More than four years have passed since the picture of Mohammed Al Durrah was aired across the world, but the public still imagines the boy's Sept. 30 2000 presence at Netzarim junction in terms described by President Clinton in My Life:
As the violence persisted, two vivid images of its pain and futility emerged,” he writes: “a twelve year old Palestinian boy shot in the crossfire and dying in his father's arms, and two Israeli soldiers pulled from a building and beaten to death, with their lifeless bodies dragged through the streets and one of their assailants proudly showing his bloodstained hands to the world on television.
In short, Al Durrah should never have been juxtaposed with a lynching, much less by the leader of the free world. Two weeks after the Al Durrah tapes aired, two Jewish soldiers lost their way in Ramallah, where they were savagely beaten to death, their innards eaten by hysterical and frenzied crowds screaming Allah Akbar--God is great--and seeking revenge for the supposed death of the boy. Indeed, the Al Durrah case is nothing more than a classic Islamic incitement to jihad.
But evidently, the shooting was merely photographic. “The violence erupted after the Al Durrah incident,” notes Daniel Seaman, director of Israel's Government Press Office, who openly calls the incident a hoax, a staged forgery.
Since Seaman made this charge publicly in late 2002, few mainstream news media picked up the story. These include the European Wall Street Journal and New York Sun, which both ran columns in November, respectively by Stephane Juffa, the Metula Press Agency (MENA) chief in Israel and Nidra Poller, an expatriate writer in France.
Nearly two years ago, France 2 Jerusalem bureau chief Charles Enderlin -- also the vice president of Israel's foreign press association -- threatened to sue. On January 2, 2003, the legal adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wrote to Enderlin, noting that Israel is a free country. Seaman named neither Enderlin nor France 2. But if he felt injured by Seaman's remarks, Enderlin was more than welcome to take appropriate legal action. The counsel advised Enderlin, Israel has “reliable information” that the case was indeed a fraud, the counsel advised Enderlin, however. At long last, in November, attorneys of France 2 and Enderlin have sued in France -- not Seaman, not Israel, not Metula, not the Wall Street Journal, but “X.”
Before detailing French statutes making such a preposterous case possible, a brief recap of the Al Durrah hoax is in order. On Sept. 30, 2000, dozens of reporters and cameraman waited around for news as children lobbed stones, Molotov cocktails and heavy appliances from the ground and nearby buildings onto the roof of the only Israeli guard post at Netzarim Junction. In a superb investigative coup, renowned Israeli physicist Nacham Shahaf wrested three hours of raw September 30 news reels from Reuters and the Associated Press. These rushes show very clearly that the Israelis shot only when fired upon, and that Palestinians walked around without fear.
Another important fact shows too: The Israeli post was situated at a very wide angle to the position of Jamal and Mohammed Al Durrah--behind a Palestinian warehouse two times its own height.
In other words, even if the Israelis were filmed shooting, which they weren't, it was physically impossible for them to have wounded either Mohammed or his father Jamal Al Durrah, who were crouched, entirely out of view, behind a barrel topped by a cement cinder block. On the Al Durrah's side, moreover, the barrel has no bullet holes. If bullets penetrated it from the Israeli side, they did not come out.
Whoever shot at the Al Durrahs that day, it was not the Israelis. Shooting footage was Talal Abu Rahmeh, a Palestinian stringer for AP and Reuters, who created the icon of supposed Israeli brutality. Abu Rahmeh said under oath that he shot 27 minutes of film. In tapes broadcast worldwide, he asserted that Israeli soldiers subjected the man and the boy to 45 minutes of withering fire, that Israelis intentionally shot the boy dead.
Abu Rahmeh said the boy bled for 20 minutes. The father said he was shot in the hand, arm, and leg and that his elbow and pelvis were crushed--and that a bullet ripped through his son's stomach and exited from his back.
But in the rushes, there is no blood on either the victims or the ground. The supposed 27 minutes of footage was apparently less than three minutes. Three hours of additional rushes from AP and Reuters obtained by Shahaf show much more besides.
At the rear of the warehouse, inside a hollowed out room, several armed and uniformed Palestinian Arabs were filmed on Sept. 30, 2000, talking calmly with directors. The latter then clear the area before takes. Since when do fighters take their cues from civilians?
Later the same day, at least five AP and Reuters photographers taped the same Palestinians firing through a large hole in the rear cinder block wall into the empty warehouse room they had quietly occupied hours earlier. At whom were they firing? The Israeli position was on the other side of the warehouse, in a building half the size. Given their lack of fear and the positive glee of bystanders, these men were surely acting.
Thirty people were reportedly killed and hundreds wounded that day, but the rushes show not one critical injury. Every evacuation was careless of its effects on the supposed patients. One man grabs his leg as if shot, but like the Al Durrah's remains unbloodied. He is then roughly loaded onto a gurney--on his “injured” leg. Another young man hands off a Molotov cocktail before being swooped into his colleagues arms and thrown into the back of a waiting prop--one of several Red Crescent and UN ambulances. Actors clap and laugh as its doors close. Others were caught sunbathing, talking on cell phones, standing nonchalantly, their backs turned to the Israelis. Clearly, these are mises en scene.
Only Talal Abu Rahmeh, with alleged ties to terror groups, filmed the supposed shooting of Mohammed Al Durrah. No one taped the evacuation of the wounded boy and his father.
Finally, a Reuters cameraman behind the Al Durrah's caught many others running by in supposed fear as the boy and his father talked calmly in the background, and stayed put behind their barrel.
Says Enderlin now, “I am really fed up with this story. We are very confident it was not staged, and there is no doubt about that. Our cameraman caught the scene, and other cameramen were there and they caught part of the scene.”
Really? That is not what Enderlin said at the time. Indeed, on Sept. 30, 2000, he personally hand delivered copies of the France 2 footage to every major foreign news outfit at the Jerusalem Journalism Studio House, according to MENA's Stephane Juffa. If the incident were real, wouldn't other cameramen also have grabbed some footage?
Enderlin also says now “We NEVER got any formal request about any inquiry or complaint about Mohammed Al-Durrah from any Israeli Authority. I wrote the Israeli Army spokesman in November 2000 that our legal department might consider an official request to participate in an inquiry. I NEVER got any answer.” By Enderlin's reckoning, the official Israeli investigation under the direction of General Yom Tov Samia and Physicist Nacham Shahaf was not official.
Now, Enderlin is suing “X.” One of those ostensibly covered by this legal appellation is Philippe Karsenty, who runs the Media-Ratings Agency in Paris, the first organization in France to objectively critique and expose the routine manipulations of its foreign print and broadcast media. The agency has taken on many other issues, too, at its www.m-r.fr website. “The democracy in France stops when the press follows foreign affairs,” says Karsenty today.
“All the media are talking the same language and have corporate attitudes. If the media says the moon is green, then the moon is green for everyone.” Since France 2 is, like the British Broadcasting Corporation, government-funded and chartered, correcting this outrage can occur only with help from French politicos.
To that end, Karsenty on November 28 visited French Minister of Culture and Communications Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres and on December 3 showed his counselors MENA's film, exposing the fraud. “They were shocked,” he says, adding that Media-Reporting will not be intimidated by the France 2 suit.
The network evidently hopes to use a statute most often applied to criminal cases in which the perpetrators are unknown. “By suing X,” says Juffa, “they are saying, 'Please investigate and discover who did it'.” Enderlin himself confirms as much. “For French justice, a name and address on a website is not proof that the person is the author of the material,” he says. France 2 could “file against these people, but since you have no proof that they are a company registered under the law, [you] cannot file a suit against [them]. The judge must file against these people....” At press time, Enderlin's attorney had not responded to questions.
But Metula, Media-Ratings, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Sun, are well-known companies with published addresses. “They have taken a big risk,” says Juffa. “The prosecutor in this case must include the Wall Street Journal in the procedure, must include the state of Israel, must include Daniel Seaman.” Moreover, some years ago, in a hearing before 40 witnesses, Enderlin publicly refused to provide Israeli General Yom Tov Samia with a full set of tapes. If France 2's case ever goes to trial, which Juffa and Karsenty doubt, Enderlin will be obliged to produce the evidence that seems to contradict almost everything he has said to date.
The list of anomalies goes on and on. The major ones:
- The tapes show no blood on the Al Durrahs or, following their evacuation, at the scene.
- Only Abu Rahmeh caught the film, although several other cameramen were present.
- Doctors Juna Saka and Mohammed El Dawil at the Shifa hospital in Gaza say the father and boy arrived at the hospital between noon and 1p.m., but Enderlin reported that the incident began at 3 p.m.
- The evacuation was not filmed.
- The tapes show no bullet holes on the Al Durrah's side of the barrel.
- No bullets were ever recovered.
- Palestinian Arab officials ordered no autopsy and conducted no investigation.
- In three hours of Palestinian-produced rushes, Israelis were not seen firing.
- In the background, Palestinian cameramen loitered casually, without fear.
- At the hospital, France 2 tapes show a body much larger than that of Mohammed Al Durrah, with surgical abdominal wounds, not wounds from high-powered gunshots, according to forensic medical experts who have seen the France 2, Reuters and AP footage.
- Shots fired at the Al Durrahs triggered small round clouds of smoke. Subsequent ballistic tests showed that only head-on shots could produce such small circular clouds. Upon impact, shots fired at a wide-angle throw off great clouds of smoke in the opposite direction.
The bottom line: the tapes suggest that the man and boy were not shot, period, least of all by the Israelis.
Speaking last summer, Foreign Ministry press director Gideon Meir said that reopening this four-year-old case would only cause more damage to Israel: The myth has taken on a life of its own, he said. Besides, some Israeli newsmen say, exposing the lies of Palestinian newsmen and leaders would be like reporting that it rains in the spring, or it's hot in August. It's not news.
But the power of the myth may be precisely why Israel should make a federal case of this affair. Perhaps the Jewish state will do so if France 2 ever presses its case. After all, Mohammed Al Durrah played a huge role in the incitement of global jihad; the episode has real significance as the first blood libel of the 21st Century.
Press behavior was equivalent to that in the 19th Century Dreyfus Affair. For the media industry, this case could be equivalent in scale to the Enron accounting scandal.
In September and October 2000, the endless airing of newsreels and photos from this non-event immediately wiped out all good-will generated by Prime Minister Ehud Barak's historic offer of peace at Camp David II. It directly prompted Arab riots in Israel, resulting in the deaths of 13 youths two days later. “I live in the Galilee with many Arabs,” says Juffa. “After this incident, I went to talk to them.” Until then, they knew (and trusted) Israeli policy that forbade shooting at civilians. “But after seeing these tapes over and over, they thought the Israeli policy had changed,” he continues. “They thought their lives were at stake and they were in danger.”
The affair also fired the largest worldwide wave of jihad attacks on Jews in history. Daniel Pearl's murderers used Al Durrah's image in their grisly snuff film. Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi referred to the case, as did even Osama bin Laden. If Mohammed Al Durrah is the poster boy of the 21st century jihad, Jews are at the epicenter of the hatred.
Besides for more than 30,000 attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions in Israel, 1,000 killed and thousands wounded, hundreds of far-less publicized incidents have occurred worldwide. Jewish schools and synagogues have been firebombed in London, Munich and Paris and rabbis have been stabbed in broad daylight.
In Texas in August 2003, Ariel Sellouk was murdered by a longtime Muslim friend. In France, one year ago, Jewish shopkeeper Chantal Piekolek and famed Parisien DJ Sebastian Sellam were brutally murdered within one 24-hour period. Sellam was the son of refugees from Morocco and spoke fluent Arabic. He met his death in his parking garage, en route to work. A Muslim he knew since childhood slit Sebastian's throat, carved up his face with a fork and gouged out his eyes. He then climbed the stairs to the Sellams' apartment and showed the horrified mother his bloody hands. “I have killed my Jew,” he said, “I will go to heaven.” Piekolek's 10-year-old daughter heard her murder while cowering in the shop storage room. Neither of these murders were reported in the mainstream French press. In all three instances, officials dismissed anti-Semitism as the motive. No motive? Shouldn't law enforcement officials call jihad a motive?
The Western press corps in Israel--too politicized to believe that Palestinians might lie about the Al Durrah episode, and much else besides--is almost certainly taken in daily by many more (albeit smaller) hoaxes. Journalists are undoubtedly duped, day in and day out, in turn duping the global public, at Jewish expense. Ultimately, the survival of Western civilization may hang on press refusal to apply professional skepticism equally to both sides.
Consider these examples:
In April 2002, Rula Amin of CNN alleged, through photographs, that Israel was imposing a Holocaust on Palestinians in the village of Rumana. She appeared with a naked man, wrapped in an army blanket, who had been incarcerated for only 36 hours, but looked starved nearly to death. He was probably ill. But this scene silently invoked the Holocaust, and her text almost didn't matter. CNN apparently later edited or deleted the account.
This year, when terrorists forced young boys to carry suicide bombs, one Irish newscaster suggested that Israel wants the world to see “a young boy, allegedly ready to kill.” She stated Palestinian allegations, however, as fact. For most commentators, this is routine.
In June 2003, a BBC special report on weapons of mass destruction accused Israel of using poison gas on Palestinians. The report was based solely on Palestinian allegations. The BBC excluded proof, issued the same day, that the allegations were false. The reporters consulted no scientists or medical officials--and simply repeated the blood libel perpetrated in 1983, described by Raphael Israeli in the book, Poison. Palestinians then alleged that Israel had used poison gas to contaminate a girl's school, a case later unequivocally proven to be mass hysteria.
Once errors have been made, says Malcolm Downing, a BBC assignment editor, there is no effective way to make corrections. “The truth is racing away, and the correction is laying behind,” he said. “We never catch up, and that's true for everyone else in addition to us.” Asked if anything could be done about that, he said, “I don't think there is, to be honest.” There would be, if only the press would post its corrections under banner headlines on the front page. The Al Durrah case deserves such treatment.
After cartoonist Dave Brown depicted Ariel Sharon eating babies, one reporter asked British Cartoon Society director Dr. Tim Bensen why Arafat was not depicted eating babies. “Maybe because Jews don't issue fatwas,” he said. “Well, if you upset an Islamic or a Muslim group, fatwas can be issued by an ayatollah and such like.... [Cartoonists] could be in trouble...[if they] depict an Arab leader in the same manner. They could suffer death, couldn't they? It's rather different.”
In other words, the media are not only political, they are intimidated.
Last summer, spokesman for the Prime Minister Ra'anan Gissin, and Foreign Ministry Press officer Gideon Meir suggested that the U.S. press is most friendly to Israel. Certainly, the press outside the U.S. is more hostile to Israel. Nevertheless, interviews with a few reporters at major U.S. metropolitan dailies showed the differences are not all that great.
Take Washington Post bureau chief John Anderson, who has spent the better part of the last decade in Iran, Central Asia and Turkey, but learned not a single language spoken in those places. In Israel for the last two years, he and his wife, Molly Moore, speak neither Arabic nor Hebrew, and rely totally on translators to conduct interviews and report. They were in Istanbul for 13 months before moving as a “twofer” team to Jerusalem. They planned the move for six months, but say they could not learn the languages while working. In 13 years as foreign correspondents, the only foreign language they learned was Spanish, while in Mexico.
Anderson admits that Israeli translators are unimpeachable, while Palestinians are merely good. Their chief advantage, he says, is being “on the ground in the territories,” where Israelis cannot go. As for context, he admits to having read no regional history before or during his tenure in Jerusalem. He sees himself as something of a “fireman,” what is known in the trade as an “ambulance chaser.”
Furthermore, despite a decade of reporting from Islamic nations, Anderson has never learned the dominant laws or tenets of Islam, much less the laws of jihad. These laws require Muslims must to invite infidels to Islam, and if they reject the faith, to prosecute holy war. They apply even in modern times.
Anderson contends that writing for 13 years with Farsi, Arabic, Kurdish, Hebrew, Spanish, Tamil, Hindu and Pashtan translators, he and Moore have learned enough to accurately weigh the veracity of translations. It is sufficient, he says, to know an interpreter's level of English proficiency, education and his political leanings--which Moore and Anderson ascertain while en route to appointments and from the types of interviews he arranges.
But Western reporters in Israel are 100% reliant on Palestinian “fixers,” as reporters call them, say journalists and officials. The vast majority come with political and ideological baggage. A few attempt to report the truth about corruption, murder and censorship in the territories, says one unusual Palestinian journalist, but 99%--and 100% of the fixers for the Washington Post and New York Times--are allied with the PLO, Fateh, Hamas, Islamic Jihad or even Hezbollah. Their understanding of the truth is correspondingly one-sided.
“You can't blame the Palestinians,” says the Palestinian. “This is the way they were trained, to be loyal, not to air the dirty laundry, this is media in the Arab world,” he says. “Unfortunately 100% of the fixers see themselves as foot soldiers in the revolution. They will not tell foreign journalists anything that reflects badly on the PA.” As an Israeli journalist notes, they are also starving, and most can be bought for $50. Consequently, Western reporters rely too heavily on spokesmen like Nabil Sha'ath and Sa'eb Erekat; when a corruption scandal hits the news, they are surprised.
Foreign journalists in Israel come in four stripes. They may be flown in for one-shot coverage. They may know nothing and realize they know nothing. They may know a little and assume they know much more. But often as not, they know nothing and don't want to know. The last type are especially “arrogant, prejudiced against Israel, and do not let the facts get in the way,” he says. Even Americans are overly sympathetic to Palestinians and hostile to Israel.
Dig deeply, and the picture of the foreign press in Israel deteriorates further. Evidently, networks and newspapers rarely if ever investigate reporters before hiring or posting them to assignments. A few cases in point:
Lawahez Ga'abri, also known as Lawahez Burgal and for her membership in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine since age 15, has applied for a press pass under the auspices of NBC. Its producers, and indeed, the staff of the Columbia Journalism school, seem unaware that she belongs to a group listed by the State Department as a terror organization.
Most Palestinian journalists have been imprisoned at some time--for genuine cause, says the Palestinian reporter.
Ali Durehmeh, a reporter for the Associated Press for nine months, spent the prior two years as a “field researcher” for B'tselem, according to spokesman Noam Hoffstater in Jerusalem. Its methods of verifying information also seem extremely shoddy. They are based solely on Palestinian allegations and generally lack rigorous cross-checks with medical and other officials. It is one thing to allege murder, and another to verify the identity of a body--and scientifically establish the cause of death.
Leileh Odeh, an Abu Dhabi network journalist whose press pass was revoked in April 2002 but continues stringing for foreign news organizations, in 2003 appeared as a translator and mediator for the family of Marwan Barghouti, who was then on trial for serial terrorism. Odeh was instructing the children how to respond to questions, says the GPO director Seaman, who personally witnessed the episode.
In March 2002, a German journalist was filmed instructing Arabs to find him some good pictures featuring the devastation that was falsely and widely reported worldwide.
Wafa Amer, a Jordanian reporter, printed false hearsay from an unnamed Palestinian source, accusing the Israel Defense Forces of beating and murdering a victim whose brains he said had oozed out.
In March 2002, a prominent Israeli TV newsman, an immigrant from an Arab country fluent in Arabic, overheard this conversation: In a Jerusalem elevator, two Palestinians working for foreign news agencies plotted to preserve bodies from the Jenin hospital, so as to inter them in mass graves and later accuse Israel of mass murder.
Israeli officials allege that press passes provide cover for many evils: One reporter passes information to Hamas in Samaria and Judea; another works as a Russian spy; a third transferred suicide bombers in his car; an Australian transported armed terrorists from one part of the disputed territories to another. Following a suicide attack that killed three, a reporter was caught photographing Israeli targets for its enemies. Others charge that a key Ha'aretz reporter leaks information to PA operatives in Hebron.
The first victims of the corrupt Palestinian Authority and press naivete are Arabs. “This peace is killing us,” says another Palestinian reporter who, after the Palestinian leadership, blames the Western press most of all. “An entire generation has been irretrievably destroyed.”
In 1993, if the foreign press had reported on the corruption, murder and totalitarianism in the Palestinian Authority, says this Palestinian source, the current war might have been avoided. But the mainstream press treats Palestinians “with silk gloves.”
The Washington Post's Anderson, however, admits none of this. Questioned concerning alliances of his own Arab translators, he says “I don't believe all the fixers are affiliated. If they are and you don't know it, you haven't done a very good job.” As for his own fixers, “we use very independent minded people,” he says. Not according to others who know them.
Translators would not lie to the point of fabricating stories, says Anderson. “They have a point of view, they have an agenda, and they try to get their point of view across. I try to play it down the middle.”
But playing it down the middle, for him, means accepting the Palestinian charge, for example, that Israelis once set up a road block outside Ramallah simply to dismantle it for show and put it up again a few miles down the road when no pressmen were looking. “They made the cage a little bit bigger.... The whole thing was a scam,” he says.
As to whether the Al Durrah case was also a scam, Anderson last summer thought it unlikely. “There were so many camera crews,” he says. “You never want to say never, but on a new story that big, if it was totally bogus, it would have gotten out.... There is not a vast conspiracy among Palestinian journalists to keep that kind of thing quiet.”
On the contrary, says a Palestinian journalist, the Arab press organizes so as not to reflect badly on their leaders, whatever that requires. Anderson thinks he knows better.
In other interviews with foreign journalists the results were pretty much the same: a lot of skepticism greets the notion that Palestinians fabricate news.
“It's part of being a professional and a correspondent and a fireman, to be able to assess the situation, get over the language barriers and get on [the story],” says Anderson. By this reckoning, foreign pressmen in Israel are nothing more than cub reporters and most think, like Anderson, “in fact there is incitement on both sides.”
So was Mohammed Al Durrah an incitement? Anderson of the Washington Post would say no, and the vast majority would agree with him.
In the end, dismantling this press roadblock to the truth will take another Emile Zola. Failing that, readers should assume that news fakery will continue to erode the very underpinnings of our way of life. They should also apply to reports from Palestinian Authority areas the skepticism that newsmen do not.