On November 16, a French court is scheduled to hear an appeal rivaling the Dreyfus Trial in its implications for the Jews of France, in particular, and Europe, in general. The issue at hand has generated nothing like furor that surrounded the Dreyfus Trial, which convulsed French society for over a decade, and about which there were few neutrals in the battle between Dreyfusards and anti-Dreyfusards. That lack of attention to a deadly serious debate is itself part of the story.
At issue in the French court is whether France 2 broadcast a deliberately false and inflammatory film clip on September 30 2000 of an obviously terrified Palestinian boy, Mohammed al-Dura, crouching behind his father, during a confrontation between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers at the Netzarim Junction in the Gaza Strip. The film ends with the father clutching his allegedly lifeless son – a death attributed by France 2 broadcaster Charles Enderlin to Israeli fire.
It would be hard to underestimate the impact of that 55-second clip. Enderlin, who holds dual French and Israeli citizenship, made the clip available free of charge to any media outlet that requested it. The heart-wrenching image of Mohammed al-Dura cowering behind his father rapidly assumed iconic status, and it has been shown thousands of times. The murderers of journalist Daniel Pearl included the France 2 video in their own video of Pearl’s execution.
The blood-thirsty mob that disembowled and cannibalized two Israel reservists who mistakenly strayed into Ramallah at the outset of the Al Aqsa intifada repeatedly invoked Mohammed al-Dura’s name. Osama bin-Laden referred to the martyr Mohammed al-Dura in his video celebrating 9/11. And Palestinian children have been repeatedly exposed to TV images of the slain boy beckoning them, from a cloud-filled paradise, to join him in martyrdom.
At European rallies against Israel, at which demonstrators chanted, "Death to Israel! Death to the Jews!," demonstrators held signs aloft juxtaposing Mohammed al-Dura hiding behind his father to another iconic photograph – that of a Jewish boy holding his hands aloft as a Nazi soldier points a gun at him. As one journalist told Europe I, "the image [of Mohammed al-Dura] annuls that of the little boy in the Warsaw ghetto."
THE FRENCH HEARING is round two of a libel suit brought by Enderlin and France 2 against journalist Phillippe Karsenty for an article Karsenty published on his website Media Ratings in November 2004. Karsenty demanded the ouster of Enderlin and the France 2 news chief for their roles in perpetrating a fraud on the viewing public. In the trial last year, neither Enderlin nor France 2 presented any evidence or witnesses. Nor did they challenge the evidence presented by Karsenty. Most significantly, France 2 did not produce 27 minutes of outtakes filmed by Palestinian cameraman Tilul Abu-Rehama from which the "death" of Mohammed al-Durah is excerpted.
The French procureur
recommended Karsenty’s acquittal. Yet remarkably the French court found against Karsenty. That judgment was based almost entirely on a letter from French President Jacques Chirac testifying to Enderlin’s general excellence as a journalist and on the failure of the Israeli government to protest Israel’s innocence in the boy’s death. The court stressed that "no Israeli authority, neither the army, which is nonetheless most affected, nor the Justice Ministry has ever accorded the slightest credit to [Karsenty’s] explanation."
That latter claim is untrue. But there is no denying that Israeli efforts to discredit the France 2 clip were lackadaisical in the extreme. Four days after Mohammed al-Dura’s alleged death, IDF chief of operations Gen.Giora Eiland accepted Israeli responsibility and expressed regret for the boy’s death. An internal IDF investigation ordered by OC Southern Command Yom Tov Samia published at the end of November 2000 concluded that there was an extremely low possibility of the boy having been hit by Israeli fire. But even in the Israeli press those findings were widely dismissed, and they received almost no attention outside of Israel.
Only thanks to a handful of crusading researchers did doubts about the veracity of the 55-second clip begin to surface. German filmmaker Esther Schapira released a film in March 2002, entitled "Three Bullets and a Dead Child: Who Shot Mohammed al-Dura?" which concluded that Israeli bullets could not have killed him. James Fallows, one of America’s most highly respected journalists, reached the same conclusion in Atlantic Monthly
three months later.
Though these critiques attracted little attention, particularly in Europe, questions about the al-Dura clip eventually pressured France 2 into allowing three French journalists to view the outtakes in late 2004. Two of those journalists Denis Jeanbar, a former editor of L’Express
, and Daniel Leconte, a documentary producer for French TV, subsequently printed an editorial in Le Figaro
, in which they said that there is not even any evidence that Mohammed al-Dura ever died. Of the 27 minutes of outtakes, they wrote, a full 24 are filled with obviously staged scenes.
Luc Rosenberg, the third journalist to view the clips, went further and concluded that the killing of Mohammed al-Dura was staged. That was also the conclusion of Boston University professor of Medieval History Richard Landes, who has produced three documentaries on the al-Dura "shooting."
Landes interviewed Enderlin at France 2’s Jerusalem studio, and the latter allowed him to view 20 minutes of the outtakes. During one obviously faked scene of an ambulance evacuation, Enderlin laughed. When Landes asked him why he was laughing, he replied, "because it’s so fake." Endlerlin then added, "They [the Arabs] do that all the time. It’s their cultural style. They exaggerate."
But when pressed by Landes as to whether the al-Dura clip also have been staged by Palestinian cameraman Tilul Abu-Rehema, Enderlin, who was not present at the Netzarim junction at the time of the "shooting," refused to consider the possibility that his cameraman had duped him so egregiously.
THE EVIDENCE, however, overwhelming indicates that Mohammed al-Dura was not shot by an Israeli soldier, and that he and his father were not under sustained Israeli fire for 45 minutes as claimed by Tilul Abu-Rehama. For one thing, the al-Dura’s were fully hidden from Israeli view by the concrete-filled barrel in front of them. They could not have been the targets of sustained fire. Film shot by other camera crews at the Netzarim Junction shows Palestinian youths throwing stones and Molotov Cocktails from an open area directly in front of the Israeli guard tower. Had Israeli soldiers been looking for young Palestinians to shoot they were not lacking in targets that day. Yet no other Palestinian was reported to have been shot in the day’s confrontation.
Only a ricocheting bullet could possibly have hit the al-Duras from the Israeli position. But all the bullet holes in the wall behind the al-Duras in the clip are fully symmetric, circular holes indicating a straight on hit. The only armed men opposite the al-Duras were Palestinian, not Israeli. Finally, other footage shows no blood at the spot where Mohammed al-Dura was supposedly hit in the stomach by an Israeli bullet and his father wounded in three places, until the following afternoon (in the course of a Palestinian-led tour for foreign journalists).
The evidence of a staged scene is also powerful. Enderlin claimed that he cut the boy’s death throes from the clip because they were too unbearable to watch. But, as Joanna Chandler reports in FrontPage Magazine
, the 55-second clip is actually seven segments spliced together. When viewed in slow motion, two fingers appear in the viewfinder at the end of the seventh segment, indicating Take Two. An additional three seconds not broadcast show the "dead" boy raising his elbow and right leg, and appearing to look furtively around prior to resuming the "dead position." Even after resuming the "dead position," he leaves his leg up in the air.
In footage of the al-Duras taken by other cameramen at the scene, they are seen positioning themselves behind the barrel while a whole crowd is seen running away, as if to clear the scene, and others stroll calmly down the street. At least two other cameramen were able to film the al-Duras from an exposed position directly behind them, belying Abu-Rehama’s claim that they were under constant fire.
DESPTE, OR PERHAPS BECAUSE OF, the massive play the Western mainstream media gave to the France 2 clip and its impact, that same media has been remarkably uninterested in the questions raised about the veracity of the clip. Even the French media showed little interest in the libel suit against Karsenty, at least until the court found for Enderlin and France 2. At that point, the media heralded the decision as a full vindication of Enderlin and France 2.
The media, however, will have a much harder time ignoring Karsenty’s appeal. To the apparent shock and dismay of France 2, Appellate Court Presiding Judge Laurence Treburg last month ordered France 2 to produce the full 27 minutes of outtakes. Only then did Israel for the first time issue its own public demand for the outtakes.
One reason for the lack of media interest in the al-Dura clip once it had served its purpose has to do with what French philosopher Alain Finkelkraut has described as the Age of Ideology in modern Western intellectual life. In the new dispensation, facts must conform to theory and not vice versa.
In a remarkable 2004 piece in Azure
, "In the Name of the Other: Reflections on the Coming Anti-Semitism," Finkelkraut outlines the theory that predominates in Europe (and which is finding a home on elite campuses in America as well.) Finkelkraut describes how Israelis have become transformed into the new Nazis by Europeans.
The memory of Auschwitz has transformed Europeans into permanent penitents, constantly on guard against themselves. Europeans intellectuals are perpetually on the look-out for anything that smacks of the Nazi dehumanization of the Jews, the transformation of the Jew into the Other lacking a shared humanity.
And, in one of history’s great ironies, the Nazis chief victims have become the prime suspects precisely because of their victimhood. Because the Jews have nothing about which to be penitent -- or so the theory goes – they are the most likely to turn another people into the Other.
"All confess the crimes they committed or let others commit. All admit their share of darkness, All accept humbly the civilizing burden of guilt. All distrust the Nazi that sleeps within them . . . . All, that is, except the Jews. For them, there is no obligation of memory and reparation," writes Finkelkraut.
From this suspicion of the Jews it is but a short step to assuming that the Jews have dehumanized the Arabs, turned them into the Other. Thus French political scientist Emmanuel Todd writes, "The incapacity of more and more Israelis to perceive the Arabs as human beings in general is obvious to the people who follow the news in print or on television."
That obviousness, however, is not the result of empirical observation but the outgrowth of the theory of the Jews’ supposed susceptibility to casting another people as the Other. In this theory, the Palestinians are not the enemy of the Israelis, but their Other. And the result is clear, writes Finkelkraut: "Being at war with one’s enemy is a human possibility; waging war on one’s other is a crime against humanity."
The Other can do no wrong. The Palestinians are thus absolved of all blame for their fate; everything that befalls them is a result of their Otherness. The Jews are responsible for everything. Just as the godfather of modern French thinkers, Jean Paul Sartre, once defined a Jew as nothing more than the product of the anti-Semite’s imagination, so the Palestinians are denied any existence, except as a projection of the Jewish psyche.
They are not actors; they have no goals of their own; they perpetrate no crimes. "If the Other commits reprehensible acts, it is only . . . in response . . . to the apartheid practices and the harsh security measures to which he has been unfairly subjected. . . . If he is a fanatic, it is because of the degradation to which . . . the Zionists have condemned him."
Not only must unruly facts be made to conform to this theory of the Other, but it is permissible to make up new facts in the service of some Higher Truth. In an interview with Professor Landes, Enderlin (who was not present at the Netzarim Junction) defended the clip as conforming to the situation in the West Bank and Gaza. In other words, even if the clip was fabricated, it was true at a higher level.
French journalist Claude Weill Raynal portrayed Karsenty as some kind of fanatic -- not for pointing out that the clip was unreliable, but for being surprised in the first place: "Karsenty is so shocked that fake images were used and edited in Gaza, but this happens all the time everywhere on television and no TV journalist in the field or film editor would be shocked. This has become more about [Karsenty] than anything else."
And when Leconte and Jeanbar pointed out the obvious staging in the 27 minutes of outtakes to the France 2 executive watching with them, the only response was: "Yes, but you know well it is always like that." That viewers of France 2 might not know they are watching are staged productions or that this particular staging ignited a notoriously volatile Moslem population and contributed to hundreds of deaths did not, however, faze her.
At stake in the French Appeals Court is much more than the reputations of Charles Enderlin and France 2. More even than the standard concepts of journalistic integrity. At stake is the very notion of Truth itself.
Once more Jews are Europe’s canary dispatched into a mine pit filled with noxious fumes. As in the 1930s, Europe faces an enemy it would rather not confront, and part of the price of appeasement is buying into that enemy’s narrative. The French Appeals Court will test just how far European society is willing to go in this direction and promoting the image of Israel as the new Nazi state.
This article appeared in the Jewish Observer on Novemeber 29, 2007.
Related Topics: Islamofacism & Terrorism
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