Muhammad Jamal al-Durrah (1988-2000) محمد جمال الدرة) was a Palestinian boy reported to have been killed by gunfire from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) during a clash between the IDF and Palestinian Security Forces in the Gaza Strip on September 30 2000, in the early days of the Second Intifada. Some investigations have suggested that he might have been killed by Palestinian gunfire, and some people believe that the entire incident was staged.
The original reports stemmed from footage recorded by a Palestinian cameraman filming for the French public television network France 2. The footage shows al-Durrah and his father taking cover from crossfire behind a concrete cylinder, then apparently being hit. The scenes were broadcast with a voice-over from Charles Enderlin, the channel's bureau chief in Israel, who was not present during the incident; he told viewers that the father and son had been the "target of fire coming from the Israeli position." France 2 made three minutes of the tape available without charge to other television stations, and the scenes were aired around the world. The boy quickly became a martyr in the Arab world and a symbol of Palestinian grievances against Israel.
Three days later, the Israeli army chief of operations said an internal investigation showed that "the shots were apparently fired by Israeli soldiers"; he issued an apology, expressing sorrow and calling the incident "heartrending"; at the same time accusing the Palestinians of the "cynical use" of children in the conflict. A second investigation carried out for the army's southern command two months later called it "a very reasonable possibility" that al-Durrah had been hit by Palestinian bullets, and expressed "great doubt" over Israeli responsibility. In 2002, an investigative report by the ARD German television edited by Esther Shapiro also said there was a "high probability" that the Israelis did not do it. France 2's news editor, Arlette Chabot, said in 2005 that no one could say for certain who might have fired the shots, although Enderlin stands by his report.
The controversy was furthered when commentators began challenging Enderlin's reporting, asking why the France 2 footage did not show the actual shooting or the moment of the boy's death, and why no forensic evidence was available. Denis Jeambar, a former editor of L'Express, and Daniel Leconte, a documentary producer, were given access to France 2's raw footage in 2004, and later wrote in Le Figaro: "At the time when Charles Enderlin presented the boy as dead, he had no possibility of determining that he was in fact dead, and even less so, that he had been shot by IDF soldiers." Other commentators — including Daniel Seaman, the Israeli government's chief press officer — have gone further in their criticism, alleging that the entire incident was staged with the knowledge of the cameraman. In 2004, France 2 sued Philippe Karsenty, a French media watchdog, after he called the incident a "hoax". France 2 won the initial defamation case, the court ruling that Karsenty had "seriously failed to meet the requirements expected of an information professional. In May 2008, that judgment was set aside by the Paris Court of Appeal, which ruled that Karsenty had presented a "coherent mass of evidence" and had "exercised in good faith his right to free criticism. France 2 has said it will appeal the decision to the Cour de cassation, France's highest court.
On September 28 2000, two days prior to the incident, the Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem. His controversial visit was condemned by the Palestinians as a provocation and the following day, September 29, violence broke out in and around the Old City resulting in seven Palestinians being killed by Israeli security forces and 300 more being wounded. On September 30, protests against the deaths the previous day escalated into widespread violence across the West Bank and Gaza Strip in which fifteen Palestinians were reported killed, five of them in the Gaza Strip. The clashes included a gun battle between Palestinian police and Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip. It was in the course of this battle, in which Palestinian security forces sided with rioting Palestinian civilians against Israeli soldiers, that al-Durrah and his father were filmed as they sought shelter from the hail of gunfire. Three Palestinians were reported killed by gunfire near the Israeli settlement of Netzarim on that day. The Israeli army and Palestinian security forces in the Gaza Strip agreed on a ceasefire in the aftermath of the violence.
The incident occurred at the Netzarim or al-Shohada junction, a crossroads which is situated a few kilometers south of Gaza City (at ) on Saladin Road, the main route through the Gaza Strip. The al-Durrahs' home at the Bureij refugee camp was several kilometers further south. A short distance to the west lay the Israeli settlement of Netzarim, which was dismantled in 2005 when Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip. The junction was the site of a "heavily fortified" Israeli military outpost codenamed Magen-3 which guarded the approach to the settlement. On the day of the shooting itself, the outpost was manned by eighteen Israeli soldiers from the Givati Brigade Engineering Platoon and the Herev Battalion.
The presence of Netzarim was vehemently opposed by local Palestinians, such that the inhabitants of the settlement were under strict orders to travel only with a military escort. It was the scene of regular confrontations between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian youths. A small post manned by Palestinian policemen stood on the diagonally opposite side of the junction. Palestinian and Israeli security forces had previously mounted joint patrols in the area under interim peace arrangements. In the days leading up to the shooting, there had been a series of violent incidents in the vicinity of Netzarim; according to the Israeli government, "the attacks began with the throwing of stones and Molotov cocktails in the vicinity of the Netzarim Junction on 13 September. This was followed by the killing of an Israeli soldier by a roadside bomb on 27 September, and the murder of an Israeli police officer by a Palestinian policeman in a joint patrol on 29 September."
Muhammad al-Durrah was in fifth grade in September 2000, living with his four brothers, two sisters, his mother, Amal, and his father, Jamal, in the United Nations-run Bureij refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. His father was a carpenter and house painter who had worked for Israelis in north Tel Aviv for twenty years. On the day of the incident, the school was closed for a general Palestinian "protest day" strike called in memory of those killed by Israeli police on the previous Thursday and Friday, and to protest against Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount.
The IDF had been responding with rubber bullets and sometimes live ammunition, and the Palestinian police were returning fire with live bullets. The Associated Press reported that "a Palestinian fired shots at an Israeli army outpost from behind a red truck. Soldiers returned fire, and several Palestinians took cover on the ground, covering their heads with their hands, their faces pressed on the asphalt. One Palestinian man screamed in pain when he was shot in the knee. Paramedics ran into the line of fire to drag him to safety." In an attempt to shield themselves from the gunfire, the al-Durrahs crouched behind a cylinder or drum near the Palestinian police post, diagonally opposite the Israeli outpost, with their backs to a cinderblock wall. Israeli troops returned fire with rubber-coated bullets and live rounds which the army said its soldiers fired in the direction of the nearby Palestinian police post, from which fire was being directed at them. Reuters reported that protesters took cover as bullets flew around them, lying flat and in the gutter or behind any semblance of cover from the gunfire. At one point an Israeli helicopter hovered overhead, but did not open fire. According to the Xinhua news agency, the exchange of fire took place at about 11:30 a.m. local time (08:30 GMT).
The first ten minutes of the France 2 footage show the demonstration at Netzarim junction, with dozens to hundreds of people in civilian clothes throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at the IDF outpost. A shot is heard in minute 10, though its source is unclear. No reaction is visible from the outpost. Two interviews are recorded at the junction itself between minutes 9 and 14, in clear view of the outpost. More frequent shooting is audible by minute 14 and Palestinian policemen in uniform are shown firing their rifles at an off-screen target. Palestinian civilians are seen fleeing from the IDF line of fire. At 14 minutes and 30 seconds, Muhammad and his father are seen for the first time, crouching behind a metal or concrete cylinder against a tall concrete wall at one side of the roadway. The camera pans right and left, not focusing on them. It returns to them occasionally until minute 16 and then focuses on them for the remaining two minutes of the footage. The father is seen waving his hands, and the boy is "trying to take refuge in his lap". There is one final moment of film where the boy is seen lifting his head. At the apparent moment of the shooting, the camera goes out of focus. Shots are heard and dust swirls up. The last frame of the France 2 report shows the father sitting upright, injured, and the boy lying over his legs. The final scene, taken by Abu Rahma, of the boy lifting his head, was not included in the original broadcast or the footage distributed to other news outlets.
In the film, the two appear to be in considerable distress, with the child screaming and the father shielding him. Jamal al-Durrah is shown waving toward the Israeli position, and shouting "Don't shoot!" Muhammad was reported to have told his father, "Don't worry, Daddy, the ambulance will come and rescue us" and to have pleaded with his father for protection: "For the love of God protect me, Baba (Dad)". Jamal said later, "Muhammad was hit in the knee by a bullet. I tried to defend him with my body, but another hit him in the back. I cried and shouted for help. The shooting continued even as Muhammad bled. Suddenly a bullet hit me in the shoulder, and it was followed by another and then a third. I stopped counting the bullets and could not tell what had happened to Muhammad. I regained consciousness in the ambulance and felt the body of my son. It was cold."
The tape was edited for broadcast by Charles Enderlin, the French-Israeli journalist and France 2's bureau chief in Israel at the time. The 55 seconds of footage was broadcast with a voice-over by Enderlin in which he said: "Here is Jamal and his son. They are the target of fire coming from the Israeli position. ... The child signals but [there is] a new burst [of gunfire]. The child is dead and his father is injured". Enderlin was to write later that he had based his conclusion, that the IDF had targeted al-Durrah, on the testimony of the cameraman Abu Rahma.
The France 2 cameraman Talal Abu Rahma stated, in a sworn affidavit given to the Palestine Centre for Human Rights in Gaza three days after the shooting, that he could "confirm that the child was intentionally and in cold blood shot dead and his father injured by the Israeli army." It is important to note, however, that sometime later he claimed that his statement that the IDF had targeted the boy in cold blood had been falsely attributed to him by the Centre. He went on to say that he had "spent about 27 minutes photographing the incident which took place for 45 minutes."
According to Rahma, "They were cleaning the area. Of course they saw the father, they were aiming at the boy, and that is what surprised me, yes, because they were shooting at him, not only one time, but many times".
The cameraman said in his affidavit that he had been alerted to the incident while at the northern part of the road leading to the Netzarim junction. He said he could see an Israeli military outpost at the northwest of the junction, and just behind it, two Palestinian apartment blocks, nicknamed "the twins." He could also see a Palestinian Security Forces outpost (police station), located south of the junction, just behind the spot where the father and his boy were crouching. He observed shooting coming from there too, but not, he said, during the time when the al-Durrahs were shot. The Israeli fire was being directed at this Palestinian outpost. There was another Palestinian outpost 30 meters away. His attention was drawn to the child by Shams Oudeh, a Reuters cameraman who was sitting beside Muhammad al-Durrah and his father. The three of them were sheltering behind a concrete block.
The violence began with the throwing of stones but quickly escalated, with stones being replaced by improvised bombs. The Israeli troops initially responded with rubber bullets and tear gas before gunfire erupted: According to Abu Rahma:
Abu Rahma saw the al-Durrahs sheltering from the gunfire until "after 25 minutes exactly, he got injured" by bullets which struck before the fatal shots were fired: "I saw the young boy and his father, and I decided to film, you know? I filmed a little bit, then the shooting began really heavier and heavier. Then I saw the boy getting injured in his leg, and the father asking for help. Then I saw him getting injured in his arm, the father. The father was asking the ambulances to help him, because he could see the ambulances."
Shortly afterwards, Abu Rahma "heard something go boom and a cloud of dust. I was filming at that point so you can see it. When the dust cleared,"I saw the boy lying down on his father's legs, bleeding from the stomach. We were screaming like crazy, 'The boy is dead! Ambulance, ambulance!' But nobody could hear us. They kept on shooting. It was not far away, maybe 30 metres. One of my colleagues said, 'Let's jump and see what's going on'. We tried to cross the street, but we couldn't because of the bullets." On the source of the shots, Abu Rahma stated in his affidavit:
There is a cut in Abu Rahma's footage of the father and son under attack which France 2 later attributed to efforts to preserve a low battery. Abu Rahma also spoke, in his October 1 interview with NPR, of his fears for his own life and the possibility that he might be seen as a threat: "I was sitting on my knees and hiding my head, carrying my camera, and I was afraid from the Israelis to see this camera, maybe they will think this is a weapon, you know, or I am trying to shoot on them." After about an hour, he said, during which time the al-Durrahs were evacuated by ambulance, Abu Rahma and the others with him managed to escape from the scene. The footage was sent to France 2's Jerusalem office where Charles Enderlin compiled his report and transmitted it by satellite to Paris.
The Israeli soldiers stationed at the Netzarim junction outpost were later interviewed by Israel Radio and spoke of what they had experienced during and after the shooting of al-Durrah. Second Lieutenant Idan Quris, who was in command of an engineering platoon at the outpost, said: "We didn't know about the death of the kid for three days. Believe me, all of our efforts were aimed at armed Palestinians. We don't know how he was killed."
The acting commander of the Netzarim position, Lieutenant-Colonel Nizar Fares, said: "The amount of fire that was directed at the position surprised even us. ... When the kid was killed, no one saw him from the position. It is difficult to command this kind of position which is under massive gunfire for such a long period of time and in the end succeed in the mission, return everyone safely and maintain the position."
Palestinian Reuters cameraman Ahmad Jadallah said that ambulances were called to the scene but were delayed by the intensity of the shooting, with the wounded and dying lying in the road for a long time. According to the cameraman Abu Rahma, "It took about 45 minutes for the ambulance to reach the two, because of the heavy Israeli firing on everyone who dared to reach the young boy and his father. When the ambulance arrived, according to one of the volunteers, Bassam al-Bilbays, "there was still some breath left in [Muhammad] when we reached the ambulance, but when we opened the doors, they started shooting again." Bassam al-Bilbeisi, the driver of the first ambulance, was shot dead as the fighting continued.
As part of a Jordanian relief effort to aid Palestinians wounded in the violence, Jamal al-Durrah was evacuated on October 2 by the Royal Jordanian Air Force and taken to the Hussein Medical Centre in Amman, Jordan, where he was treated for wounds to both legs, one arm, and his midsection. He underwent a number of operations and was visited by King Abdullah of Jordan and other members of the Jordanian royal family, as well as the Libyan President, Muammar al-Gaddafi. He underwent four months of treatment in the hospital before returning to Gaza. He was reported to have been struck by twelve bullets, some of which were removed from his arm and pelvis. Jordanian doctors forecast that Jamal al-Durrah's right hand would be permanently paralyzed and stated that he had been psychologically traumatized.
She told reporters, "My son didn't die in vain. This was his sacrifice for our homeland, for Palestine," and "[n]othing good will come of this. We will have many more martyrs, and nothing will change." One of Muhammad's brothers, Iyad, told TIME magazine: "He's a symbol not only for Palestinians. He left his impact on the whole world. It was shaken by his death."
Speaking from hospital, Muhammad's father Jamal said: "I appeal to the entire world, to all those who have seen this crime to act and help me avenge my son's death and to put on trial Israel ..." He said he planned to take Israel to the international courts. In another interview, he said his son had died for "the sake of Al-Aqsa Mosque".
The shooting was reported to have had a profound effect on the al-Durrah family. According to Muhammad Mukhamier, a clinical psychologist who was involved in counseling Muhammad's brothers and sisters, the family was severely traumatized by the shooting and also by the intense media attention and the repeated replays of the incident on Palestinian television. The children were described as suffering from the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder - wetting their beds at night, suffering from recurring nightmares, denying that Muhammad had been killed and becoming more isolated and withdrawn. Many other Palestinian children who had seen the footage on television were reported to be suffering from similar post-traumatic stress, acting out the shooting in their playgrounds or expressing a fear of being killed in the same way.
The Al-Durrah incident had an immediate impact in the Islamic world, galvanizing popular support for the Palestinian uprising. Media outlets asserted that Israeli forces had murdered al-Durrah and portrayed the incident as archetypal of Israeli brutality; the Palestinian commentator Khalid Amayreh wrote: "The haunting specter of the murder, which, more or less, epitomizes Israel's long standing treatment of the Palestinians, Lebanese and other Arabs ... testifies to the brutal ugliness of the Zionist mentality and its callous disregard for the sanctity of human life". Al-Durrah's grave in Gaza presents a similar theme of a murdered martyr: "This is the tomb of the martyred child Muhammad Jamal al-Durrah, murdered September 30 2000, at the age of 12. To heaven goes your soul, Muhammad." In the days following the shooting, the footage was repeatedly broadcast on Palestinian television along with patriotic songs and calls to arms against the Israeli aggressor. Israel's actions in the West Bank and Gaza were strongly condemned by Arab political leaders; in Saudi Arabia, Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud issued a statement describing al-Durrah as "the spark which made the world know about the barbaric acts being carried out by the Israeli aggressors against unarmed Palestinians.
Egypt re-named the street in Cairo on which the Israeli embassy is located in his honor. The Palestinian Authority gave the same name to a street in Jericho; similarly a main thoroughfare in Baghdad was named "Martyr Muhammad al-Durrah Street"; and Morocco created an al-Dura Park. The Iranian Ministry of Education developed a website to commemorate him, and the Iranian foreign ministry suggested renaming a street in Tehran in his honor. By the end of 2000, more than 150 Iranian schools had been renamed after al-Durrah. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, composed a poem titled To the soul of the child martyr, Mohammed Al Durra in his honor. Talal Abu Rahma, the cameraman who filmed the incident, was awarded the Arab Media Award in Dubai in April 2001 for best coverage of breaking news. In Lebanon, the musician Charbel Rouhana and actor Julia Kassar recorded a song titled Lest We Forget Mohammed Durra, with proceeds in aid of Palestinian hospitals and medical centers.
Ariel Sharon told CBS News that the footage of the shooting was "very hard to see" and "a real tragedy," at the same time noting, "the one that should be blamed is the only one ... that really instigated all those activities, and that is Yasser Arafat." Ariel Sharon disregarded the video, leading to several organizations in the Middle East and America to put questions towards Sharon's support of these actions.
Three days after the shooting, the Israeli army's chief of operations, Major-General Giora Eiland, said: "This was a grave incident, an event we are all sorry about. We conducted an investigation, and as far as we understand, the shots were apparently fired by Israeli soldiers from the outpost at Netzarim." Eiland noted that the soldiers at the outpost had been shooting from small slits in the wall and did not have a clear field of vision.
The Deputy Defense Minister, Ephraim Sneh, told reporters that "it was a mistake which was not caused by intention" to kill and that he lamented the loss of "an innocent life".
The army's deputy chief of staff, Major-General Moshe Yaalon, called the boy's death "heartrending", but also accused the Palestinians of making "cynical use" of children in clashes with Israeli troops. He told France 2 that "The child and his father were between our position and the place from which we were shot at. It is not impossible - this is a supposition, I don't know - that a soldier, due to his angle of vision, and because one was shooting in his direction, had seen someone hidden in this line of fire and may have fired in the same direction."
Major-General Yom Tov Samia, the chief of the army's southern command, told Israel Radio: "I am very, very sorry from deep in my heart about this kid" but added, "we are sure they were not there by accident. They were throwing stones and Molotov cocktails." He said that his troops had fired live ammunition only because they had been attacked "from four or five directions". In an interview with Israeli television, Samia said he believed that the al-Durrahs had not been shot by the Israeli side in the first place: "I have no doubt that the gunfire, as it appears in the television close-up, was not from Israeli soldiers."
The work of the investigators had been hampered by Samia's decision to destroy all of the structures around the junction a week after the shooting to remove any hiding places for snipers. The bullet-scarred concrete wall and the cylinder behind which the al-Durrahs had sheltered had been removed along with several surrounding buildings, thereby destroying much of the forensic evidence. The investigators instead carried out engineering and ballistic tests to try to replicate the circumstances of the shooting, building a replica of the wall and cylinder at a site in the Negev Desert. Other problems hampering the investigation included the lack of an autopsy, lack of availability of the video footage, and the fact that no bullets were turned over for ballistics testing.
The investigation was headed by a private citizen - Nahum Shahaf, an Israeli physicist and Yusef Duriel, an engineer, with the involvement of several additional experts and intelligence officers, including among others Meir Danino, a physicist and chief scientist at Elisra Systems; Bernie Schechter, a former police chief superintent and ballistics expert; and Chief Superintendent Elliot Springer from the Israel Police's criminal identification laboratory. The investigation provoked immediate criticism, from its principle authors to its conclusions. Some in the media questioned the roles of Shahaf and Duriel, who held no official military or police positions at the time . According to one reporter, neither had forensic or ballistic qualifications or experience, while other reporters dismissed them as conspiracy theorists.
Two days after the al-Durrah shooting, Duriel had written an article for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in which he said "The IDF spokesman deserves a prize for stupidity ... Ten minutes after the incident a normal spokesman for a normal army would have released a categorically formulated statement saying that provocateurs opened fire against IDF soldiers, behind the back of a child, and made sure he would be killed in front of cameras; and after the boy, they killed the ambulance driver who tried to save him. All this was done to score propaganda points by depicting murderous behavior on the part of IDF soldiers." Shahaf contacted Duriel after reading the article to propose that they collaborate on the al-Durrah investigation and Samia agreed to let them undertake the enquiry.
General Samia however, fired Duriel during the progress of the investigation after he gave an interview claiming that the inquiry would prove that the Palestinians had deliberately shot the al-Durrahs for propaganda reasons. Samia refused to endorse this view and the report did not make such a claim.
Yossi Almog, a retired senior police officer who specializes in evidence-gathering, told Ha'aretz: "I don't believe the IDF would release a conclusion revising a previous declaration without first conducting a thorough examination, using the best professionals in the security establishment. I wouldn't rely on an approach made by some anonymous person. I might welcome that person's initiative, but I certainly wouldn't accept his conclusions without conducting a systematic, orderly examination, under the best possible conditions. Anything less than that isn't serious."
Haaretz criticized the investigation, saying in an editorial that "it is hard to describe in mild terms the stupidity of this bizarre investigation" and concluding that it was so shaky that the Israeli public would never accept its findings. It also characterized Duriel's separately-published findings as unprofessional. Duriel filed a libel suit not against Haaretz but against Haaretz reader Aharon Hauptman, who in a letter to the editor also criticized the investigation, based on the newspaper's report. Duriel lost the suit; the court ruled that his investigation had been "amateurish, not meticulous, not objective and unprofessional" and had failed to employ scientific methods.
Israel Army's chief of staff Shaul Mofaz distanced himself from the investigation, saying that it was a private enterprise of Samia's. The public reaction to the investigation was lukewarm; its findings were said to have been "given little credence, even in Israel and it received little coverage by the Israeli media. Some in the Israel armed forces were also privately critical; one senior army officer quoted by The Times called it a "disgrace that has piled shame on what was a terrible accident".
The Knesset member Ophir Pines-Paz, who was later to serve as Interior Minister under the Ehud Olmert government, questioned whether the investigation was not biased from the start: "One gets the impression that instead of genuinely confronting this incident, the IDF has chosen to stage a fictitious re-enactment and cover up the incident by means of an inquiry with foregone conclusions, the sole purpose of which is to clear the IDF of responsibility for al-Durrah's death." Members of the Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee criticized the investigators for expressing views about the outcome before their inquiry was completed.
The Samia investigation was also criticized by the France 2 reporter Charles Enderlin. He told Haaretz that Shahaf had misrepresented himself as a "media professional" without mentioning the IDF investigation and had requested a copy of the full, unedited version of the footage on the grounds that it was "likely to be presented to professional media forums, including film schools". He noted that the investigators had failed to interview the cameraman who had filmed the incident and questioned whether the investigators had accurately replicated the scene of the shooting.
The report's conclusions were rejected by the Palestinians; Jamal al-Durrah stated: "Everybody knows the truth. The bullets of the Zionists are the bullets that killed my son", and Palestinian Authority spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi charged that the findings were a "falsified version of reality (that) blames the victims".
Its producer, Esther Shapira, collaborated with Shahaf in researching the program and was given extensive access in Gaza where she interviewed several of the key players, including the al-Durrah family. According to Shapira, she went into the project believing that the Israelis shot Muhammad al-Durrah but became convinced that evidence supporting that hypothesis was missing. Although her film did not unequivocally conclude that al-Durrah had been killed by Palestinian fire, it cast significant doubt on the likelihood that Israeli shots had caused his death. She told IBA English News: "According to our findings, it is much more likely it was a Palestinian bullet, not an Israeli bullet, that killed him." The film attracted a mixed response; according to Shapira, "The media reviewers were very positive, the audience reaction on the other hand, was very divided. Praise, thoughtfulness, outrage.
It was reported that no autopsy was performed, and no bullets appear to have been recovered, either at the hospital or at the scene. In an interview with Esther Shapira for Three Bullets and a Child, a 2002 documentary for Germany's ARD channel, Talal Abu Rahma, the cameraman, said that bullets had been recovered; he said that Shapira should ask a named Palestinian official, a general, about them. The general told Shapira that he had no bullets, and that there had been no Palestinian investigation into the shooting because there was no doubt about who had shot the boy. "It was the Israeli side who committed this murder," he said.
When told the general had no bullets, Abu Rahma said instead that France 2 had collected the bullets at the scene. When questioned about this by Shapira, he replied: "We have some secrets for ourselves ... We cannot give anything ... everything."
Shapira acknowledged that the wall the al-Durrahs sheltered behind, in which bullet holes are visible in the France 2 footage, had been destroyed by the IDF before a ballistics examination could be conducted, and that the scene had been replicated, based on measurements and video footage. Shapira's documentary concluded that the boy could not have been shot by the IDF, and that the shooting and his death were accidental.
Several groups and individuals in France kept the issue alive. Although the French broadcasting rights to the German documentary were purchased for €80,000 by Pierre Rehov, a French-Israeli businessman, he was unable to persuade French or Israeli television channels to screen the documentary. He sued France 2 and the French government for "defamation of the State of Israel" but the case was dismissed after only six weeks.
In Israel, Pierre Lurçat, the president of an association called Liberty, Democracy and Judaism, published statements on the French Jewish Defense League website urging readers to "Come demonstrate against the lies of France 2" and promoting the "Goebbels award" which the JDL was to "award" Charles Enderlin. They staged a demonstration outside the headquarters of France 2 on October 2 2002 in which it "awarded" Charles Enderlin with a "Goebbels prize for disinformation. Enderlin received death threats and his house had to be guarded by police; he was eventually forced to move home.
In March 2003 Gérard Huber, a French psychoanalyst, published his book called Contre expertise d'une mise en scène "Re-evaluation of a Re-enactment") in which he argued that the al-Durrah shooting had been staged. He credited Nahum Shahaf with convincing him of this scenario.
Philippe Karsenty, a financial consultant, promoted similar claims on his "Media Ratings" website, a media watchdog group, on which he rated news reports based on how biased against Israeli he considered them to be. He became so convinced that the original report was faked, that he offered a "prize" of €10,000 "to a charity chosen by France 2 if the chain can demonstrate to us and a panel of independent experts, that the 30 September 2000 report shows the death of the Palestinian child." He was later to demand the resignations of Enderlin and France 2's deputy director general, Arlette Chabot, which was to lead to a France 2 lawsuit for defamation. MENA's head Stéphane Juffa wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal in 2004 that argued that the al-Durrah shooting was "nothing but a hoax."
An Israel-based news website, the Metula News Agency (MENA), also accused France 2 of staging the al-Durrah shooting.
In the United States, the hoax hypothesis was promoted by Richard Landes, a professor of medieval culture at Boston University and founder and director of the Center for Millennial Studies, who studied the full footage from other Western news outlets shot on the day of the shooting, including the pictures of the boy, and concluded that the shooting had probably been faked. In 2003, Landes participated in a demonstration urging France to act to stem the escalation of hate crimes against Jews in French Jews. According to one report, he concluded that the incident had been faked after watching the al-Durrah footage "three times". He said, "I came to the realization that Palestinian cameramen, especially when there are no Westerners around, engage in the systematic staging of action scenes," and claimed that the al-Durrah footage was an example of what he called "Pallywood cinema." Landes went on to found the website Second Draft, dedicated to gathering evidence on the al-Durrah case and other controversies in journalism.
In 2007, in an official letter by Daniel Seaman, director of the Government press office and representing the Prime Minister's Office, the government of Israel said it accepts the "staged theory." Seaman wrote "Here began the long path to exposing the truth and to base the facts that are known to us today, that the events of that day were essentially staged by the network's cameraman in Gaza, Mr. Tilal Abu-Rehama.
In February 2005, Nahum Shahaf presented a summary of his views in a presentation to the American Academy of Forensic Sciences in New Orleans, making nine key assertions: that ballistic evidence indicated that al-Durrah had not been in the line of fire of the Israeli outpost; that the spread of stone particles caused by the impact of bullets on the wall behind al-Durrah indicated a less oblique angle of fire, consistent with Palestinian positions; that the shooting might have been a deliberate act by the Palestinians; that some of the bullet holes were made artificially after the shooting; that al-Durrah's injuries were more consistent with a knife than a bullet; that the evidence of the doctors was not consistent with photographs of al-Durrah's body, suggesting that the dead boy in the photographs was not al-Durrah; that the body had reached the hospital before the incident was reported to have started; that blood was not visible on the boy's body at Netzarim junction; and that "manufactured incidents" were shown in the television footage.
In October 2004, in response to criticism that the footage may have been edited inappropriately, executives at France 2 allowed three senior French journalists to view all 27 minutes of the raw footage. The three were Daniel Leconte, a former France 2 correspondent; Dennis Jeambar, the editor-in-chief of L'Express; and Luc Rosenzweig, a former editor-in-chief of Le Monde, and a Metula News Agency (Mena) contributor.
Shortly after the viewing, Mena's editor-in-chief Stéphane Juffa asserted that the footage did not show the boy's death. In their article, Leconte and Jeambar write that there is no scene in the France 2 footage that shows the child had died. They said that they did not believe that the scene had been staged, but that "this famous 'agony' that Enderlin insisted was cut from the montage does not exist." Leconte did not conclude that the shooting of the boy and his father was faked; in his view "At the moment of the shooting, it's no longer acting, there's really shooting, there's no doubt about that."
Leconte and Jeambar also wrote that the first 20 minutes or so of the film showed young Palestinians "playing at war" for the cameras, falling down as if wounded, then getting up and walking away. They told a radio interviewer that a France 2 official had said "You know it's always like that." In an interview with Cybercast News Service, Leconte said that he found that statement disturbing. "I think that if there is a part of this event that was staged, they have to say it, that there was a part that was staged, that it can happen often in that region for a thousand reasons," he said. They also testified to that effect at the Karsenty trial.
In February 2005, France 2 also showed the raw footage to the International Herald Tribune reporter, Doreen Carvajal, who writes that the footage of the father and son lasts several minutes, but does not clearly show the child's death. She also writes there is a cut in the scene that makes it hard to determine what is happening. France 2 executives say that was caused by the cameraman's efforts to preserve a low battery.
Footage shot by a Reuters cameraman further away from the scene shows the gun battle from a different angle. According to Nidra Poller, writing in Commentary, the Reuters footage shows a jeep driving partway up the road, in sight and within range of the Israeli position, stopping near the barrel and helping to evacuate a man wounded in the right leg, which is also seen in the France 2 footage. Two ambulances are also shown standing within 15 feet of the al-Durrahs, and men run down the road, passing in front of the al-Durrahs. There is no sound of gunfire nor any other evidence of combat activity near the al-Durrahs. According to Ed O'Loughlin of The Age, another video, consisting of "spliced-up" footage shot by France 2 and other unnamed Western agencies, shows Abu Rahma and the al-Durrahs in long shot. Two figures dressed like the al-Durrahs can be seen from several angles, sheltering behind an obstruction, and Abu Rahma is visible taking cover behind a white van parked on the opposite side of the road. An ambulance driver and a Palestinian policeman are shown being killed as they attempt to reach the al-Durrahs. Soldiers in the Israeli army base and Palestinian gunmen are seen exchanging bursts of automatic gunfire from opposite ends of the wall against which the al-Durrahs are sheltering.
Leconte said that because the pictures had "devastating" consequences, which included the public lynching of two Israeli soldiers and a rise in antisemitism among French Muslims, France 2 or Enderlin should admit that their report may have been misleading. "Who will say it, I don't know, but it is important that Enderlin or France 2 should say, that on these pictures, they were wrong — they said things that were not reality," he said.
Enderlin said "the image corresponded to the reality of the situation, not only in Gaza but also in the West Bank," where, he wrote, in the first month of the Intifada, the IDF had already fired around one million bullets, and killed 118 Palestinians, including 33 children, compared to the 11 Israelis killed. Enderlin attributed these figures to Ben Kaspit of Maariv.
Leconte responded: "I find this, from a journalistic point of view, mind-boggling. That a journalist like him can be driven to say such things is very revealing of the state of the press in France today."
Enderlin also wrote that a journalist does not have to take note of "possibly dishonest" later uses by "extremist groups," and accused Jeambar and Leconte of promoting "censorship".
France 2 filed a series of defamation suits against some of its critics in October 2004, to defend itself against the charges that its reporting of the incident had not been accurate. It sought symbolic damages of €1 from each of the defendants, suing them for a "press offence" under the Press Law of 1881. The law obliges the court to determine whether an accusation is defamatory, whether it is being made in good faith and whether a defendant has undertaken at least a basic verification of the source(s) for the accusation. Truth is not an absolute defence and the law forbids the court from investigating the truth of an accusation.
The first of the France 2 lawsuits was against Philippe Karsenty, who was charged with defaming Charles Enderlin's and France 2's honor and reputation on his website, Media-Ratings. Based on reporting by the Israeli Metula News Agency (MENA), Karsenty claimed that Enderlin's original broadcast was fraudulent and called for the dismissal of Chabot and Enderlin. He claimed that the events filmed by the France 2 cameraman had been faked, that al-Dura had not been killed in front of the camera, and that the boy was in fact still alive.
Explaining this suit to the Jerusalem Post, Enderlin said, "I don't mind people elaborating any conspiracy theory about me and France 2 and writing about it. Another French guy even made a fortune by writing a book about 9/11 saying that it was a missile that hit the Pentagon. I can accept any polemic; what is unacceptable is to be publicly insulted and be called a liar. This is why we sued Karsenty, not for his eccentric theories."
Karsenty called four witnesses in his defense, including Professor Richard Landes. The defense was bolstered by support from Sandrine Alimi-Uzan, the procureur de la République (a lawyer appointed by the court to represent the interests of the state), who argued that although Karsenty had defamed Enderlin, it would be in the public interest for him to be exonerated. In fact, because the procureur had argued for an acquittal, it had been widely expected that the verdict would favor Karsenty.
The case was heard before the 17th Chamber of the Correctional Court of Paris on 7 September 2006. In a judgment released on 19 October, the court in fact convicted Karsenty of libel, ordering him to pay €1,000 in costs and €1 in damages to the plaintiffs. The presiding judge, Joel Boyer, strongly criticized Karsenty's argument. Claiming that Karsenty had relied on a single source, the judge stated that Karsenty's argument was "primarily based on extrapolations and amalgams, depends on peremptory assertions of authority which no Israeli official - nor the army, however concerned in the highest degree, nor justice - has granted the least credit." Judge Boyer commented that "the accused, [by] showing in his account, without distance or critical analysis of his own sources, the idea that scenes have been staged for the ends of propaganda has seriously failed to meet the requirements expected of an information professional.
Following an appeal by Karsenty, the case was transferred to the 17th Chamber of the Court of Appeal of Paris in November 2007 and a further hearing was held in February 2008. For the first time, the court , asked to see the full set of images of the clashes at Netzarim, which according to the cameraman, had totaled 27 minutes. France 2 presented the court with just 18 minutes of footage, stating that the rest had been destroyed because it did not concern this incident. France 2 was represented by the public prosecutor, Antoine Bartoli, who argued that Karsenty had not conducted a "serious investigation" and that his claims were "undoubtedly defamatory".
The 18 minutes of footage was shown to a packed courtroom with Enderlin explaining each segment of the footage. According to the Ha'aretz news service, the footage showed "street battles with dozens of people throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at an IDF outpost, an interview with a Fatah official, and the incident involving Mohammed al-Dura and his father in the last minute of the video." The total video of the al-Durrah incident was seen to comprise about one minute of the 18 minute film. It was noted that the boy moved after the cameraman had said he was dead, and that there was no blood on the boy's shirt.
Also for the first time, the court also appointed an independent ballistics expert, Jean-Claude Schlinger, an advisor on ballistic and forensic evidence for the French courts for 20 years. He reviewed the ballistics evidence, including Karsenty's 90-page ballistics report, who concluded that the bullets "could not have come from the Israeli position, from a technical point of view, but only from the direction of the Palestinian position." He also reported "...there is no objective evidence that the child was killed and his father injured. It is very possible, therefore, that it is a case [in which the incident was] staged." In fact, according to his report, there is no evidence that the boy was wounded in his right leg or in his abdomen, as originally reported.
On 21 May 2008, the court overturned Karsenty's earlier libel conviction. It found that while his claims were "undoubtedly damaging [to] the honor and reputation of information professionals", they were nonetheless within the boundaries of permissible expression in the context of media criticism. The judge commented, "it is legitimate for a monitoring agency to investigate the media, because of the impact of the images which were reviewed across the world, [and] on the conditions in which the report was filmed and broadcast." The court ruled that the evidence presented by Karsenty "did not allow it to rule out the opinion of [France 2] professionals", but rejected Bartoli's assertion that Karsenty's evidence was "neither complete nor serious". Although the court did not endorse Karsenty's views, it stated that "the examination of [the] rushes [makes it] no longer possible to dismiss the views of professionals heard during the case" and had put in doubt the authenticity of the original reporting.
Karsenty told the press shortly after the verdict was issued, "The verdict means we have the right to say France 2 broadcast a fake news report, that al-Dura's shooting was a staged hoax and that they duped everybody - without being sued".
In response, France 2 pledged to take the case to the Cour de cassation, France's highest court.
Richard Prasquier, President of the Representative Council of Jewish Organisations in France (CRIF) has written to President Nicolas Sarkozy asking for an independent enquiry commission in an attempt to find out the full truth. This commission should include "experts in ballistics, forensic medicine, traumatology and television images,...as well as representatives from France 2."
Karsenty, has launched a libel suit against Canal+, a pay TV company owned by Vivendi SA, claiming the network aired a documentary “depicting me as a manipulative liar. They said I was the same as those who say 9/11 was an inside job.” The second libel suit charges the weekly magazine L’Express with libel for describing him as an ”obsessive nut case and manipulative.”
The first internationally distributed reports of the shooting came from the Associated Press and Reuters around 20:00 local time. The relevant portion of the unedited AP report stated: "Among those killed was a 12-year-old boy who was caught in the crossfire. The boy, Rami Aldura, and his father, were crouched behind a metal barrel, trying to seek cover and pleading for a ceasefire. The father held his hand protectively over the boy, who was screaming with fear, only to see his son fatally shot in the stomach." Later reports from both agencies corrected the boy's name.
France 2 decided to release an edited portion of its footage without charge to other television networks and news agencies, saying it did not want to profit from the images. These images were subsequently rebroadcast worldwide. Most broadcasters omitted the final frames of the footage, showing Muhammad loosening his grip on his father and the convulsive twitches of Jamal as he was struck by more bullets, on the grounds that they were too disturbing. Since then, some reporters who have seen the last few seconds of film, have come to believe that the images actually show the boy lifting his head and peeking under his arm at the camera.
A number of journalists visited the scene and interviewed the family in Gaza (and in the case of the father, in Amman) shortly after the shooting. Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian's Jerusalem correspondent, travelled to Netzarim junction on October 2 and reported seeing "a circle of 15 bullet holes on a cinder block wall, and a smear of darkening blood." She observed that "aside from the circle of bullet holes - most of them below waist level - the expanse of wall is largely unscarred." This suggested to her that "the Israeli fire was targeted at the father and son." She also interviewed the cameraman, who "cast doubt on the Israeli claim that father and son were caught in the crossfire between the two security forces," as well as a Palestinian police general and the boy's mother.
Jamal al-Durrah is reportedly dismayed by the way that images of Muhammad's death have been commercialized. He told On the Media: "I had very bad feelings when I saw some toilet paper — they put the picture of the killing of Mohammed with me on the cover just to sell it. I didn't like it, because this is a symbol and a martyrdom. The next day people took the roll cover and threw it in the garbage. Talal Abu Rahma, the France 2 cameraman, interviewed Jamal al-Durrah in Shifa Hospital the day after the shooting. Daily Mail reporter Matthew Kalman also interviewed the bandage-swathed father and the boy's mother in Gaza. Agence France-Presse reporter Hassan Mekki interviewed Jamal a couple of days later after he had been airlifted to a hospital in Amman, where Jordan's King Abdullah and other members of the Jordanian royal family were filmed visiting the injured man. Following his discharge from hospital, Jamal al-Durrah took on the role of what he described as "an ambassador to tell the world about our struggle", travelling to Egypt, Algeria, the United Arab Emirates and South Africa to talk about life in the Gaza Strip and the death of his son.
Osama bin Laden has invoked the al-Durrah affair several times. On October 7, 2001, he warned President George W. Bush that he "must not forget the image of Muhammad al-Durrah and his fellow Muslims in Palestine and Iraq. If he has forgotten, then we will not forget, God willing." Two months later, he asserted that "what is happening in Palestine - what is happening today - is the intentional murder of children. ... Slaying children is infamous for being the height of injustice, disbelief and Pharaonic aggression, but the Children of Israel have used the same style against our sons in Palestine. The whole world looked on and witnessed the Israeli soldiers as they killed Muhammad al-Durrah and many like him.
The early reports stated that the al-Durrahs had been caught in a "crossfire". Brian Whitaker, the Middle East editor of The Guardian, commented: "'Crossfire' is inserted into stories by journalists who are not sure who was at fault. The trouble is that it implies that nobody in particular was at fault. It would have been much better to say something like: "It was not immediately clear who fired the fatal shots" but professional pride sometimes stops journalists admitting their ignorance." He noted that there was uncertainty among reporters about the source of the fatal shots: "A colleague working on a Sunday newspaper tells me there was a discussion in the office about where the shots that killed Mohammed might have come from. Although the first impression was that he had been shot from in front, the holes in the wall behind him indicated to some people in the office that he might have been hit by bullets passing through the wall from behind."
On the Israeli side, the response to the al-Durrah shooting led to a fundamental change in its approach to media management. According to Science, Culture and Sports Ministry Director-General Nahman Shai, who was appointed in October 2000 to coordinate government communications, the al-Durrah footage changed the government's attitude to media relations and necessitated the appointment of a full-time team of spokesmen. The government sought to change the terms of the coverage by providing the media with footage of Palestinian violence to counterbalance footage from Palestinian sources. It also sought to influence the media directly, complaining to broadcasters such as CNN about perceived bias in their coverage.
Stewart Purvis of the Guardian claims that "for some of Israel's supporters, a primary aim of their war on the web is an attempt to discredit what they see as hostile foreign media reports, especially those containing iconic visual images." The Internet was harnessed with the use of blogs, websites and downloadable software such as the "Megaphone desktop tool" to direct feedback on media articles. As of the end of 2006, this tool had 25,000 registered users. Purvis goes on to claim that the al-Durrah footage and the France 2 reporter Charles Enderlin were particular targets of this campaign, as was the footage of a deadly explosion on a Gaza beach in 2006.