Al-Dura: The tide is turning

The French journalists' petition after his court loss set off a surprising chain reaction.

Muhammad al-Dura 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Muhammad al-Dura 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The keepers of the Al-Dura myth were caught off balance by the May 21 appellate court acquittal of Philippe Karsenty, convicted of libel by a lower court for declaring that the Al-Dura "death scene" was staged. Had they swallowed the verdict with pained silence, the affair might have dropped back into limbo. But they went public in what looked like a desperate attempt to "settle out of court" or, more exactly, settle without the court by pleading the case in friendly media - at a safe distance from judges, lawyers, and the defendant. It began with plaintiff Charles Enderlin reheating, in the meanderings of his France Télévision's blog, the arguments that had just been dismissed in the halls of the Palais de Justice. Presenting himself as the victim of a seven-year slander campaign, he demonstrated - once again - that there is no journalistic evidence to back up the Al-Dura report. If Enderlin had evidence, he would have presented it seven-and-a-half years ago, when he told the world that Israeli soldiers were heartless child-killers. He would have presented it in 2005, when he and state-owned France 2 TV sued three Web sites with the declared intent of silencing critics. If he had convincing evidence, he would have shown it to the appellate court. In fact, there is nothing left standing of the al Dura news report at the end of the 13-page apellate court ruling (a complete English translation is posted on The court validated, item by item, all the evidence presented by Philippe Karsenty. THIS DOESN'T, however, keep ill-informed commentators from confusing affirmations with evidence, and reiteration with corroboration. And it didn't stop several hundred French journalists from signing "An Appeal for Charles Enderlin" in the upscale left-wing weekly Le Nouvel Observateur. Deaf to the eloquent reaffirmation of journalistic ethics stated in the appellate court ruling, they expressed dismay that the court had granted equal credibility to a scrupulous journalist working under difficult conditions and to his detractors, who - with no experience in conflict-zone reporting - were simply trying to discredit him. Here is Enderlin's defense in a nutshell: "I'm the journalist, you're a nobody. I know everything, you know nothing. If you criticize me, it's slander." Citizen-readers, overwhelmingly critical of this appeal, have greater mastery of the issues than the know-it-all press corps. THE APPEAL set off an unexpected chain reaction. The Al-Dura affair, which had been kept under wraps by French media, was out in the open and out of control. The Al-Dura myth-keepers are being countered by rational, unemotional arguments from prestigious personalities and a host of voices that have kept silent over the years. Spurred by the Nouvel Observateur manifesto, Radio Communauté Juive director Shlomo Malka, who had been avoiding the Al-Dura controversy, invited Alain Finkielkraut, a brilliant philosopher who always does his homework, to comment on the case ( The obsessively anti-Sarkozy weekly Marianne published an op-ed by Eli Barnavi, former Israeli ambassador to France and a darling of highbrow leftists, who spoke out against the appeal. The tide is turning. In dragging the case on to France's highest court, as France 2 and Charles Enderlin have now done, they demonstrate disrespect for the public service they represent. There is good reason to expect that President Sarkozy will step in and ask them to clean house. Though Judge Laurence Trébucq deserves praise for her masterful treatment of the Al-Dura case, it should never have been dragged into court. Litigation places the burden of proof on the citizen, allowing journalists to play fast and loose with information. The Al-Dura hoax is the most egregious, but certainly not the only, example of complicity between Western media and hostile, tainted sources. Once the story, no matter how preposterous, is out there it is engraved in stone, and those who question it are slandered and their characters brought into question. IF ENDERLIN'S colleagues were so quick to close ranks, doesn't it suggest that they too want permission to relay unfounded accusations and hide troubling facts from the public? These same media have been sniping at a president elected to modernize French society and institutions. They use skewed news reports to make French people feel poor, miserable and frightened to death; only the Socialist program voters rejected at the polls can calm their anxiety and put this uppity president in his place. A wholly appropriate presidential reprimand of the state-owned network on the Al-Dura issue would be helpful across the board. Before the world starts laughing at 300 French journalists who decided to sink with the ship, it is time to recognize that this is a worldwide issue. Thanks to a wise judge, the French are knocking the Al-Dura affair out of the sand trap where it was doing its dirty work and exposing the lethal equations it generates: • You murder our children (Al-Dura) in cold blood = our cold-blooded murder of your civilians. (Shahid attacks) are not an atrocity, but self-defense. • We will make sure that you cannot defend yourselves without killing our children = you cannot defend yourselves. • Consequently, even though your cause is just and your military is mighty, you have to negotiate from a position of weakness, accept our terms and disguise abject surrender as clever diplomacy. Result: Our hollow triumph will condemn still more civilians to death. The Al-Dura affair teaches us that it takes something stronger than hasbara - information - to put a stop to this perverse, murderous game. The writer is a freelance American journalist living in Paris since 1972.