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Thread: The al-Dura myth

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    The al-Dura myth

    Nidra Poller
    National Post

    Wednesday, October 05, 2005

    'In the first year of the Intifada, 581 Palestinians and 34 Israelis were killed. This was because the IDF ... is the least moral [army] in the world. I want to remind the entire world that saw how the boy Muhammad al-Dura was killed while the soldiers sat and laughed.'

    -- West Bank Tanzim chief Marwan Barghouti in the closing arguments of his Israeli terrorism trial in 2003.

    - - -

    Five years ago last Friday, on Sept. 30, 2000, the now-famous Muhammad al-Dura death scene flashed on the world's television screens for the first time, instantly creating a powerful icon of Palestinian suffering. Viewers were stunned at the sight of a man and a boy cringing in fear, allegedly targeted by Israeli gunfire, captured on film by a French cameraman. In the flash of a minute, their tragic fate was announced by France 2 correspondent Charles Enderlin: "One more round of gunfire, Muhammad is dead, his father critically wounded."

    The news report was distributed to the international media free of charge by the state-owned French channel. Viewers felt as if they could enter into the very heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict and seize its essence. The image of the 12-year-old Palestinian boy killed by Israeli soldiers -- or so viewers were told -- was given unprecedented exposure. Muhammad al-Dura became the poster boy of the al-Aqsa Intifada, inspiring a Palestinian death cult, and provoking murderous hatred of Israelis and Jews in the Arab and Muslim world.

    But what really happened at Netzarim Junction in the Gaza Strip on Sept. 30, 2000? Close examination of available evidence shows that the al-Dura death scene was deliberately fabricated, and that this fabrication fits into a broader strategy of violent confrontation masked as resistance.

    The France 2 cameraman who filed the news report, Palestinian stringer Talal Abu Rahmeh, is the unique source of the accepted al-Dura media narrative; Jamal al-Dura, identified as the boy's father, has lent credibility to the cameraman's account by repeating it in his own words. Countless journalists have assimilated and retold the story without noticing the telltale signs of fabrication.

    Here's how Talal Abu Rahmeh, who has worked with Charles Enderlin for 15 years, explains the incident: Jamal and Muhammad al-Dura were pinned down for 45 minutes by Israeli gunfire aimed directly at them. The father was wounded repeatedly. The boy was shot in the stomach and died instantly or, in another version from the same source, bled to death for 15 to 20 minutes. An ambulance was sent to evacuate the victims, but the driver was killed by Israeli soldiers.

    In sworn testimony and countless interviews, Abu Rahmeh claims to have filmed 27 minutes of the al-Dura's lengthy ordeal, which began with a five-minute exchange of fire between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian policemen, followed by 45-minutes of fire coming only from the Israeli position. He said that the al-Duras were clearly visible from the Israeli outpost, which was directly facing them. The cameraman testified under oath that the Israeli outpost was the only position from which the boy and the man could be hit.

    Human interest details provided by Jamal, his wife (subsequently identified as Muhammad's stepmother) and other family members were eagerly collected by journalists and retold. This material has created a mythical Netzarim Junction connected to a mythical day in the life of the al-Duras, which in turn serves as a platform for the mythical death of Muhammad al-Dura.

    But we now have evidence that contradicts this myth.

    More than a dozen Palestinian stringers working for major networks and agencies were present at Netzarim Junction that day, yet the al-Dura death scene was filmed by only one cameraman: Talal Abu Rahmeh.

    Extensive raw footage from the other cameramen has been obtained and analyzed by European, American and Israeli investigators. From that footage, we can see that Palestinians, far from being pinned down by Israeli fire, ran unobstructed throughout Netzarim Junction on the day of the incident. They occupied a cluster of bunkers and two large buildings that towered over the single Israeli outpost; they had free run of the streets, the fields and a mound of earth known as the "pita," directly opposite the wall where the al-Duras were filmed. The IDF soldiers stayed inside their rudimentary fortress, kitty corner from the al-Duras, who are shown hiding behind an upended concrete culvert at an oblique angle to the Israelis. Ballistics experts testify that the "targets" could not have been hit from such an angle.

    Looking again at the famous image of the al-Duras huddled against the concrete wall, we see that it is intact. Military gunfire sustained for 45 minutes would have reduced much of it to rubble.

    As the story goes, Jamal and the boy were on their way back to their home in al-Bureij when the taxi they were riding in had to stop short of the junction because of heavy gunfire; Jamal decided to go the rest of the way on foot. But Israeli soldiers saw them and started shooting. He and the boy took refuge behind the culvert, where they remained while the soldiers shot at them for three quarters of an hour. Jamal was wounded in the hand and the leg, his pelvis and shoulder were smashed. The Israelis didn't stop shooting until they had killed the boy.

    In a BBC documentary filmed shortly after the incident, a wounded and grieving Jamal says that he looked at the boy, saw the bullet come out through his back, and knew he was dead, a shahid (martyr).

    But raw footage filmed at the time shows an entirely different reality. Normal traffic trundles through the intersection, large crowds of young men fearlessly attack the Israeli position, throwing rocks, Molotov cocktails and burning tires. Bystanders laugh and applaud. Tellingly, groups of Palestinian men, some dressed in military uniforms, can be seen staging fake battle scenes, complete with ambulance evacuations -- in an area out of range of Israeli gunfire.

    The al-Dura death scene is totally disconnected from this reality. Contrary to Talal Abu Rahmeh's claims, it is not a 55-second excerpt from a 45-minute incident excerpted, in turn, from a day in the life of the al-Duras; it is a 55-second film that bears the hallmarks of artifice.

    Though France 2 officials admitted in private that the Palestinians fake battle scenes, injuries and ambulance evacuations, they insisted that the al-Dura scene was authentic. They also claimed to have conclusive evidence to substantiate the news report. Then, in the autumn of 2004, current France 2 news director Arlette Chabot admitted publicly that the 27-minutes of outtakes showing Israeli soldiers shooting at the al-Duras do not exist. And the five seconds of death throes edited out because, according to Charles Enderlin, they were too horrible to show, do not exist either. The 45-minutes of Israeli gunfire aimed at the al-Duras disappear too; France 2 officials unashamedly affirmed that Talal Abu Rahmeh had testified under duress. He had withdrawn his testimony in secret.

    Knowing that the 55-second film is not an excerpt but the totality of the al-Dura incident, we can go back to the news report, remove the voice-over commentary and see what really happened.

    There is no hail of bullets: Two bullets hit the wall, off target. Jamal is not wounded: his pelvis bears his weight; his arm is pressed against the boy in an incongruous gesture of protection. No bullets hit Muhammad al-Dura. Jamal had said that he looked at his son and knew he was a shahid; yet at no point in the 55-second film does he look at the boy.

    We are left with a baseless news report that is kept afloat because the state-owned French television channel that produced it has backed off, but refuses to release a clear-cut retraction. And so Israelis still stand accused as child-killers.

    Many people are still asking: Who killed Muhammad al-Dura? But the real question is how many innocent people have been killed or maimed because the media broadcast an unsubstantiated "news report" that enflamed deep-seated hatreds in the Arab-Muslim world, and turned sophisticated 21st-century viewers into gullible villagers ready to swallow the latest blood libel and condone a shameful wave of terroristic reprisals against Israeli Jews.

    National Post 2005
    Last edited by ZFBoxcar; 17 Oct 05, at 21:25.

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