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French court overturns al-Dura libel judgment

by Haviv Ret­tig Gur
THE JERUSALEM POST [1]

The French Court of Appeals on Wednes­day found in favor of media crit­ic Philippe Karsen­ty, over­turn­ing a low­er court deci­sion that he had libeled France 2 and its Jerusalem cor­re­spon­dent Charles Ender­lin when he accused them of know­ing­ly mis­lead­ing the watch­ing world about the death of the Pales­tin­ian child Muham­mad al-Dura in the Gaza Strip in 2000.

“The ver­dict means we have the right to say France 2 broad­cast a fake news report, that [al-Dura’s shoot­ing] was a staged hoax and that they duped every­body — with­out being sued,” Karsen­ty told The Jerusalem Post short­ly after the ver­dict was issued at 1:30 p.m. Paris time.

Al-Dura was filmed cow­er­ing with his father, Jalal, behind a bar­rel at the Gaza Strip’s Net­zarim junc­tion on Sep­tem­ber 30, 2000, dur­ing an appar­ent gun bat­tle between Pales­tini­ans and IDF troops.

Fifty-five sec­onds of video footage were released to the world by France 2 at the time, out of some 18 min­utes that were shown in court and even more footage that France 2’s detrac­tors claim is not being shown to the pub­lic.

The video, tak­en by Pales­tin­ian cam­era­man and France 2 stringer Talal Abu Rah­ma, shows al-Dura hid­ing, and then cuts to footage of him lying, appar­ent­ly dead, at the junc­tion. It does not show the child killed.

The footage, and Ender­lin’s broad­cast asser­tion of Israeli respon­si­bil­i­ty for the killing of al-Dura, turned the 12-year-old’s death into a cause célèbre in the Mus­lim world.

Accord­ing to Mid­dle East and media expert Tom Gross, “Osama bin Laden referred to al-Dura in a post‑9/11 video; the killers of Wall Street Jour­nal reporter Daniel Pearl placed a pic­ture of him in their behead­ing video; streets, squares and acad­e­mies have been named after al-Dura. He became a poster child for the [sec­ond] intifa­da.”

Karsen­ty, the head of the media watch­dog Media Rat­ings, was sued for libel after call­ing for Ender­lin’s and France 2 news direc­tor Arlette Chabot’s dis­missal, say­ing the footage was “a hoax.”

Ender­lin, who was not present in Gaza at the time of the inci­dent, has vehe­ment­ly denied the charge, express­ing con­fi­dence in cam­era­man Abu Rah­ma’s hon­esty.

Con­vict­ed of libel in 2006, Karsen­ty was slapped with two $1,380 fines — one to be paid to France 2 and one to the sta­tion’s reporter — and ordered to pay anoth­er $4,000 in court costs when he wrote that the inci­dent con­sti­tut­ed a “mas­quer­ade that dis­hon­ors France and its pub­lic tele­vi­sion.”

On Wednes­day, his appeal against that con­vic­tion was upheld.

The IDF, which ini­tial­ly apol­o­gized for the death of al-Dura, con­clud­ed after an inves­ti­ga­tion that the boy could not have been hit by Israeli bul­lets.

A state­ment for­ward­ed to the Post from Ender­lin said “the appeals court ruled that Karsen­ty’s words were, in fact, libelous, and that Karsen­ty failed to prove that the news was staged and/or false.”

The state­ment added that the case was nev­er­the­less over­turned because “the court believed Karsen­ty had the right to stri­dent­ly crit­i­cize the [France 2] report, since it dealt with an emo­tion­al top­ic, and that Karsen­ty’s inves­ti­ga­tion into the mat­ter con­vinced the court he was being sin­cere.”

A source close to Ender­lin’s side of the case explained that “you can get out of a libel suit either by prov­ing you’re right, or by show­ing you were sin­cere and had some research. The court found the lat­ter to be the case.”

The source also said Ender­lin and France 2 would appeal the ver­dict, not­ing that they had won three out of four instances of judg­ment in the mat­ter.

But, replied Karsen­ty, the only appeal left would be to France’s Supreme Court.

“If they con­tin­ue to insist they are cor­rect,” added Karsen­ty, “we will have vic­tims of ter­ror attacks that direct­ly result­ed from the [al-Dura] footage sue France 2.”

Karsen­ty also called on French Pres­i­dent Nico­las Sarkozy, who Karsen­ty sees as “ulti­mate­ly respon­si­ble” for the pub­licly owned tele­vi­sion sta­tion, “to take respon­si­bil­i­ty for the French state’s defense of the worst anti-Semit­ic lie around. It’s time to apol­o­gize to the world for broad­cast­ing a fake news report that has inflamed the Mus­lim world and endan­gered world peace.”

Karsen­ty’s claims are based on incon­sis­ten­cies in the footage, includ­ing a pub­licly avail­able video-taped admis­sion by Abu Rah­ma that there are untold secrets relat­ed to the case, the fact that only sev­en bul­let holes are seen behind al-Dura despite Abu Rah­ma’s repeat­ed state­ments that the child sur­vived 45 min­utes of con­tin­u­ous shoot­ing by Israeli forces direct­ed at the boy, footage clear­ly show­ing pre­tend gun bat­tles and faked ambu­lance runs at the junc­tion that day, tes­ti­mo­ny of the IDF sol­diers sta­tioned at the junc­tion who said they did not par­tic­i­pate in any fire­fight that day, and the lack of footage of al-Dura’s actu­al shoot­ing.

Despite France 2’s play­ing down of the ver­dict, some ana­lysts believe it is sig­nif­i­cant. Accord­ing to Gross, “Today’s rul­ing shows there are seri­ous doubts about France 2’s ver­sion of events, and that the entire world press was irre­spon­si­ble in being so quick to take at face val­ue the claims of a local Pales­tin­ian cam­era­man, who has admit­ted his par­ti­san­ship.”

Sev­er­al months ago, the deputy com­man­der of the IDF Spokesman­’s Office, Col. Shlo­mi Am-Shalom, wrote to France 2 ask­ing for the entire unedit­ed 27-minute film shot by France 2’s Pales­tin­ian cam­era­man on Sep­tem­ber 30, 2000, as well as footage the cam­era­man filmed on Octo­ber 1, 2000. Am-Shalom stressed that the IDF had “ruled out” the notion that al-Dura was killed by Israeli fire.

Cit­ing the find­ings of the IDF’s probe into the inci­dent, ordered by then-OC South­ern Com­mand Maj.-Gen. Yom Tov Samia, Am-Shalom wrote, “The gen­er­al has made clear that from an analy­sis of all the data from the scene, includ­ing the loca­tion of the IDF posi­tion, the tra­jec­to­ry of the bul­lets, the loca­tion of the father and the son behind an obsta­cle, the cadence of the bul­let fire, the angle at which the bul­lets pen­e­trat­ed the wall behind the father and his son, and the hours of the events, we can rule out with the great­est cer­tain­ty the pos­si­bil­i­ty that the gun­fire that appar­ent­ly harmed the boy and his father was fired by IDF sol­diers, who were at the time locat­ed only inside their fixed posi­tion [at the junc­tion].”

The text of Wednes­day’s rul­ing has not yet been released to the media.