It’s been more than 11 years since Muhammad al-Dura died during one of the initial skirmishes of the second intifada, but the iconic image of an Arab boy supposedly shot by heartless Israeli soldiers as his father looked on in horror is still a powerful image of Palestinian suffering. But as the years go by, attempts to unravel the truth about what actually happened to al-Dura have continued to chip away at the myth of Israeli culpability in the incident. In the latest chapter of the battle over this story that has just been played out in France’s Supreme Court, the Palestinian narrative has suffered another defeat. The court vindicated a doctor who was sued by al-Dura’s father for saying the wounds he claimed to have suffered on the day of his son’s death were not the result of Israeli fire.
This was just the latest setback for those who have attempted to keep alive the belief al-Dura’s death was Israel’s responsibility. Even more, the finding that shows the father lied about the incident gives even more credence to allegations that make it clear the boy was likely killed by Palestinian fire. Though one may argue the question of who killed the boy is moot, the debunking of the al-Dura myth has become a symbol of the many false allegations made against Israel and largely believed by a credulous international media.
This case stemmed from Jamal al-Dura’s claims he had been wounded during the firefight between Palestinian Authority gunmen and Israeli soldiers in an incident at the Netzarim Junction near the border between Israel and Gaza on September 30, 2000. An Israeli doctor, Dr. Yehuda David, took issue with the elder al-Dura’s claims his scars were the result of wounds inflicted in the shooting, arguing instead they were clearly the result of tendon surgery he had performed on the father years earlier. Al-Dura sued Dr. David and won a judgment in a French court, but France’s Supreme Court has now overturned the decision and validated the Israeli’s argument.
The shooting took place on the second day of the intifada and resulted in casualties on both sides, but it was 12-year-old Muhammad al-Dura’s death that made headlines when edited footage taken by a French TV cameraman appeared to capture his being shot as his grief-stricken father called for help. Initially, Israel admitted responsibility, but it soon became clear there was much about the al-Dura story that didn’t make sense. Moreover, it also eventually came out that the French footage had been heavily edited, undermining the credibility of French TV journalist Charles Enderlin, a fierce critic of Israel, who promoted the story of the child’s suffering at the hands of the Israelis.
During the last decade, there have been several exposes of the al-Dura story, all of which point to the fact that the Palestinians lied about the boy’s death. Though some claim the death was a total fake, a minimalist interpretation of the evidence concludes that his own side, not the Israelis, were responsible for his death. French journalist Phillipe Karsenty, who has done much to debunk the al-Dura myth, was also vindicated by the French courts after he was also sued for libel for telling the truth about the distorted coverage of the incident and the lies told by Palestinian spokesmen.
Al-Dura may have been just one among the thousands of casualties that resulted from the Palestinian decision to choose war instead of peace in the months after Israel offered Yasir Arafat an independent state at Camp David in July 2000. But his death is important because his picture served to validate a new generation of anti-Semites who could now claim Israelis were the new Nazis. By making al-Dura the moral equivalent of the equally iconic photo of the Jewish child with his hands up while being captured by Nazis at the Warsaw Ghetto, contemporary Jew-haters could now say Europe’s debt to the Jews was cancelled.
The death or shooting of any child is a tragedy, but Muhammad al-Dura’s fate became the centerpiece of a new blood libel against the Jews that has helped fuel a new wave of anti-Semitism around the world. It may be that no matter how many times the truth is told about this incident, it will never completely erase the false impression made by the photo and the mendacious reporting by French TV at the time. Nevertheless, Dr. David is to be commended for his part in chipping away at this dangerous lie.