Tuesday, September 06, 2005

French Television Says Israel Killed Child On Purpose
Viewing Raw Footage Shows French Slander

From Nidra Poller in Commentary Magazine:

... the story of Muhammad al-Dura has attained near-mythic stature in the Arab and Muslim world. In the West, though its essence is largely forgotten, it has fired the political imagination of many who accept it as emblematic proof of Israeli culpability for the outbreak of the armed conflict and even for Palestinian “martyrdom operations” against Israel’s civilian population.

... a cameraman for France-2, a channel of the state-owned French television network, captured the death of a twelve-year-old Palestinian boy, allegedly shot in front of his helpless father by Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip. A news report, dramatically narrated by France-2’s Jerusalem correspondent, was instantly aired and was offered free of charge to the world’s media.

The effect was immediate, electrifying, and global. Overnight, Muhammad al-Dura became the poster child of the incipient Palestinian “struggle” against Israeli “occupation” and a potent symbol of the genocidal intentions of Israel’s government. A doctored photomontage was soon produced for Arab-Muslim viewers, featuring an imported image of an Israeli soldier apparently shooting the boy at close range.

That the death of Muhammad al-Dura was the real emotional pretext for the ensuing avalanche of Palestinian violence—and a far more potent trigger than Sharon’s “provocative” visit to the Temple Mount—is attested by the immediate and widespread dissemination of his story and of the pietà-like image of his body lying at his father’s feet.

Streets, squares, and schools have since been named for the young Islamic shahid. His death scene has been replicated on murals, posters, and postage stamps, even making an iconic appearance in the video of Daniel Pearl’s beheading. His story, perhaps the single most powerful force behind the Palestinian cult of child sacrifice over the last years, has been dramatized in spots on Palestinian television urging others to follow in his path, retold in a recruitment video for al Qaeda, and immortalized in epic verse by the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish.
But is it true? Although serious doubts were immediately raised about the veracity of the France-2 news report, they were swept aside by the emotions it provoked and by the flare of violence in the last months of 2000. France-2 indignantly turned down all requests to investigate or even to help others investigate by releasing outtakes. To this day, many people believe that even to raise a doubt about the authenticity of the report is tantamount to denying the reality of the 9/11 attacks on New York City.

But let us begin at the beginning, with France-2’s prize-winning scoop, aired just hours after the incident.

Here is what viewers saw and heard: a few seconds of rioting somewhere on the West Bank, followed by a vague scene of armed men at Netzarim junction, a crossroads in the Gaza Strip. A jeep comes down the road. A single shot rings out, and a man in uniform at the open door of the jeep falls or jumps to the ground, clutching his right leg. An ambulance pulls up, stops on the far side of the road. The man is dragged across the ground, placed on a stretcher with his weight resting on his wounded right leg, and loaded into the ambulance. Charles Enderlin, France-2’s correspondent, announces in an eyewitness-style voiceover:

Three PM at Netzarim junction in the Gaza Strip. A dramatic turn of events. The Palestinians shot live ammunition, the Israelis replied. Ambulance drivers, bystanders, journalists are caught in the crossfire.

Now the camera focuses on a man and a boy crouched behind a concrete barrel or culvert, their faces contorted in fear. Enderlin: “Here Jamal al-Dura and his son are targets of gunfire from Israeli positions.” The camera pans to a nearby Israeli outpost. The father waves with his right hand in the direction of the Israeli position. The father is hunched behind the barrel, the boy nestled against his back. Enderlin:

Muhammad is twelve years old. His father tries to protect him. He waves. But another round of fire bursts out. Muhammad is dead, and his father grievously wounded.

During the 55-second sequence, two shots have hit a concrete-block wall that stands like a backdrop for the scene, landing far afield of the father and son. Other bullet holes, similarly off-target, can be seen in the wall as well. The father shields the boy; the father’s arm is clearly visible, perpendicular to the ground. Guttural cries are heard, adding to the feeling of panic. The last round of gunfire kicks up a cloud of dust, obscuring the man and boy. When the dust clears, the boy is stretched out at his father’s feet; the father bobs his head as if groggy.

And that was it. As Enderlin would later explain, the reason France-2’s scoop was offered free to the world was that the producers did not want to earn a profit from so tragic an incident. Only the terrible moments of the child’s death throes, he added, had been edited out, being “too unbearable.”

The film sequence itself, attributed at first to a “France-2 cameraman,” was subsequently identified as the work of the station’s Palestinian stringer, Talal Abu Rahmeh. By then, the full authority and reputation of France-2 itself had been indelibly stamped on the footage.

Within days, an elaborate narrative was being disseminated to flesh out the elusive details of the 55-second video. On October 3, 2000, testifying under oath before the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, the cameraman Talal Abu Rahmeh alleged that Israeli soldiers had intentionally, in cold blood, murdered the boy and wounded the father. Abu Rahmeh’s testimony was precise and vivid.

There had been, he said, a five-minute exchange of fire between Palestinian policemen and Israeli soldiers. This was followed by fully 45 minutes of gunfire coming exclusively from the Israeli position and aimed directly at the man and the boy crouching desperately behind a concrete barrel. According to the cameraman, he had captured on film a total of 27 minutes of this fusillade, risking his own life in the process. As an experienced war photographer, he could attest without hesitation that the Israeli outpost was the only position from which the boy and the man could be hit.

Early on, for example, it was pointed out that the 55-second video did not show any of the normal signs consistent with wounds from high-power bullets. There was no blood on the victims’ clothes, on the wall, or on the ground. Their postures appeared wholly voluntary, with no sign of shock or trauma.

As for Abu Rahmeh’s claim of a 45-minute free-for-all, experts in ballistics concurred that automatic rifles fired uninterruptedly for that length of time would reduce their victims to shreds, and the concrete block wall behind them to rubble. Nor did such behavior accord with what one knew about the ethics, discipline, and skill of IDF soldiers.

Early doubters of the received version included the French documentary filmmaker Pierre Rehov, who sued France-2 for spreading false information; the case was thrown out of French court. Nahum Shahaf, an Israeli physicist who led the first official IDF investigation, has been studying the incident ever since, accumulating one of the most exhaustive film libraries on the subject. Metula News Agency (MENA), an Israel-based, French-language service, likewise undertook a lengthy and still ongoing investigation.

Esther Schapira, a German television producer who went to Israel convinced of IDF guilt, came away with a film exposing the contradictions and discrepancies of the France-2 news report; she was convinced that the boy had been killed by Palestinians. In a June 2003 article in the Atlantic, the American journalist James Fallows concluded that Muhammad al-Dura “was not shot by the Israeli soldiers who were known to be involved in the day’s fighting,” but also that we would never know who killed him.

... we do have extensive evidence of what was occurring at Netzarim junction on September 30, 2000. More than a dozen cameramen were at the junction filming the action that day. They were all Palestinian, but they were working for Reuters, AP, NHK, France-2, and other prestigious networks. Aside from Abu Rahmeh’s footage, brief excerpts from what they shot have appeared in news broadcasts. But hours of outtakes also exist, and their eloquence is astounding. I cannot claim they show everything that happened, but enough raw footage exists to substantiate what follows.

On all the outtakes I saw, only one exchange of gunfire takes place: a brief outburst from the bunkers and a responding series of shots, ostensibly from the Israeli position. As for the death scene, it was filmed in front of a concrete-block wall abutting a makeshift building, opposite the pita but situated at an angle that made the al-Duras’ barrel inaccessible to gunfire from the Israeli outpost.

The Reuters, AP, and France-2 outtakes that I viewed show two totally different and easily identifiable types of activity at Netzarim junction: real, intifada-style attacks, and crudely falsified battle scenes. Both the real and the fake scenes are played out against a background of normal civilian activity at a busy crossroads.

In the “reality” zone, excited children and angry young men hurl rocks and Molotov cocktails at the Israeli outpost while shababs (“youths”) standing on the roof of the Twins throw burning tires down onto the caged lookout; this goes on seemingly for hours, without provoking the slightest military reaction from Israeli soldiers.

At the same time, in the “theatrical” zone, Palestinian stringers sporting prestigious logos on their vests and cameras are seen filming battle scenes staged behind the abandoned factory, well out of range of Israeli gunfire. The “wounded” sail through the air like modern dancers and then suddenly collapse. Cameramen jockey with hysterical youths who pounce on the “casualties,” pushing and shoving, howling Allahu akhbar!, clumsily grabbing the “injured,” pushing away the rare ambulance attendant in a pale green polyester jacket in order to shove, twist, haul, and dump the “victims” into UN and Red Crescent ambulances that pull up on a second’s notice and career back down the road again, sirens screaming.

In one shot we recognize Talal Abu Rahmeh in his France-2 vest, filming a staged casualty scene.* (* Students in a special course at the Israeli Military Academy, who had access to this raw footage, tagged and tracked the amateur actors as they went through their day, playing multiple roles. The injured and dead jump up, dust themselves off, play at offensive combat; casualties evacuated by ambulance are later seen loading a fellow actor into an ambulance or smiling with satisfaction as the ambulance door slams shut.)

Split seconds of these ludicrous vignettes would later appear in newscasts and special reports; the husk, the raw footage that would reveal the fakery, had been removed, leaving the kernel rich in anti-Israel nutrients. Such staged scenes showed up, for example, in a dramatic CBS 60 Minutes special report on Netzarim crossing—a place “now known,” intoned Bob Simon, echoing Palestinian sources, “as Martyr’s Junction.”

The al-Dura death scene was filmed right in the middle of these falsified incidents. It can be localized and situated. In one section of Reuters footage we see the man and the boy crouched behind the upended culvert as a jeep drives slowly up the road, stops in firing range of the Israeli position that is clearly visible in the near distance, makes a U-turn, drives in the opposite direction, stops short of the barrel/culvert, and helps perform the clearly faked evacuation of a man wounded in the right leg, as also shown in the France-2 news report. In fact, two ambulances stand for a long moment no more than fifteen feet from the al-Duras. There is no evidence of armed combat in their vicinity. No sound of gunfire. Men run down the road, passing in front of the al-Duras. No one is hit.

I also viewed a copy of the satellite feed transmitted by Abu Rahmeh late in the afternoon of September 30. In addition to the 55 seconds aired that evening, it includes a final image of the boy who would be described afterward as “killed instantly by a shot to the stomach”: in it he is seen shifting position, propping himself up on his elbow, shading his eyes with his hand, rolling over on his stomach, covering his eyes.

Go read the rest.