Eighteen minutes of the raw footage by a Gazan Arab photographer which stand at the center of a libel suit were screened in a Paris courtroom Wednesday. The video served as the basis for a France-2 TV report showing the alleged killing by the IDF of 12-year-old Muhammad al-Dura in September 2000.
The raw footage as presented to the court has increased suspicions that the original France-2 report which blamed Israeli soldiers for shooting the 12-year-old was a staged blood libel.
The story began on September 30, 2000 when France-2 broadcast 55 seconds from Netzarim junction in Gaza in which France-2's Jerusalem Bureau Chief, Charles Enderlin, declared the boy was killed by Israeli fire. Enderlin and France-2 distributed the 55-second clip free of charge, and all major news networks picked it up.
Tim Gross, former Middle East correspondent for the London Sunday Telegraph and the New York Daily News, attended Wednesday's proceedings and viewed the raw footage. In an interview with Honest Reporting, Gross said: "I was really surprised that the film that France-2 produced wasn't more convincing of Enderlin's case. It was clearly cut up with lots of bits missing. We didn't even see one instance, during the 18-minute film, of any Israeli soldiers shooting. We didn't see the boy die."
Gross further noted that France-2's Enderlin was not in the Gaza Strip the day of the shooting and that he was relying on "one Palestinian local cameraman who was not an employee for France-2 and about whom we know from other instances that [he] is a very unreliable source."
Gross charged that for Enderlin to broadcast that the boy was killed, when that was not clear, and that he was killed by the Israel Defense Forces is "very irresponsible journalism."
In Wednesday's proceedings, Enderlin submitted 18 minutes of footage. Alain Benjamin, who attended the trial, said, "The judge, without any prompting from [the defendant's] lawyers, asked what happened to the [full] 27 minutes. Enderlin said on record in court that he had to manipulate some footage that was not relevant to that day."
The judge asked if anyone in attendance had seen the full footage. Richard Landes, a Boston University professor who has released several documentaries on the al-Dura case, testified that he saw the footage at Enderlin's office. He said the video clips he saw were at least 21 minutes long. Landes later said outside the courtroom that France-2 undoubtedly presented tampered evidence to the court. "They cut scenes," he declared, adding that he could prove it.
Al-Dura's alleged killing by the IDF quickly became a symbol used by Arabs to fan the flames of anti-Israel hatred. The Arab League, meeting in Cairo, went as far as to dedicate October 1 as the ‘Day of Arab Children,’ in honor of Al-Dura. Iran named more than 150 schools after the boy.
But cracks in the credibility of the France-2 report began to surface and were documented by German filmmaker Esther Schapira in her March, 2002 release, "Three Bullets and a Dead Child: Who Shot Mohammed al-Dura?" She concluded that Israeli bullets could not have killed the boy. France-2, sister station of the German ARD which produced the film, refused to air it.
Several months later, the Arab cameraman who filmed the footage, Talal abu Rahma, sent a fax to the France-2 offices in Jerusalem, rescinding testimony he gave in October 3, 2000 . He claimed that it was given under duress.
After mounting research and newspaper articles claiming that the events were staged and that the IDF could not have shot the boy, the France-2 news director, in a November 16, 2004 interview with French Radio J, admitted that it is impossible to know with 100% certainty whether the Israelis or the Arabs killed Al-Dura.
In 2004, Philippe Karsenty, director of the French website Media Ratings, published an article calling for the resignation of Charles Enderlin and another France-2 employee for staging the Al-Dura boy's death.
France-2 sued Karsenty for libel and won the case in October, 2006. The prosecutor had recommended that the court rule in favor of Karsenty, in light of the evidence he had provided, but the court ruled against him. Enderlin and France-2 were awarded symbolic damages of one euro each, and Karsenty was ordered to pay a small fine and court costs.
Karsenty appealed the decision and at the outset of his second trial in September, 2007, the French judge ordered France-2 to hand over the raw footage to the court.
Endre Mozes, Chairman of TakeAPen.org, attended Wednesday's trial and said that he saw many video frames which supported the allegation that the whole event was staged. He noted that while youth are seen fleeing from danger of bullets, you see others in their 30's walking peacefully by in no hurry. "So your feeling is much more that you are in Hollywood than on a battle site," said Mozes.
The trial will continue on February 27, 2008.
Segments of this report were taken from Richard Landes' blog.