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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Today's podcast: the al-Dura verdict

UPDATE
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French courts are due to render a verdict on the libel suit brought about by a media watchdog group against France2, a government-run news TV station. The case has to do with a news report where France2 reporter Charles Enderlin claimed that the child Mohammed al Dura had been shot dead by the Israeli Defense Forces.

The verdict on the al-Dura trial in France is due tomorrow.

This morning at 11AM, Dr Richard Landes and Yaacov Ben Moshe of Second Draft discuss what the possible verdicts will mean for the media, France, Israel and the Middle East.

The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) has BACKGROUNDER: Mohammed Al Dura
Anatomy of a French Media Scandal
. From their timeline:
2000
Sept. 30, 2000:
Palestinian gunmen and Israelis soldiers clash at the Netzarim junction in the Gaza Strip. A large contingent of foreign reporters, photographers and television crews are present, including France 2 cameraman Talal Abu Rahma. Much of the day’s events are filmed by the various (20 or so) television crews, but only Abu Rahma records what he claims to be Mohammed Al Dura’s death by Israeli bullets. (A Reuters clip apparently captures Jamal and Mohammed Al Dura filmed from a different angle.) He records 27 minutes of footage that day. While France 2 Middle East Bureau Chief Charles Enderlin is not at the scene at this time, he later views Abu Rahma’s clips and accepts the cameraman’s account of events.

Enderlin edits the film and provides the voice-over commentary for that evening’s news broadcast. Only a small portion (55 seconds) of Abu Rahma's footage is broadcast on the evening news. The footage shows Jamal Al Dura and his son Mohammed huddled behind a thick concrete barrel, gunshots hitting the wall behind them. The footage does not show the child dying.

Correspondent Charles Enderlin comments on the footage for France 2 :

3 pm... everything has turned over near the Netzarim settlement in the Gaza Strip...here Jamal and his son Mohammed are the targets of gunshots that have come from the Israeli position.... A new burst of gunfire, Mohammed is dead and his father seriously wounded.

France 2 distributes the footage – free of charge – to the global media, and it is broadcast around the world.

Oct. 1, 2000:
ABC's Gillian Findlay also says the boy died "under Israeli fire." She repeats this language a few days later. Other media outlets make clear that the father and son were caught in the crossfire between Israelis and Palestinians.

Oct. 3, 2000:
Palestinian Cameraman Testifies

Talal Abu Rahma volunteers to testify in a sworn statement to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights the details of what he saw at Netzarim on Sept. 30. He says:

I spent about 27 minutes photographing the incident which took place for 45 minutes.... I can confirm that the child was intentionally and in cold blood shot dead and his father injured by the Israeli army.

(For complete statement, click here.)

Preliminary IDF Investigation

There is no autopsy on the boy and no bullets recovered. After a hurried preliminary investigation, the IDF expresses sorrow over the tragedy, concluding that its troops were probably responsible for killing Al Dura. IDF Major General Giora Eiland says:

There is no way to prove who shot him. But from the angles from which we fired, it is likely that he was hit from our gunfire.... It is very reasonable that they were hit from our gunfire.

While the IDF attempts to put the incident to rest by accepting responsibility for Al Dura’s death, Major General Yom Tov Samia, commanding officer at the time, and other senior officers in the Southern Command are convinced that IDF soldiers have not shot the boy.

October 2000:
Nahum Shahaf, an Israeli physicist, contacts Major General Samia to voice his doubt about Israeli responsibility and offers to collaborate in an investigation of the matter. Samia agrees and the IDF investigates further.

Oct. 23, 2000:
An IDF re-enactment of the Al Dura incident, with the participation of Nahum Shahaf, raises serious doubt about whether the gunfire could have come from Israeli positions. Investigators lay out replicas of the Israeli army position, and the concrete barrel and wall which sheltered Al Dura. Soldiers fire shots at the barrel and wall using a variety of different weapons and study the indentations made by the bullets. Also studied is the dust clouds which result from the wall being struck by bullets from various angles. The shape and size of the clouds is compared to the shape and size of dust clouds in the video of Al Dura.

The re-enactment indicates that based on the location of the Israeli soldiers, the concrete barrel would have prevented Israeli bullets from hitting Jamal and Mohammed Al Dura. The bullet holes and dust clouds in the Al Dura video further indicate that the fatal shots could not have come from the Israeli position, but rather from an area more directly across from the father and son, near a Palestinian police position.

Oct. 25, 2000:
Telerama, a French magazine, publishes an interview with Charles Enderlin in which he explains the brevity of the news clip broadcast of the incident. He asserts:

I cut the images of the child's agony (death throes), they were unbearable. The story was told, the news delivered. It would not have added anything more...As for the moment when the child received the bullets, it was not even filmed.
Nov. 27, 2000:
IDF releases the findings of its comprehensive investigation into the Al Dura killing. It concludes that Al Dura was likely killed by Palestinian gunfire. States Israeli Major General Yom Tov Samia:

A comprehensive investigation conducted in the last weeks casts serious doubt that the boy was hit by Israeli fire. It is quite plausible that the boy was hit by Palestinian bullets in the course of the exchange of fire that took place in the area.
Dr. Landes produced the documentary Pallywood. You can download it from Second Draft, and here's the YouTube:


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