Op-Ed: J'Accuse! Why the Al-Dura Lie Lasted 13 Years
Dr. Emmanuel NavonThe author heads the Political Science and Communications Department at the Jerusalem Orthodox College, and teaches International Relations at Tel-Aviv University and at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.
Emile Zola’s open letter published on the front page of L’Aurore on 13 January 1898 has become the epitomic expression for denouncing State lies. This expression fits perfectly to denounce the French Republic for sacrificing truth in the name of raison d’État in the Al-Dura Affair.
In February 2004, French President Jacques Chirac sent a letter to Charles Enderlin, the author of the Al-Dura report, praising his faithfulness to truth. In 2008, French journalists published an open letter to express their support for Charles Enderlin. In 2009, President Sarkozy granted Enderlin the légion d’honneur, France’s highest decoration.
The French State has behaved in the Al-Dura Affair the way it behaved in the Dreyfus Affair –except for the fact that in the Dreyfus Affair, the State eventually admitted that it had orchestrated a lie. And during the Dreyfus Affair, many French “intellectuels” (the word was coined at the time) took personal risks in the name of truth. In the Al-Dura Affair, by contrast, most French journalists and public figures have circled the wagons around Enderlin.
The behavior of the French establishment in the Al-Dura affair is shameful, but not surprising. What is surprising is the fact that the Israeli establishment also circled the wagons around Enderlin.
The “Affair” started on September 30, 2000, when French state television France 2 broadcast images showing a boy and his father (Mohammad and Jamal Al-Dura) supposedly caught in gunfire between the IDF and PA forces at Gaza’s Netzarim junction. France 2’s Israel correspondent Charles Enderlin did not personally witness the incident but he claimed, while commenting on the images filmed by his Palestinian cameraman Talal Abu-Rahmah, that the boy had been intentionally killed by Israeli bullets.
Enderlin’s words were that the boy and his father were the target (“la cible” in French) of the IDF. The message was clear: the IDF had intentionally killed a helpless Palestinian child (Enderlin later claimed that he hadn’t meant that Israel intentionally killed the child, but that is nevertheless what could unmistakably be understood from his words).
In 2004, France 2 sued French politician and media analyst Philippe Karsenty for claiming that Enderlin’s report was a forgery. In 2008, the Paris Appellate Court acquitted Karsenty of defamation, concluding that the defendant had grounds for questioning the authenticity of Enderlin’s report. France 2 appealed to France’s highest court, and a final verdict is expected next month.
The images broadcast by France 2 and Enderlin’s claim had a devastating effect. They inflamed the “Second Intifada” as well as anti-Israel demonstrations around the world. Horrendous crimes such as the lynching of Israeli soldiers in Ramallah in October 2000 or the beheading of Daniel Pearl in February 2002 were justified by their perpetuators as a revenge for Mohammad Al-Dura’s death.
Horrendous crimes such as the lynching of Israeli soldiers in Ramallah in October 2000 or the beheading of Daniel Pearl in February 2002 were justified by their perpetuators as a revenge for Mohammad Al-Dura’s death.
And yet, Mohammad Al-Dura could not possibly have been killed by Israeli bullets. Worse, there is strong evidence that the whole scene might have been staged in the first place. Which means that Charles Enderlin and France 2 are responsible for a blood libel that caused the death of hundreds of Jews and that had devastating consequences on Israel’s international image.
On 19 May 2013, the Israeli Government published a report that demonstrates the inconsistencies and falsehoods of Enderlin’s claim (the Government’s study can be downloaded here). Why it took nearly thirteen years for the Israeli Government to react to Enderlin’s accusation is an intriguing question that will be addressed at the end of this article.
The Israeli Government’s report is based, among others, on previous studies and inquiries, including those of abovementioned Philippe Karsenty (whose presentation can be watched here), of German journalist Esther Schapira (whose documentary can be watched here), of American History Professor Richard Landes (whose analysis can be watched here), of Israel ballistic expert Nahum Shahaf, of French ballistic expert Jean-Claude Shlinger, and of French-born Israeli surgeon Yehuda David.
The commission established by the Israeli government concludes that Enderlin’s accusation is baseless. There is nothing to support the claim that Muhammad and Jamal Al-Dura were “targets of gunfire from the Israeli position.” Indeed, nothing in the video supports the claim that they were hit by any gunfire.
Enderlin committed a grave professional mistake at best and an act of felony at worst by relying entirely on Abu Rahmah’s unsubstantiated claim that the boy had been killed by Israeli bullets. Indeed, CNN refused to air Enderlin’s report (which France 2, for some reason, gave out for free) precisely because its central claim was not confirmed by the images and were only based on the sayings of Abu Rahmah, himself a Palestinian militant who has declared that he became a journalist “to promote the Palestinian cause.”
The Israeli government and the IDF have asked many times to receive the full and unedited footage filmed by Abu-Rahmah. France 2, Charles Enderlin and their lawyers have consistently refused to hand the entire raw footage to Israel (only part of it was submitted to Court in France because the Judges demanded it).
Right after the broadcast of Enderlin’s report, the IDF Spokesman asked for the full raw footage (27 minutes according to Abu-Rahmah), but was only given a tape which contained basically the same footage that had already been aired. France 2 has also turned down similar requests by the Commander of the Southern Command and by the Prime Minister’s Office. Between September and November 2007 the IDF Spokesperson and Deputy Spokesperson repeatedly requested the unedited footage from France 2’s lawyers, but to no avail. France 2 wouldn’t refuse to produce the entire raw footage if it didn’t have anything to hide.
CRIF, the representative council of French Jewry, has been asking for years for a professional inquiry into the Al-Dura Affair. In 2008, France 2 accepted to set-up an independent and international commission, but then it backed down.
But the most troubling part of the Al-Dura affair is that it took over twelve years for Israel to officially deny Enderlin’s claims.
Charles Enderlin is a Franco-Israeli journalist who moved to Israel in the late 1960s and started working for French TV channel Antenne 2 (today’s France 2) in the early 1980s. He defines himself as “a Zionist up to the green line” and openly identifies with the Israeli Left. He has many friends in Israel’s political and media establishments. When the Al-Dura affair erupted, Enderlin could –and did- count on those friends.
After the failure of the Camp David Summit in July 2000, Enderlin became personally involved in further attempts to reach an agreement between Israel and the PA. He offered his help to his friend Gilead Sher, who was Israel’s co-chief peace negotiator in 1999-2001. Today, Sher is Enderlin’s lawyer.
Since 2000, Enderlin’s line of defense has been that the Israeli government never officially contested his report and never accused him of forgery. He had a point, but then there was a reason why the Israeli government never accused Enderlin of forgery.
Enderlin has many friends at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), in the IDF, and in the Israeli media. Prominent among them are former Israeli ambassadors to France Nissim Zvili and Danny Shiek, Israeli politicians Tzipi Livni and Israel Hasson, and Israeli journalists Gideon Levy and Daniel Bensimon.
Since 2000, the official position of the MFA and of the IDF was that it was preferable not to talk about Al-Dura (Gideon Meir was, and still is, a fierce defender of this theory on behalf of the MFA). The MFA’s spokesman Yigal Palmor declared that “The [Israeli] government does not have an official stand as to what exactly happened on September 30, 2000 at Netzarim and sees the issue as an internal French affair, not Israeli” and that “Karsenty’s work is counterproductive.”
Enderlin could use his contacts at the MFA, at the IDF, and in the Israeli media to keep Israel quiet, but he had no such leverage on Moshe Yaalon, who was appointed Minister of Strategic Affairs in 2009.
It is the Ministry of Strategic Affairs that issued Israel’s official rebuttal of Enderlin in May 2013. So now Enderlin can no longer claim that Israel does not dispute his accusation of murdering Mohammad Al-Dura.
What was Enderlin’s reaction to Israel’s official rebuttal? To threaten to sue Moshe Yaalon! And who sent this threatening letter to Yaalon on May 28, 2013? Gilead Sher’s law firm.
On the one hand, Enderlin has been blaming the lack of official rebuttal of his theory on the Israeli government’s silence (a silence which he was instrumental in preserving). On the other hand, now that the Israeli government finally rebutted his theory, Enderlin is threatening to sue. This bullying and intimidation are reminiscent of the way France 2 and Charles Enderlin “convinced” the ARTE TV channel not to air Esther Schapira’s documentary on the Al-Dura affair.
J’accuse senior MFA and IDF officials as well as major Israeli journalists, because their cover-up of Enderlin was cowardly and criminal.
The official MFA/IDF/Ha’aretz et al. claim that ignoring the whole story and letting it fade away was preferable to fighting for Israel’s reputation was, and still is, moronic, hypocritical, and wrong. Why should we let ourselves be accused of intentionally murdering a helpless child? Why? As for the “let it fade away” theory, it has been constantly contradicted by facts: until today (and, indeed, until the publication of the Israeli rebuttal last month), the Al-Dura myth is pervasive in the Arab world.
Jamal Al-Dura tours the world as a hero, monuments keep being dedicated to the memory of Muhammad Al-Dura, children are taught in school about “the hero Muhammad Al-Dura,” and in March 2012 the perpetuator of the Toulouse massacre justified his murder as a revenge for the killing of Palestinian children in Gaza.
So how, exactly, did Al-Dura fade away?
Prof. Shmuel Trigano wrote recently that the Al-Dura affair is the Dreyfus Affair of anti-Zionism. I beg to differ: the Al-Dura affair is rather remindful of “The Saison” (i.e. the collaboration between the Jewish Agency and the British Mandate against Irgun fighters) and the Altalena (i.e. putting the monopoly of power before Jewish lives).
Enderlin’s Israeli defenders should be ashamed of themselves. They are a disgrace.