Palestinian rather than Israeli gunfire must have killed the child.
By Clifford D. May
The image is as disturbing and iconic as any seen during the many decades of the Arab-Israeli conflict: Mohammed al-Durra, just 12 years old, caught in a cross-fire in Gaza, trembling against a wall, his father desperately attempting to shield him. And then, heartbreakingly, Mohammed al-Durra, shot and killed by Israeli gunfire.
His death, in September 2000, inspired poems -- and suicide bombings. According to the 2001 Mitchell Committee report it was one of the events that set off the intifada.
But there is something most people don't know about this story: It didn't happen the way I described it above. It may not have happened at all.
This is not a new revelation. Back in 2002, a documentary made by the German State Television station, ARD, concluded that Palestinian rather than Israeli gunfire must have killed the child.
More recently, Denis Jeambar, editor in chief of the French newsweekly, L'Express, and documentary filmmaker Daniel Leconte were permitted to review the raw, unedited video of the shooting. They reached the same conclusion. "The only ones who could hit the child were the Palestinians from their position," Leconte told the Cybercast News Service (CBN). "If they had been Israeli bullets, they would be very strange bullets because they would have needed to go around the corner."
Is the story a misunderstanding or a spectacular fraud? The original footage of the incident was produced and distributed to news organizations worldwide -- at no cost -- by the government-owned France 2 TV network. Only one cameraman, Talal Abu Rahma, a Palestinian, filmed the incident. None of the other cameramen and journalists present that day witnessed it. The France 2 reporter on the story, Charles Enderlin, was not at the scene. The information for his voice-over came exclusively from Rahma.
At this point, at least, Enderlin does not claim to be sure of his facts. Instead, he says that his assertion that Israelis killed al-Durra "corresponded to the reality of the situation, not only in Gaza but in the West Bank."
Put otherwise, whether Israeli soldiers murdered al-Durra is irrelevant because Enderlin believes that other Israelis have killed other Palestinians.
Recently, the International Herald Tribune quoted France 2's news director hedging: "No one can say for certain who killed (al-Durra)." But in his report, Enderlin was quite certain: "The shooting comes from the Israeli position," he said; and "One more volley and the child will be dead."
That's not all. Although Israel initially issued an apologetic statement that al-Durra might have been accidentally killed in crossfire, it later assigned a civilian physicist, Nahum Shahaf, to investigate. He, too, determined that the fatal shots could not have come from Israeli rifles. But he went further, concluding that Rahma staged the incident.
"Going through the film in slow motion," wrote journalist Stephane Juffa, "he could even see the cameraman's finger making a 'take two' sign, used by professionals to signal the repeat of a scene."
What's more, Philippe Karsenty, director of the Paris-based Media Ratings, notes that Enderlin had initially claimed that the unedited footage included "the child's death throes," scenes too "unbearable" to watch. But the unedited tape contains nothing of the kind.
Because France 2 is government-owned, French President Jacques Chirac could step in and right a wrong that has resulted in hundreds of deaths. To do so, argues Juffa, would promote the peace process because "for peace we need reconciliation and for reconciliation we need the truth."
So far, however, Chirac has shown no interest. And France 2 says it will sue those who "defame" it. Karsenty told me he plans to file his own lawsuit this week. His attorney, he said, is confident. He added: "And he gets paid only if we win."
Clifford D. May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, wrote this column for Scripps Howard News Service