By Eva Cahen
January 13, 2005
Paris (CNSNews.com) - French state-owned television is using what some call intimidation and threatened libel lawsuits to quiet calls for an investigation of TV images that showed the alleged shooting of a Palestinian boy by Israeli soldiers in 2000.
The video from the TV channel France 2 has become famous around the world as a symbol for the current Palestinian intifada (uprising) and shows a boy trying to take shelter behind a man during a gun battle in September 2000 between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers at the Netzarim junction in the Gaza Strip.
Independent media analysts in France and Israel have provided what they call conclusive evidence that the video of the incident was staged and at least one member of the French Assembly has called for an official investigation of the episode, but France 2 has so far refused to undertake a comprehensive inquiry.
France 2 Television did not respond to numerous requests for interviews by Cybercast News Service in Paris, choosing instead to provide copies of articles reporting it was filing a libel suit against un-named individuals for defamation.
But Stephane Juffa, editor in chief of the Metula News Agency based in Israel, said he and two other colleagues carried out a thorough investigation, which included scores of interviews and scene-by-scene analysis of the video and other material filmed in 2000.
"The child we see during the shooting is not the same child that we see in the morgue in other footage, who has bullet wounds and is identified as Mohammed al-Durra by hospital staff," said Juffa.
Juffa said he had no information about how the child in the morgue was killed, but doctors there said the boy arrived hours before the actual Netzarim gun battle described in the video took place.
According to France 2 Television reporter Charles Enderlin, the boy, 12-year old Mohammed al-Durra, was killed in the end by Israeli bullets and the father was severely wounded.
Enderlin was not present during the incident, but his Palestinian cameraman, Talal Abu Rahma, was the only cameraman to record the images of what Enderlin described as the killing of the child by Israeli bullets.
France 2, which is state-owned, distributed the video in a 55-second story to televisions worldwide at no cost, saying it did not want to make money on such a sad incident. But the report remains suspect as journalists investigating the video have uncovered evidence that the scene was staged by actors, hours before a real gun battle took place at the site.
Philippe Karsenty, who runs a French media watchdog agency called Media-Ratings, has also examined the video and come to the conclusion that the report was fabricated.
"The report is false. I've seen the elements of France 2's report and it is clear that it is a fake," said Karsenty. "It is clear that it was staged."
Among the elements Karsenty has found that he says reveal the forgery are a director ordering retakes of scenes, ambulances appearing within two seconds in an unedited shot after a Palestinian is said to be wounded, the child hoisting himself on his elbows after he is said to be dead and no blood or bullet wounds on any of the victims.
This is not the first time the al-Durra incident has been at the center of controversy. In 2002, a German documentary produced by Esther Shapira concluded that in view of the child's and the Israeli army's positions, it was more probable that the boy was hit by a Palestinian bullet.
Karsenty said he has met with French officials to provide them with proof that the tape was a hoax, but has not yet received a response.
Years of questions unanswered, met with alleged intimidation
In 2000, when France 2 Television made international headlines with its exclusive video, Enderlin claimed to have 27 minutes of raw footage, most of which was withheld because France 2 insisted it wanted to spare viewers the images of the dying child's agony.
Juffa claimed France 2 has recently unofficially admitted to three journalists meeting with the station's news director and other television officials that the cameraman, the sole eyewitness to the shooting despite the presence of many other cameramen, had changed his story. The cameraman, according to Juffa, retracted his sworn testimony about the child being killed by Israeli soldiers and about the raw footage showing the child in agony before death.
For Juffa and others who have looked at the evidence, France 2 should immediately suspend the two journalists behind the report until a full and neutral investigation is completed.
"We are not judges but journalists, but we believe that the people who staged this scene should be brought to justice because their pictures have caused many deaths by becoming a symbol of the intifada and the Israeli Army's violence," said Juffa. "Many people have died in the name of Mohammed al-Durra because of these pictures."
A shot from the al-Durra video was also prominent in the background behind Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl as he was being murdered by his Islamic kidnappers in Pakistan.
Juffa said he was surprised to find that instead of investigating the video, France 2 responded by attacking him. According to Juffa, France 2 has responded to his investigation by accusing him of being a negationist, a revisionist, an extremist and a member of Israel's ultra right wing.
"I am not part of the extreme right wing, but that accusation does not answer or excuse the forgery," said Juffa.
Both Juffa and Karsenty said French media have united in refusing to publicize the evidence by pressuring journalists who fear for their careers in a country where most television and radio journalism jobs are in the state media.
French assemblyman stonewalled in seeking inquiry
Roland Blum, a UMP majority party member of the French Assembly, has asked the communications minister to investigate France 2's evidence that Israeli soldiers shot and killed Mohammed al-Durra, but has not yet received a response.
"This has become an important issue because of the emotions that France 2's very serious accusations against the Israeli army have aroused," said Blum.
"This type of information, particularly when the reporter wasn't even at the scene, must be checked carefully before it is used as an affirmation and an accusation," Blum said.
The CSA, the government's media regulatory council, published a statement in December asking French television to identify sources and exercise more caution in reporting on international conflicts, but did not respond to a request by Cybercast News Service for an interview.
Serge Farnel, a French television viewer and activist, was also surprised at France 2's claims about Israeli soldiers in light of the lack of evidence in the video and has created a website that presents a large array of documents on the issue.
Farnel said that he has filed requests with a mediator, the CSA, and the state council - the country's highest court - to ask France 2 to admit publicly that it had no proof that the gunshots came from Israeli soldiers.
"This video and its annual replay by France 2 on the anniversary date, repeating the same accusations, has given good cause to the intifada of French Muslims," said Farnel.
Farnel said the state TV channel needed to be forthcoming at a time when the government was claiming to fight increased anti-Semitism in France. If he does not receive a reply soon, Farnel said he is ready to take his case to the European Court of Human Rights.
"I will be really sorry to do that because it will be my country, France, that will be on trial," Farnel said. "But French television has behaved like a criminal in this matter and it has violated our national trust.""