After leading a crusade to debunk the Mohammad al-Dura video for 12 years, French activist Philippe Karsenty is gratified that the Israeli government is finally on board.
“The official Israeli report shows a turning point in the Israeli authorities’ state of mind: they decided to fight for their good name. This is good news,” Karsenty said.
Last week, a blue-ribbon government review committee reported to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) did not kill or injure the 12-year-old al-Dura at the Netzarim Junction in Gaza in September 2000. A video produced by a France 2 cameraman and broadcast on the state-owned station claimed that al-Dura was shot by IDF forces. Narrated by France 2 Jerusalem bureau chief Charles Enderlin, it became a potent symbol in the intifadah and a propaganda weapon wielded by Israel’s enemies. It was cited by Osama bin Laden in a call for jihad, and the 2012 murder in Toulouse of a rabbi and three children by Mohammed Merah was justified in part as a response to Israeli attacks on Palestinian children.
The recent panel concluded that “the France 2 report’s central claims and accusations had no basis in the material which the station had in its possession at the time. Contrary to the [France 2] report’s claim that the boy was killed, the committee’s review of the raw footage showed that in the final scenes, which were not broadcast by France 2, the boy is seen to be alive. The review revealed that there is no evidence that Jamal [Mohammad’s father] or the boy were wounded in the manner claimed in the report and that the footage does not depict Jamal as having been badly injured. In contrast, there are numerous indications that the two were not struck by bullets at all.”
In Israel, the Prime Minister’s Office said the committee report will be used to formulate the government’s position on the incident, and International Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz called the affair “a modern day blood libel against the State of Israel, alongside other blood libels like the claims of an alleged massacre at Jenin.”
Enderlin criticized the government panel’s findings, saying he had not been approached to testify at its hearings. He also said France 2 “has shown a willingness to participate in any official legal proceedings accompanied by legal counsel and carried out according to international standards.”
He said the network would support exhumation of the body “for a pathological examination, including, if necessary, a DNA test to help clarify the circumstances of the incident.”
Karsenty said the committee’s findings are crucial at a number of levels.
“The report is very, very powerful. It is not a story any more of Karsenty versus Charles Enderlin. It’s the state of Israel versus the hoax. So it’s much stronger.”
To date, he and other individuals had been making the case that the shooting was a fabrication. The Israeli government at first accepted responsibility for an accidental killing, but sporadically over the years denied them. Israel’s tepid response bolstered the arguments of opponents, who said the government would have spoken up vigorously if it were innocent, Karsenty said in an interview.
What’s more, he continued, the view of a government carries weight with the officials of other states. “The highest ranked political people will see there’s something strong there.”
In the days following release of the Israeli report, Karsenty received emails from French scholars who are now interested in getting more information about his version of the event.
He said the al-Dura incident was the latest development in the continuing assault on Israel. The military and terrorist options have failed, so “a new kind of war” is being waged, a propaganda assault. “Israel was not prepared for that kind of warfare and did not know how to handle it,” he said.
He, along with CAMERA and Honest Reporting engaged in the “media battlefield, but Israel should have been more actively engaged in that form of public diplomacy,” he added.
Meanwhile, in Israel Shurat HaDin, the Israel Law Center, called on the government to revoke Enderlin’s press credentials and charge him criminally.
“Enderlin’s report became a symbol of the second intifadah and a modern-day blood libel directly resulting in hundreds of Jewish and Arab deaths,” said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, director of Shurat HaDin.
In a telephone interview from Israel, Darshan-Leitner said the France 2 footage helped incite the intifadah and was in the background of the video in which Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was killed by terrorists in Pakistan in early 2002.
“The French network ignited a still-burning torch of hatred against Israel, with images of al-Dura still being presented in anti-Israel protests in Iran, the Arab world and in western Europe.”
She said criminal charges would deter further incitement. “It’s about time this blood libel will stop,” she said.
Karsenty disagreed with the proposed measures against Enderlin. “I think these kinds of actions are counterproductive at this stage.
“My war is not against Charles Enderlin. My war is a fight for truth,” he said.