The IDF has abandoned its official silence in a seven-year-old case that has been characterized as a "blood libel" against the IDF and the State of Israel.
On September 10, the deputy commander of the IDF's Spokesman's Office, Col. Shlomi Am-Shalom, submitted a letter to the France 2 television network's permanent correspondent in Israel, Charles Enderlin, regarding Enderlin's story from September 30, 2000, in which he televised 55 seconds of edited footage from the Netzarim junction in the central Gaza Strip purporting to show IDF forces shooting and killing 12-year-old Muhammad al-Dura.
After its exclusive broadcast that day, France 2 offered the edited film free of charge to all media outlets. The footage, and the story of the purported IDF killing of al-Dura, was quickly rebroadcast around the world.
Within days, al-Dura became a symbol of the Palestinian war against Israel. His name has been repeatedly invoked by terrorists and their supporters as a justification for killing Israelis, Jews and their Western supporters.
In his letter, Am-Shalom asked for the entire unedited 27-minute film that was shot by France 2's Palestinian cameraman Talal Abu-Rahma that day, as well as the footage filmed by Abu-Rahma on October 1, 2000. Am-Shalom requested that the broadcast-quality films be sent to his office no later than September 15. France 2 has yet to hand over the requested film.
The IDF's move came against the backdrop of French media watchdog Philippe Karsenty's legal battle with France 2 regarding the network's coverage of the al-Dura affair.
Last year, France 2 and Enderlin sued Karsenty, who runs the Internet media watchdog Web site Media Ratings, for defamation for a letter he sent out in 2004 accusing France 2 of staging the al-Dura story.
Karsenty also called for the resignations of Enderlin and of France 2's news director, Arlette Chabot, for their roles in promulgating the alleged hoax.
In October 2006 a French court decided in favor of France 2 and Enderlin, and against Karsenty. The court acknowledged that Karsenty had submitted significant evidence indicating that the event had been staged. Still, in ruling in favor of the plaintiffs, the judges said Karsenty's accusations lacked credibility because, they claimed incorrectly, he had based his accusations on a single source.
The court also stressed that "no Israeli authority, neither the army – which is nonetheless most affected, nor the Justice [Ministry] has ever accorded the slightest credit to [Karsenty's] allegations" regarding the authenticity of the France 2 report.
In his letter to Enderlin, Am-Shalom disputes the judges' assertion. "It is my duty to note," he wrote, "[that their claim] does not correspond to repeated attempts made by the IDF to receive the filmed materials, and with the conclusions of the IDF's committee of inquiry [into the purported shooting] that were widely publicized in the international and French media."
Am-Shalom discussed at length the findings of the IDF's probe into the incident. That inquiry was ordered by then-OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yom Tov Samia.
Citing Samia, Am-Shalom wrote, "The general has made clear that from an analysis of all the data from the scene, including the location of the IDF position, the trajectory of the bullets, the location of the father [Jamal al-Dura] and the son behind an obstacle, the cadence of the bullet fire, the angle at which the bullets penetrated the wall behind the father and his son, and the hours of the events, we can rule out with the greatest certainty the possibility that the gunfire that apparently harmed the boy and his father was fired by IDF soldiers, who were at the time located only inside their fixed position [at the junction]."
Am-Shalom further notes that "Gen. Samia emphasized to me that all his attempts to receive the filmed material for the purpose of his inquiry were rejected."
The IDF is in urgent need of the footage, Am-Shalom said, because "it has been asked to comment on the ruling [against Karsenty] from October 19, 2006, on this issue, which is scheduled to be discussed in a French appellate court on September 19."
"Since we are cognizant of the fact that there have been attempts to stage media events, and since doubt has been raised along these lines regarding the story under discussion, we asked to receive the aforementioned materials in order to conclude this episode and to get to the truth," Am-Shalom said.
In the past, the IDF shied away from taking a strong public position on the al-Dura affair. At the time of the incident, then-chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Shaul Mofaz and then-prime minister and defense minister Ehud Barak did not openly support Samia's inquiry or its findings.
As late as June 23, 2006, then-IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Miri Regev told Haaretz, "I cannot determine whether the IDF is or is not responsible for the killing of al-Dura."
In the aftermath of Karsenty's civil trial last year, the IDF came under considerable criticism both in Israel and from Jewish groups abroad for its silence on the issue.
While the IDF maintained official silence, independent probes by various foreign media organizations and Internet activists over the past several years have called the veracity of the France 2 report into serious question.
Those investigations demonstrated that purported IDF "attacks" against Palestinian civilians were being openly staged by Palestinian cameramen and locals at the Netzarim junction throughout the day of the alleged shooting of al-Dura.
Am-Shalom sent copies of his letter to Samia, incoming IDF Deputy Chief of General Staff Maj.-Gen. Dan Harel, the France 2 representative in Israel, the president of the network in France, and Philippe Karsenty.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.