Spitfire List Web site and blog of anti-fascist researcher and radio personality Dave Emory.

News & Supplemental  

Boy, 12, slain at onset of intifada gains new life in libel suit

by Matthew Kalman

Mohammed al-Dura’s gut-wrench­ing death is run­ning again on tele­vi­sion screens across the world, sev­en years after the 12-year-old boy died in his father’s arms in a hail of bul­lets.

An appeals court in Paris has demand­ed to see the exclu­sive footage shot by state-owned France 2 tele­vi­sion to resolve a libel case brought by the chan­nel and its vet­er­an Jerusalem bureau chief Charles Ender­lin against a com­men­ta­tor who accused them of fab­ri­cat­ing the Sept. 30, 2000, inci­dent on the sec­ond day of the intifa­da upris­ing.

The images of Mohammed’s death after he was caught in cross fire between Pales­tin­ian gun­men and Israeli sol­diers at the Net­zarim junc­tion out­side Gaza City became the most potent icon of the Pales­tin­ian upris­ing and per­haps the most fre­quent­ly broad­cast image of the Pales­tin­ian-Israeli strug­gle in the Arab world.

The boy has been men­tioned by Osama bin Laden, and his pho­to­graph could be seen on a wall where the Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist Daniel Pearl was mur­dered in Pak­istan in 2002. Streets, parks, youth camps and pub­lic build­ings have been named in Mohammed’s hon­or by the Pales­tin­ian Author­i­ty, and some sui­cide bombers said they mar­tyred them­selves in trib­ute to his mem­o­ry.

The 2001 Mitchell Report, a U.S. study on the state of the Israel-Pales­tin­ian con­flict head­ed by for­mer Sen. George Mitchell, referred to the impact of Mohammed’s killing on Pales­tin­ian pub­lic opin­ion. “From the per­spec­tive of the PLO (Pales­tine Lib­er­a­tion Orga­ni­za­tion), Israel respond­ed to the dis­tur­bances with exces­sive and ille­gal use of dead­ly force against demon­stra­tors; behav­ior which, in the PLO’s view, reflect­ed Israel’s con­tempt for the lives and safe­ty of Pales­tini­ans. For Pales­tini­ans, the wide­ly seen images” of Mohammed “rein­forced that per­cep­tion.”

Israeli offi­cials at first apol­o­gized for the boy’s death, but have spent the sub­se­quent years try­ing to prove that he died from Pales­tin­ian bul­lets.

Years lat­er, even though the Pales­tin­ian intifa­da was even­tu­al­ly crushed, inci­dents such as Mohammed’s death have con­tributed to a sense among Israelis that they were the losers in the con­flict.

“This broad­cast brought about a huge rage and storm of emo­tions in the Mus­lim Arab world. It was the real emo­tion­al pre­text and one of the major rea­sons for the avalanche of Pales­tin­ian vio­lence against the Jew­ish nation and the state of Israel,” Nit­sana Dar­shan-Leit­ner, attor­ney for the Israel Law Cen­ter Shu­rat Hadin, wrote to the direc­tor of the Israel Gov­ern­ment Press Office ear­li­er this year, demand­ing he rescind France 2’s press cre­den­tials.

Her inter­ven­tion brought to a head lin­ger­ing doubts about the authen­tic­i­ty of the 59-sec­ond clip broad­cast. In response, Daniel Sea­man, direc­tor of the Israel Gov­ern­ment Press Office, open­ly accused Ender­lin and his cam­era­man, Talal Abu Rah­ma, of a “mod­ern blood libel” against Israel.

“With­out any deep and seri­ous inves­ti­ga­tion, the glob­al media con­vict­ed the state of Israel in the mur­der of a lit­tle boy, and his image remained tat­tooed and engraved in the col­lec­tive Arab mem­o­ry as a sym­bol for the cru­el­ty of the Zion­ist nation,” Sea­man respond­ed to Dar­shan-Leit­ner on Sept. 23.

He accused Abu Rah­ma of the “sys­tem­at­ic stag­ing of action scenes” but said he was not allowed to with­draw press cre­den­tials from the bureau.

In an inter­view, Ender­lin said he stood by the orig­i­nal broad­cast.

“The video is authen­tic, and we will con­tin­ue fil­ing libel suits against peo­ple who say con­trary,” Ender­lin said. “The sto­ry was not staged.”

Ender­lin said he was 70 miles away that day in the West Bank city of Ramal­lah, but kept in close touch with Abu Rah­ma when his cam­era­man report­ed he was pinned down in the mid­dle of a fire­fight.

“The tape begins with a nor­mal intifa­da scene — Pales­tin­ian youths throw­ing stones and Molo­tov cock­tails at the Israeli posi­tion,” said Ender­lin. “Then the shoot­ing begins — from the Pales­tin­ian posi­tion — and then there is may­hem.”

Ender­lin said France 2 had refused to release the full footage on prin­ci­ple “just as any news­pa­per will refuse to show the pri­vate notes of jour­nal­ists.” But he said he wel­comed a deci­sion by the French appeal court to screen the 27 min­utes of raw footage next month in court.

“I am very hap­py about that,” he said. “I hope to have the pos­si­bil­i­ty to show our work.”

Natan Sha­ran­sky, a for­mer Israeli Cab­i­net min­is­ter who is now chair­man of Adel­son Insti­tute for Strate­gic Stud­ies at the Shalem Cen­ter in Jerusalem, called on France 2 to release its raw footage.

“The al-Dura inci­dent was­n’t the only media report to inflame pas­sions against Israel in recent years, but it was the one with the high­est pro­file,” Sha­ran­sky wrote this week in the Wall Street Jour­nal, link­ing it to “the insid­i­ous trend in which West­ern media out­lets allow them­selves to be manip­u­lat­ed by dis­hon­est and polit­i­cal­ly moti­vat­ed sources.

“Trag­i­cal­ly, there is no way to repair the dam­age inflict­ed on Israel’s inter­na­tion­al image by the France 2 report, much less restore the Israeli and Jew­ish vic­tims whose lives were exact­ed as vengeance. It is pos­si­ble, how­ev­er, to deter slan­der­ous news report­ing — and the vio­lence that often accom­pa­nies it — by set­ting a prece­dent for media account­abil­i­ty,” he wrote.

But Nach­man Shai, a for­mer Israeli army spokesman who is writ­ing a report on the inci­dent, said Israel had noth­ing to gain from its re-appear­ance on the front pages.

“We the state of Israel lose on this issue,” Shai said. “It was a mis­take to take respon­si­bil­i­ty ... but we will nev­er be able to prove it. Now that the sto­ry is out there again, we are blamed again, the sto­ry is turned against us again and there is no ben­e­fit.”

Shai said he had been invit­ed to view the full tape by Ender­lin, but it did not show any­thing new. He said there was no point demand­ing its release.

“From what I saw, we don’t learn any­thing more. There is no new evi­dence there,” he said. “Now the pic­tures will be broad­cast again and again. Mil­lions of peo­ple who nev­er saw these images because they were broad­cast six or sev­en years ago have now seen them in the past two days and it’s back on the agen­da.”

In Gaza, Jamal al-Dura stood by his son’s grave and said there was no ques­tion an Israeli sol­dier had fired the fatal bul­lets. He offered to exhume his son’s body for bal­lis­tic tests, which he refused to do sev­en years ago.

“The Israelis killed my son. Now they are try­ing to deny respon­si­bil­i­ty. They want to erase the case of my son,” he said.


No comments for “Boy, 12, slain at onset of intifada gains new life in libel suit”

Post a comment