Faked atrocity on French television?

September 01, 2005

* This is a follow-up to dispatches on this list in recent years on Mohammed Al-Dura. Al Dura was the young Palestinian boy who French TV reported was shot by Israeli troops in September 2000. French TV’s inflammatory film, distributed worldwide by France 2, the French government-owned TV network, is widely credited with helping to launch the Intifada.

* The authenticity of France 2’s film has repeatedly been questioned by senior figures in the Israeli military and by some prominent publications such as the Atlantic Monthly. They have asked, for example, why France 2 continue to refuse to release the full film rather than its carefully edited version. Why al-Dura clasps a hand over his eyes after he is supposedly dead? Why no western journalist other than Charles Enderlin, a known anti-Zionist activist, can authenticate the incident. Why the doctors in Gaza have no record of a body being brought to the hospital at the time Enderlin said al-Dura arrived there. And so on. Now for the first time, a left-leaning European publication is also questioning the film’s authenticity.

* Meanwhile, the film remains very much in the public eye. For example, on September 27, 2005, a special program will be broadcast on ITV (Britain’s most popular television channel) where viewers will vote “for the most significant shot” in the last 50 years of news, and the footage of Al Dura is among the front-runners.

 

CONTENTS

1. The shot that shook the world
2. Suicide bombs and 14-year-old boys carrying bombs
3. Mohammed Al-Dura on Palestinian Authority TV tens of times a day
4. A story about media and ethics
5. “Manufacturing Consent; or, the anatomy of an image” (Jewish Quarterly, summer 2005)

 



[Note by Tom Gross]

UPDATE: KEN LIVINGSTONE

On several occasions earlier this year, this email list and others urged the UK authorities to take action against London Mayor Ken Livingstone for statements blood libeling both Israelis specifically and Jews in general.

Among other remarks, Livingstone compared a British Jewish journalist working for the (London) Evening Standard to a Nazi concentration camp guard. Livingstone made the comparison when the journalist asked him a question about an unrelated matter to do with the governing of London.

Yesterday, the Standards Board of England, the official body that administers local government, finally announced that Livingstone will face a disciplinary hearing for “conduct unbecoming to a public official.” The hearing will be held within 15 weeks.

Livingstone has refused to apologize for these comments and other slanders he has made against the state of Israel and against Ariel Sharon in particular. In refusing to apologize, Livingstone, a politician best described as belonging to the Fascist Left, is probably calculating that it will help shore up support among his core left-wing and Moslem support bases in the run-up for his bid to be re-elected as mayor of London.

UPDATE: RENAMING SETTLEMENTS

Following the dispatch on this list titled Palestinians “to rename settlements after Arafat and Yassin” (August 24, 2005), several news outlets in America and in Europe contacted Palestinian Authority spokespersons who confirmed that the PA was indeed considering renaming former Israeli settlements after Arafat and Yassin. The story was reported in the mainstream press on August 26, 2005, two days after appearing on this list.

MOHAMMED AL-DURA

As the “the first child martyr of the Intifada,” the image of Mohammed Al-Dura crouching next to his father on September 30, 2000, was for many the defining image of the last five years in the Israel Palestinian conflict.

Many Arab states have issued postage stamps with a picture of the terrified boy. One of Baghdad’s main streets was renamed The Martyr Mohammed al-Dura Street and Morocco has an al-Dura Park.

THE SHOT THAT SHOOK THE WORLD

On September 27, 2005 a special program will be held on ITV (Britain’s most popular television channel) where viewers will vote “for the most significant [television] shot from 50 years of News on ITV.”

In the Global Conflict category one of the leading nominations is for the shooting of Mohammed Al-Dura. This incident is placed alongside 9/11, Vietnam, the London terror attacks, Beslan, Lockerbie and the Iranian embassy siege. The website for this vote is www.itv.com/theshot.

Following behind the scenes pressure on ITV from some prominent recipients of this email list the caption next to the option to vote on ITV’s website was last week changed from “Mohammed al-Durra who was the boy shot by Israeli soldiers whilst cowering behind his father.” To “Muhammad al-Durra is shot dead and his father wounded in cross-fire between Israeli and Palestinian forces.”

14-YEAR OLD BOYS CARRYING BOMBS

On Monday, in an incident barely reported in the North American and European media, a 14-year-old Palestinian boy carrying three bombs was arrested by the Israeli army at a checkpoint near the West Bank city of Nablus.

Hussain Abu Kalifeh, 14, was detained during a routine security check at the Hawara checkpoint. His 16-year-old brother was previously arrested at the same checkpoint also attempting to smuggle bombs.

A day earlier, on Sunday, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up during the rush hour at a bus station in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba. The alertness of two security guards – both of whom were critically wounded in the blast – prevented the suicide bomber boarding the commuter bus. Over 50 people sustained light injuries when the bomber blew himself up at the entrance to the bus.

The suicide bomber had previously asked a bus driver for the direction to Beersheba’s Soroka hospital. On June 20th this year, Israeli security caught another potential suicide bomber, Wafa al-Bas, with explosives; she said she had also planned to explode her bomb at the same hospital.

MOHAMMED AL-DURA ON PA TV TENS OF TIMES A DAY

Many Palestinian suicide bombers find their motivation from Mohammed Al-Dura. Itamar Marcus of Palestinian Media Watch says that a film on Palestinian Authority television “openly and explicitly tells the children to seek death by portraying the most famous child ‘Martyr,’ Muhammad al-Dura, calling to other children to join him, in his idyllic afterlife.”

According to Marcus “the child’s death and funeral have been broadcast thousands of times on PA TV, usually tens of times a day.”

A STORY ABOUT MEDIA AND ETHICS

The article attached below is the first on al-Dura to appear in a decidedly left-leaning publication (the Jewish Quarterly), illustrating that this story is not about a side of the political spectrum but rather a story about media and ethics.

The author of the article, Natasha Lehrer, is Deputy Editor of the Jewish Quarterly, a cultural magazine with a wide following amongst Jewish and other intellectuals. The magazine is published in London and co-edited in Paris and London.

Appearing as it does in a left-leaning publication, I know from private sources, that over the summer the article has been circulated and read at the BBC and other British news organizations.

As an update to the article, Marc Tessier, cited in the piece as the current head of France Television, did not have his five-year contract renewed and leaves his post in September. Arlette Chabot has been promoted to head of news for the whole of France Television.

I attach the article with a summary first, although I recommend reading the article in full if you have time.

-- Tom Gross

 

SUMMARY

“ONE OF THE TRIGGERS THAT HELPED TO IGNITE THE SECOND INTIFADA”

“Manufacturing Consent; or, the anatomy of an image” (By Natasha Lehrer, Jewish Quarterly, Summer 2005 issue)

All through the 20th century, photographs of agonised children have taken on iconic status as images of modern warfare. Think of the picture of the small child with his hands raised leaving the Warsaw Ghetto, his innocent gaze directly captured by the camera. Or the shot of a naked young girl, Kim Phuc, fleeing a napalm attack in Vietnam in 1972, her body burned, her face contorted with pain and terror. Or the image of Mohammed Al-Dura, cowering with fear as his father tries in vain to shield him against a wall before he is shot dead by an Israeli soldier...

A truly iconic image can have a greater power than simply influencing public opinion around the world. The image of a terrified Jamal and Mohammed al-Dura cringing from a barrage of gunfire as they tried to protect themselves from behind a concrete barrel - a still taken from a videotape - was one of the triggers that helped to ignite the second Intifada (it took place on September 30th 2000, just 2 days after Sharon’s infamous walk on the Temple Mount). With his death Mohammed became ‘the first child martyr of the Intifada’. Less than a fortnight after his murder two Israeli soldiers were lynched in Ramallah in revenge. When the murder of Daniel Pearl was filmed in January 2002, little Mohammed’s face could be seen on a poster on a wall behind the American journalist, suggesting that his kidnapping and murder were partly to avenge the killing of the Palestinian child.

I remember my horror when I saw the death of the boy caught on camera. Those days were grim; every day the situation in Jerusalem and the occupied territories gained a terrible momentum, which came to an unprecedented head at the Neztarim junction in Gaza the day Mohammed al-Durra, unable to run and hide, was picked out by the sights of an Israeli machine gun. Charles Enderlin, the Jerusalem Correspondent of French state-owned television station France 2, who was not actually in Gaza that day, edited a piece from raw footage filmed by Talal Abu Rahma, a Palestinian cameraman and longstanding contributor to France 2, into a 55 second piece with his own commentary: ‘The shooting comes from the Israeli position. One more volley and the kid will be dead’. The footage was beamed around the world that night thanks to the righteous refusal of France 2 to take money for syndicating the piece, not wanting to profit from the death of a child...

Doubts accumulated. In 2002 Esther Schapira, a journalist with close connections to Tsahal, made a documentary for German television investigating the shooting; she concluded that it was far from clear who had shot the child. The following year James Fallows went further in an article in the Atlantic Monthly. He discusses the reasons that investigators at the MENA, including physicist Nahum Shahaf, have concluded that the shooting was staged:

‘The reasons to doubt that the al-Duras, the cameramen, and hundreds of onlookers were part of a coordinated fraud are obvious. Shahaf’s evidence for this conclusion, based on his videos, is essentially an accumulation of oddities and unanswered questions about the chaotic events of the day. Why is there no footage of the boy after he was shot? Why does he appear to move in his father’s lap, and to clasp a hand over his eyes after he is supposedly dead?

Why is one Palestinian policeman wearing a Secret Service-style earpiece in one ear? Why is another Palestinian man shown waving his arms and yelling at others, as if ‘directing’ a dramatic scene? Why does the funeral appear - based on the length of shadows - to have occurred before the apparent time of the shooting? Why is there no blood on the father’s shirt just after they are shot? Why did a voice that seems to be that of the France 2 cameraman yell, in Arabic, ‘The boy is dead’ before he had been hit? Why do ambulances appear instantly for seemingly everyone else and not for al-Dura? ’

French psychoanalyst Gerard Huber wrote a book exploring this thesis, Contre-expertise d’une mise en scene (Editions Raphael, 2003), in which he points out several other disturbing elements which contradict Enderlin’s report including the fact that the two doctors who received the body of Mohammed at the Shifa Hospital in Gaza have testified that the body was brought to the hospital before 1pm on September 30th. Yet Enderlin’s voiceover declares that the shooting took place at 3pm, and the shadows in the film would confirm that…

... It is unlikely that there will ever be a definitive answer as to what happened that day at the Netzarim junction. But it has raised serious questions as to the responsibility of the media in shaping and manipulating not only our understanding of conflicts but also the events themselves, for no one can deny the fury stoked in the Arab world by these few seconds of film, and the acts of violence that were subsequently perpetrated in the name of little Mohammed. L’Affaire Enderlin raises uncomfortable questions regarding the ethical standards and transparency and self-regulation of France 2 in particular and the French media in general, which has generally showed little interest in the details of the affair.

... Tom Gross, a leading media commentator, says he doesn’t believe the British press has touched on this subject at all, even though there has been a fair amount of media coverage elsewhere around the world. Thus the British media have become collaborators in what may be one of the most damning indictments of journalistic integrity ever witnessed in our televisual age. Perhaps for the editors of the Guardian, the Times, the Telegraph and other newspapers and periodicals which take their news reporting of the Middle East – and France – seriously, Enderlin’s statement is what counts: ‘the image corresponded to the reality of the situation’. In other words it fulfilled the world’s expectations of the bestial inhumanity of the Israeli occupation. The possible truth of what happened – that the child was killed in a terrible martyrdom operation staged by his fellow Palestinians as a propaganda exercise, or even that he wasn’t killed at all – is simply not part of Enderlin’s – or the British media’s – version of a possible ‘reality’.

 



FULL ARTICLE

“ONE OF THE TRIGGERS THAT HELPED TO IGNITE THE SECOND INTIFADA”

Manufacturing Consent; or, the anatomy of an image
By Natasha Lehrer
Jewish Quarterly
Summer 2005 issue

All through the 20th century, photographs of agonised children have taken on iconic status as images of modern warfare. Think of the picture of the small child with his hands raised leaving the Warsaw Ghetto, his innocent gaze directly captured by the camera. Or the shot of a naked young girl, Kim Phuc, fleeing a napalm attack in Vietnam in 1972, her body burned, her face contorted with pain and terror. Or the image of Mohammed Al-Dura, cowering with fear as his father tries in vain to shield him against a wall before he is shot dead by an Israeli soldier.

Because these images are of children, the innocent victims of the terrible wars waged by adults, they seem to encapsulate all the futility and evil of armed conflict and oppression. As Libby Brooks wrote in the Guardian (April 26th, 2003):

‘A child in pain and distress personifies innocence abused. As yet untainted by the complexities that attend the colour of their skin or the affiliations of their parents, they bring moral clarity to a world of seemingly amoral confusion. They offer the opportunity to tell a story . . . in a context where no straight narrative exists.’

Susan Sontag, in an essay in the New Yorker in 2002 (that later became a book, Regarding the Pain of Others, 2003), describes war photography as helping to construct ‘a grammar …and an ethics of seeing’. She points out how images such as those from the Vietnam War

‘became important in bolstering indignation at this war which had been far from inevitable, far from intractable; and could have been stopped much sooner. Therefore one could feel an obligation to look at these pictures, gruesome as they were, because there was something to be done, right now, about what they depicted.’

A truly iconic image can have a greater power than simply influencing public opinion around the world. The image of a terrified Jamal and Mohammed al-Dura cringing from a barrage of gunfire as they tried to protect themselves from behind a concrete barrel - a still taken from a videotape - was one of the triggers that helped to ignite the second Intifada (it took place on September 30th 2000, just 2 days after Sharon’s infamous walk on the Temple Mount). With his death Mohammed became ‘the first child martyr of the Intifada’. Less than a fortnight after his murder two Israeli soldiers were lynched in Ramallah in revenge. When the murder of Daniel Pearl was filmed in January 2002, little Mohammed’s face could be seen on a poster on a wall behind the American journalist, suggesting that his kidnapping and murder were partly to avenge the killing of the Palestinian child.

I remember my horror when I saw the death of the boy caught on camera. Those days were grim; every day the situation in Jerusalem and the occupied territories gained a terrible momentum, which came to an unprecedented head at the Neztarim junction in Gaza the day Mohammed al-Durra, unable to run and hide, was picked out by the sights of an Israeli machine gun. Charles Enderlin, the Jerusalem Correspondent of French state-owned television station France 2, who was not actually in Gaza that day, edited a piece from raw footage filmed by Talal Abu Rahma, a Palestinian cameraman and longstanding contributor to France 2, into a 55 second piece with his own commentary: ‘The shooting comes from the Israeli position. One more volley and the kid will be dead’. The footage was beamed around the world that night thanks to the righteous refusal of France 2 to take money for syndicating the piece, not wanting to profit from the death of a child.

Mahmoud Darwish wrote a poem apostrophising the child’s martyrdom. Shimon Peres avowed that the shooting was ‘a catastrophe for each and every one of us’. The Israelis were quick to acknowledge, in a statement made by the IDF Chief of Staff on October 3rd, the likelihood that the shots were fired by Israeli soldiers. An independent enquiry was not aided by the decision of the IDF to raze the entire area a week after the shooting (see Amnesty International report Israel/OT/PA: Broken lives - a year of intifada, 2001), nor by the fact that in accordance with Muslim tradition the boy was buried just hours after his death, without an autopsy taking place which could have determined definitively if he had been killed by a bullet from an Israeli M16 – or a shot from a Palestinian kalashnikov.

But what if what we think we saw on the television that fateful day was not actually what happened? What if the boy’s death was not actually caught on camera? What if it was a shot fired not by an Israeli soldier but by a Palestinian that killed the boy? What if the boy wasn’t killed at all? Would it matter? Would the image be less powerful, less iconic a representation of one of the most bitter and long-standing conflicts of our time? Would all those revenge suicide bombings, lynchings, beheadings that the child’s murder was used to justify no longer be justified, even by those who had believed that they once had been? What of the notion of journalistic integrity? For most of us, after all, trust in the media is paramount, since radio, television and newspapers provide us with all we know of the bloody conflicts that take place all around the world.

Almost immediately doubts about the footage began to be voiced, in defiance of Sontag’s confident formulation that ‘the practice of inventing dramatic news pictures, staging them for the camera, seems on its way to becoming a lost art’. A small Francophone Israeli news and analysis agency, the Metula News Agency (MENA), with its administrative base in Luxembourg, set about analysing the footage, with the help of various ballistic and forensic experts. Going through the footage frame by frame they uncovered a series of anomalies in the footage itself.

* Footage from other sources of Israeli soldiers firing had been spliced into the film, leading some to question why this was deemed necessary if it was so obvious that an Israeli soldier was guilty of firing the fatal shots.

* The Israeli post was at a 30 degree angle to the right of the position of the victims, which would have made a direct shot impossible. Only bullets ricocheting off the ground could have hit them from that angle.

* Bullet holes that appear in the concrete wall behind the man and boy are round and regular; they could only have been from shots aimed directly from in front of Mohammed and his father. Even if the Israelis had managed to hit them directly with bullets fired at an angle from a position over 100m away, the holes they would have made in the wall would have been distended.

Doubts accumulated. In 2002 Esther Schapira, a journalist with close connections to Tsahal, made a documentary for German television investigating the shooting; she concluded that it was far from clear who had shot the child. The following year James Fallows went further in an article in the Atlantic Monthly. He discusses the reasons that investigators at the MENA, including physicist Nahum Shahaf, have concluded that the shooting was staged:

‘The reasons to doubt that the al-Duras, the cameramen, and hundreds of onlookers were part of a coordinated fraud are obvious. Shahaf’s evidence for this conclusion, based on his videos, is essentially an accumulation of oddities and unanswered questions about the chaotic events of the day. Why is there no footage of the boy after he was shot? Why does he appear to move in his father’s lap, and to clasp a hand over his eyes after he is supposedly dead?

Why is one Palestinian policeman wearing a Secret Service-style earpiece in one ear? Why is another Palestinian man shown waving his arms and yelling at others, as if ‘directing’ a dramatic scene? Why does the funeral appear - based on the length of shadows - to have occurred before the apparent time of the shooting? Why is there no blood on the father’s shirt just after they are shot? Why did a voice that seems to be that of the France 2 cameraman yell, in Arabic, ‘The boy is dead’ before he had been hit? Why do ambulances appear instantly for seemingly everyone else and not for al-Dura?’

French psychoanalyst Gerard Huber wrote a book exploring this thesis, Contre-expertise d’une mise en scene (Editions Raphael, 2003), in which he points out several other disturbing elements which contradict Enderlin’s report including the fact that the two doctors who received the body of Mohammed at the Shifa Hospital in Gaza have testified that the body was brought to the hospital before 1pm on September 30th. Yet Enderlin’s voiceover declares that the shooting took place at 3pm, and the shadows in the film would confirm that.

Talal Abu Rahma was the only cameraman to film the scene, though the disturbances throughout the morning at the Netzarim junction meant that there were several foreign journalists at the scene. He first tried to sell the footage to CNN who rejected it without any additional verification, so he called Enderlin, who was in Ramallah, and offered him the scoop. In an interview with the French weekly magazine Telerama in October 2000 Enderlin spoke of footage from the 27 minute long tape that showed the child’s ‘agonies’ before his death, describing them as so unbearable that he decided to cut them from his final report. Meanwhile, 3 days after the shooting, on 3rd October, Talal Abu Rahma testified under oath in the office and presence of lawyer Raji Surani at the Palestine Centre for Human Rights in Gaza (PCHR) that the victims had been targeted in cold blood by guns fired from the Israeli position (Abu Rahma’s testimony can be read at www.pchrgaza.org/special/tv2.htm). Two years later, in a letter addressed to France 2 in Jerusalem (though never publicly aired by the station), he retracted this statement, saying ‘I never told the PCHR that the Israelis had intentionally shot and killed Mohammed al Dura and injured his father.’

With the proliferation of uncertainty about the authenticity of the footage and of the story, late last year three senior French journalists were finally permitted by France 2 to view the full 27 minutes of the tape that Abu Rahma shot that day. Luc Rosenzweig, a former foreign editor at Le Monde, Denis Jeambar, editor of L’Express, and Daniel Leconte, a documentary filmmaker and publisher (and former reporter for France 2) viewed the film in the office of Arlette Chabot, head of news at France 2. It was on this occasion that Didier Epelbaum, an adviser to the channel’s head Marc Tessier (who is to stand down in September, having failed in his attempt to have his contract renewed), mentioned in passing that Abu Rahma had retracted his testimony; in effect acknowledging that the only known witness to the shooting of Jamal and Mohammed al-Durra – for of course their other witness to the episode, Charles Enderlin, had been in a different city altogether when it took place – was no longer able to verify the very facts that the three journalists were contesting.

In January this year Jeambar and Leconte published an article in Le Figaro (which was rejected by Le Monde who claim to find the story ‘bizarre’) in which they describe a hitherto unknown aspect of the video - which has otherwise been entirely embargoed by France 2 apart from a 3 minute extract which they gave to the Israeli army for their enquiry – in which the first 20 minutes are taken up with scenes of young Palestinian men playing at being shot, getting up again and smoking cigarettes nonchalantly. Additionally they were surprised, given Enderlin’s widely-quoted decision not to include the child’s ‘agonies’ in his report, that the cassette didn’t appear to contain footage of any death throes. In fact they cautiously affirm that there is nothing in the tape that definitively shows that the child is dead, nor is there anything in it which indicates that he was shot by Israeli soldiers, though Leconte has said that he does believe that the shooting was real, in contrast with the assertion of Stephane Juffa of the MENA that the whole episode was staged.

In the same article Enderlin is questioned by the two journalists as to why he was so convinced that the Israelis were guilty of the shooting. He responds that “the image corresponded to the reality of the situation, not only in Gaza but also in the West Bank (my italics).”

France 2 remains tight-lipped. The station is bringing a defamation case against X, symbolically representing the authors of the proliferating accusations from around the world that Enderlin’s report was fabricated. One reason why France 2 is bringing the case against X – which is widely considered to be a strategy of intimidation - is because of the difficulty of bringing libel or defamation cases against internet bloggers, whose discussion of the affair has gained momentum over recent months. Marc Tessier, described by sources privately as being little more than Chirac’s stooge, and Arlette Chabot have closed ranks around Enderlin, the latter saying only, in an interview with the International Herald Tribune, that ‘four years later, no one can say for certain who killed [al-Durra], Palestinians or Israelis.’

The question remains unresolved. Enderlin will no longer discuss the affair. Spokespersons from France 2 claim that it is part of a conspiracy to discredit its foreign journalists and put pressure on Middle East correspondents in all parts of the media. The investigation into the shooting in Israel is closed. Questions raised in the Assemblיe Nationale and from various quarters of the French press for an proper investigation have so far yielded nothing more than a statement from the French media watchdog, the Conseil superieur de l’audiovisuel (CSA) in December 2004 demanding that French television identify its sources and exercise more caution when reporting on international conflicts.

It is unlikely that there will ever be a definitive answer as to what happened that day at the Netzarim junction. But it has raised serious questions as to the responsibility of the media in shaping and manipulating not only our understanding of conflicts but also the events themselves, for no one can deny the fury stoked in the Arab world by these few seconds of film, and the acts of violence that were subsequently perpetrated in the name of little Mohammed. L’Affaire Enderlin raises uncomfortable questions regarding the ethical standards and transparency and self-regulation of France 2 in particular and the French media in general, which has generally showed little interest in the details of the affair.

No less startling than any other aspect of what happened is the fact that the British media have totally ignored the whole affair. Tom Gross, a leading media commentator, says he doesn’t believe the British press has touched on this subject at all, even though there has been a fair amount of media coverage elsewhere around the world. Thus the British media have become collaborators in what may be one of the most damning indictments of journalistic integrity ever witnessed in our televisual age. Perhaps for the editors of the Guardian, the Times, the Telegraph and other newspapers and periodicals which take their news reporting of the Middle East – and France – seriously, Enderlin’s statement is what counts: ‘the image corresponded to the reality of the situation’. In other words it fulfilled the world’s expectations of the bestial inhumanity of the Israeli occupation. The possible truth of what happened – that the child was killed in a terrible martyrdom operation staged by his fellow Palestinians as a propaganda exercise, or even that he wasn’t killed at all – is simply not part of Enderlin’s – or the British media’s – version of a possible ‘reality’.


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.