The whole world watched the agonizing drama of the 12-year-old Palestinian boy, Mohammed al-Dura, pinned down in crossfire between Arab snipers and Israeli Defense Forces.
It was one of the most widely reported stories of 2000. Due to the presence of the news media there in Gaza’s remote Netzarim junction that Sept. 30, an international audience watched little Mohammed crouching in terror behind his father, Jamal, who struggled in vain to protect his son from the gunfire. Millions witnessed the moment the boy’s life was snuffed out by an Israeli bullet. He died there, cradled in his father’s arms, after both father and son frantically pleaded for help.
At least that’s how the story was portrayed on television worldwide.
The Israelis were blamed by all, and indeed the Israeli military even apologized for the tragedy initially. Mohammed al-Dura soon became the poster child, rallying cry and virtual symbol of the “al-Aqsa intifada.” Heart-wrenching photographs of father and son were posted everywhere alongside roads throughout the West Bank and Gaza. Egyptian authorities named a street after the boy and Palestinian television created an edited version wherein pictures of an Israeli soldier shooting were spliced into the original footage. And countless Palestinian would-be suicide bombers dedicated their lives and souls to the destruction of Israel and liberation of Palestine, swearing vengeance for the death of little Mohammed al-Dura, ruthlessly murdered by Israeli soldiers.
There’s only one problem. Multiple, exhaustive investigations have shown Mohammed al-Dura was not shot by Israelis. In fact, as a new journalistic probe conducted in France shows, it was very likely all a charade. Worse, the news media were almost certainly complicit in the charade.
Playing to the camera
It’s often said that the Palestinians make up in public-relations savvy what they lack in armaments. Indeed, they are notorious for playing to the overly sympathetic and often one-sided international media’s camera, and complete fabrication is an honored weapon, employed effectively and often.
Remember the Israeli military incursion last April into the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank – a major terrorist enclave? Remember the claims of hundreds and even thousands of dead, the result of a brutal “massacre” by Israelis?
Here’s how Douglas Davis, London correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, reported the situation:
When Israeli troops broke up the terrorist infrastructure in Jenin which had produced at least half of the suicide bombers, European politicians, journalists and human-rights campaigners joined in a chorus of “Massacre.” Saeb Erekat, one of Arafat’s top aides, provided the justification when he spoke of at least 3,000 dead. Abu Ali added the local color when he led willing journalists to the ruins of what had been his home and where, he said, nine of his children now lay dead. The media’s rush to judgment turned into a stampede. As further proof of the “massacre,” the good people of Jenin staged a series of highly emotive funeral processions (the parades ended only when a “body” was twice tipped out of its stretcher on the way to the cemetery, at which point the “martyr” stood up and walked off in disgust).
With barely a glance at the cautionary Israeli officials, Phil Reeves wrote in the [London] Independent of “hundreds of corpses entombed beneath the dust,” the London Evening Standard’s Sam Kiley reported “staggering brutality and callous murder,” the [London] Times’ Janine di Giovanni accused Israel of using terrorism as an excuse to attack children, while the Guardian’s award-winning Suzanne Goldenberg added breathlessly that the destruction “is almost beyond imagination.”
When the thousands of bodies failed to materialise, the Palestinians revised the numbers downwards and the journalists realized the game was up. Some simply cut their losses and moved on to fresh pastures. But among those who could not bear to abandon a winning storyline was a British television reporter who perched in the midst of the rubble to intone solemnly, “No one knows what happened here, but it is certain war crimes were committed.” Oh really?
Within days of Israel’s departure, talk of a massacre ceased and Saeb Erekat’s 3,000 dead was reduced to 52 (all nine of Abu Ali’s children, bless them, are fighting fit).
There have been no retractions by the papers and television stations which published the original, unsubstantiated nonsense.
Such Arab theatrics are legendary – fueled by the belief that all tactics, including deception, are fair in the war for the liberation of Palestinine. The two-and-a-half-year-old “al-aqsa intifada,” supposedly a spontaneous uprising triggered by Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount, had actually been planned months in advance. More theater.
|Photographers zoom in on demonstrator waving Palestinian flag in an apparently staged photo shoot.|
In fact, the entire Palestinian nationalist movement, the quest for a “return” to “their land,” the public statements by Palestinian leaders that they wish for a peaceful, side-by-side existence with Israel – it is all theater – brought to you by the news media. It is a grand, epic drama produced and directed for the sole purpose of bringing about the fulfillment of the true (albeit downplayed) agenda – namely the end of an official Jewish presence in the Middle East:
“Yes, the existence of a separate Palestinian identity is there only for tactical reasons. The establishment of a Palestinian state is a new expedient to continue the fight against Zionism and for Arab unity.” –Zoheir Muhsin, head of the PLO Military Operations Department and member of the PLO Executive Council, 1977
“There has been no change whatsoever in the fundamental strategy of the PLO, which is based on the total liberation of Palestine and the destruction of the occupying country … On no accounts will the Palestinians accept part of Palestine and call it the Palestinian state, while forfeiting the remaining areas which are called the State of Israel.” –Rafiq Najshah, PLO representative in Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabian News Agency, June 9, 1980
“The struggle with the Zionist enemy is not a struggle about Israel’s borders, but about Israel’s existence. We will never agree to anything less than the return of all our land and the establishment of the independent state.” –Bassam Abu Sharif, a top Arafat aide and PLO spokesman, quoted by the Kuwait News Agency, May 31, 1986
“The establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip does not contradict our ultimate strategic aim, which is the establishment of a democratic state in the entire territory of Palestine, but rather is a step in that direction.”
–Salah Khalaf (Abu Iyad) interview with Al-Safir, Lebanon, Jan. 25, 1988
“This is the ideology of the PLO and of Yasser Arafat: To destroy the state of Israel and to establish a Palestinian state instead. They will accept the territories – but only as a beginning, as a base for further attacks to conquer all of Israel. Why give them this opportunity to strengthen their efforts to attack us?” –Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, U.S. News & World Report, March 21, 1988
So who shot Mohammed?
From the beginning of the Mohammed al-Dura affair, the news media were suspect.
In the incident’s aftermath, the international media glibly reported that “a French photographer” or “a French television crew” had filmed the tragedy. Actually, although the news organization was French, the photojournalist who actually filmed the shooting was a Palestinian named Talal Abu Rahma, who lives in Gaza. Although Talal – who won many prizes for his coverage of the al-Dura shooting – initially insisted the Israelis had murdered the boy in cold blood, he later changed his testimony to say he thought the bullets came from the Israeli direction. French-Israeli journalist Charles Enderlin, working for France 2, narrated the incident as it was shown on TV, giving the false impression he was an immediate witness. (France 2 later changed its code of conduct to prohibit such deception.) And the international news media, with no independent investigation or verification, simply repeated the story as France 2 had framed it.
Although the Israeli military immediately assumed responsibility and apologized for the shooting, it soon became apparent that the IDF soldiers, positioned kitty-corner across the Netzarim Junction from Mohammed and Jamal al-Dura, couldn’t have shot them, as both father and son were protected from that direction by a large concrete barrel. If so, then what really happened?
In October, 2000, Yosef Doriel – an Israeli engineer and former Israel Defense Force sharpshooter – spearheaded the first investigation and re-enactment of the Mohammed al-Dura shooting. His conclusion: The 12-year-old boy could not have been shot by IDF soldiers – but instead fell victim to a cruel plot perpetrated by Palestinian sharp-shooters and a Palestinian television cameraman.
In the video, noted Doriel, “you can hear the firing – but the Israeli position was far away! Rather, what happened was that a Palestinian advanced to a spot very close to the photographer, and shot the fatal shot. You can also notice that at that moment of the fatal shots, the photographer suddenly ‘shook’ and the picture was blurred – a signal that the shots came from close to him.” Doriel was emphatic: “The Palestinian forces staged the event. The Israelis were firing, for sure – but the fatal shots came not from them, but from the Palestinian position in front of the boy, behind the cameraman.”
When this writer interviewed Doriel shortly after the incident, he said he had personally sent the results of his investigation to then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
As Doriel hypothesized the unthinkable – the possibility that Mohammed al-Dura was killed by a zealous Palestinian prepared to send the boy to a glorious life in paradise in return for advancing the glorious Palestinian cause on earth – another Israeli investigation was proceeding.
At one of the Israel Defense Force’s southern firing ranges, participants piled up blocks to simulate the wall where the boy and his father were pinned. A concrete barrel was brought in to represent the one behind which the father and son crouched. “Soldiers sent to the firing range by the IDF Southern Commander, Maj. Gen. Yom Tov Samia, stood on top of a dirt embankment and fired shots at the wall and barrel, using a variety of different weapons,” reported the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz.
Then, on Nov. 27, Samia finally made the results of the IDF’s official inquiry – as distinct from Doriel’s own analysis – public: “A comprehensive investigation conducted in the last weeks casts serious doubt that the boy was hit by Israeli fire,” he said. “It is quite plausible that the boy was hit by Palestinian bullets in the course of the exchange of fire that took place in the area.”
|Wall at shooting scene showing bullet holes.|
“This Israeli investigation is an attempt to hide the facts,” countered Marwan Kanafani, then a top aide to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, according to the Boston Globe. “The facts are that Israeli troops shot Dura and his father.”
And what about the Palestinian cameraman who videotaped the shooting? Talal Abu Rahma said he heard bullets whistling over his head. The ones that hit al-Dura and his father clearly came from the Israeli position, he said.
“All of the Palestinian policemen ran like rabbits after three or four minutes of Israeli shooting. No one could raise his head,” he said “The closest Palestinian policemen were 200 meters away. They couldn’t have shot him.”
Although Samia left open the possibility that Palestinian gunmen shot Dura and his father accidentally, Doriel doesn’t think it was an accident. In addition to the forensic and ballistic evidence, Doriel points to a culture that has demonstrated not only the willingness, but the determination to send its young children to the front lines of its “holy war.”
‘Was Mohammed really killed?’
Now, revelations from a new book, the result of a long-term journalistic investigation, takes the Mohammed al-Dura case even further into the surreal world of theater – and issues an even more damning indictment of the press for perpetuating the “myths of the Middle East.”.
In “Contre-expertise d’une mise en sc?ne” published by ?ditions Rapha?l, G?rard Huber, a psychoanalyst and permanent Paris correspondent of the Israel-based Metula News Agency, reports on the investigation conducted by a team of journalists, including Huber and St?phane Juffa, Metula’s editor in chief. They studied the testimony of journalist Enderlin, cameraman Rahma, the boy’s father Jamal al-Dura and others, taking note of discrepancies, inconsistencies, contradictions. They also viewed video footage filmed by other accredited cameramen present at the time of the incident.
“What really happened at Netzarim junction?” asks Huber. “One thing is certain: Given the position of the protagonists during the firefight it is impossible that the child was hit by Israeli bullets. Mohamed al-Dura was not killed by Israelis. And the bigger question remains: Was Mohammed really killed?”
Having examined the extensive film excerpts made not only by Talal Abu Rahma but by other TV cameramen filming during the battle at Netzarim junction, Huber makes a powerful case that the scene of the boy’s “death” is a fictional enactment handled with all the care and emotional impact of an epic poem or film, in a deliberate strategy to create an image to promote the intifada.
“Let there be no misunderstanding,” cautions Huber. “We do not claim that a child named Mohammed al-Dura did not die in the Palestinian territories that day or before. And we do not claim that this child is still alive today; because we have not done an investigation on this point, we cannot know. We think simply that:
- “An investigation should be able to establish the truth beyond all reasonable doubt; and no such investigation has been made; and
- “The body of the child shown on the screen [in the France 2 report] cannot be that of a child mortally wounded by high-speed bullets.”
Testifying under oath on Oct. 3, 2000, before the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, Talal Abu Rahma asserts:
“I can affirm that the fire that hit little Mohammed and his father Jamal came from the above-mentioned Israeli outpost because it was the only place from which it was possible to hit them. This is why, logically and naturally, and from my long experience acquired covering vigorous incidents and violent confrontations, and my ability to distinguish the noise produced by gunfire, I can confirm that the child was killed intentionally in cold blood and his father was wounded by the Israeli army.”
In subsequent interviews, the cameraman changes his story. He says the cloud of dust made it impossible to film the precise moment when the boy was fatally shot. Enderlin, on the other hand, claims he has footage of the boy’s death throes, which he cut out because they were too terrible to show.
The Israeli army, preoccupied with military problems as the initifada exploded – it had broken out just two days before – and not really aware of the propaganda impact of the al-Dura story, handled the whole thing clumsily. The France 2 journalist and cameraman continued to offer their versions of the event, constantly adding new details, modifying, contradicting themselves.
“The truth,” says Huber, “is, first of all, that the child shown on the screen is not dead. He plays dead. The badly wounded corpse of a child was shown by doctors at the Shifa hospital in Gaza; the child was dead, but he is not the child seen in the famous TV newscast. A child was buried as a martyr – the same child seen in the Gaza hospital or another one? No way of knowing.”
Huber is well aware of the Palestinian penchant for theater. He describes an article in which Israeli commentator Amnon Lord raises the question of the 12-year-old “martyr’s” true fate –describing “incongruous battle scenes complete with wounded combatants and screeching ambulances played out in front of an audience of laughing onlookers, while makeshift movie directors do retakes of botched scenes.”
And on Oct. 9, 2002, the Metula News Agency published an article by a contributing Palestinian journalist, Sami El Soudi, in which he deplores the way Westerners accept uncritically Palestinian propaganda.
I have had the opportunity in previous articles to speak out against the false friends of Palestinians living in liberal democracies. I asked that they stop encouraging the propaganda buffoonery orchestrated and managed by the corrupt leaders who govern us and take us each day deeper into a strategic impasse.
Almost all Palestinian directors take part more or less voluntarily in these war commissions, under the official pretext that we should use all possible means, including trickery and fabulation, to fight against the tanks and airplanes the enemy has and we don’t.
I didn’t take part in the specific investigation related to the al-Dura affair … but you should know that our official press reported 300 wounded and dead at Netzarim junction the day when Mohammed was supposedly killed.
Most of the cameramen there were Palestinians. … They willingly took part in the masquerade, filming fictional scenes, believing they were doing it out of patriotism. When a scene was well done the onlookers laughed and applauded. Of course there are hours and hours of footage shot that day and I fear for the image of my people, that they have been recuped by Nahum Shahaf and his team of investigators, and these things I’m talking about will soon be showing on screens in America and Europe.
Nahum Shahaf is another Israeli investigator of the al-Dura affair, whose research was central to Huber’s book.
So, what about the other video shot during the al-Dura incident in Gaza?
“It is incredible,” says Huber, “how many people were calmly filming the battle of Netzarim on September 30th, 2000. Not only professionals – some of them standing no more than ten meters away from the al-Dura incident – but amateurs as well.
“The rushes [video clips] are full of surprising incongruities: Children smile as ambulances go by. A ‘wounded’ Palestinian collapses and two seconds later an ambulance pulls up to take him to the hospital. It looks as if the driver had been cued in, knew in advance where the Palestinian was going to fall, or was waiting in the upper right hand corner just out of the photographic field ready to zoom in on signal (there is a scene like this in the France 2 report.)
“In another rush we are startled to hear a Palestinian shouting: ‘It’s a flop! We have to do the whole thing over again!’”
What about the boy who was buried as Mohammed al-Dura?
“The tortured body of a child identified by the forensic physician as the young Mohammed bears horrible wounds,” says Huber. “One of the wounds is on his head and there is no way of knowing if it is connected with the boy’s murder; others are on the chest and abdomen. And you shudder with horror at the sight of a long swath of blood that runs the whole length of one of the wounds, as if the boy had been stabbed.
“Even before asking if this is in fact the body of the boy in the film one cannot help asking why the bullets that went through his body didn’t leave any trace of blood [at the site of the alleged death scene]. No blood on his forehead (if he was in fact wounded in the head … the declarations are contradictory), no blood on his t-shirt.
“Of course we saw this large patch of red immobilized under his body as the boy lies inert on the ground with his hand over his face. But when the frame is frozen you can see that this surface creeps gradually forward in a movement inconsistent with the flow of a huge pool of blood, and leaves no traces on the ground as blood would do.All these elements lead us to believe that what we are seeing is the red cloth or a similar device that moves little by little following the body’s slow fall.”
In a Metula News Agency interview with Nahum Shahaf, head of an Israeli commission set up to investigate the al-Dura affair, Shahaf – a physicist specializing in ballistics and the technology of filming images – voice some astounding conclusions:
I can show you a filmed document where you can clearly see that the impact of a bullet that supposedly hit the boy right in the stomach is in fact a piece of red cloth used to look like blood that falls onto his shirt as the film is shot. Now you can understand why the Palestinian Authority won’t allow an autopsy of the body and why the dozens of cameramen who were there couldn’t film the ambulance that supposedly came to evacuate the wounded. …
There is no Mohamad al-Dura affair. It’s an imposture, miserably picked up and passed on by unscrupulous Western journalists and exploited to the dregs by Arab media and their partisans. … Several short films were shot in the Netzarim area on the day of the al-Dura affair and some days before and after. They used directors, cameramen, and volunteer actors. We found these films. You can see them shooting little horror scenes. Often the director scolds the volunteers for their bad acting. The wounded get up and go back for another take, Palestinian bystanders laugh and applaud.
‘Three Bullets and a Child’
Meanwhile, German director Esther Schapira produced “Three Bullets and a Child: Who Killed the Young Mohammed al-Dura?” Nominated for best TV documentary in Germany and screened at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, the acclaimed documentary suggests the probability that Palestinian machine gun fire and not Israeli marksmen had killed the 12-year-old..
Surprisingly, every French television station to this day refuses to broadcast the film, even when Schapira offered it at no cost. And, complains Shapira in a Jerusalem Post report, what angers her the most is that Charles Enderlin, the France 2 correspondent in Jerusalem who broadcast the sensational story, now travels Europe claiming Schapira is an agent of the Likud.
“I identify myself politically with the Greens, and my sympathies definitely lie with Israel’s peace camp,” Schapira told the Post.
Even more troubling, France 2 adamantly refuses to release the raw footage taken by its Palestinian cameraman, despite repeated requests. Journalist Enderlin claims France 2 holds images of the child’s death throes, which he says he took out of his report for ethical reasons.
France 2’s position, writes Huber, is that it claims to have “nothing to hide, nothing to show, nothing to explain, nothing to answer. All the French TV stations have closed ranks.”
Although she understands why the Palestinians are not interested in further investigation, Schapira, a staff filmmaker for German public television, wonders why the West should be so resistant to a solid, impartial investigation.
And French author Nidra Poller, who translated parts of Huber’s book for Whistleblower, asks some probing questions about the French media’s behavior:
“Of course the Palestinians won’t allow any investigation on the evidence they hold. However, France 2 is not the Palestinians. It is a public service TV station in a democratic country. And Huber makes a convincing case for the collusion of France 2 in this stunt. There again, Huber does not claim what he cannot prove. Was Enderlin fooled in the beginning, and is he sticking to his guns for reasons of personal pride and perhaps ideology as well?
“How is it possible that France 2 refuses to cooperate with the investigation? If they have nothing to hide, wouldn’t it be to their interest to come forth, even partially?”
Reflecting on the huge questions that loom over one of the defining international news stories of the early Intifada, Poller asks: “Would the American media sit back and allow this kind of enormous question to remain in the box? If CNN cheats, does Fox News back them up? Well, that’s what happens in France. All the media stick together to protect the one that’s challenged.
“The myth of Mohamed Al-Dura, mascot of the Intifada, was made in France,” Poller concludes. “Where will it be undone? Time will tell. But if the Mohammed al-Dura affair shows how easily we can become victims of our own image illiteracy, it also points the way to a hopeful re-education of the public eye and an urgently necessary reform of journalistic ethics.”
This exclusive report was originally published in the March 2003 edition of WND’s acclaimed monthly Whistleblower magazine. Readers may receive a FREE copy of that issue, titled “MIDEAST REVOLUTION,” when they subscribe to Whistleblower before May 1, 2003. Subscribe, or find out more about Whistleblower.