Leading critic of French al-Dura coverage convicted

Philippe Karsenty found guilty of defamation for accusing France 2 of staging Palestinian boy’s death

Philippe Karsenty, Jewish-French politician and focus of legal battle over the al-Dura video. (photo credit: CC BY Philippe Karsenty, Wikimedia Commons)
Philippe Karsenty, Jewish-French politician and focus of legal battle over the al-Dura video. (photo credit: CC BY Philippe Karsenty, Wikimedia Commons)

A French media analyst was convicted Wednesday of defamation for accusing a state television network of staging a video that depicted a young boy being killed in a firefight between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli soldiers.

The footage more than a decade ago galvanized Palestinians and anti-Israeli sentiment in the Mideast at the start of the bloody Second Intifada.

A Paris court fined Philippe Karsenty 7,000 euros (NIS 33,000) in the defamation case filed by network France 2. Karsenty accused the network’s Jerusalem bureau chief, Charles Enderlin, of fabricating parts of the segment.

The 55 seconds of edited footage, broadcast on September 30, 2000, showed the terrified boy, Mohammed al-Dura, and his father amid a furious exchange of fire in the Gaza Strip. It then cut to the boy slumped in his father’s lap. The report blamed Israeli forces for the death.

Karsenty called the verdict “outrageous.” A lawyer for France 2 said it was a victory for journalists.

Karsenty was convicted of libel in 2006, a judgment that was overturned on appeal in 2008. France 2 subsequently appealed that appeal at the “Cour de cassation,” France’s highest court. Last year, the Cour de cassation annulled the ruling acquitting Karsenty of libel in 2008.

Over the past decade Karsenty has amassed hours of video about the day of the shooting. At the heart of his claim is the fact that, according to the reporting by France 2, father and son received a total of 15 high-velocity bullets but in the video, neither appears to be bleeding. He says the firefight is real, but the shooting of the man and boy was staged for the camera.

“I am serene because I know the truth will come out,” Karsenty said. “Despite 15 bullets not one drop of blood was on their clothes, their bodies, the wall they were leaning against.”

Benedicte Amblard, a lawyer for France-2, said the verdict would allow journalists to retain confidence in their work.

Enderlin, the France 2 Jerusalem correspondent, said he and France 2 parent company France Televisions welcomed Wednesday’s decision.

A screen capture of the video showing the Muhammad al-Dura incident.
A screen capture of the video showing the Muhammad al-Dura incident.

“Today’s result is a relief,” he said, but added it did not put the matter to rest. Enderlin, a French-Israeli national, said conspiracy theorists continue to hound them over the incident. He said despite years of litigation and Israeli officials accusing him of fabrication, he welcomed an investigation.

“We are ready whenever Israel wants to go for a professional investigation following international standards,” he told The Associated Press.

Professor Richard Landes, a Boston University Historian who runs The al-Dura Project, said the decision was “bad news” for free speech and democracy.

“This is a victory of a state owned press using its immense financial and political resources to bully independent critics,” Landes told The Times of Israel. “In principle, this is bad news for freedom of speech… Given the terrible damage that al-Durah did — a poster-boy for the linked phenomena of virulent anti-Semitism and global Jihad — this decision is nothing short of suicidal for a Western democracy.”

Gaza’s Hamas rulers said the ruling confirmed that Israel and their supporters lied about the military’s practices in the coastal territory.

“They deceive and cover their crimes in front of the media and the world,” said spokesman Fawzi Barhoum.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said he had no comment on a case that delved into the intricacy of French defamation law. He said, however, that the Israeli position on the al-Dura case remains unchanged.

“It is improbable, not to say impossible, that the bullets which hit Jamal and Mohammed al-Dura came from the Israeli position,” he said. “Where they did come from remains subject to many hypotheses, though none can be proven.”

Last month, an official Israeli government report concluded that al-Dura was not harmed by Israeli forces and did not die in the exchange of fire.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who commissioned the report in 2012, said the accusations aired on France 2 were “a manifestation of the ongoing, mendacious campaign to delegitimize Israel.”

After the report was released, al-Dura’s father, Jamal al-Dura, told Ynet that he and his son were both hit by Israeli fire in the incident. He said he would be willing to exhume the body to prove that his son had in fact been killed.

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.

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