Chanoch Marmory, former editor of Ha'aretz, discusses how he was taken in by the Pallywood Muhammad al-Dura fabrication. The supposed murder of Al-Dura by Israeli soldiers, broadcast around the world, sparked the major violence of the so called Second Intifada. Marmory He was not the only one who "bought" the Muhammad al-Dura fabrication. The IDF bought it too. And when I circulated, simply as a point of information, news of a reconstruction that showed that Israeli soldiers could not possibly have killed al-Dura, I was bitterly condemned as a Zionist propagandist. But it was all a lie, just as the "Jenin Massacre" was a lie, and just as the "Gaza Humanitarian crisis" is a lie.
The title "Purity of shame" - "Tohar Habusha" is a pun on a Hebrew expression for ethical conduct.
By: Chanoch Marmory [Former editor of Haaretz]
Today, when I know more about the way in which the Palestinians related their tragedy, and from across the years and experience accumulated during those years, I can openly accept even the film of German journalist Esther Schapira, "Al Dura - child, death and the truth". Today I know we bought that story too quickly, and cheaply.
It was on my shift, so you can certainly see self-criticism in what is written here. Nine years have gone by since then, and the personal memory of every detail has gone dull a long time ago. But the emotional turmoil caused in me by the scene of father and son, Jalal Mohammed A-Dura and young Muhammad, I remember well. Those were feelings of shame and anger.
In the face of every scene of horror, the emotional reaction of the journalist precedes the journalistic one. Muhammad A-Dura was then my son's age, and it was easy to identify with the pain of the father who had his child lying shot at his feet. But we had to pull together and act as journalists even if the redness of shame often covered the cheeks.
The important lesson the years of intifada had taught me is that there is no way to do real journalism with veiled eyes. And even when the purity of shame blurs the vision, it is forbidden to abandon, even under the most difficult of circumstances, the basic tools of the journalist – curiosity, skepticism and a critical approach. Later it became evident how well the Palestinian side would exploit the embarrassment and shame of journalists like me as a tool in its combat.
The contribution of a minute and a half video segment taken at the gunfire exchanges at Netzarim junction on September 30, 2000 was decisive in turning protest demonstrations over Ariel Sharon's visit at Har-Homa into a complete Intifada. The clip that reflected the story of a son's dying in his father's arms after the two were caught partially exposed in the heart of the gunfire scene was embarrassing and shocking and was taken at face value: The was son killed and the father injured in the exchange of fire – whether it be IDF fire or Palestinian fire.
Wonder for the meaning of the event evaporated completely after the then Deputy Chief of Staff Gen. Boogie Yaalon and Major General Giora Eiland stated publicly that the child was shot by IDF fire, accidentally of course. Even when the IDF investigated and retracted to state that Al-Dura was killed by wild Palestinian crossfire, we did not return to it. Anyone who then tried to keep digging around this innocent case the case was seen as a madman or one with a political agenda - or both.
We've left the issue with a certain relief, especially when the blaze swept all the territories and the full resources of journalistic coverage. Today it is clear we should have been more skeptical about eye impressions, also that the eyes were of only one camera: the camera of Talal Abu-Rahma, questionably hot material from the front, where there are those who describe it as Pallywood – the Palestinian video drama industry.
In time it became clear how this market took hold in the world, and especially in Western Europe, what drew the European media to provide with relative comfort and with low risk, bloody stories from the intifada fields of battle to a mostly non-critical audience that is not particularly selective. It was easy for the Palestinians to sell stories to the foreign press, and it was easy for those stories to produce bold headlines.
In disproving at least one instance I was involved personally; in setting things straight in the story of Abu-Ali, a resident of the Jenin refugee camp during the days of "Operation Defensive Shield", which was given in the French magazine "Le Nouvel Observateur" the title: "My Nine children were buried under the rubble". Abu-Ali's house was indeed destroyed during the battle, but his children escaped and were found safe and sound. However, and despite this, the French magazine, which did a very sloppy job, avoided publicly retracting their words.
Today, when I know more about the way in which the Palestinians related their tragedy, and from across the years and experience accumulated during those years, I can openly accept even the film of German journalist Esther Schapira, "Al Dura - child, death and the truth" that was broadcast last night on "Mabat Sheny".
Today I know we bought that story too quickly, and cheaply. We were skeptical towards the IDF investigation, also because the army had a reputation of a body that suits investigative conclusions to its own needs. But from the moment when the army itself took responsibility for the case, we rid ourselves of it, while at the same time we showed impatience towards tests conducted by those perceived as obsessive. In the midst of the intifada there is no time for those who dig around in an old case, when events pile up on the table frequently.
Yair Atinger, the only one of the TV critics who referred this morning to the film that was broadcast last night, offers as a main lesson from it: "Do not believe anything that runs on the screen". I agree with his statement and his words that that "a picture, even a video image, may be the perfect lie, and effective television needs trusting viewers, not necessarily intelligent ones".
However I find it hard to accept Atinger's inclusion of the Al-Dura case into one package with Elvis legends and stories of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, i.e. in the category of conspiracy theories. If you take into account the fact that a minute and a half of photographic material created the great myth of the second intifada, a myth of the suffering, heroism and sacrifice, which generations of Palestinian children grow on, we should have made every effort to get at the truth of the affair. It was our job, to tell what exactly happened. And if not us, anyone who is willing to stick a pin in this myth should have been accepted openly. We had to try to distinguish between bothersome possessed people and meticulous researchers.
The question whether Muhammad Al Dura had indeed been shot by Israeli fire or if it was Palestinian gunfire will no longer get an answer. What happened there in the heat of battle could not be proven any more – especially given that the former Gaza Division commander, Brigadier General Yair Naveh, ordered the immediate destruction of all constructions located at Netzarim junction that were within firing distance of the outpost, and among them the wall that the father and son clung to during the shooting.
Either way, Esther Schapira manages to impress us with the contradictions she found in that video segment: the ground beneath the killed and the injured is without blood stains, fresh blood stains that emerge at the scene later, and blood stains on the video that pop up and disappear and change their location on the body of Muhammad as if they were a red rag he was holding in his hand.
Schapira presents the testimony of the sole witness, the cameraman Talal Abu-Rahma, who filmed for Charles Enderlin, a regular representative of the French network France 2, as false and fraudulent and baseless. She finds contradictions in his testimony that claims Al-Dura died before his eyes. According to him, he watched the continuous shooting from his car for about 45 minutes, took about 18 minutes of film, yet only submitted fragmented footage of one minute and a half of the father and son, when he could allegedly have shot continuously and had a charged battery in his hand. Abu-Rahma inexplicably interrupted the filming and his video did not capture the entire process of extracting the body, though he could have done so.
Schapira finds flaws with the father's version in regards to his own injury. With the aid of an Israeli doctor who treated him before, she proves that the scars he presented as caused in the Netzarim shooting incident were caused in mysterious circumstances for which he underwent treatment in Israel. Her hypothesis: body injuries such as those are caused by Hamas members as punishment for those who collaborated with the enemy, hence the question arising is even wilder: Has Hamas used the father and son forcing them to position themselves at the scene, so that the father will make amends for his crime against them?
Schapira presents the court verdict from a year ago, in which a French court accepted the appeal of Phillip Karsenty, a French Jew who has devoted most of his time to the rebuttal of the Al Dura story. After he claimed that the report Enderlin had broadcast was staged (Enderlin never stayed in Gaza during the shooting, but in Ramallah), France 2 filed a libel suit against Karsenty, and he was convicted initially. The courthouse of appeals did not ratify Karsenty's assertion, but ruled that it is not libelous. During the trial France 2 was forced to reveal the raw material taken before editing, and in a short piece that was not aired the boy, declared as dead, is shown to be moving his limbs.
Schapira does not settle for this. She creates a broader picture, of directing of injury scenes, of conflicting testimonies, of irrational scheduling, and finally raises a claim, relying on a face recognition expert, that the boy who was brought for burial that day at the mass funeral is not Muhammad Al-Dura, but another boy whose name is Rami Al-Dura, who was shot in his head or at least had a marking on him similar to a gunshot wound. From here, in her opinion, the possibility of raising the question if he is actually dead is open.
It is not clear who is this Rami Al-Dura, and under what circumstances was he killed. Esther Schapira makes it clear in the language: she does not claim that Muhammad Al Dura is alive. She just claims that he did not die during the video taking at the Netzarim crossing and that he is not the boy that was brought for burial during the funeral procession. This sounds like a fantastic option, but the whole scene is full of contradictions and inconsistencies. And there are those who made vast political capital from the funeral procession. Elvis case, then, it is not.
The Palestinian myth will remain strong even if there would be found clear cut evidence that the story of Muhammad Al-Dura was staged entirely. There will always be those who will argue that even if it is not clear what exactly happened there, the basic story remains as is: a helpless child was caught in Israeli fire and was shot deliberately.Now that this film was presented to us, it is clear that what you see in the video shots of Talal Abu- Rahma is not the whole story. And possibly, it is an entirely different story. Suddenly, with considerable delay, the need returns to do another round on it, in an attempt to get at the truth. Now I have to know what really happened there. It's not a petty matter and not a question of professional honor. I must know who they are, and of course, who we are.
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