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Spotlight On L'affaire al-Dura
This is a full transcript of HonestReporting's interview with Mideast analyst and media expert Tom Gross about the Mohammad al-Dura affair. Click to view the interview.
The Mohammed al-Dura case dates back to September 2000 and many people say it actually sparked the second Palestinian intifada, which then lasted for several years.
A little boy was supposedly shot and France 2, a state-owned French TV channel, got hold of some film and not only broadcast it, they took the highly unusual step of making copies and handed video cassettes to rivals like CNN and the BBC. France 2 correspondent Charles Enderlin said that, first of all, the boy had died and secondly, that Israel had killed this boy. In fact, it later transpired that Charles Enderlin had not even been in Gaza that day – he was in Ramallah, and a freelance Palestinian cameraman had given Charles Enderlin the film.
Almost immediately there were questions about who shot this boy. Later on, there were questions about whether the boy had actually been shot at all. The angle the boy appeared to be shot at did not come from the direction of where Israeli soldiers were stationed. How could Israeli soldiers be responsible for shooting this boy when they weren’t positioned in the line of fire, people asked?
And whether the boy had actually been shot at all is not clear. It soon transpired that the Palestinians that day deliberately play-acted many other scenes for the cameras. We know that because film taken by Reuters cameramen shows various such scenes: for example, Palestinians being carried into Red Crescent ambulances looking like they were seriously injured and then, minutes later, getting out of the ambulance laughing and so on. So it is known that other scenes were staged at the Netzarim Junction that day. The film France 2 provided was very inconclusive.
A court action has been going on for some time in Paris that will hopefully be resolved soon.
In the last hearing, in November, France 2 had been ordered to produce the raw footage of the “al-Dura” film which they had previously said lasted 27 minutes. But when he came to court, Enderlin only produced 18 minutes i.e. only two-thirds of the film. The judge was quite surprised. Enderlin mumbled some excuse about not having all of the film and losing it; it certainly raised great suspicions. And in the film they did play, al-Dura, appears to move his arm after he’s been “shot dead” and then opens his eyes again.
Al-Dura has become a poster child for the intifada and beyond. For example, Osama bin Laden referred to al-Dura in his post-September 11 video; the killers of Daniel Pearl placed a picture of al-Dura in their beheading video; streets, squares, academies and so on have been named after al-Dura throughout the Muslim world.
The al-Dura case goes to the very heart of media coverage in the modern age.
What you have are freelance photographers and cameramen, who are often partisan, filming in a local conflict, editing the film, and sending it to an international station like France 2. Because of the pressure of 24/7 television today, stations like France 2 immediately broadcast it before anyone examines the film and its authenticity.
In the Hizbullah-Israel war, in the summer of 2006, certain visual images taken by both Reuters and the Associated Press in South Lebanon were faked, and Reuters sacked some of their local Shi’a Lebanese photographers.
But it was too late. By the time Reuters carried out an independent investigation and found they had been duped by their local Lebanese stringers, the photos had appeared all over the place, in thousands of publications, big and small, throughout the world.
So, going back to the al-Dura case, it launched the intifada, in the sense that without the inflammatory film being rebroadcast time and again, the intifada may have been a localized disturbance that lasted a few days with limited casualties.
Instead, it inflamed the population, which is what the Palestinian Authority presumably wanted, by repeatedly showing the film on TV. A few weeks later two Israeli reserve soldiers were lynched in Ramallah by a mob chanting al-Dura’s name. You may recall one of the Palestinians stuck his hands out of a window dripping in blood. The intifada soon spiraled out of control.
So, in a sense, France 2 may have blood on their hands too in that the intifada may never have happened if it had not been for their repeatedly airing what may well be fake video of a boy called al-Dura dying.
We now have a conflict between Israel and the Palestinians which is worse than prior to the al-Dura incident. It’s irresponsible journalism to broadcast such pictures without being sure that these pictures were authentic. What the legal case has shown so far is that there is reasonable doubt.
Others will go further than me and say that they’re sure they’re staged. I’ve looked at the pictures, examined the case carefully; I’m not a forensic expert, and I’m not working as a lawyer. But as far as I can see, there are very reasonable doubts that the film footage is authentic, and even if the boy died there are very reasonable doubts that Israel was responsible for his death.
So, for France 2 to tell the world that Israel, in effect, murdered a helpless child, and then provide film footage to international TV networks when it wasn’t true, is very inflammatory.
In France, they were attacks related to Middle East violence in the years following the al-Dura case – French Jews such as Ilan Halimi and others were murdered. The atmosphere may have been generated by the France 2 footage.
The Israeli government has been very slow to take up the al-Dura case. It’s been left to independent organizations such as HonestReporting to investigate this case properly. I think the Israeli government has been somewhat slow to understand how important media is in modern diplomacy and conflict.
In the past, Israeli politicians like Moshe Dayan said that Israel doesn’t have a foreign policy; it only has a defense or security policy. Shimon Peres, around the time of the 1993 Oslo Accords, who was then Israel’s Foreign Minister, said that if you have a good policy, you don’t need public relations and if you have a bad policy, public relations won’t help.
I’m afraid that’s not true – whether Israel has good or bad policy is almost irrelevant in the public relations field. If the critics of Israel want to attack, they will do so.
Every country in the world has to be aware of public relations with 24/7 media. I think Israel has fallen far behind in the battle for public relations vis-à-vis not just other countries, but even behind militia groups, such as Hamas, Hezbollah and similar organizations.
Click to view interview.
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Thanks for pointing up the glaring deficits in the Israeli government's attitude to, and its inaction in, the matter of public relations.
Of course you are right. Those of us who care enough about Israel's reputation in the world wear ourselves out trying to counter the lies about her in the media, to the accompaniment of deafening silence from the Israeli government itself.
The fault lies, I believe, in the died-in-the-wool, old-fashioned attitudes of Jewish community movers and shakers here in Britain, and principally, it seems to me, with BICOM which appears mainly to be two-dimensional and overly preocuppied with not
wanting to rock the boat. (I don't honestly know what BICOM actually does, apart from circulate occasional emails about how to advocate for Israel. In this, it makes a very good fist of trying to teach grannies how to suck eggs).
I hope that the truth of the al-Durah affair, when it comes to light, will begin the process of critical appraisal of the media coverage about Israel, which is so necessary if she is to get a fair hearing in the world's forum.
Once more, thanks for your article.
the one area that the Palestinians excel at is lying and publishing these lies as truth which ellicits lots of sympathy for them and results in hostility towards Israelis.
Instead of Israel taking the defensive postion, denying the lies, why don't they take the initiative and publicize every negative horrendous thing the Palestinians do, backing it up with photographs? they know how effective it is, and should ask themselves "If I am not for me, who will be for me, and if not now, when?"
We have been waiting for this case to be decided upon for several years. Hopefully, the court's findings will put an end to the lies and manipulations that have typified the behaviour of the Arabs.
The French media in general and France2 in particular carry the burden of their irresponsiblity but whether they change their tune in the future is highly unlikely. Will there be an apology and retraction?
And, who did kill the boy?
If he was deliberately killed by the Arabs to continue the "blood libel" (as appears to be the case)then that speaks volumes about their morality!
Unbelievable. How is it possible that none of all the "experts" that "invested" their time in the Al-Dura affair did not reach the following conclusion: if a gun shoots in the direction of a wall, one can clearly notice the impacts (holes and puffs of smoke). According to the interview of the "father" of the boy, in the documentary made by Esther Shapira, he stated that the israeli army shoot at them with automatic weapons and without stopping. In the same documentary, Talal the palestinian cameraman of " Fance 2 " adds that the shooting lasted for more then 40 minutes. Thousands of bullets should, if we believe them, have hit the wall behind "father and son", and making holes and puffs. From the first image of this "famous" scoop, there are six existing holes in the wall, and the six holes remain six holes till the end! Conclusion: there was no shooting, neither by the israelis nor the palestinians. Nobody was hurt. Nobody was killed or wounded. This whole story is a hoax. But seen from the palestinian side, "c'est de bonne guerre" as the french say.
Isn't it about time the media realizes that Arabs are just a bunch of liars, yet the media prints and accepts the Arabs viewpoint without an investigation. Israel is to blame also for not countering the lies. It should be noted that the Koran states "to deceive your enemies." I suppose the Arabs are just following the teachings of Muhammad. All one has to do is look at the Oslo Agreement, the Arabs did not implement one agreement they agreed to. Don't you get it yet?
I viewed the al-Dourra foutage of France 2 at its first brodacast. I saw the camera – fixed on the couple al-Dourra - nearly jumping. I was sure, if the boy had been killed, that the killer was near the cameraman. I agree totally with Tom Gross. Unfortunately, at this time, France was ruled by the filo-Arabian Chirac. If the truth came up during his presidency, the case could have had a great echo. But, today, I am pessimist. Media don’t want to be blamed. The echo for all trusts we can reach to prove, have a very little impact on the public opinion because the media don’t give them the same magnification. The best we may hope for the future, is that the media will control all footages. But, as for Italy, the media will be conditioned by the internal national policy which used and still use its foreign policy for the internal one. Thanks to G-d, many Italians are growing and are aware of the challenge that had threated and threats Israel. Of course I don’t agree with Peres, the worst politician Israel have ever had and has. He knows very well the European mentality and never acted – only to late and because ruled to do so – by its own to change this mentality at the luxurious European lunches and dinners he attended. He is a dreamer, in a Land that need more than dreams. Where the blood and suffering of Israelis need greater (and coherent) leaders to defend Eretz. Sharon was the one in the last years. Unfortunately, his way was stopped by its illness. I take the occasion to send him my best wishes for his 80 years birthday and still hope in the miracle. We need him.