Muhammad al-Dura, the Palestinian child who appeared to have been gruesomely killed at his father’s feet in Gaza on September 30, 2000 — as filmed in iconic footage that helped fuel the Second Intifada — was not harmed by Israeli forces and did not die in the exchange of fire, according to an Israeli government report released Sunday, three days before a French court rules on a related matter.
“Contrary to the 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 Ministry of International Affairs and Strategy report stated regarding the television report.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who tasked the ministry with assembling the report in 2012, said the accusations aired on France 2 were “a manifestation of the ongoing, mendacious campaign to delegitimize Israel.”
Minister of International Affairs and Strategy Yuval Steinitz called the accusations baseless and said the affair was “a modern-day blood libel against the State of Israel.”
The 55 seconds of edited footage, filmed two days after Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, contributed to the October 2000 protest in which 13 Arab citizens of Israel were killed and quickly became the defining image of the second Palestinian intifada uprising and terror war against Israel.
The picture of al-Dura, apparently dead across his father’s knees, was shown for days on Arab and international TV stations and was cited as inspiration by both Osama bin Laden and the killers of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.
Israel initially did not dispute that IDF troops had inadvertently killed the child. “It could very much be — this is an estimation — that a soldier in our position, who has a very narrow field of vision, saw somebody hiding behind a cement block in the direction from which he was being fired at, and he shot in that direction,” the IDF’s southern commander Maj. Gen. Yom-Tov Samia said at the time.
Only months later did the army complete an investigation that it said showed with certainty that, if al-Dura was killed, it could not have been from shots fired from the IDF position.
Sunday’s report embraces what is known as the maximalist approach, asserting that not only was al-Dura not killed by IDF bullets but that, at the end of the raw footage, he was categorically alive. “Contrary to (France 2 reporter Charles) Enderlin’s claim, the raw footage shows clearly that in the final scenes, the boy is not dead. In the final seconds of the footage, the boy raises his arm and turns his head in the direction of (cameraman Talal) Abu-Rahma in what are clearly intentional and controlled movements. This should have been readily-apparent to Enderlin. Yet rather than reconsidering the claim before producing the report, or providing viewers with the full picture so that they could fairly judge the credibility of his declaration that ‘Muhammad is dead’, Enderlin edited out these last scenes from the report, thereby creating the false impression that the footage substantiated his claims.”
The committee’s report, issued by the Director General of the ministry, Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, who heard presentations from a leading electro-optics professor, a physicist and a former deputy head of the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute among others, found an array of inconsistencies and contradictions.
State-owned France 2′s raw footage, as shot by Palestinian cameraman Abu-Rahma, shows no sign of blood on the wall, ground, or barrel, the report stated. Reporters brought to the scene on October 1, however, were shown large blood stains in the vicinity of the barrel.
In addition, the report noted that no bullets, from either the father or the son, were ever produced; the time of admission to Shifa Hospital –10 a.m. — was well before the incident at Netzarim Junction occurred; and the 45-minute-long incident was oddly not noticed by any of the other reporters or cameramen in the area.
France 2 reacted to the government report saying it was prepared to assist Israel should it seek to exhume al-Dura’s body, expressing surprise that Israel had not contacted the station prior to the report’s publication.
Enderlin could not be reached for comment on Sunday evening. The veteran reporter tweeted shortly after the report was released that neither he, nor the Palestinian witnesses to the event, had been asked to appear before the committee.
Kuperwasser’s report comes in advance of an anticipated May 22 ruling in a Paris Court of Appeals, where France 2′s bureau chief Enderlin sued Philippe Karsenty, a French Jew, for defamation. Karsenty wrote publicly that Enderlin should be fired for his broadcast of the confrontation at the Netzarim junction, which Karsenty called “a media hoax.”
Professor Richard Landes, a Boston University medievalist who runs the Al Durah Project, agreed with Karsenty and said that “Enderlin should retire in disgrace.”
“He not only edited out critical footage that undermined the story he wanted to tell,” — of Israeli troops killing Palestinian children — “but once the story hit and inspired horrific violence, he doubled down and tried to protect his reputation instead of re-examining his work, as a journalist with integrity should do,” Landes told The Times of Israel.
Nahum Shahaf, the physicist who initiated and headed the IDF’s investigation into the incident, and who ruled in 2000 that if al-Dura was killed he could not have been shot by the IDF soldiers at the scene — a finding that was largely ignored even in Israel at first – bemoaned the time that has elapsed and the absence of his name in the report, but said, “it’s important that they published it and it’s important that it came out three days before the court ruling in France.
Lazar Berman contributed to this report.