Seven years have passed, yet the controversy over the death of the boy Mohammed a-Dura at Netzarim junction in the Gaza Strip refuses to die down.
Dozens of journalists, academics and investigators have examined the volume of material that was gathered time after time, with the aim of establishing once and for all what happened on September 30, 2000, and, if anyone was responsible for his death. At present, in France, the appeal of the French journalist who claims film of the event was fabricated is being heard in court, and there, for almost the first time, the entire film will be viewed.
Shortly after the affair blew up in all the news media, Nahum Shahaf, a physicist, was appointed by then Israeli Defense Forces Southern Command Yom Tov Samia to head an investigation of the incident. He said the evidence that was gathered was unequivocal: the boy Mohammed a-Dura was not killed by our forces.
The more Mr. Shahaf continued with his investigations, the more questions began to crop up, and now he claims that the boy was not shot at all, and that the entire event was staged in front of the cameras of the French TV channel France 2.
In the wake of the investigation, other journalists began to probe the affair, among them Bob Simon of the American investigative program “60 Minutes,” Esther Shapira from the German network ARD, James Fallows of the Atlantic Monthly magazine, and others. They all claimed that too many pieces in the puzzle simply did not fit.
For example, it is not clear why, in spite of the fact that there were 12 cameramen at the event on that day at Netzarim junction, the only one who managed to capture the dramatic event on video was Talal Abu-Rahma of France 2. Moreover, in the pictures the boy is seen in various poses, and this was after it had been declared that he was dead.
This week, a French court is expected to order that all the raw material of the French channel be made public, in the context of a libel suit filed by France 2 against the French journalist Philippe Karsenty. To this day the French network preferred not to uncover the raw material which was filmed at Netzarim junction on that day.
Mr. Karsenty was sued a year ago by the channel when he published an article alleging that the TV report had been staged. He lost the case, but now his appeal is being heard, and in it he asked the court to view the entire 27 minutes of video film that has never been screened in its entirety. He made this demand in the hope that this might throw some light on what really happened.
Only a handful of people have seen the raw material, and some of them are adamant the video shots prove unequivocally that the incident was staged. “France 2 argued throughout the years that the reason that they cut out a few extra seconds in which the father and son are seen was that the material is too harrowing to watch, but I have seen the material and it is simply not true,” said Luc Rosenzweig, a journalist from Le Monde, in a telephone call from Paris. “There are at least 24 minutes in which you see how scene after scene was staged.
People are seen throwing stones at the Israeli army position and then pretending that they have been shot, but then you see them getting up and throwing more stones, all for the Palestinian cameramen who were standing there. Moreover, the father was ostensibly shot at least 10 times, but you can’t see a single hole in his shirt, and not even a drop of blood.” Prof. Richard Landes of Boston University also watched the tape and also says it is hard to miss the fact that the event was staged.
In an interview with the Israeli newspaper Maariv, Mr. Landes said, “The missing footage holds the smoking gun that everybody is looking for. In those seconds you see the boy who is supposed to be dead lifting his head and peeping over his elbow at the camera in front of him. It is hard to believe that a boy who has been hit by dozens of bullets fired at him for no less than 45 minutes would suddenly raise his head, and as if that were not enough, he also turns over and lies on his stomach,” Prof. Landes said. Four years ago, this reporter viewed the missing footage. What characterizes the missing 25 minutes is the intense laughter amongst the Palestinians as they produced this episode.
Now the Israeli government has made its first official comment on the subject, when the director of the Israel Government Press Office, Daniel Seamen, made a public statement that France 2 had fabricated the Mohammed a-Dura case.