On Saturday,June 20, 2009, an Iranian teenager named Neda was murdered on the streets of Tehran because she was exercising her right to protest. Her murder, agony and death were captured by a camera, and the shocking scene was posted on YouTube.
Neda, which means “voice” in Persian, has become the icon of the anti-Ahmanidejad movement. An Iranian blogger dedicated his post on www.iranian.com to the memory of Neda saying that “she will be the new symbol of Iran” and that “her murder by the regime is the beginning of our movement and we will continue this movement and carry her name everywhere.” A Twitter re-posting compared Neda to Muhammad Al Dura: “Like Mohammed Al Dura, the kid killed by Israeli soldiers in 2000, the image of Neda killed by a Basij [the paramilitary voluntary militia controlled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, NDLR] in 2009 will remain with me forever.”
I wish well to Iranian protesters and I hope, like them, that Neda will become the symbol of their struggle for freedom. But the comparison with Al Dura is inappropriate. The fact that Al Dura is still a pervasive symbol around the world just goes to show how wrong Israeli officials are when they brush off the affair, claiming it has already been forgotten.
The comparison with Al Dura is inappropriate, because Mohamed Al Dura was not killed by Israeli soldiers and because the scene of his alleged killing was almost certainly staged. This is no conspiracy theory or slander. On May 21, 2008, a French court (the “Court d’Appel de Paris”) ruled that media analyst Philippe Karsenty is entitled to claim that the Al Dura scene is a hoax. The court did not rule whether or not the scene was staged (it wasn’t asked to do so); but by ruling that it is legitimate for Karsenty to claim that the scene was staged, the court implicitly admitted that Karsenty’s claim is not unfounded.
On September 30, 2000, French TV Channel France 2 aired images of a father and son trying to protect themsleves from gun fire at the Netzarim intersection in the Gaza Strip. France 2’s veteran Israel correspondent, Charles Enderlin, commented the images with the following words: “3 pm. Everything has just erupted near the settlement of Netzarim, in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians have shot live bullets, the Israelis are responding. Emergency medical technicians, journalists, passersby are caught in the crossfire. Here, Jamal and his son Mohamed are the target of fire from the Israeli positions. Mohamed is twelve, his father is trying to protect him. He is motioning… Another burst of fire. Mohamed is dead and his father seriously wounded. A Palestinian policeman and an ambulance driver have also lost their lives in the course of this battle.” Enderlin was not present during the shooting, and his comments were based on what his Palestinian cameraman told him.
In its own broadcast of France 2’s images, PA Television inserted a picture of an Israeli soldier in a shooting position. This was a picture of an Israeli soldier in Nazareth, taken two days after the shooting at Netzarim.
On October 1, 2000, Charles Enderlin described Mohamed Al Dura as “a 12-year-old child whose tragic death was filmed by Talal Abu Ramah, France 2’s correspondent in the Gaza Strip,” and reported the release of an Israeli Army statement “regretting the loss of human lives” and claiming that “it is impossible to determine the origin of the fire.”
Talal Abu Rahmah made a sworn statement to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, in which he claimed to have filmed 27 minutes of Israeli shooting, and that the Israelis killed the boy “in cold blood.” However, when France 2 submitted its tapes to a French court in November 2007, it turned out that Talal Abu Ramah had only shot a minute of the Al Durah sequence.
On November 27, 2000, France 2 broadcast a report by Charles Enderlin according to which the military investigation led by General Samia, head of the Southern Command, concluded that it was “more probable that the child had been killed by the Palestinians than by the Israelis.” The next day, France 2 and Charles Enderlin nevertheless commented that “several points of the Israeli theory conflict with the facts collected at site,” as well as with the testimony of the doctor who examined the child’s body.
In March 2002, German TV channel ARD broadcast a documentary by Esther Shapira, entitled “Who Killed Mohamed Al-Dura?” The documentary emphasized the lack of material evidence regarding the source of the shots and the autopsy on the child. In it, Talal Abu Ramah claimed that he had collected the bullets allegedly shot by Israeli soldiers. Then he admited that he actually didn’t. This was after Esther Schapira reminded Talal Abu Ramah of her interview of the Palestinian General in charge of the Al Durah investigation, in which the General said that no bullets had been collected. This caught Talal Abu Ramah in his lie about having collected the bullets. Moreover, the wounds exposed by Jamal Al Dura were not from bullets, but from a Hamas hatchet attack in 1993, for which he was treated in an Israeli hospital by Dr. Yehuda David.
In November 2002, the Franco-Israeli press agency MENA produced a twenty-minute-long documentary entitled “Al-Dura – The Investigation.” Based on comments by Nahum Shahaf, a physicist who participated in General Samia’s investigation, MENA’s documentary questioned the authenticity of the scenes filmed by France 2’s cameraman.
In January 2003, French journalist Gérard Huber published a book infering that the death of Mohamed Al Dura was fictitious.
On October 22, 2004, French journalists Luc Rosenzweig (former chief editor of Le Monde ), Denis Jeambar (L’Express ) and Daniel Leconte (Arte ), were invited by France 2 to view the rushes. To their surprise, of the 27 minutes of Talal Abu Rahma’s rushes, more than 23 minutes of the scenes consisted of young Palestinians faking war scenes, and had nothing to do with the images broadcast by France 2. Luc Rosenzweig testified in court that “the theory that the scene [of the child’s death] was faked was more probable than the version presented by France 2.”
On November 26, 2004, media analyst Philippe Karsenty sent out a press realease claiming that “Charles Enderlin, did, indeed, broadcast a false report on September 30, 2000.”
On January 25, 2005, Daniel Lecomte and Denis Jeambar published an op-ed in Le Figaro corroborating Rosenzweig’s court testimony. Lecomte and Jeambard related that on at least two occasions Charles Enderlin claimed that he “edited out the child’s agony. It was unbearable… It would not have added anything.” After having seen the rushes, Lecomte and Jembar concluded that “this famous ‘agony’ that Enderlin claims to have edited out of the film does not exist.” They also noted that “in the minutes preceding the shooting, the Palestinians seem to have organized a staged ‘play’ war with the Israelis and simulate, in most of the cases, imaginary wounds” and that viewing the entire set of rushes shows that at the moment Charles Enderlin declared the child dead “nothing allows him to suggest that he really is dead and even less so that he was killed by Israeli soldiers.”
Enderlin responded to Lecomte and Jeambard in Le Figaro on January 27, 2005. Enderlin wrote that “the image corresponded to the reality of the situation, not only in Gaza, but also in the West Bank.” But Enderlin also admitted that his commentary did not always fit with the images. This is also the opinion submitted by media expert Daniel Dayan (from the prestigious CNRS institute) to the French court.
On November 14, 2007, France 2 submitted to the Court d’Appel de Paris eighteen minutes of the raw footage that Talal Abu Rahmah had shot on September 30, 2000. The footage included the final segment of the alleged shooting of Muhammad Al Durah and of his father Jamal. In fact, France 2 had cut the footage and removed many scenes. There were only 65 seconds showing shooting, despite the fact that Talal Abu Ramah had pledged under oath that he had shot 27 minutes of the “45 minutes ordeal under Israeli fire” and that he had sent 6 minutes of it to Enderlin.
If the Israelis were shooting for 45 minutes in an angle, how come the last picture of the scence only shows a couple of holes in the wall behind the Al Durahs? The shape of these holes clearly indicates that the shooting could not have come from the Israeli position. And how come the bodies of the Al Durahs are intact, with no visible blood stain, after 45 minutes of shooting allegedly directed at them? Talal Abu Ramah has claimed that Mohamed Al Durah was bleeding for 15 or 20 minutes from a stomach wound. However, the images do not show any blood on the ground. How come Talal Abu Ramah did not shoot even a few seconds of the boy bleeding on the ground?
Recently, German journalist Esther Shapira released her second documentary on the Al Dura Affair. In it, Schapira interviews one of the doctors at Shiffa Hospital who claims to have treated Mohamed Al Durah, and who shows pictures of the boy. However, a facial recognition expert claims in the documentary that the boy filmed by Talal Abu Ramah is not the one declared dead under the name “Mohamed Al Dura” at the hospital.
Despite the serious doubts that surround France 2’s images, the Al Durah episode has had devastating consequences. It triggered an unprecedented wave of violence against Israel and Jews around the world. Israeli Arabs began rioting. Violence in Gaza and the West Bank became more widespread and deadly, often accompanied by cries of “revenge for the blood of Mohamed Al Durah!” Al Durah became an icon of the second Intifada. Al-Jazeera ran repeatedly the clip of the boy being shot, and for several days the picture of his death became the network’s emblem. These images had a galvanizing effect in the Arab world. Mohammed Al Dura became an icon for the Arab and Muslim world; the picture of the helpless boy hiding behind his father appears on stamps, on street murals, and even on fashion clothing. Streets were named after Mohamed Al Dura in Iran, Iraq, and Morocco. Egypt re-named the street in front of the Israeli Embassy in Cairo “Muhammad Al Durra Street.” Iraq named a main thoroughfare in Baghdad “Martyr Mohammed Al Dura Street.” The Iranian Ministry of Education set up a website commemorating Al Dura.
When Charles Enderlin claimed that Mohamed Al Durah and his father were the target of fire coming from the Israeli position, he had a major impact on global Jihad. According to the Sharia, Muslims may not kill the women and children of their enemies, unless those enemies kill Muslim civilians. When Osama bin Laden made a recruiting video before 9-11, he had a special section on Muhamed Al Durah, explaining that when “the Israelis” murdered the boy, they killed every Muslim child in the world. Daniel Pearl was beheaded with a picture of Mohamed al Durah behind him and scenes of Al Durah spliced into the slitting of his throat.
So, no, the world has not forgotten about Mohamed Al Durah, and Israel was wrong all the way to try and ignore the issue, hoping it would evaporate. Indeed, Enderlin’s ultimate defense and punching line to that day is that the very fact that Israel did not sue him or investigate his report it the proof that he did nothing wrong.
Good luck to the Iranians in their struggle for freedom against an oppressive regime. Good luck to the Jews in their struggle for survival against global Jihad. And good luck to Charles Enderlin in the world-to-come.