Phillipe Karsenty, director of Media Ratings, was accused of "striking at the honor and respectability" of France 2's Jerusalem Bureau Chief Charles Enderlin and France 2 by questioning the validity of footage aired on September 30, 2000, in the first days of the Oslo War, depicting a cowering Muhamad Al Dura being shot while being sheltered by his father near the former Jewish community of Netzarim in Gaza.
The footage and the accompanying voice-over accused Israel of targeting the boy and his father and became a rallying point for the Muslim world and various anti-Israel groups.
By 2002, two investigative documentaries, one German and one French, had raised questions about the veracity of the tightly-shot footage and the claims accompanying it. Raw footage from that day was released and separate instances of the staging of injuries were clearly seen. The documentaries alleged that there was no sign of blood on the ground where the father and son were supposed to have bled for 20 minutes and questioned why there was no footage of an ambulance evacuation or records of an arrival at the hospital or autopsy for the boy.
France 2 refused to air the German documentary, but the French one sparked a demonstration in Paris outside the company’s offices. At that point, Karsenty wrote an article calling for France 2’s Enderlin and France 2 chief Arlette Chabot to resign. In response, Enderlin and France 2 itself sued Karsenty and two others.
Four years later, the trials have begun and the first verdict was received Wednesday. At his trial, Karsenty presented four expert witnesses backing up his claim that not only were Al-Dura and his father not killed by the IDF, the entire scene was most apparently staged with the knowledge of the cameraman.
The procureur de la republique, a court-appointed officer in the French legal system charged with assessing the case in the interests of civil society, recommended that the case be ruled in Karsenty’s favor. He said that Karsenty had offered enough evidence to make such assertions a legitimate part of public discourse. The judge ruled that Karsenty had not checked other sources thoroughly and had used unwarranted strong language.
Nobody from France 2 even showed up for the trial. The TV station’s lawyer called no witnesses to the stand and declined to cross-examine any of Karsenty's witnesses or comment on the evidence displayed. The plaintiff’s summation asserted that the honor and reputation of France 2 is beyond reproach and submitted a letter of praise from President Jacques Chirac.
The court ordered Karsenty to pay Enderlin 3,000 Euro and awarded a symbolic 5 Euro to France 2 Television. He plans to appeal the decision and the next trial is due to begin on October 26th.
Richard Landes, one of the experts who testified at the trial, explained in an article printed in The New Republic why he, a medieval historian, was relevant to the case:
“Firstly, I noted almost immediately that Palestinians and anti-Zionists, insisting that Israel killed the boy on purpose, used Al Durah in a way familiar to medievalists--as a blood libel. This was the first blood libel of the twenty-first century, rendered global by cable and the Internet. Indeed, within a week, crowds the world over shouted ’We want Jewish blood!’ and ‘Death to the Jews!’ For Europeans in particular, the libelous image came as balm to a troubled soul: ‘This death erases, annuls that of the little boy in the Warsaw Gherro,’ intoned Europe1 editorialist Catherine Nay. The Israelis were the new Nazis.
“And second, when I saw the raw footage in the summer of 2003 - especially when I saw the scene Enderlin had cut, wherein the boy (allegedly shot in the stomach, but holding his hand over his eyes) picks up his elbow and looks around - I realized that this was not a film of a boy dying, but a clumsily staged scene…
“On October 31, 2003, at the studios of France 2 in Jerusalem, in the company of Charles Enderlin and his Israeli cameraman, I saw the raw footage of Al Durah from the only Palestinian cameraman who actually captured the scene on film - footage France 2 still refuses to release for public examination. I was floored. The tapes feature a long succession of obviously faked injuries; brutal, hasty evacuation scenes; and people ducking for cover while others stand around. One fellow grabbed his leg in agony, then, upon seeing that no one would come to carry him away, walked away without a limp. It was stunning. That was no cameraman's conspiracy: It was everyone - a public secret about which news consumers had no clue.
“But the real shock came when I mentioned this to Enderlin, who said he trusted this cameraman. ‘They always do that,’ he said. ‘It's a cultural style.’ So why wouldn't they have faked Al Durah? ‘They're not good enough,’ he said. A year later, the higher-ups at France 2 made the same remark to three French journalists who also noted the pervasive staging: "You know well that it's always like that,’ they said.”
Landes says the Al Durah affair goes beyond anti-Israel propaganda. “Al Durah became the icon not only of the Intifada, but of global jihad. Within months of the incident, Bin Laden came out with a recruiting video that featured extensive [staged] footage and highlighted Al Durah. Months later, Pakistani jihadis killed Daniel Pearl, interweaving Al Durah's image into their tape of the execution.”
Click here to read an extensive overview of the Al Durah affair.