In our last installment on what is developing into a poor-man’s Dreyfus Trial in France, we were on the edge of our seats wondering how France 2 would respond to the order of a French Appeals Court in a libel action brought by France 2 and one of its most respected TV journalists Charles Enderlin against Phillippe Karsenty. The latter had publicly accused Enderlin of perpetrating a journalistic hoax, with murderous consequences, and demanded that he and France 2’s news editor be fired.
The libel action arose out of a France 2 broadcast of scenes from a September 30 2000 confrontation between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers at Netzarim Junction in the Gaza Strip. That broadcast, which Enderlin generously offered to share free of charge with any other news agency in the world, showed a Palestinian boy, identified as Mohammed al-Dura cowering behind his father, who is himself shielded by a concrete-filled barrel. Enderlin, who was not present at Netzarim Junction during the filming of the alleged incident, solemnly pronounced the boy to have been killed by Israeli fire.
By all accounts Enderlin and France 2 were shocked when the Appeals Court ordered them to produce all the outtakes filmed by Palestinian cameraman Talal Abu-Rahma that day at the Netzarim Junction. And they were entitled to be shocked. After all, a lower French court had ruled in favor of Enderlin and France 2 and against Phillippe Karsenty, without requiring them to produce a scintilla of evidence as to the veracity of the broadcast clip or Enderlin’s conclusion that the boy was killed by Israeli fire.
After the French Appeals Court surprised Enderlin and France 2 by ordering the production of all the footage from which the 55 second clip was excerpted, France 2 had two highly unsavory choices in front of it. It could produce the raw footage and risk exposure for having perpetrated a journalistic fraud that inspired acts of murderous violence around the world. Or would they claim that the tape could not be found, and thereby basically throw in the towel in their libel action against Karsenty.
France 2 chose to do both and neither. It submitted to the Appeals Court only 18 minutes of the 27 minutes of outtakes shot by Abu-Rahma. Enderlin claimed that the rest had been erased when transferred to a master tape. So the main story out of the hearing, as Richard Landes, a professor of medieval history at Boston University, who has produced three documentaries on the Al-Dura case, said, is that France 2 presented the Appeals Court with tampered evidence.
Landes had previously viewed most of the 27 minutes of raw footage together with Enderlin, and so was in a position to testify that at least two obviously staged scenes were missing from the footage produced by France 2. In the missing scenes, according to Landes, a Palestinian adult pretends to be hit by Israeli fire and waits to be evacuated to a Palestinian ambulance. A group of Palestinian kids gather at the scene, but he gestures for them to leave, as they are too small to carry him to an ambulance. When no adults appear at the scene, however, he straightens up and walks away, without trace of a limp.
In another scene, a "demonstrator" is seen being handed a Molotov cocktail before moving into a crowd, which immediately picks him up and starts carrying him to an ambulance. Landes has clearcut evidence that Abu-Rahma shot this scene: a Reuters clip of the same scene shows Abu-Rahma filming the scene from close up.
Neither of the scenes cut out of the footage produced by France 2 in court directly relate to the Palestinian boy and his father. At most, they were more cumulative evidence that Abu-Rahma was busy that day shooting one staged scene after another. Even on the remaining 18 minutes, there are plenty of examples of obvious staging. Little boys throw stones and run away, presumably from Israeli fire, but they don’t even bother to lower their heads. And meanwhile adults are seen strolling in the same area as if they are out on a holiday outing.
The 18 minutes that were shown did no more to restore Enderlin’s journalistic credibility. Indeed, as reported by Melanie Phillips in the Spectator
, the packed courtroom on several occasions burst into spontaneous laughter at Enderlin’s tortured explanations of what they were viewing on the film.
First for what is missing. In the 18 minutes of film screened in the courtroom, noted Tom Gross of the Sunday Telegraph
, there was not one shot of an Israeli soldier shooting. More importantly, there was not one indication that the boy in the film was killed. The final three seconds of the tape of the boy were lopped off from that broadcast by France 2: Enderlin always claimed because the boy’s death throes would be too powerful for viewers to watch. But those three seconds do not show any death throes at all. Rather they show the boy lifting his head and peeking out from under the arm with which he is shielding his eyes, prior to resuming a prone posture – albeit with his leg still elevated in the air.
And there is plenty of other evidence of deliberate staging. One hears the mob shouting, "The boy is dead; the boy is dead," long before the boy has even lowered his head in a death posture. Enderlin helpfully explained to the court that perhaps they were anticipating his death. Nowhere is there any sign of the boy being hit or of any blood. The closest viewers come to seeing blood is a piece of red textile that the boy pulls from his leg and places on his stomach.
Despite Palestinian claims that he was struck by a bullet in the stomach, he is not seen clutching his stomach. Meanwhile videos taken of the incident show passersby strolling by without a care, even though the Palestinian cameraman Abu-Rahma testified that the father and son were under sustained Israeli fire for 45 minutes. Another video shows a cameraman crouching behind the man and the boy. Other telltale hints include: a camera tripod seen next to the man and boy.
Abu-Rahma told German investigator Esther Shapira that he filmed the father and son for six straight minutes. Yet only 58 seconds were shown, and those were cobbled together from six distinct pieces. Finally, Sami el-Soudi, a Palestinian journalist, working for the Metulla News Agency (MENA), a French-language press organization operating in Israel, interviewed doctors who examined a dead Palestinian child by the name of Mohammed al-Dura, and the hospital records show that he was brought to the hospital four hours before the film clip of the cowering boy was shot.
OF ALL THE PARTICIPANTS in this sorry spectacle, the easiest to understand is the Palestinian cameraman, Talal Abu-Rahma. He is a political partisan pure and simple. Upon receiving an award in Morocco in 2001 for the "al-Dura" footage, he declared, "I went into journalism to carry on the fight for my people." The Islamic code of journalistic ethics does not include, as Professor Landes has pointed out, a devotion to truth. The Islamic Mass Media Charter promulgated in Jakarta in 1980 proclaims the sacred task of the Islamic media to protect the Islamic nation from "imminent danger," and to "censor all materials" with that end in view. When asked why he had spliced in a completely unrelated image of an Israeli soldier shooting into the "al-Dura" footage to make it look like the Israeli soldier was shooting at the boy, a PA-TV official explained, "These are forms of artistic expression, but all of this serves to convey the truth."
The tragedy is that so much of the Western media has adopted the Islamic conception of truth when it comes to reporting the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. After one Italian TV station broadcast images of the Ramallah lynch of two Israeli reservists – in which the bloodthirsty crowd repeatedly invoked the name of Mohammed al-Dura, the reporter for Italy’s state TV wrote to the PA that his station would never have done such a thing, and that it "fully respects the journalistic procedures of the Palestinian Authority for working in Palestine."
At least one French journalist has suggested that Karsenty is mentally unbalanced for professing surprise that France 2 broadcasts staged scenes. And even after last week’s dramatic courtroom confrontation between Enderlin and his accuser, French media continues to stifle virtually all mention of the libel trial. And when pushed as to how he could have made such an unequivocal declaration of Israeli guilt on the basis of such flimsy evidence and with admitted knowledge of the Palestinian tendency to make up things, Enderlin responds, "The clip reflects the reality in the West Bank and Gaza." That is the identical position of the Palestinian TV official quoted above: artistic license is permitted in the service of a deeper truth.
According to Karsenty, among Abu-Rahma’s unwitting accomplices (at least one hopes unwitting) was the Israeli ambassador to France, Danny Shek, a personal friend of Enderlin's (who is both Jewish and an Israeli citizen), who never questioned the veracity of the France 2 broadcast. Unfortunately, that tepid response was characteristic for Israel for the last seven years. Despite an IDF report four days after the incident in question denying that the "boy" filmed could have been killed by Israeli fire, the lower French court relied on the lack of a strong Israeli protest in finding for Enderlin and France 2.
Professor Landes finds a possible explanation for the European media's failure to question the iconic image of the cowering Palestinian boy, in a comment of Catherine Nay, a respected news anchorfor EuropeI, who said: "The Death of Muhammead cancels out, erases taht of the Jewish child, his hands in the air from the SS in the Warsaw Ghetto."
"How ironic," remarks Professor Landes, "the Europeans use an image produced by those who admire the Nazis and dream of genocidal victory over the Jews, to erase their own guilt over the Holocaust. Europe has 'atoned' for its sins against the Jews by empowering its Muslim extremists . . . "
This article appeared in the London Jewish Tribune on November 29 2007.
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