Prime-time blood libels

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Last Thursday a French court found Philippe Karsenty guilty of libeling France 2 television network and its Jerusalem bureau chief Charles Enderlin. Karsenty, who runs a media watchdog Web site called Media Matters, called for Enderlin and his boss Arlette Chabot to be sacked for their September 30, 2000 televised report alleging that IDF forces had killed 12-year-old Muhammad al-Dura at Netzarim junction in Gaza that day.

 

Their lawsuit against Karsenty was the first of three lawsuits that Enderlin and France 2 filed against French Jews who accused them in various ways of manufacturing a blood libel against Israel by purposely distorting the events at Netzarim junction that day. The second trial, against Pierre Lurcat, is set to begin this week. Lurcat organized a mass demonstration against France 2 on October 2, 2002 after the broadcast of a German television documentary film by Esther Schapira called Three Bullets and a Dead Child: Who Shot Muhammad al-Dura? Schapira's film concludes that IDF bullets could not have killed Dura.

 

September 30, 2000 was the third day of the Palestinian jihad. That day an IDF position at Netzarim junction was attacked by Palestinian Authority security forces. A prolonged exchange of fire ensued. That afternoon, France 2's Palestinian cameraman Talal Abu Rahma submitted footage of a man and a boy at the junction cowering behind a barrel. The two were later identified as Jamal al-Dura and his 12-year-old son Muhammad. Enderlin, who had not been present at the scene, took Rahma's 27 minutes of raw footage and narrated a 50-second film in which he accused the IDF of having shot and killed the boy. Enderlin's film itself does not show the boy dying. There are no blood stains where the boy and his father were crouched. No ambulance came to evacuate them. No autopsy was performed on Muhammad's body.

 

FRANCE 2 distributed its film free of charge to anyone who wanted it – although not the full 27 minutes that Rahma filmed. The film was shown repeatedly worldwide and particularly on Arab television networks. The results of the footage were murderous. On October 12, two IDF reservists, Yosef Avrahami and Vadim Novesche, were lynched by a mob at a PA police station in Ramallah. The mob invoked Dura's death as a justification for its barbarism.

 

 

The Orr Commission which investigated the violent rioting by Israeli Arabs in October 2000 stated in its final report that "Muhammad al-Dura's picture, which was distributed by the media, was one of the causes that led people in the Arab sector to take to the streets on October 1, 2000."

 

Countless suicide bombers and other Palestinian terrorists have cited Dura as a justification of their crimes. For the past six years PA television has continuously aired a film showing Dura in heaven beckoning other Palestinian children to "martyr" themselves by becoming terrorists and join him there.

 

The Palestinians are not the only ones who have used Dura as a terrorist recruitment tool. He is prominently featured in al-Qaida recruitment videos and on Hizbullah banners. Daniel Pearl's murderers interspersed their video of his beheading with the France 2 film. Throughout Europe, and particularly in France, Muslims have used Dura as a rallying cry in their attacks against Jews – attacks which broke out shortly after the Dura film was broadcast.

 

AT FIRST, Israel accepted responsibility for Dura's death without conducting an investigation. Yet, in the weeks that followed the event, engineers Nahum Shachaf and Yosef Doriel conducted investigations on behalf of the IDF's Southern Command.

 

Both men separately proved mathematically and physically that the IDF forces on the ground could not see the Duras from their position and that it was physically impossible for their bullets to have killed Muhammad. Then OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen.Yom Tov Samia held a news conference in late November based on their findings at which he said that the probability that the IDF had killed Dura was low.

 

Yet Samia was the only senior Israeli official to question the veracity of the film. Then chief of General Staff Shaul Mofaz disavowed Samia's investigation. Prime minister Ehud Barak never questioned the veracity of Enderlin's murderous accusation against the IDF.

 

In the intervening years, private researchers and media organizations have taken it upon themselves to investigate what happened that day. Their findings have shown that at a minimum, the probability that the IDF killed Dura is minuscule and more likely, the event was either staged or edited to engender the conclusion that Dura had been killed by Israel. The few people who have been allowed to watch Rahma's entire film have stated that it is impossible to conclude that Muhammad was killed because he raises his head and props himself up on his elbow after he was supposedly shot.

 

Respected media organizations like The Wall Street Journal, CBS News, Atlantic Monthly and Commentary magazine have published detailed investigations that all conclude that the footage was either staged or simply edited to show something that didn't happen.

 

Yet, even as private individuals were dedicating their time and passion to proving that France 2 had purposely broadcast a blood libel against Israel that caused the death and injury of Israelis and Jews throughout the world and marred the honor of the IDF, official Israel remained silent.

 

The Foreign Ministry never asked France 2 to show its officials the full 27-minute film. Neither the IDF nor the Foreign or Justice Ministries defended the IDF or called into question the veracity of Enderlin's film. As late as this past June 23, IDF spokeswoman 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 French judicial system, the people's interest is represented by a special court reporter who recommends verdicts to the judges. It is rare for judges to disregard the reporter's recommendations. During his trial, Karsenty and his witnesses produced piece after piece of evidence that called into question the credibility of the France 2 film.

 

For its part, France 2 sent no representatives to the trial. Its attorney did not question any of the evidence submitted by Karsenty nor did she cross-examine any of his witnesses. She brought no witnesses of her own. She simply produced a letter of support for France 2 from President Jacques Chirac. The court reporter recommended dismissing the case.

 

In their judgment last week, the judges argued that Karsenty's allegations against Enderlin and France 2 could not be credible since "no Israeli authority, neither the army which is nonetheless most affected, nor the Justice [Ministry] have ever accorded the slightest credit to these allegations" regarding the mendacity of the Dura film.

 

Over the years Israeli officials have justified their silence by saying that it was a losing proposition to reopen the Dura case. We'll be accused of blaming the victim, they said.

 

This statement is both cowardly and irresponsible. As the French verdict shows, without an Israeli protest, the protests of private individuals, however substantial, ring hollow. When Israel refuses to defend itself from blood libels, it gives silent license to attacks against Israel and world Jewry in the name of those libels.

 

In 2000, Barak was desperately trying to close a peace deal with Yasser Arafat. The last thing he wanted was to admit that Arafat was promulgating blood libels against Israel. So he was silent. This is unforgivable, but understandable.

 

Israel's continued silence is a sign that Israeli officialdom has still not understood what the war of images demands of it. The Dura film, like the fictional massacre of Lebanese childr
en at Kafr Kana in Lebanon this summer, shows that victory or defeat in wars is today largely determined on television. To win, Israel must go on the offensive and attack untruthful, distorted images that are used to justify the killing of Israelis and Jews throughout the world.

 

When Karsenty heard the court's verdict last week, he said, "If this judgment is upheld, Jews should ask themselves questions about their future in France. Justice covers the anti-Semitic lies of a public channel. It's a strong signal, it is very severe."

 

To this it should be added that if the Israeli government continues to be silent as the good name of the IDF, of Israel and of the Jewish people is dragged through the mud by distorted television images broadcast by foreign news outlets; if the Israeli government does nothing to defend those who are persecuted for fighting against these distortions, then Jews will have to ask themselves some questions about how on earth we are supposed to defend ourselves, let alone win this war against those who seek our destruction. 

 

 

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

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