(Translated from French by Michel Gurfinkiel)
What will the Court of Appeals of Paris decide about Philippe Karsenty — the deputy mayor of Neuilly, director of the Media Ratings rating agency, and foreign affairs head of the French Liberal Democratic Party (a free-market party)?
Will it hold him fully guilty of defamation against France Televisions (the umbrella organization behind France’s many state-owned TV channels) and Charles Enderlin, the state-owned France 2 channel chief correspondent in Jerusalem? Or will it release him once and for all based on the fact that he had the right to defame them because he had enough material to substantiate his accusations?
The recent Court hearings on January 16 were about this ultimate question.
Karsenty, one will remember, claimed that the infamous TV report on the killing in cold blood by Israeli soldiers of Palestinian boy Mohamed al-Dura — as it was released on September 30, 2000, by France 2 under Enderlin’s supervision — was a media hoax. Technically, such words can either be understood as defamation under French law, or accepted as legitimate criticism of the way the report was conducted, edited, and distributed worldwide.
The hearings took place in a special atmosphere: Paris was in the middle of a biting cold wave; one could feel it even at the majestic Palais de Justice near Notre Dame cathedral. Then there was the Al-Dura file itself, the ever-increasing suspicion about the report, the concern about Enderlin’s image. A feeling that some kind of censorship was at work, one way or the other, and that taboo issues were at stake. Also, a widespread fear that some of the people involved might engage in legal procedure almost at will.
You could also notice a measure of irritation with Karsenty, along with the growing questioning of “Pallywood,” “Hezbollywood,” “Syriawood,” and almost any other Mideast production.
SNJ, the French journalists union, requested its members attend the hearings in order to grant support to Enderlin, yet very few turned up for the six-hour Court session. Daniel Bilalian and Vincent Nguyen from France 2 were there, as well as Emilie Raffoul of Canal+. However, the top echelon of France Televisions, who had attended a previous Court session on February 27, 2008, was conspicuous by its absence. So were the French Jewish media.
On the other hand, there was a large audience present, including VIPs like Richard Prasquier, the chairman of Crif (the Representative Council of French Jewish Organizations). JSS News, an Israel-based online magazine, covered the hearings live.
Before the hearings start, Karsenty approaches Enderlin and shakes hands with him. They chat briefly.
The president of the Court, Jacques Laylavoix, sums up the case and the procedure. Reading from stapled sheets of paper, he mentions — quite amazingly — “the Israeli positions” (plural) at the Netzarim crossing in the Gaza Strip. A factual error to be found in earlier Court decisions as well as in the submissions of Enderlin and France Televisions. It appears the judges repeated the plaintiffs’ error.
Both in the report broadcast by France 2 on September 30, 2000, and in the reels undersigned by Talal Abu Rahma, the Palestinian cameraman, Enderlin says:
3:00 PM … Everything turns upside down near the colonial settlement of Netzarim in the Gaza Strip… Here, Jamal and his son Mohamed are targeted by shootings from the Israeli position (singular) … Mohamed is 12 years old … His father tries to protect him … he waves his hand … But a new burst of fire … Mohamed is dead and his father heavily wounded …
The France 2 report draws doubts and investigations from and by Nahum Shahaf, an Israeli physicist; Gerard Huber, a French psychoanalyst and philosopher of science; Stéphane Juffa, the editor in chief of Mena, a press agency; Esther Schapira, a German journalist and filmmaker; Luc Rosenzweig, a French journalist; and Richard Landes, the American scholar who coined “Pallywood” as a generic name for the Palestinian propaganda industry.
Things got more polemical as France 2 declined to release the report’s rushes, and as Abu Rahma made contradictory statements about what happened. On October 3, 2000, Abu Rahma declared under oath at the Palestinian Human Rights Center that “the child was killed on purpose and in cold blood by the Israeli Army.” Two years later, on September 30, 2002, he said in a facsimile message sent to the France 2 Jerusalem desk: “I never said to the Palestinian Human Rights Organization that Israeli soldiers killed Mohamed al-Dura and wounded his father on purpose and in full awareness.”
What first amounted to a discussion about the shootings — who actually shot, Israelis or Palestinians? — quickly switched to whether the whole France 2 narrative and the facts it relied upon were true or not.
Karsenty, as the director of Media Ratings, twice dismissed the France 2 report as a “media hoax,” “sham reporting,” “pure fiction,“ and a “hoax” in two electronic messages forwarded in November 2004. Moreover, he demanded that both Enderlin and Arlette Chabot, then-director of information at France 2, be fired.
Enderlin and Chabot’s reaction was to sue Karsenty for defamation. Karsenty was found guilty by the Court of Paris on October 19, 2006. He appealed. Upon his demand, the Court of Appeals of Paris requested on October 3, 2007, that France 2 present the report rushes. After viewing them, the Court released Karsenty on May 21, 2008. Moreover, it berated the respondent party.
However, the Court of Annulment, France’s highest authority in judicial matters, quashed the decision on technical grounds on February 28, 2012: it argued that the defender is supposed to produce evidence by himself.
The case was thus sent back to the Court of Appeals of Paris — with a new panel of judges — in order to either confirm or revoke its decision. Hence the current hearings.