Palestinians regularly fake media images and lie shamelessly. Recall Hamas legislators meeting by candlelight with the curtains drawn in what turned out to be the middle of the day, or the 5,000 Palestinians reportedly massacred in Jenin, or the family of eight supposedly killed by Israeli fire on Gaza Beach, who turned out to have stepped on Hamas-laid mines. Professor Landes coined the name Pallywood for these Palestinian media hoaxes, and documents a slew of them at his Web site Second Draft. For the Palestinians, media is a pure propaganda tool. Thus Riccardo Cristiano of Italian national TV felt compelled to compose a craven letter to the Palestinian Authority stating that his station would never have broadcast the Ramallah lynch because it fully understands the rules of reporting from the PA. FROM THE general to the particular. The sole footage of "Muhammed al-Dura's death" was that of Palestinian cameraman Talul Abu-Rahmeh working for France 2. Abu-Rahmeh is a liar. On October 3, 2000, he testified under oath to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights that there had been 45 minutes of sustained Israeli fire directed at the man and boy. As an experienced war reporter, he could verify that they could have only been hit by Israeli fire. Abu-Rahmeh claimed to have filmed 27 minutes of the fusillade. Later he told German documentary filmmaker Esther Schapira that he had filmed six minutes. We now know that the boy could have only been hit by Palestinian fire. The story of a 45-minute fusillade was on its face laughable: Had Israeli soldiers wanted to kill Palestinians, they had dozens of rioters immediately in front of the Israeli stockade from which to choose. Moreover, Abu-Rahmeh's entire footage of the man and boy consisted of 58 seconds comprised of six spliced scenes. The rest of his 27 minutes of footage - only 18 minutes of which France2 produced when ordered to do so by the French appeals court - consists of obviously staged scenes, according to three veteran French journalists who viewed it. The "al-Dura" footage was shot in the same area that Abu-Rahmeh and other Palestinian cameramen spent the day shooting such staged scenes. Abu-Rahmeh once declared, "I went into journalism to carry on the fight for my people," and was certainly not above employing his camera for a bit of deception. A Reuters clip from the day shows him filming another staged scene involving a Molotov cocktail. That scene was inexplicably omitted from the rushes produced in the French court. Whether Charles Enderlin knew from the first that his voice-over was false is unclear. That he lies is certain. He drew for gullible journalists a false map of Netzarim Junction, which wrongly placed the Israeli position in a direct line of fire to the man and the boy. Worse yet, he repeatedly claimed that he had edited out the last three seconds of the "al-Dura" footage because the boy's death throes were too painful to watch. THERE WERE no such death throes. In those last three seconds, the boy lifts his head, peeks out from under his arm (with which he is shielding his eyes) prior to resuming a prone position - albeit with his leg still held aloft. A nearby mob chants, "the boy is dead, the boy is dead," before he even lies prone the first time. Enderlin drew twitters of laughter in the French courtroom when he offered that perhaps the crowd was anticipating the boy's death. Not only is there no dead boy on the film. There is no sign of blood or wounds of any kind. In other footage from the scene, civilians are seen passing by the crouching man and boy - some running, some strolling but all apparently oblivious to any rifle fire. (See Nidra Poller, "Myth, Fact, and the al-Dura Affair," Commentary, Sept. 2005). Over the years, more holes have developed in the al-Dura story. Phillipe Karsenty revealed that Jamal al-Dura had been treated many years earlier in an Israeli hospital for the same wounds later shown to journalists as corroboration. And Sami el-Soudi, a Palestinian journalist working for Metulla News Agency, found records of a boy named Muhammed al-Dura admitted to a Gaza hospital four hours before the filming at Netzarim Junction. As his original tale unraveled, Enderlin adopted a fallback position: Even if his voice-over was totally wrong, it still reflects the "reality" of the Israeli occupation: Israelis killing Palestinian children. That too appears to be Derfner's position: Nothing must be allowed to absolve Israel of guilt for the occupation. The al-Dura affair, it turns out, was not just about Israeli culpability, but about the very concept of Truth itself. Fortunately, this time the good guys won.