In preparing my chapter on Al Durah for my book ms (They’re So Smart cause We’re So Stupid: A Medievalist’s Guide to the 21st Century), I came across an important article by Stephane Juffa that is no longer available online at its original site, MENA Press. Since I copied it when I began work on Al Durah (lo, these fifteen years), I publish it here.
A selection from the chapter was recently published at the Tablet: “Netzarim Junction and the Birth of Fake News in the 21st Century.”
Stéphane Juffa, “France 2’s report on Al-Dura at the Origin of the Riots of October”
MENA Press, September 23, 2001.
Translated from the French by Llewellyn Brown
On 26 August, a court martial condemned a Palestinian policeman, Raed Sheikh, for the first degree murder of two reserve soldiers of the Israeli army. The two men, the late Vadim Norzhich and Yossef Avrahami, had been arrested by the Palestinian police on 12 October 2000, when they entered Ramallah by mistake.
The lynching, that started in the very premises of the police station and at the hand of Sheikh — fortified, in the circumstances, by a forty centimeter metal bar — is common knowledge. It is not my intention today to emphasize the dramatic effect produced by the narrative these events, the filmed bestiality which abundantly shocked people’s minds.
Sheikh appeared before three judges. Two of them, in their verdict, opted for the application of the death penalty, the third settling for life imprisonment. As the execution of the death penalty in Israel requires the unanimous decision of the magistrates, Raed Sheikh’s life was spared. Otherwise, he would have been the first person to be executed in the Hebrew State since the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in 1962.
What specifically drew my attention, regarding this tragedy, is the number of times the Mohamed Al-Dura case was evoked or invoked. From the raging rabble, who tore apart the limbs of the two unfortunates in the street, crying “revenge for the blood of Mohamed !”, to the observers who concur in recognizing that the pictures of the assassination of the child of Netzarim were in the memories of all the lynchers.
The images had enraged the crowd and it is almost certain that, without the (free) distribution of France 2’s report, the victims would have had a chance of getting away, that the delirious and popular hatred would not have received such a complete acceptance by the crowd.
Some will retort that that is my perception of things : it starts with a reasonable and probable synthetic observation of events but remains my personal and private deduction. That is indisputable ! That is why my observation should raise questions of a moral nature for my colleagues of the filmed press. For responsible professionals, it implies a reflection on the power of the camera and its capacity to surpass its role of collecting images, to become a reference-witness for the prosecution of sometimes violent causes. An involuntary reference. But a key witness nonetheless.
On reading the conclusions of the “Or” governmental inquiry commission — that caused a lot of uproar lately in Israel and which we will certainly examine in closer analyses — and for the same causality of the images of the assassination of Mohamed Al-Dura, we arrive at implications of an altogether different order. Let us recall that the commission was convened in order to determine the personal and systemic responsibilities that led to the riots of the Arab-Israeli population on 1 October 2000. Riots in the course of which thirteen Israeli citizens lost their lives from the bullets of the Israeli police.
The aforesaid conclusions spare no one, neither Ehud Barak, prime minister at the time, nor Shlomo Ben-Ami, then Minister of the Interior. The Or Commission, raised to the rank of exceptional tribunal by the law on governmental commissions of inquiry, pronounced very precise conclusions, notably demanding the dismissal of certain superior police officers. The government has already declared that, in principle, the Commission’s conclusions would be implemented in their entirety.
Of course, the judges also comment on the behavior of the Arab-Israeli street and its political leaders. The Commission has a very severe judgment for the rioters and the serious disturbances of civil order they were guilty of.
The Or Commission also mentions, apart from the malfunctioning of the police system during this revolt, the objective causes leading the Arab population to obstruct roads, brutalize Jewish citizens and to attack their belongings. In the list of direct causes leading the Arab-Israelis to go out into the street and attack the forces of order — a succession of events during which thirteen persons were killed — I cite conclusion 172 of the Commission which, it seems to me, will determine a major turning in the treatment of the Al-Dura case :
The same day [30 September, the riots broke out the following day ! Editor’s note] around 5:00 p.m., a very fierce battle took place in the region of Netzarim between the soldiers of Tsahal [the Israeli Defense Forces, Translator’s note] and Palestinian policemen. At this place, during the shoot-out, a young Palestinian of about ten years of age, named Mohamed Al-Dura, was killed when he was here along with his father. The death of the child was recorded by television cameras and broadcasted numerous times during the same day by different television channels [all of whom broadcasted the report distributed free of charge by the French television channel France 2, Editor’s note]. The images of the child shot next to his father were also laboriously broadcasted the following day, 1 October 2000, by the press in Hebrew and in Arabic. The death of Mohamed Al-Dura,as reflected by the television images [only those of France 2, Editor’s note] had a marking influence on the state of mind of the Arab street, on this day [30 September, Editor’s note] and the following day. This fact was emphasized by the numerous leaders of the Arab minority heard by the Commission. The opinion shared by most of them was that the pictures of Mohamed Al-Dura, that were broadcasted by the media, constituted one of the elements that led people of the Arab sector to violence in the streets on 1 October 2000 [and, for some, to die there ! Editor’s note]. Concordantly, police sources and other security sources considered that the presentation of the images had a considerable weight, as a factor in the outbreak of the events.
It is my turn to be clear and simple. It is no longer an interrogation of a moral or deontological nature that prevails but a judicial question — being perfectly understood that ALL the images evoked by the Or Commission were filmed, edited, commented and distributed by the personnel of the public service channel France 2. If Mohamed Al-Dura were executed by “shots fired from the Israeli position”, we should sincerely regret the tragic — but comprehensible — cause and effect relationship that the filming of the child’s death had on the outbreak of the deadly riots. However if — and as we have tried to demonstrate by indisputable evidence — it is a fiction, distributed free of charge by France 2, that participated in causing the death of thirteen Israelis, the French channel bears an overwhelming judicial responsibility in this tragedy.
Before returning to the implications that our findings generate, we should notice that it is no longer possible, following the conclusions of the Or Commission, to consider, as Jean Hatzfeld of Libération [a major Parisian daily, Translator’s note] does, that in any case, the story of little Mohamed is “not very interesting” and “that it is normal that there are blunders in all professions. We assume that that is the way things are. It is not very important.”
Men died and since men died and since these deaths were induced — with considerable weight — by the dishonest behavior of certain persons, the latter, if they are confounded, must answer for their acts. It is a matter of the very idea of justice.
The same remark concerns those who, so far, have considered that our determination to bring out the truth is a rear-guard battle. I consider that the conclusion established by the Or Commission regarding the impact of the Mohamed Al-Dura report on the riots and the assassinations in Israel as well as in the Palestinian territories helps the reader to grasp the fantastic symbolic role this film had on the propagation and the extremist development of the Intifada. This report cut all the bridges that were painstakingly built in the course of the Oslo process. In a reality where soldiers (an entire outpost of soldiers !) of a regular army shoot for forty-five minutes in order to kill one child — as the Palestinian cameraman of France 2, Talal Abu Rahma claims in a declaration authenticated by notary — there is no longer anything left to discuss. Nothing is sacred anymore. You kill first to avoid being killed !
This feeling was confirmed by my friend Dr. Sabikh who lives in a village of Upper Galilee and works at Qiryat Shmona :
You understand, Steph, when we saw these pictures [of Mohamed Al-Dura], we said that there was a radical change in the way Jews considered us. We had never seen or imagined Israeli soldiers shooting a child to kill him, and for forty minutes. In the towns and villages, at Sakhnin, Nazereth, Rameh, we thought that if you had no pity for Arab children, you were going to massacre us all ! So it was urgent to go out into the streets and show you that we were not about to give up and it would cost you dearly.
That is a representative testimony among others I have gathered. It is henceforth inconceivable for Israeli justice, having come to a conclusion on the decisive role of the France 2 report in the riots of October 2000 and knowing the existence of our counter-expertise, not to order an inquiry aimed at Charles Enderlin and France 2. Israeli justice has the judicial means at its disposal to receive from the French channel the 27 minutes of unused footage concerning the assassination of Mohamed Al-Dura that were refused us — that Talal Abu Rahma claims to have filmed — as well as the “unbearable” images of the death of the small boy. Henceforth too, as strategic analysts, we are going to summon our justice to be coherent and to follow its investigation through to the very end. Now that the causal responsibility of France 2 for the riots and the violence has been judicially established, Justice will have to ensure that it is either fortuitous or rule that it is dishonest and instrumental of chaos and death.
A television camera that is either a witness or an actor, an instigator of war : we will at least ensure that Israeli justice does not forget to address the question.