- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 19, 2007

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In the seven years since the start of the Palestinian intifada, perhaps no incident has inspired more Western criticism of Israel, nor generated as much terrorism against the Jewish state, than the supposed cold-blooded murder of 12-year-old Mohammed al-Durra on Sept. 30, 2000.

The video of a terrified Mohammed taking refuge behind his father before being shot and killed generated a firestorm of Western criticism, and the Israeli public was just as outraged. Palestinians, meanwhile, used the apparent murder as a rallying cry for murderous riots and terrorism.

But that video was released before the ascendancy of the blogosphere, back when the mainstream media rarely challenged stories aired by other outlets.

As it turns out, the video doesn’t hold up well under scrutiny. Even the people who shot and aired it, the France 2 television network, backed off their original claims that Israeli soldiers were responsible for killing the boy.

But what if Mohammed Al-Durra never even died? What if the entire scene was staged in order to generate precisely the reaction it did?

That was the allegation made by Frenchman Philippe Karsenty — and today he has an appeal of a verdict last year that found him liable for defamation against France 2 and reporter Charles Enderlin.

Unfortunately for Mr. Karsenty, French law is stacked against him. The judge explicitly rejected at least one key claim made by Enderlin, and he did not endorse as true the entire contents of the original report — including the claim that the Israeli military killed the boy. Unlike in an American defamation case, however, a tie does not go to the defendant in France.

And not only did Mr. Karsenty bear the burden of proving the truth of what he had written, but he had to do so without the one thing that might well hold the story of what really happened: the 27 minutes of “rushes” taken at the scene that day by France 2 cameraman Tala Abu Ramah.

In the hopes of deflating the budding controversy, France 2 allowed three of its harshest critics — though not Mr. Karsenty —to view the “rushes.” The result was that two of them continue to criticize the network and Mr. Enderlin, but now believe that Mohammed Al-Durra did, in fact, die.

The third person present at that screening, however, Luc Rosenzweig, former editor in chief of Le Monde, under questioning from the court answered “the theory of the set up [of Mohammed’s death] has a greater probability of being true than the version presented by France 2,” according to the trial-court judge’s written opinion.

What led Mr. Rosenzweig to this conclusion was 23 minutes of footage that has never been available for public inspection. The unaired video “basically consisted of young Palestinians acting out fictitious war scenes,” according to the paraphrasing of his testimony, contained in the written opinion.

The other two people who attended the same screening, despite claiming that the boy’s death was not staged, nonetheless agree with Mr. Rosenzweig’s characterization of the secret footage.

So, how is it that anyone who has viewed footage, 85 percent of which “basically consisted of young Palestinians acting out fictitious war scenes,” concludes that the only non-fictitious “war scene” was the shooting of Mohammed?

Since France 2 still refuses to release the “rushes,” one can only speculate. Perhaps no one wants to suffer the same fate as Mr. Karsenty. Or perhaps it is out of fear of being branded an anti-Arab or Islamophobic conspiracy theorist.

Mohammed’s dying image has become a powerful symbol across the Arab world. “Postage stamps bearing his crouched image have been issued in Jordan, Egypt and Tunisia, a street in Baghdad and a square in Morocco bear his name, while many schools across the Arab world are named after him,” notes Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America.

Recent Palestinian history certainly suggests a hoax is possible.

During an April 2002 funeral procession, the stretcher carrying the “victim” was dropped. Thankfully, the “victim” sprung up quickly and shook it off.

The West was fooled, though, for at least a few days earlier that month following an intense battle at the Jenin refugee camp, a known terrorist hotbed. Palestinians immediately accused the Jewish state of systematically committing war crimes, and the Western press parroted the claims uncritically. That no massacre actually occurred — even the United Nations found no evidence to suggest one had — received only a fraction of the earlier coverage.

If the court fails to ensure a just outcome, then French President Nicholas Sarkozy can intervene. He could push state-owned France 2 to release the full 27 minutes of “rushes.”

Once the world — especially the blogosphere — has access to the unedited, raw footage, then Mr. Karsenty’s claims can finally receive a fair hearing in the court of public opinion.

Joel Mowbray occasionally writes for The Washington Times.

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