The Mythical Martyr
By Stéphane Juffa THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE Opinion NOVEMBER 26 - 28,
The first thing that comes up when you google Mohammed al-Durra's name is a
poem written by Sheikh Mohammed of the United Arab Emirates called "To the
soul of the child martyr." It gives an idea of the mythical proportions that
the young boy has assumed in the Middle East. The images of Mohammed
al-Durra hiding from Israeli fire behind his father's back in the early days
of the second intifada, only to be struck down by enemy bullets, shocked the
whole world. For many Arabs and Muslims, the boy became the symbol of
Palestinian suffering under Israeli occupation.
On the Palestinian Authority's TV channel, as well as in Palestinian school
books, his example is used to encourage other children to emulate his spirit
of sacrifice. Even in the West, the pictures that won so many journalism
prizes have become the most recognizable symbol of Israeli aggression. When
Ehud Barak, then Israel's prime minister, visited Paris in the same year,
French President Jacques Chirac wryly scolded him. "Killing children is no
policy." And yet, it was nothing but a hoax. For those readers who recognize
the famous image reproduced here, it might be difficult to believe that the
scene was actually staged. I will elaborate later how it has been proven
that Israeli soldiers could not have killed the boy. Some might ask why it
still matters. Haven't too many innocent people on both sides died since
then, and is it not time to look ahead now?
Well, it matters for exactly those same reasons. Mohammed al-Durra became
more than just the poster boy of the intifada. According to the Mitchell
report, drafted in May 2001 by a joint U.S.-European committee, this story
was one of the events that sparked the intifada. For peace we need
reconciliation and for reconciliation we need the truth. But French
stateowned TV channel France 2, which produced and distributed the damning
footage, refuses to release the facts.
The story began on Sept. 30, 2000, two months after Yasser Arafat walked out
of the Camp David peace talks. The place was Netzarim junction in Gaza,
where Israeli soldiers were posted to protect a nearby settlement.
Palestinian rioters were throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at the
Israelis while gunmen were shooting at them from amidst the crowd. It was
during this fighting that the boy allegedly died.
Claiming they didn't want to make money on an innocent child's death, France
2 distributed the dramatic coverage free of charge to the global media. The
Israeli army hastily issued a statement saying that the boy may have
accidentally been killed in Israeli cross-fire. Only later, maybe too late,
did the army authorize a full investigation. It entrusted this mission to
civilian physicist Nahum Shahaf, who scientifically proved that-given the
angle of the Israeli position vis-à-vis Mohammed al-Durra-the soldiers could
not have possibly killed the boy. Mr. Shahaf then uncovered an incredible
plot: He demonstrated that since the shots must have come from directly
behind or next to the cameraman, the whole scene of the supposed infanticide
must have been staged-and that the boy seen in the film was not killed at
all. Going through the film in slow motion, he could even see the cameraman'
s finger making a "take two" sign, used by professionals to signal the
repeat of a scene. Three years ago I interviewed Mr. Shahaf, and after
viewing all his evidence I realized that this might be one of the greatest
media manipulations the world has ever seen. We started our own
investigations and wrote over 150 articles on the issue, concluding that the
French report is, beyond any reasonable doubt, pure fiction. We can't cite
all the evidence that we were able to uncover on top of Mr. Shahaf's
findings. But to give just one example: We have the testimonies of Dr.
Joumaa Saka and Dr. Muhamad El-Tawil, two Palestinian doctors of the Gaza
Shifa hospital who said Mohammed's lifeless body was brought to them before
1 p.m. The problem is that Charles Enderlin, the France 2 correspondent in
Jerusalem, claimed in the disputed report that the shooting started at 3
p.m. How can someone be killed by bullets that were fired hours after he
was already dead? This is only one of the many questions that the French
state TV channel needs to answer. In our battle with France 2, we have
focused on the statements of the two journalists who filed the report. In
order to fully appreciate them, it is important to realize that the pictures
themselves do not actually provide any evidence for the charges raised
against Israel. No Israeli soldier, no weapon (Israeli or otherwise), no
strike, no wounds and no blood, not a drop, can be seen. That's despite
claims by official Palestinian sources that Mohammed was killed by three
high velocity bullets, and Jamal al-Durra-the father-wounded by nine.
What turned these images into a modern blood-libel against Israel was only
Mr. Enderlin's voice-over. Even though Mr. Enderlin was not in Gaza when the
alleged killing happened, he tells the viewers with great confidence that
the "shooting comes from the Israeli position. One more volley and the kid
will be dead." Possibly in order to compensate for the lack of real evidence
in their film, the two authors of the report, Palestinian cameraman Talal
Abu Rahma (who works for France 2 and CNN) and Mr. Enderlin, a
French-Israeli journalist, provided supporting statements. Mr. Abu Rahma did
so in October 2000 in a written testimony-under oath-in the office and
presence of attorney Raji Surani in Gaza. (The statement can be found on the
Web site of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights:
www.pchrgaza.org/special/ tv2.htm.) Mr. Abu Rahma describes in great detail
the alleged killing of the boy by Israeli soldiers. The words that
particularly caught our attention were the following: "I spent about 27
minutes photographing the incident which took place for 45 minutes."
The importance of this sentence is twofold:
First, Mr. Abu Rahma said he has 27 minutes of footage while France 2 had
previously only shown about 55 seconds of film and later released about
three minutes and 26 seconds of material to the Israeli army. This is of
enormous significance as the additional material could help shed more light
on this story. One of the most bizarre aspects of this affair is that among
the hundreds of people present at the scene, including dozens of other
cameramen, only Talal Abu Rahma claimed to have actually witnessed the
alleged killing of the boy and managed to catch it on film.
Second, Mr. Abu Rahma gravely raised the charges when he said the incident
lasted for three-quarters of an hour. Before his statement, it could have
been argued that the boy might have been unfortunately caught in cross-fire.
But for 15 Israeli servicemen to single out a harmless small boy and fire at
him for 45 long minutes-that's a war crime.
Mr. Enderlin added his own colorful detail, saying the 27 minutes of rushes
contain pictures of the child's agony that are too graphic to be shown to
the world. "I cut the child's death throes. It was too unbearable. The story
was told, the news delivered. It would not have added anything more," he
told the French monthly Telerama in October 2000.
For years we have pleaded with France 2 to let us view the additional
pictures. We are senior pressmen living in a troubled area, certain we could
endure the "unbearable" pictures. We sent numerous registered letters, made
phone calls and repeatedly suggested to compare our findings with the France
2 report. But to no avail. France 2 would not let us see its footage. The
French TV channel's obstructionism and our own investigation led us to the
conclusion that the additional footage did not exist. We were so certain
that we even published several articles to this effect. However, it took
until Oct. 22 of this year before France 2 finally caved in. Following
massive political pressure, the stateowned channel was forced to invite Luc
Rosenzweig, a former chief editor of Le Monde and one of our contributors,
to view the ominous rushes. On that Friday, Mr. Rosenzweig, together with
Denis Jeambar, editor-in-chief of L'Express, and Daniel Leconte, a former
France 2 reporter, was admitted into the office of Arlette Chabot, the head
of France 2's news department. Our friend delivered the sentence we had
rehearsed so many times: "I came to watch the 27 minutes of the incident
mentioned in Mr. Abu Rahma's statement under oath."
A legal clerk for France 2 told Mr. Rosenzweig and his colleagues that they
"will be disappointed." "Didn't you know ?" added Didier Epelbaum, an
adviser to the president of France Télévision (the department presiding over
all French state-operated TV networks) "that Talal has retracted his
No, they did not know. How could they since neither the French channel nor
the Palestinian cameraman ever made that public? It is incredible how France
2 so nonchalantly admitted that their star witness, well, their only witness
to the alleged killing, retracted his accusations. Without this testimony
there is no story, and yet the channel refuses to make any of this public.
The 27 minutes of footage that the three journalists were finally allowed to
see didn't contain a single new relevant scene, except for one that showed
the child in a different death position from the one shown before. So the
child moved after he was presumably dead? The unbearable images of the child
's death that Mr. Enderlin rhapsodized about? A mirage, a total invention,
worthy of Scheherazade, the storyteller of "The Arabian Nights." So I keep
asking France 2 three questions:
§ How is it possible that, after having been caught giving false
testimonies, Messrs. Abu Rahma and Enderlin are not only still working for
the public TV channel but are still covering, often together, the
§ How is it possible that France 2 has not yet informed the public of the
significant new developments in the Mohammed al-Durra case? This would be
standard behavior for any responsible media organization. By refusing to do
so, France 2 is violating even its own ethical code.
§ And most importantly, how is it possible that France 2 still stands by
this story even though it knows it was filmed by someone who gave a false
testimony and who, by retracting this testimony, effectively eliminated the
whole basis of the report?
For four years, France 2 has been holding the "27-minute footage,"
pretending it contained crucial evidence, knowing full well though that both
of their journalists simply lied. France 2 must be held responsible for this
manipulation, first for issuing this fabrication and then for not coming
Mr. Juffa is editor in chief of the Israeli-based
Metula News Agency.