Last Wednesday's terror attack in Jerusalem was unique. Due to the fact that Husam Taysir Dwayat bulldozed his victims outside of Jerusalem Capitol Studios where many of the foreign television networks have their offices, his was one of only two attacks to have been caught live on camera.
The only other attack which was filmed was the lynching of IDF reservists Yosef Avrahami and Vadim Novesche at a Palestinian police station in Ramallah on October 12, 2000. That attack, which showed the mob basking in the blood of the two men, was filmed by an Italian camerawoman from the privately owned Mediaset television station. The attack last Wednesday was filmed by the BBC whose correspondent Tim Franks witnessed the carnage from the outset through his office window.
Their film documentation is not the only thing those two attacks share. The lynch in Ramallah and the attack last Wednesday are also the only attacks that elicited abject apologies by otherwise arrogant media giants. In the aftermath of the lynch, Riccardo Cristiano, Italy's state-owned RAI network's correspondent in Israel, wrote a groveling apology to the Palestinian Authority in which he went to painstaking lengths to explain that it was not his network, but his competitor that published the footage.
In the letter which the PA published in its Al Hayat al Jadida daily, Cristiano fawned, "We always respect the journalistic procedures with the Palestinian Authority for [journalistic] work in Palestine and we are credible in our precise work. We thank you for your trust, and you can be sure that this is not our way of acting. We will not do such a thing."
ON FRIDAY, the BBC published an apology for broadcasting the footage of Wednesday's carnage. The film showed an unarmed, furloughed IDF commando climb onto Dwayat's bulldozer just after Dwayat murdered Batsheva Unterman by crushing her car. It showed the soldier grabbing a gun belonging to a security guard who was unsuccessfully trying to restrain Dwayat and shooting Dwayat three times in the head. The film did not show Dwayat or any of his victims dying. What it showed was the terror of the wounded, Dwayat's murderousness and the soldier's heroism.
Yet, the network declared, "It's not normally the BBC's policy to show the moment of death on screen. These are always extremely difficult decisions to make. However, on reflection, we felt that the pictures featured on Wednesday's News at Ten did not strike the right editorial balance between the demands of accuracy and the potential impact on the program's audience."
At first glance, it is not at all clear what the BBC was talking about. Its film was a journalistic achievement. Through it, tens of millions of people worldwide were able to see for themselves what a terror attack against innocents looks like from a fairly sterile angle. What did the BBC have to apologize for?
In this case, as in the case of the lynching eight years ago, the reason the BBC apologized is not because the film's images were too gruesome, but because it strayed from the accepted narratives of the Palestinian war against Israel. To maintain the narratives, "the right editorial balance between the demands of accuracy and the potential impact on the program's audience," is one that engenders the belief that Israel is either morally indistinguishable from the Palestinians, or that Israel is morally inferior to the Palestinians.
The metaphor for the first narrative is the so-called "cycle of violence." The BBC itself spelled out this narrative in the aftermath of the lynching in Ramallah. In a program called, "When Peace Died," broadcast in November 2000, the BBC explained, "Two images captured the hatred that has destroyed the peace process in the Middle East. Mohammed al-Dura, the boy from Gaza, shielded by his father but still dying under a hail of bullets fired by Israeli soldiers and the lynching and brutal murder of two Israeli reservists by a Palestinian mob."
The metaphor for the second narrative is the Holocaust. It was first used explicitly early on by Catherine Nay, a well-known news anchor from Europe1 network. In late 2000 Nay declared, "The death of Muhammad [al-Dura] cancels out, erases that of the Jewish child, his hands in the air from the SS in the Warsaw Ghetto."
THE STORY of Muhammad al-Dura plays a central role for both narratives. On September 30, 2000, France 2 public television network's bureau chief in Israel Charles Enderlin aired a 57-second, heavily edited film which he proclaimed portrayed then 12-year-old al-Dura being killed by IDF forces at Netzarim Junction in Gaza. France 2 distributed the film for free to the global media and al-Dura's image became the icon of the Palestinian war against Israel. It directly incited anti-Jewish violence in Israel and throughout the world.
Questions about the veracity of the France 2 account arose immediately. An IDF investigation launched by then OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yom Tov Samia proved through ballistic evidence that it was physically impossible for IDF forces to have shot – much less killed – al-Dura. Over the ensuing years, a handful of journalists and researchers produced a wealth of evidence demonstrating that Enderlin's story was false.
One of the researchers was a media critic named Philippe Karsenty. He asserted that the film was a hoax on his Web site Media Ratings and dared Enderlin and France 2 to sue him for libel while demanding that they release the 27 minutes of film they claimed they had of the September 30, 2000 incident at Netzarim Junction.
While refusing to release the footage, Enderlin and France 2 did sue Karsenty for libel. In late 2006, after receiving a letter of recommendation for Enderlin from then French president Jacques Chirac, and in spite of the reams of evidence supporting his claim that Karsenty presented at the trial, the court convicted Karsenty. Karsenty appealed the ruling.
The appellate court ordered Enderlin and France 2 to produce the unedited footage. Although he refused to show the footage in its entirety, from the 19 minutes of rushes that Enderlin did present, three things became obvious. First, the IDF could not have killed al-Dura. Second, the footage showed Palestinians staging scenes of fighting with imaginary IDF forces. And third, the footage showed no evidence that al-Dura had been shot or that he died that day at Netzarim Junction. On May 22, the appellate court overturned Karsenty's conviction.
IT MIGHT have been thought that the French, Israeli and international media which had for seven years supported Enderlin against the small band of independent investigators would finally abandon him. So too, it might have been thought that after seven years of defending an indefensible piece of journalistic malpractice Enderlin would finally own up to his misdeed. But the opposite occurred.
In Israel, leading left-wing commentators like Gideon Levy, and Tom Segev from Ha'aretz, Arad Nir from Channel 2 and Larry Derfner from The Jerusalem Post accused Karsenty and his allies of waging a witch hunt against Enderlain to advance their political agendas. In France, the media initially ignored the story.
Then, less than a week after the verdict, the Who's Who of the rather large anti-Israeli branch of the French media published a petition in the left-wing Le Nouvel Observateur decrying Karsenty's exhaustively documented dossier against the al-Dura story as a "seven-year hate-filled smear campaign." In all, some 300 reporters and hundreds more notables signed the petition. For their part, France 2 and Enderlin announced their intention to appeal the ruling to the French Supreme Court.
In her account of the court case and its aftermath in the Weekly Standard, French journalist Anne-Elisabeth Moutet attributes the French media's reaction to what she sees as a u
niquely French practice of never apologizing for misdeeds.
There is doubtlessly some truth to this. But arrogance is not the unique trait of the French media and elite. And given the near universality of media arrogance, how can one explain the BBC's quick apology for its broadcast of its footage from the attack in Jerusalem last week? And how can one explain Cristiano's obsequious letter to the PA in 2000?
THE ANSWER of course is that arrogance alone cannot account for the media's defense of Enderlin. If Enderlin had been caught broadcasting a libelous report about the Palestinians, the media and France 2 would have cast him off immediately. But here there is more at stake than one man's reputation. Enderlin didn't create the narrative of Palestinian innocence or at least moral equivalence. In filing the clearly false story of al-Dura, Enderlin was advancing a cause that all his anti-Israel colleagues in France, Israel and worldwide have embraced. If he goes down, their indispensable narrative is liable to go down with him.
Over the past eight years of the jihad against Israel, among countless examples, three instances of open media collusion with Israel's enemies stand out for their strategic impact on the course of events. First there is the al-Dura affair. It was followed by the mythical "Jenin massacre" in April 2002. That in turn was followed by the fabricated "massacre" at Kafr Kana in Lebanon in July 2006.
The al-Dura story solidified the Palestinian narrative of victimization by Israel just months after they rejected statehood and peace at Camp David. When the so-called Jenin massacre was reported in April 2002, the IDF was in the midst of Operation Defensive Shield. Just before the Palestinians began making allegations of an Israeli massacre, IDF forces uncovered documentary evidence proving that the Palestinian war against Israel was run by the PA and Yassir Arafat. By fabricating the massacre, the PA was saved from being delegitimized as an actor in Washington. The Israeli peace camp was also resuscitated from its death throes.
As the Winograd Commission documented in its final report on the Second Lebanon War, the media reports of the fabricated massacre of Lebanese civilians by an IAF bomber in Kafr Kana in South Lebanon caused US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to end US support for an Israeli military victory over Iran's Lebanese proxy and to pressure Israel to accept a cease-fire leaving Hizbullah intact.
Even as analyses of the reports from Jenin and Kafr Kana like the reports on the al-Dura affair clearly demonstrated that the IDF had committed no atrocities, the distorted footage put out by the media made it impossible for Israel to defend itself in the court of public opinion. Like the al-Dura affair, the media's open collusion with the Palestinians in Jenin and Hizbullah in Kafr Kana prolonged false narratives predicated on Israeli aggression just as they were about to be finally laid to rest.
So it is not merely arrogance that makes Enderlin and his colleagues unwilling to come clean anymore than it was humility that made the BBC and Cristiano apologize. Depressingly, what all of this illustrates is that the media will only give us the information they wish us to have. And that information's relationship to the truth is arbitrary at best.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.