Truth on Trial
by Jonathan Rosenblum
January 25, 2013
A trial of major importance took place last week in Paris, and my guess would be that even among American Jews best informed about matters relating to Israel few are aware of it. I refer to the fourth round in the legal battle between Charles Enderlin and France 2 on one side and media critic Phillipe Karsenty on the other. Ironically both Enderlin and Karsenty are Jewish, and the former is a dual French-Israeli citizen as well.
The subject of this legal battle is the alleged shooting by Israeli soldiers of a Palestinian boy identified as Mohammed al-Dura at the Netzarim junction on Sept. 30 2000. France 2 broadcast 55 seconds of footage, with a voice-over commentary by its chief Israel correspondent Enderlin (who was not at the Netzarim junction when the events in question took place), in which Enderlin solemnly intones that Israeli soldiers shot the boy. Enderlin generously provided the clip free of charge to any other news organization that wished to broadcast it, and the picture of the terrified boy crouching behind his father quickly assumed iconic status.
The picture of the cowering boy fanned Muslim hatred of Israel and Jews, not that much fanning is needed. When Daniel Pearl was beheaded by Islamists in Pakistan, the photo was prominently displayed in the background. The crowd that literally eviscerated two Israeli reservists in Ramallah at the outset of the Al-Aqsa Intifada chanted of their revenge for the blood of Mohammed Al-Dura. And Osama bin Laden made reference to the boy in the tape he released after 9/11. Palestinian TV has made a staple of Mohammed al-Dura beckoning to young children to join him as jihad martyrs in Paradise. And most recently, Mohammed Merah, the cold-blooded murderer of four Jews (three of them children) at point blank range, in a Toulouse Otzar HaTorah school, has proven to be obsessed with al-Dura.
That 55 second clip in fact consisted of six different segments spliced together from a total of 27 minutes of footage filmed by Palestinian cameraman Talul Abu Rahmeh, during what he claimed was 45 minutes of sustained Israeli shooting. Enderlin also spliced in a picture on an Israeli soldier firing a gun to suggest that he was firing at the boy and his father.
The legal battle commenced when Enderlin and France 2 sued Karsenty for defamation, after the latter published a series of pieces in which he charged that the former had perpetrated a fraud on the French public, and that the 55 second clip was staged. Karsenty was able to show that if the boy in the film clip had been shot he could not have been directly targeted by Israeli soldiers, as he was not in the line of fire of the Israeli stockade. At most, he could have been hit by ricocheting bullet. But all the bullet holes in the wall behind where the boy and his father were crouching showed direct shots. In any event, Abu Rahmeh's story that Israeli soldiers had been shooting for 45 minutes at the boy and father was absurd on its face. Hundreds of rioting Palestinians were standing in front of the Israeli stockade. Had Israeli soldiers wanted to shoot Palestinians they had hundreds of much easier targets directly in front of them.
Enderlin and France 2 put on no case whatsoever. They contented themselves with a letter from then President Jacques Chirac attesting to Enderlin's general excellence as a journalist. Amazingly, that proved sufficient for the court to rule against Karsenty.
Karsenty appealed, and the Appeals Court did something that it has apparently never occurred to the plaintiffs that it might do: It ordered France 2 to produce all the footage shot by Abu Rahmeh. That footage established that both Enderlin and Abu Rahmeh are liars. Enderlin claimed that he had not included in the final clip the boy's actual death because his death throes were simply too painful for a TV audience. But in the full footage (or at least the 18 of the original 27 minutes which France 2 provided), there were no such death throes. Worse, the supposedly dead boy lifts his head, looks around, moves his leg, and shields his eyes from the sun. The crowd chants, "The boy is dead, the boy is dead," even though he clearly was not. Enderlin provoked titters in the courtroom when he suggested that the crowd really meant, "The boy is in danger of dying."
Whether Enderlin knew from the start that he had been deceived by his Palestinian cameraman, cannot not be established. But that he is a liar is incontestable. In addition, to the concocted story about non-existent death throes, he provided the foreign press with a blatantly false drawing of the Netzarim Junction showing the boy and his father in the line of Israel fire.
The outtakes provided by France 2 and clips filmed by other film crews at the same time clearly establish that the entire incident was staged. In those outtakes bystanders stroll by casually and kids ride their bicycles in front of the father and boy, apparently oblivious to the fusillade supposedly being aimed at father and son. A slow motion examination of the outtakes, shows the cameraman holding up two fingers to indicate "Take Two." A contemporaneous Reuters clip catches Abu Rahmeh filming another obviously staged scene involving a Molotov cocktail. (That staged event was omitted from Abu Rahmeh's outtakes furnished to the court by France 2.)
Nachum Shalaf, an Israeli civilian physicist, who was placed in charge of the Israeli government investigation, also discovered that a boy named Rami Jamal al-Dura had been declared dead in a Gaza hospital at 1:00 p.m. on the day in question, even though the supposed shooting of a boy initially identified as Mohammed Rami al-Dura, did not take place until 3:00 p.m. The dead boy was also much bigger than the one seen crouching in the film clips.
The father in the France 2 clips later pointed to wounds as corroboration of the claim that he and his son had been under fire. But an Israeli doctor later proved that he had treated the "father" for identical wounds years earlier. The father subsequently sued the doctor in a French court and lost.
Faced with the multitude of evidence, the French Appeals Court reached the only possible conclusion and ruled for Karsenty. At that point, one would have expected Enderlin to retire in disgrace and a government inquiry as to the standards of veracity of the state-owned station. But nothing of the kind took place. Instead of slinking off in disgrace, Enderlin appealed to the French Supreme Court. Even more troubling his journalist colleagues instead of shunning him rallied to his defense. A petition describing Enderlin as the victim of a "seven-year hate-filled smear campaign" appeared at the website of the left-wing Le Nouvel Observateur, and quickly garnered over 300 signatures from some of the leading names in French journalism.
French journalist Anne-Elisabeth Moutet published a 2008 piece in The Weekly Standard called, "L'Affaire Enderlin: Being a French journalist means never having to say you are sorry," based on interviews with many of the leading signatories. None of them argued that Israeli soldiers had, in fact, killed the boy cowering in the TV clip. Rather they expressed sympathy for their colleague, who had, in the words of one, probably made a mistake in haste under a tight deadline, and then doubled down on his lie. Jon Randall, the former Washington Post Paris correspondent, complained about journalists being subjected to the scrutiny of watchdog groups with their own agendas. Others sniffed that Karsenty is not a real journalist because he publishes on the Web.
Perhaps the most amazing "defense" was that of French journalist Claude Weill Reynal, who wrote that Karsenty must be a mad man for spending so much time proving that France 2 had broadcast a staged clip purporting to reflect reality because "[fake images] are used all the time everywhere on television and no TV journalist in the field or film editor would be shocked." Enderlin himself expressed the philosophy behind Reynal's argument: Even if Mohammed al-Dura was not killed by Israeli fire, other Palestinian children have been. Therefore at a deeper level the clip was true.
Meanwhile the rout suffered by Enderlin and France 2 in court and the vindication of Israel received almost no coverage in France, or in the international press.
There was still one more amazing twist to come. The French Supreme Court ruled that it had been a mistake for the Appeals Court to compel France 2 to produce the outtakes from which the clip had been spliced, despite that fact that they constituted by far the best evidence of the journalistic integrity, or lack thereof, of Enderlin, his cameraman Talul Abu Rahmeh, and France 2.
The Supreme Court ordered another trial, at which Karsenty was forced to present his case without benefit of the most probative evidence. In short, he was compelled to show that not only had Enderlin and France 2 perpetrated fraud, but that he had grounds to know that they had done so when he wrote his harsh criticisms. And that was the trial that took place last week.
Richard Landes, a Boston University historian, who has followed the al-Dura case from the beginning, was in the courtroom last week for the fourth round (actually the sixth hearing.) He describes the hearing at his website the Augean Stable devoted to the al-Dura case, in particular, and Palestinian use of faked images (which Landes terms Pallywood), in general. Karsenty presented a detailed forensic case beginning with a mock-up of the Netzarim Junction to show how wildly implausible the whole story was from the start. Then he deftly went about demonstrating the ways in which France 2 consistently used staged footage in its broadcasts. In response, France 2 did nothing more than show four news broadcasts dealing with the al-Dura "killing" – the very clips that Karsenty had just so deftly deconstructed – as if repeating a fraud again would turn it into the truth.
The French Societie des Journalists and SNJ de France Television both called on their members to attend the trial to show their support for Enderlin, who looked quite alone in the dock, with little to say for himself. And the Avocate Generale – an independent figure in the French legal system – reminded the judges that the Truth of what happened at Netzarim Junction was not the issue, only Karsenty's good faith in slamming Enderlin's journalistic integrity.
I was reminded of the French legal system's conclusion that Truth is not relevant by last week's publication of a piece by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic, in which he quoted President Obama as saying that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu does not serve Israel's best interests because he has caused Israel's growing international isolation. Would that it were true, and that the world is an impartial observer ready to give Israel a fair hearing and to decide matters on the merits.
Sadly, however, the manner in which the French elites – media, political, and judicial – have treated a lethal blood libel against Jews and the Jewish state suggests that the world is not concerned with Truth or Justice when it comes to Israel.
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