Daniel Seaman, chairman of Israel’s Government Press Office, declared today that the al-Dura news report was staged. This was the report filmed on September 30, 2000 at Netzarim Junction in the Gaza Strip by a Palestinian cameraman employed by state-owned French channel France 2, which purported to show the death of a Palestinian boy at the hands of the Israeli army. The news broke in the Israeli media this morning, is spreading in the United States, but has not pierced the firewall of mainstream media in France.
In the voice-over to the footage, France 2 Jerusalem bureau chief Charles Enderlin dramatically described the “death” of the twelve-year-old Palestinian boy, Muhammad al-Dura, “target of gunfire from the Israeli position.” The 55-second video was immediately broadcast worldwide and assimilated by unsuspecting viewers. It functioned as a blood libel, justifying atrocities against Israelis and Jews.
For seven years investigators and analysts have labored relentlessly to counter that unfounded accusation. For seven years Charles Enderlin and France 2, protected by the Chirac government and upheld by mainstream media, have stifled criticism and discredited these investigators. The Israeli government, pursuing a “let sleeping dogs lie” policy, discouraged efforts to expose the hoax. Jewish organizations shied away from the controversy.
The al-Dura affair is a smudge on the face of coverage of the “Middle East conflict”; every attempt to wipe it away spreads and deepens the stain. In 2005, France 2 and Enderlin, apparently confident that they could wipe away the smudge, brought defamation lawsuits against three French-based websites that had posted material questioning the authenticity of the al-Dura video. The cases were heard in the autumn and winter of 2006-2007. France 2 lost one on a technicality, and won the other two. Suddenly mainstream media in France discovered the affair . . . long enough to report that the al-Dura scene was not staged!
But one of the defendants, Philippe Karsenty, director of the French news watchdog site Media-Ratings, appealed his conviction and has achieved a major victory—the Appellate Court asked France 2 to produce the 27 minutes of raw footage from which the 55-second “news” video was excerpted. If France 2 has not turned over the document by tomorrow, the Court will order them to do so. The raw footage will be projected at a hearing scheduled for November 14, and the case will be heard in full on February 27, 2008.
The Palestinian cameraman, Tala Abu Rahma, testified under oath that Muhammad al-Dura and his father Jamal were pinned down by uninterrupted gunfire from the Israeli position for 45 minutes. Rahma claims he filmed the incident off and on from beginning to end for a total of 27 minutes, from which Charles Enderlin excerpted 55 seconds for the news report. Enderlin, backed by his hierarchy, insists that the raw footage confirms the authenticity of the news report . . . but has refused to make it available for public scrutiny.
Four reliable witnesses who have viewed the footage testify that it is composed of staged scenes, faked injuries, and falsified ambulance evacuations. There are no images of the al-Duras.
If the raw footage is projected in the courtroom, the battle will be half won, no matter how the court rules on Karsenty’s appeal. If a dozen world-class journalists attend the November 14 hearing, the al-Dura affair will be brought out of its dark alley and into the agora of democratic societies, where it should receive its final judgment.