One of the most evocative and shocking episodes of the second Intifada, the shooting of a 12-year-old Palestinian boy by the Israeli army, was staged. Indeed, Mohammed al-Durrah was not even injured in the incident.
Those, at least, are the findings of an investigation by the Israeli government, published today, which has described the case as a “blood libel on the state of Israel”.
The killing of Mohammed al-Durrah in Gaza was played out on television scenes across the West in September 2000, days after the start of the Palestinian uprising. The France 2 network filmed Jamal, Mohammed’s father, desperately trying to shield his young son after they were caught up in a heavy gun battle between Palestinian fighters and Israeli soldiers. After 40 minutes of being pinned behind a barrel and against a wall, Mohammed’s body appears to crumple, hit it seems, in the crossfire. Mohammed’s death became a Palestinian rallying call in the violence that followed.
Despite Israel initially admitting that the bullets had “apparently” come from their positions, and apologising for the incident in what the report describes as the “fog of war”, lobbyists have long argued that the footage was staged.
That has now changed. The report accuses Abu Rahma, the freelance cameraman who shot the scene, of lying when he told an investigation a month after the incident that, “I can confirm that the child was intentionally and in cold blood shot dead and his father injured by the Israeli army.” It also describes Mr Rahma’s testimony as being, “replete with contradictions, inconsistencies and falsehoods”.
At no point in the footage is Mohammed shown being shot, and there was no blood on the boy or his injured father, the report says. France 2, the investigation concludes, edited out the last several seconds of Abu Rahma’s footage, “in which the boy is seen moving his hand”, it adds.
Last year, the Israeli Prime Minister asked the then Strategic Affairs Minister, and former chief-of-staff of the IDF, Moshe Ya’alon, to launch an official inquiry into the incident. The 44-page dossier claims that: “The France 2 report’s central claims and accusations had no basis in the material which the station had in its possession at the time… There is no evidence that the IDF was in any way responsible for causing any of the alleged injuries to Jamal or the boy.
“Contrary to the [France 2] 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.” Mr Netanyahu, quoted in the preamble, says: “It is important to focus on this incident – which has slandered Israel’s reputation. This is a manifestation of the ongoing, mendacious campaign to delegitimise Israel.
“There is only one way to counter lies, and that is through the truth. Only the truth can prevail over lies.” The new minister for strategic affairs, Yuval Steinitz is equally forthright. “The Al-Durrah affair is a modern-day blood libel against the State of Israel… The France 2 report was utterly baseless.”
The comments caused an angry reaction from Jamal al-Durrah today, who drew attention to the fact that the report was an Israeli investigation. “Are they willing to do an international investigation? Is Israel willing?” Mr al-Durrah asked.
“The Palestinian Authority has Israeli bullets. I’m asking you why Israel did bulldoze all of the walls there, at [Nezarim] junction [where the incident took place]. They’re trying to erase everything. In my opinion, he [Mohammed] died on the spot. Yes, yes, he died next to me.”
The report does indeed raise immediate problems for the Israelis. Those who maintain that Mohammed was killed by the IDF will point out that it is an Israeli report, and therefore a whitewash. Furthermore, who is in the grave in which Mohammed is said to be buried, and what was the cause of death?
Mr al-Durrah said that he was willing to have his son’s body exhumed, while France 2’s Jerusalem bureau chief, Charles Enderlin, who compiled the news report based on Mr Rahma’s footage, questioned the approach taken by the Israelis.
“From the start of the incident, until today, France 2 has shown a willingness to participate in any official independent investigation, carried out according to international standards… At the same time France 2 announced it is ready to help Jamal Al Dura [sic] in any way to exhume the body of his son Muhammad for a pathological examination, including, if necessary, a DNA test to help clarify the circumstances of the incident.
“It is hard to believe the special committee formed by Moshe Ya’alon did not approach France 2 or Mr Al Dura – despite his willingness to exhume the boy’s body. France 2 learned about the existence of the committee from the press – and this speaks for itself.” Previously Mr Enderlin, a long-standing Middle East correspondent and a dual French and Israeli citizen, has said that questions about the veracity of the report amounts to a “smear campaign”.
“The footage is authentic,” he has previously told the BBC. “This is a campaign designed to harass foreign correspondents and call into question all the footage shot in the occupied Palestinian territories.” In France, an imminent ruling is expected in the case. France 2 has brought a libel action against the pro-Israeli activist Philippe Karsenty who has long claimed that the broadcaster staged the footage.
Mr Karsenty is the founder of Media-Ratings, a group that monitors the French media. “Everyone in France knows the footage is a hoax,” he told The Independent. Conceding that the Israeli report could not be considered impartial, he added: “The governments of Hollande and Sarkozy have always known that the footage was faked. This report brings the hypocrisy into the open.”
TIMELINE - THE SECOND INTIFADA
July 2000 - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, blame each other for the collapse of the Middle East peace summit at Camp David.
September 2000 - Then Israeli opposition leader, Areil Sharon visits the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City, sparking a furious reaction from Palestinians in East Jerusalem. Days later the violence intensified in Jerusalem, and spreads to the West Bank and Gaza.
30 September 2000 - Mohammed al-Durrah allegedly shot and killed by the Israeli army in Gaza.
12 October 2000 - after days of rioting and clashes in the Palestinian Territories and in Israel, two Israeli policemen are lynched in Ramallah.
January 2001 - Renewed peace talks fail in Egypt.
February 2001 - Ariel Sharon is elected as Israel's prime minister. He refuses to meet Yasser Arafat.
December 2001 - A total of 469 Palestinians and 199 Israelis were reported killed in 2001.
April 2002 - The siege of Jenin leads to the deaths of at least 52 Palestinians.
May 2002 - A 38 day stand-off inside Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, when the Palestinians agree to expel a number of militants.
June 2003 - Palestinian announce a three-month armistice.
19 August 2003 - 23 Israelis are killed when a suicide bomber sent by Hamas blows himself up on a packed commuter bus in Jerusalem. Israel orders the capture or killing of all Hamas leaders in the West Bank and Gaza.
February 2004 - Ariel Sharon announced the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.
November 2004 - Yasser Arafat dies in Paris
The date of the end of the Second Intifada is disputed. However, the uprising cost as many as 3,350 Palestinian lives, and the death of about 1,000 Israelis.