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Muhammad al-Dura’s Faked Death?

15 May

aldura-stampIt’s the case that seems to never die.

Twelve years after the “shooting of Muhammad al-Dura” on the second day of the Intifada in Gaza, the Israeli government has now concluded that IDF fire did not kill Muhammad al-Dura, and there is even no evidence that the 12-year-old Palestinian boy was injured. In the video – shot by a Palestinian cameraman – al-Dura can be seen moving his arm and leg, with no visible bloodstains.

France-2 television broke the story, with reporter Charles Enderlin describing how the Israelis had shot and killed the young al-Dura. The video clip was the lead story on evening newscasts worldwide, with the iconic image of the boy – huddling behind a cement barrel next to his father – splashed across every front page. The media accepted as “fact” that al-Dura was, in the words of 60 Minutes Australia, “targeted, murdered, by Israeli soldiers,” and Time magazine surmised the chilling scenario that “pleas for Israeli soldiers to cease fire [were] answered with a fusillade of bullets.”

Given the strategic timing at the beginning of the Intifada, it was a PR bonanza for Palestinians in their campaign to generate world sympathy – in the words of 60 Minutes, “one of the most disastrous setbacks Israel has suffered in decades.”

To add fuel to the fire, the Palestinian Authority produced a doctored photomontage of an Israeli soldier lining up his scope and shooting al-Dura at close range – an act of “artistic expression” that the PA’s Ministry of Information said was meant to “convey the truth… and nothing but the truth.” (ARD German Television, March 18, 2002)

Overnight, al-Dura became the Palestinian poster child, driving the nascent Intifada violence to dizzying heights. Days later, as Palestinians lynched two Israelis in Ramallah, the bloodthirsty crowd shouted: “Revenge for the blood of Muhammad al-Dura!” The boy was immortalized in epic poems, postage stamps and streets named in his honor. Over 150 schools in Iran alone were renamed after al-Dura.

There was only one problem. Enderlin, the French correspondent who narrated the al-Dura footage as if he was delivering an eyewitness account, was nowhere near the Netzarim junction that day. The veracity of both the film and the narrative was based solely on the word of the Palestinian cameraman, with no outside verification. It was a 100 percent Palestinian production – stamped with a France-2 voiceover.

Media monitors immediately suspected a fraud. Given the angle of the Israeli position – kitty-corner to the junction – the only way that Israeli bullets could have hit al-Dura was by ricochet. The video, however, shows symmetrical bullet-holes penetrating the wall behind him – indicating a straight hit.

So who fired the shots? An obvious way to solve the mystery would be to examine the bullets lodged in the wall: are they Israeli M-16, or Palestinian Kalashnikov? Inexplicably, there were no bullets to be found. In a filmed interview, Abu Rahma, the cameraman, admitted to having removed the bullets from the wall. When questioned about what he discovered – and why a cameraman would be involved in ballistics activities in the first place – Abu Rahma flashed a sinister smile and said: “We have some secrets for ourselves.”

As this information came to light, intelligent people not prone to conspiracy theories were becoming increasingly convinced that al-Dura was actually shot by Palestinians. Israeli M-16 bullets are smaller (5.56 caliber) than the Palestinian Kalashnikov (7.62 caliber); in a later reenactment, M-16 bullets fired from the Israeli position were unable to replicate the bullet holes that hit the cement barrel in the video; they merely pinged off its surface. When France-2 allowed award-winning producer Daniel Leconte and other senior French journalists to view all 27 minutes of the raw footage, Leconte concluded: “The only ones who could [have] hit the child were the Palestinians from their position. If they had been Israeli bullets, they would be very strange bullets because they would have needed to go around the corner.”

Bustling Stage of Alfresco Cinema

And then the levee broke:

Professor Richard Landes of Boston University discovered “outtakes” – hours of additional footage shot that same day at the Netzarim junction. These tapes – produced by more than a dozen Palestinian cameramen working for Reuters, Associated Press and other networks – depict a variety of unmistakably staged battle scenes. One clip shows a group of Palestinian men running with rifles, then shooting through an archway, Rambo-style. One would assume that the Palestinians were in the heat of battle, firing on Israelis. Yet the unedited footage shows that the archway leads to nothing more than a brick wall. No Israelis, no battle. Just a dramatic, contrived production, what Landes calls “a bustling stage of alfresco cinema.” (seconddraft.org)

Incredibly, the following day Enderlin and France-2 broadcast this sequence of men firing into the brick wall as if it were real news footage.

Other videotape from that day at the junction shows Palestinian actors in multiple roles: Palestinian fighters are carted off to an ambulance, despite showing no signs of injury. Other men fall in apparent agony, then get up, dust themselves off, and re-enter the action. “Emergency evacuation crews” are seen laughing and goofing around – while Palestinian schoolgirls stroll merrily through the scene.

Suspicious of a hoax, Professor Landes tracked down France-2’s Enderlin and together they viewed some of the outtakes. During one obviously faked scene of an ambulance evacuation, Enderlin shrugged it off as a matter of course. The Arabs “do that all the time,” he said. “It’s their cultural style. They exaggerate.”

The hoax was now clear. That day at the junction provided the perfect combination of dramatic factors: a terrified young boy, clinging to his frantic father, apparently shot in cold blood – the ultimate image of “Israeli aggressor and Palestinian victim.” Best of all, since there was no Western presence at the junction that day, staging this scene required only the cooperation of Palestinian camera crews. France-2’s Enderlin – seduced by the lure of a major international scoop – ignored the obvious deficiencies in the credibility of Palestinian cameraman Abu Rahma, who once declared, “I went into journalism to carry on the fight for my people.”

Upon viewing the raw footage, Luc Rosenzweig, former editor-in-chief of France’s daily Le Monde, called this the “almost perfect media crime.”

Distressing Possibilities

As the story unfolded, other journalists conducted their own investigations and found the inconsistencies between fact and fiction too great to discount. Esther Schapira, a German television producer, traveled to Israel convinced of IDF guilt – and came away concluding that the boy had been killed by Palestinians. James Fallows, one of America’s most respected journalists, documented in The Atlantic Monthly how he reached the same conclusion. And Jean-Claude Schlinger, an adviser on ballistic and forensic evidence in French courts for 20 years, recreated the shooting and concluded that al-Dura could not have been shot by Israeli gunfire.

Was France-2 duped? Enderlin, at his meeting with Professor Landes, drew a map of Netzarim junction that placed the Israeli position on the wrong side of the road. Landes says: “This indicated one of two equally distressing possibilities”: Either that Enderlin “understood so little of what had happened that day that he didn’t even know the most basic elements of the layout of the scene.” Or alternatively, he was outright lying – and must have assumed that Landes “was so little informed that he could get away with it.”

French journalist Claude Weill Raynal defended Enderlin with the following bit of logic: “[People are] so shocked that fake images were used and edited in Gaza, but this happens all the time everywhere on television, and no TV journalist in the field or film editor would be shocked.” In other words, Palestinian photo fraud is so commonplace, there’s no reason to get excited.

For this exceptional piece of propaganda disguised as camera work, Abu Rahma was nominated by MSNBC for “Picture of the Year,” and received various “Journalist of the Year” honors including the coveted Rory Peck award from the Sony Corporation. He achieved legendary status in Arab circles and went on speaking engagements around the world.

[Meanwhile, the boy’s father, Jamal al-Dura, was engaging in his own bit of media manipulation. He held a press conference where he lifted his shirt to show journalists the scars on his chest as “proof” that Israeli soldiers had fired on him. In truth, these scars were the result of tendon transplant surgery that Jamal had undergone years earlier at an Israeli hospital, after being severely wounded by a Palestinian thug. Dr. David Yehuda, the surgeon who operated on Jamal, recognized the scars: “His wounds are not bullet wounds, but were produced by two things – first, the knife of the Palestinian who cut him, and second, my knife that fixed him. He faked the case.” Jamal had displayed the height of ingratitude: After being saved by an Israeli doctor, he turned that around to foist a libel on the Jews.]

Pallywood

The PR bonanza sparked by Muhammad al-Dura gave birth to Pallywood, a cottage industry dedicated to producing Palestinian propaganda films. When Palestinian officials alleged that Israel was using radioactive uranium and nerve gas against civilians, official PA television broadcast fake “news footage” of “victims” plagued by vomiting and convulsions. Another clip from state-run Palestinian TV used actors to depict Israeli soldiers “raping and murdering” a Palestinian girl in front of her horrified parents.

So this is what Israel is fighting against: Palestinians generate video footage of “Israeli atrocities,” then obscure the evidence to ensure that Palestinian “eyewitnesses” remain as the only source of information. The media then pronounces Israel guilty until proven innocent. By the time Israel can gather the facts, the party is over.

These iconic images create a “record of events” that forms the historical narrative for generations to come. Consider the four reels of footage from the Warsaw Ghetto discovered after World War II, which for decades served as the authentic resource for Holocaust scholars. At least until 1998, when a fifth reel turned up – showing outtakes of the ghetto scenes – proving the “historical record” to be a staged fraud.

Once an image sears into the public consciousness, it is almost impossible to undo. According to Hany Farid, a Dartmouth professor and expert on digital photography, on a neurological level the brain tends to reduce each major historical era into a single emotional image that encapsulates the complex story: raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, the Vietnamese Napalm girl, facing the tank in Tiananmen Square, electrocution wires at Abu Ghraib prison – and Muhammad al-Dura.

This is more than just a convenient memory device. Like the medieval blood libels that launched pogroms across Europe, the legend of al-Dura has become the battle cry of violent Muslim extremists committing the most heinous crimes. In an al-Qaeda recruitment film, Osama bin Laden invoked the memory of al-Dura as a call to arms. In Ramallah, the mob that disemboweled two Israeli reservists declared it as “revenge for the blood of Muhammad al-Dura.” And in Daniel Pearl’s beheading video, the killers interwove scenes of al-Dura with the gruesome slitting of Pearl’s throat.

Philippe Karsenty, a French media watchdog, accused France-2 of fraud, the discredited Enderlin tried to shift the blame by calling this “a campaign designed to harass foreign correspondents,” and – in an amazing show of chutzpah – sued Karsenty for libel. The case wound its way through the French legal system – in 2006 France 2 won its case, in 2008 the judgment was overturned by the Paris Court of Appeal; in 2012, France’s high court re-reversed the ruling. And now in the coming days, another French court is expected to rule once again.

This is all on the backdrop of the Israeli government probe concluding that the al-Dura event was rife with fraud. Even Enderlin himself wrote in the French newspaper Le Figaro that his report “may have been hasty,” but was justified because “so many children were being killed.” In other words, fabricating news coverage is acceptable – when used to support some greater, unproven claim against Israel.

Yet when an urban legend starts it is nearly impossible to erase. Everyone knows that before Columbus sailed to the New World, scientists thought the world was flat. Not true. It was only in 1828 that novelist Washington Irving popularized the flat-earth fable in his best-selling biography of Columbus. Writers of American history then picked up the story, and since textbooks tend to be clones of each other, Irving’s little hoax persists to this day.

So too, “the shooting of Muhammad al-Dura” has become a permanent part of the lexicon – a 21st century version of the Flat Earth Society. As Mark Twain said, “A lie told well is immortal.”

Tragically, these lies are more than just factual inaccuracies or a PR issue. These myths remain firmly engraved in Palestinian lore, fomenting an atmosphere of mistrust that will linger for decades, and that ultimately undermine the possibility of peaceful coexistence. As one Palestinian woman said on camera regarding another hoax (the Jenin “massacre”): “We’ll never forget this massacre. This is similar to the Holocaust. We will teach our generations not to forget this.”

Hooray for Pallywood.

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Media Myth: “Racist” Israel

21 Mar

pres-miss

Does racism against blacks exist in Israel?

That depends who you ask.

Ten years ago, Yityish “Titi” Aynaw was walking around barefoot in Ethiopia. She then made aliyah and today, the 21-year-old has served as an IDF officer, and was recently crowned Miss Israel.

This week, Titi will be having dinner alongside Barack Obama, sharing their common African heritage, and their common rise to success.

Yet the mainstream media would have you believe that Israel is a racist society that discriminates on the basis of skin color. Consider:

During the first months of his presidency, Obama enjoyed a 60 percent favorable rating among Israelis. Then, after harshly criticizing Israeli construction in Jerusalem, Obama’s popularity in Israel plummeted. The reason? According to Ethan Bronner of the New York Times, it had nothing to do with politics. Appearing on MSNBC’s Hardball (March 8, 2010), Bronner explained that Obama’s low popularity among Israelis was due to “racism.”

For viewers who may have missed it, host Chris Matthews helpfully added: “Because they see it as a black man.”

What a horrific distortion of the truth. Obviously, Obama was just as “black” during his period of huge popularity in Israel; the drop in support was purely a political, not racial, issue.

This “Israel is racist” fantasy was echoed by New York Times’ columnist Roger Cohen (March 15, 2010), who wrote that an Israeli cartoon which depicted “Obama cooking Netanyahu in a pot” was not a symbol of an Israeli politician in hot water, but rather the image of “a black man cooking a white man over an open fire.”

Genuine policy differences may exist, but why does the media shamefacedly interject racist hatred where none exists?

Granted, Ethiopian-Israelis experience some challenges in the form of social inequities, stereotypes, and integrating into Israeli society. But racism? Would “racist Israel” have airlifted tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews – marking the only time in history that blacks have been systematically moved from one country to another in freedom rather than in chains?

This week, when the first black Miss Israel dines with the first black U.S. President, the “let’s bash Israel” media will have a bit harder time concocting the imagery of Israelis as “racist.” But that won’t necessarily stop them from trying.

Anti-Israel Brainwash

27 Jul

Nicky Larkin is an Irish filmmaker who always identified as pro-Palestinian – wearing the fashionable PLO keffiyeh scarf… viewing Israel as the ogre… the whole nine yards.

Last year, Larkin received a grant to travel to Israel to make a film about the Palestinians. “My peers expected me to come back with an attack on Israel,” he says.

Yet when he began to investigate, he realized that the facts didn’t square with what he believed. He concluded: He’d been brainwashed by the media (and pro-Palestinian activists) to hate Israel.

“Any artist worth his or her salt should be ready to change their mind on receipt of fresh information,” Larkin says. “I would urge all those artists who pledged to boycott Israel to spend some time there.”

See this interview where the Irish filmmaker says how he “hated” Israel – until he actually bothered to investigate.

Easter Libel

8 Apr

One of the strongest bastions of support for Israel is the evangelical Christian community, which holds strong pro-Israel political views and donates untold millions of dollars toward pro-Israel causes. Fundamentalist Christians act in accord with Isaiah’s prophetic imperative that “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent; for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet” (Isaiah 62:1) – taking seriously the biblical promise that the Holy Land belongs to the Jews as an everlasting possession.

For those seeking to weaken support for Israel, a primary tactic is to drive a wedge between the Jewish state and the pro-Israel Christian community.

And so, in the run-up to Easter, the media mice are scurrying to do their damage. Last time, under the headline, “In Holy Land, Easter Not What it Was,” Reuters described “a big drop” “in Easter week ceremonies.”

This year, the Washington Post took its turn with a report, “A Dark Easter for Palestinian Christians,” spouting the false claim that Israel prevents “the vast majority of Christians living in the West Bank” from attending Easter ceremonies.

Besides the fact that the Washington Post got the numbers wrong, media monitors dug into microfilm archives to reveal the truth of whether Easter participation is unfairly restricted under Israeli rule. News reports from the era when Jerusalem was under Jordanian control (1948-1967) show a total of 5,000 pilgrims in Jerusalem for Easter festivities – a fraction of the permits that Israel has allotted to Palestinians alone. (“Easter Procession in Jerusalem,” Glasgow Herald, April 9, 1955)

Similarly, when Jerusalem was under British control (1917-1948), only a few thousand pilgrims would come every year. (“Holy Fire Ceremony at Holy Sepulchre,” Palestine Post, April 28, 1940) Things were even worse during the pre-1917 Ottoman era, when Easter services in Jerusalem would often turn violent. So despite the fact that Easter participation has significantly increased under Israeli rule, the media cannot resist ascribing anti-Christian motives to Israel.

And yet, Washington Post writer Richard Stearns laments: “While the ancient Christian communities around Jerusalem await the miracle of the Holy Fire this week, I pray for another miracle — one that would give full religious freedom to the Christians in the West Bank and Gaza.”

All this ignores the fact that Israel is the only country in the Middle East where the Christian population has increased since 1948 – having risen by more than 400 percent, and continues to rise every year. (The Christian population in Israel was 34,000 in 1949, 73,000 in 1972, and 153,000 in 2008. See Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, 2009.)

By contrast, the rest of the Middle East – Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq and Syria – is characterized by widespread “de-Christianization.” Turkey, regarded as a moderate Islamic state, has seen its Christian population decline 100-fold in the last century – from 20 percent in the early 20th century to 0.2 percent today. In Saudi Arabia, the practice of Christianity is plain illegal.

But for the media, Easter is just another opportunity to vilify Israel.

“Muslim” Moses

3 Apr

As Jews around the world prepare for Passover – the celebration of Moses leading the Jews out of Egypt – Palestinians are working overtime to rewrite history by presenting Moses as “the great Muslim leader who liberated Palestine.”

On Palestinian Authority television, Dr. Omar Ja’ara, a lecturer at Al-Najah University in Nablus, declared:

“We must make clear to the world that David in the Hebrew Bible is not connected to David in the Koran, Solomon in the Hebrew Bible is not connected to Solomon in the Koran… and unfortunately, many researchers deny the Exodus of those oppressed people who were liberated by a great leader, like Moses the Muslim, the believing leader, the great Muslim, who was succeeded by Saul, the leader of these Muslims in liberating Palestine. This was the first Palestinian liberation through armed struggle to liberate Palestine…”

This outrage is the latest Palestinian effort to dismiss Jewish nationhood, a corollary to the repeated denial of any Jewish connection to the Holy Land. “The claims of historic and religious ties between Jews and Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history,” reads the Palestinian National Charter (Article 18).

When archaeologists in Jerusalem discovered a small golden bell, possibly from a tunic worn by a high priest during the Second Temple period, Palestinian officials angrily said this “underlines the efforts of the occupation and the extremist Jewish groups to falsify history and plant Jewish history forged in the region.” And following the release of an iPhone app that sends prayers to the Western Wall, Palestinians immediately went into protest mode, insisted that “the Wailing Wall is an integral part of the al-Aqsa Mosque, and it is exclusively Islamic… and non-Muslims have no right to it, even to the dust of the Wailing Wall.” (Palestine News Network, January 4, 2011)

This deceit goes straight to the top: In the words of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, the Jewish people “claim that 2,000 years ago they had a Temple. I challenge the claim that this is so.” (Kul Al-Arab, August 25, 2000) The Palestinian ambassador to Washington, Maen Rashid Areikat, claimed that historically the Jewish presence in Israel “never was in Jerusalem, it never was on the coast, it never was in Hebron.”

As detailed in my book, David & Goliath, it’s all part of an ongoing deligitimization campaign – aided by a willing media. Le Monde, the French newspaper of record, quoted PA cabinet minister Yasser Abed Rabbo: “Looking at the situation from an archaeological standpoint, I am sure there is no temple.”

Even canonized Jewish writings, accepted for millennia by billions of people worldwide, are targeted for revision. Speaking on Palestinian TV, researcher Dr. Hayel Sanduqa claimed that the well-known verse from Psalm 137, “If I forget thee, oh Jerusalem,” is not a Jewish source at all, but rather words uttered by a Christian Crusader, now “falsified in the name of Zionism.” And when the iconic 1970s disco group Boney M played a concert in Ramallah, Palestinian organizers demanded that the band not perform one of its biggest hits, “Rivers of Babylon.” Why? Because the song’s chorus quotes from the Book of Psalms which – in a brazen act of Zionist propaganda! – refers to the Jewish yearning for the land of Israel.

Follow the steps: First, Palestinians claim that Moses was a Muslim leader and that Jews never lived in Israel. Then before you know it, standard media references to the Jewish Temple – accepted as historical fact by every legitimate archaeologist and scholar – is deemed debatable. London’s Daily Telegraph referred to “the Temple Mount, where the two Jewish temples of antiquity are believed to have been built,” and Time magazine identified the “Dome of the Rock, where Jews believe Solomon and Herod built the First and Second Temples.” Not an indisputable fact of history; just something that “Jews believe.”

Beyond the problem of factual inaccuracy, these media manipulations can actually impede the peace process. Invariably, the starting point in any negotiation is whatever is defined in common terms as “normative.” With these outrageous pro-Palestinian views reinforced in the media, Palestinians sense the momentum predisposed in their favor, and harbor the illusion of bringing these demands to the negotiating table. Inevitably, Palestinians get a rude awakening every time that Israel – secure in their 4,000-year history and connection to the land – refuses to allow these skewed perceptions to dictate terms of an agreement.

Looking at the bright side, this is surely a good conversation starter for this year’s Passover Seder.