In 2000, a French television station, France 2, broadcast footage of a gunfight between Palestinian terrorists and Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip. Caught in the middle, a father shields his young son, Mohammed, as bullets rake the air around them. Seconds later, the edited footage shows Mohammed Al-Durah draped lifelessly over his father's knees.
Thirteen years later, an increasing number of commentators believe that the Al-Durah affair, as many now label it, was staged. A number of organizations -- such as the Al Durah Project, which has obtained raw footage of the event and highlighted the countless contradictions in a number of the Palestinians' statements -- establishes that the Al-Durah incident is a prime example of Palestinian organizations' manipulating the media with falsified footage and incorrect testimony.
Further, the Israeli government recently concluded its own investigation into the Al-Durah incident; the Israeli report notes that crucial parts of the raw footage, revealing that Mohammed Al Durah was alive several minutes after France 2's report ended, had been deliberately omitted from the broadcast, and states that the cameraman's testimony was "replete with contradictions, inconsistencies and falsehoods."
Media manipulation, an important tool within the information battlefield, is well established in the Middle East, but staged incidents do not always go according to plan. One leaked video of another incident, for instance, shows a funeral procession carrying the body of a Palestinian, supposedly murdered by Israeli forces. After the corpse accidentally falls out of the stretcher, it quickly stands up and jumps back in.
Some attempts at media manipulation, however, do succeed. Whether the Al Durah affair or the Jenin 'massacre' -- a widely reported slaughter that never happened -- journalists' sympathy for the perceived underdog is extremely damaging. According to the Israeli review, "The battle for the TV or computer screen is often as or even more important than the actual military clash."
Most newspapers, despite widely reporting the Al Durah shooting in 2000, have not reported the Israeli government's recent findings, nor have they reported the ongoing case in the French courts that disputes France 2's footage.
The few media outlets that have reported the most recent Israeli findings have been skeptical. The most direct response came from an opinion article by Rachel Shabi, printed in The Guardian. Shabi writes that, "If Israel's government is to be believed, Palestinians have sunk so low as to be capable of faking their own deaths."
As, however, over the past few decades, Palestinian groups have used children as suicide bombers and human shields, and Palestinian television's children shows glorify martyrdom and murder, one might assume that groups that capable of murdering their children are also capable of staging their deaths.
Shabi denounces the Israeli investigation into Al Durah's death as "an obsession with trying to win the propaganda war."
If Shabi were concerned with accurate journalism, or indeed, believes that propaganda should play not part in the media, she should support a detailed investigation into the alleged killing of Mohammed Al Durah rather than condemn attempts to examine the facts.
But clarity is not Shabi's goal. For her, the Israeli government's review to ascertain facts is itself an act of dehumanization and degradation. "What stands out yet again," she writes, "is the disregard for anything Palestinians might have to contribute to the story. In effect, this report is saying to Palestinians: your words, your pain and your losses are insignificant, erasable bumps in this narrative."
The real moral culpability would seem to lie with the Palestinian groups who use the lives of children as propaganda tools and with the commentators who accept, and so legitimize, such behavior.
The Al-Durah affair does not, as claimed, illustrate any intransigence or dogma on the part of the Israeli government; instead, it shows that a number of commentators cannot separate Palestinian propaganda and terror groups from the Palestinian people as a whole. For Shabi, Mohammed's alleged death cannot be blamed upon the Palestinians terrorists who opened fire on the Israelis, even if that is what took place, and doubts over Mohammed's death cannot be the fault of the Palestinians who staged it, even if they did.
Since 2000, the reports of Mohammed Al-Durah's death have inspired many murderous attacks, including the brutal lynching of two Israeli policemen in Ramallah, where crowds chanted "Revenge for Mohammed Al Durah," as well as the execution of American journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan. Pearl's murderers filmed him in front of an image of Mohamed Al-Durah; then executed Pearl after demanding that he admit to being a Jew, and that Jews murder children. Al-Qaeda also has cited the death of Al-Durah as inspiration for their campaign of terror against the West.
Shabi claims that Mohammed Al-Durah is now a "symbol of the brutality of the second intifada and the Israeli occupation" and that attempts to uncover the truth behind his death are a distraction from the "prolonged and oppressive occupation of the Palestinian people – the escalating deaths; the daily, grinding humiliation."
Even if, as Shabi claims, Israel does have an "obsession with trying to win the propaganda war," is that charge supposed to imply that the Palestinians do not?
The Al Durah affair demonstrates the importance of the propaganda battlefield -- it has shaped the idea that, in the context of "Israeli occupation," facts are irrelevant and Palestinian wrongdoing out of the question.