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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The al-Dura case: mother of all fauxtography

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Out Damn Spot

By Nidra Poller | 4/9/2008

It's been called the mother of all fauxtography, the biggest media hoax of our times, the most damaging image ever attached to Israel, an icon of hatred, blood libel on an international scale: the shooting of Mohamed al Dura, a 12 year-old Palestinian boy allegedly gunned down by murderous Israeli soldiers on September 30, 2000 at Netzarim Junction in the Gaza Strip.

The incident, fortuitously filmed by France 2 cameraman Talal Abu Rahma, has been at the center of debate ever since. Al Dura, the poster boy of the al Aqsa intifada, has served as justification for some of the most atrocious crimes of this decade­two Israeli reservists massacred by an enraged mob in Ramallah to avenge Mohamed al Dura; the Palestinian boy's shooting spliced into the beheading video of WSJ's Daniel Pearl. Echoes of the hatred generated by the al Dura image resound to this day. The murder of eight students at Jerusalem's Mercaz Harav yeshiva is the latest in a long series of savage attacks against civilians in Israel and Jews worldwide, in revenge for some Ur-crime committed against Palestinians.

Despite conclusive evidence to the contrary, France 2 Jerusalem correspondent Charles Enderlin has never withdrawn the accusation that the boy was killed and his father wounded by gunfire "from the Israeli positions." The origin of that hypothetical gunfire is a moot question to observers who claim the whole scene was staged.

While Israeli authorities hunkered down, hoping the al Dura accusations would fade away, France 2 correspondent Charles Enderlin has staked his reputation on keeping them blood red. French media closed ranks and stifled the controversy on their home turf but it kept bouncing back internationally. Determined to silence "enemies" once and for all, France 2/Enderlin brought defamation suits against three websites that had posted critical examinations of the al Dura report, losing one on a technicality and winning two on generalities.

But one of the defendants, Media-Ratings director Philippe Karsenty, appealed and Enderlin's slam-dunk litigation is looking more like a boomerang. Whereas the court of first resort had avoided questions that might have embarrassed the state-owned television network, Laurence Trébucq, the no-nonsense president of the three-judge Appellate Court panel, lifted the lid to see what's cooking and ordered France 2 to turn over the raw footage. The court got a stingy 18-minute excerpt, but it was enough to confirm the initial observation that France 2 stringer Talal Abu Rahma did indeed film fake battles, simulated injuries, and comical ambulance evacuations…that fateful day. And the al Dura shooting? Also staged? Or paradoxically authentic?

Evidence and closing arguments were heard at a marathon session on February 27th. Initially convicted of defaming France 2/Enderlin without conducting a proper investigation, Philippe Karsenty presented bushels of evidence that the judge observed with rapt attention. France 2/Enderlin brought in its Big Bertha in the person of Maître François Szpiner, former president Chirac's personal counsel. Szpiner defended the Paris Mosque in the Charlie Hebdo-Danish cartoons case (he lost) and was literally dispatched to represent Ruth Halimi whose son Ilan was tortured to death by the anti-Semitic "Gang of Barbarians" in February 2005.

The aggressive, abusive, sarcastic Szpiner did not attempt to defend the facts on the ground, obviously a lost cause. He saved his ammunition for underhand blows and snide remarks about "The Jew who gives money to a second Jew who gives it to the third Jew who fights to the last drop of Israeli blood." Karsenty, described with a snarl as a cross between the Shoah negationist Faurisson and the 9/11 revisionist Meyssan, has it in for Enderlin, says Szpiner, because the France 2 correspondent covers the hotheaded Mideast conflict with consummate fairness and not, as some would wish, as a fight between the good guys and the bad guys. Enderlin, in turn, vouched for his trusted Palestinian cameraman, assuring the court that if Talal had engaged in crooked reporting, the Israelis would have revoked his accreditation.

In fact, Abu Rahma's accreditation has not been renewed since 2002 because, according to Government Press Office director Daniel Seaman, he was filming staged scenes. Invited to react to this information, news director Chabot relayed the request to Enderlin who shot back with a half dozen insulting e-mails including one in English­addressed to the Foreign Press Association­identifying me as "that lady." "You are a militant," wrote Enderlin, "I expect nothing from you. You won't even mention that we won four libel suits and the Avocat Général recommended confirmation of Karsenty's initial conviction." In the midst of the bluster, Enderlin confirmed that the GPO withdrew accreditation from all Gaza and West Bank journalists, including Abu Rahma, at the end of 2001. Any other explanation, he threatened, is a lie.

Caught off guard during a brief recess during the trial, Arlette Chabot let off steam. "I just want this shitty affair over and done with. I want Karsenty to lose! This nutty case has been bugging me since day one." Implying that her people have no idea where the murderous gunfire came from, she assured the gentleman who had buttonholed her that she was willing to investigate everything and everyone if she could only get this shitty case off her back. What about the fact that the dead child identified as Mohamed al Dura was brought into the hospital between noon and 1 PM while the alleged shooting occurred at 3PM? Making the motions of someone who turns back a clock, madame Chabot explained there was "some kind of time change that day in Gaza."

Chabot had already left the premises when Philippe Karsenty stood before the court and replied soberly to the ultimate question: Why are you doing this?

"I will not give up. I owe it to the father of Daniel Pearl, beheaded with the image of Mohamed al-Dura incrusted in the video. I owe it to my parents, who taught me to respect the truth. I owe it to the Jewish people, victim of lies, I owe it to France, I owe it to history."

The verdict will be pronounced on May 21st.
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