Al Dura Affair: France 2 Cooks the Raw Footage
November 15, 2007 - 1:00 am
Paris, November 15, 2007
Palais de Justice, Paris, November 14th, France 2 and Charles Enderlin versus Philippe Karsenty-the appeal.
In response to an order issued by the Appellate Court for handover of the unedited raw footage shot by France 2 cameraman Talal Abu Rahma on the 30th of September and 1st of October 2000, the state-owned TV network produced an 18-minute CD, a certificate of conformity, and its Jerusalem Bureau Chief Charles Enderlin. This is the first time monsieur Enderlin has stood before the court since a series of lawsuits for defamation was initiated in September 2006. Enderlin said, in interviews and on his France 2 blog, that he was pleased to have the opportunity to display the raw footage and bring an end to years of unfair, unfounded accusations. French media have shunned the issue, but an array of international journalists and concerned citizens came to see the evidence and judge for themselves. The hearing was scheduled for 1:30 PM.
By noon, dozens of people-journalists and people connected to the al Dura affair–were gathered in the small waiting area outside the courtroom. An hour later, an impatient crowd of 50 or 60 people pressed the early birds against the closed courtroom door. Gendarmes and several individuals in civilian clothes tried to clear a path for lawyers and clients to enter through a side door. Shouting, begging, and threatening to cancel the hearing, they forced their way through the compact mass, carrying folding chairs. Judge Tr√©bucq herself, not yet draped in her official robes, was lugging chairs like a humble servant of the law.
The crush endured. It seemed endless, it was unbearable and absolutely senseless. From time to time a gendarme emerged and scolded the unruly crowd whose voices disturbed the court where miscellaneous business was being handled. Philippe Karsenty’s father who was standing next to me said “Enderlin is here.” We thought he was joking. Luc Rosenzwieg, whose presence in the courtroom was essential, almost passed out. Daily Mail journalist Melanie Phillips (author of the famous Londonistan), who comes from the land of the disciplined queue, could not believe the Palais de Justice would show such disdain for citizens. Over-eager citizens who have been following the al Dura affair through the Net shoved their way in front of journalists assigned to cover the story and bring the news to millions. Richard Landes and Tom Gross, who need no introduction, did their best to shield us from the worst assaults. A tall slim pale young man with a keffieh around his neck waited, expressionless. Someone whispered: “He’s from the Associated Press.” Once more a path was cut through the raving crowd. Charles Enderlin arrived with a suite of lawyers and a gaggle of followers.
An enraged Serge Kovacs (France 3) full of sound and fury harangued the crowd from the rear, then got into a shouting match, in Hebrew, with St√©phane Juffa (Metula News Agency). According to our translators, Kovacs was doing a j’accuse on us. Enderlin is his Dreyfuss. We were the lynch mob. He was out of control. We sent a few gendarmes over to expel him.
2:15 PM-The court instructed the gendarmes to let us enter one by one, one journalist, one citizen. The ordeal was over for those of us who made it through the door. It was about to begin for Jamal and Mohamed al Dura, “target of gunfire from the Israeli positions,” dixit Charles Enderlin on that fateful day.
Judge Tr√©bucq introduces the session. “I know there are many journalists here,” she says… and reminds us that it is strictly forbidden to use recording devices. Yes, but the reminder has a special flavor, something like a wink, here in France where the media are conspicuously ignoring the al Dura affair. Reading an excerpt from the cameraman’s testimony under oath–”I filmed 27 minutes of the incident that lasted 45 minutes–” the judge asks why there are only 18 minutes on the CD. The seasoned France 2 journalist gives a garbled excuse, a long diversion about how they never conserve raw footage, but this subject was exceptional, so he kept the cassette in a safe. He tells how Talal Abu Rahma was allowed by the IDF to go to the Annual Congress of Press Mediators in April 2001 to receive an award. This was clearly his strategic option, and he used it throughout the screening. Verbose and evasive, he constantly diverted attention away from the image, away from the specific detail under scrutiny, away from events that occurred that day at Netzarim Junction.
So how did the 27 minutes boil down to 18? Enderlin denies that anyone ever said there were 27 minutes… and then says there was some irrelevant material that he chopped off the day after the incident.
The judge presses the point, asking Rosenzweig and Landes to estimate the duration of the footage they viewed. They both attest to more than 20 minutes… Rosenzweig remembers someone mentioning 27. Karsenty’s lawyer concludes for the record: something is missing.
The raw footage was not so raw. And it was barely al Dura. If we take the cameraman’s word for it, given under oath a few days after the incident, not something but everything is missing. This is supposed to be the raw footage of the al Dura death scene. What we get is raw footage of Palestinian youths throwing stones, firebombs, and burning tires at the Israeli outpost. And provoking no reaction, except for one teargas bomb. Real provocations alternate with those familiar fake battle scenes with instantaneous ambulance evacuations.
Judge Tr√©bucq had asked Charles Enderlin to move back from center stage to a more modest position but he continued to assume the lead role, talking without interruption. Telling war stories. Making cultural interpretations. He sent his trusted cameraman to Netzarim Junction that day because seven Palestinians had been killed on the Temple Mount the day before. He expected protests.
As Charles Enderlin switched on his anchorman’s voice and stonewalled, his legal team–Ma√Ætre Amblard, who has been handling the cases for the past year, reinforced by a tall dashing Ma√Ætre Pierre Olivier Sur and the scowling Guillaume Weill-Raynal- stood squarely in front of Landes and Rosenzweig, blocking their view of the screen.
Enderlin comments: This is what we call typical Intifada scenes. A game that’s played between the Palestinian youths and the Israeli soldiers. The limits are clearly defined. That’s why the kids aren’t afraid, they move around casually, throw a firebomb, laugh and joke. The Israelis up to this point are firing metal bullets coated with rubber. They cause big bruises.
Ah, but we are seeing all these ambulances pulling up with hurling sirens. So Charles Enderlin explains that sometimes the bullets do penetrate, the wounds are more serious, and the Palestinians call an ambulance. Yes, the game can go on for hours, then somebody loses his nerve, shoots live ammunition, and people get killed.
Judge: What time of day is this?
Enderlin: The end of the morning. This kind of action was going on off and on all morning. I told Talal to wear a bullet proof vest, but he didn’t want to… As it turns out…
The time line clicks on, the minutes go by, and Charles Enderlin, flanked by someone presented as a specialist (in images? photojournalism? the Mideast conflict?) never stops talking. Still no images of Mohamed al Dura and his father caught in the crossfire. The action is interspersed with brief interviews. Enderlin translates from the Arabic. They are protesting because Sharon went into the Al Aqsa Mosque…or defiled the mosque, or destroyed it… They are angry. This is the expression of their anger.
We hear gunfire in the background. Karsenty interrupts to say there is no sign of bullets coming from the clearly visible Israeli position. Enderlin laughs in his face. Hah! If I could get a film that shows bullets coming from a firing position, it would be a scoop.
Abu Rahma interviews a Fatah leader who speaks English. He too explains that they are angry because Sharon went into the Al Aqsa Mosque. Abu Rahma asks him how long he thinks the protest will last. Undaunted by this curious question, the Fatah militant replies that it will last until the lesson is learned (does he mean until the message is heard by the Israelis or learned by the Palestinians?) and concludes: “they want to defend al Aqsa with their blood.”
The timeline reads 13 minutes 66 seconds. Enderlin explains: Talal switched off his camera and wraps it up. He had done his day’s work. When he turns it on again, the real shooting has begun. Enderlin’s voice is dramatic. He comments, as the camera searches. Real gunfire, Talal is trying to see where it is coming from, is it the Israeli position? No, is it the Palestinian… From the “twin towers?” The fortress?
Karsenty reminds him he said you can’t see the bullets coming out. Enderlin says you can see the tip of the barrel of the gun at the window.
Suddenly everything is confused. The timeline skips from 14’20 to 17’00. We see the beginning of the al Dura news report as it was broadcast. The avocat g√©n√©ral fiddles with the controls, the image winds back, forward. We’re back at the interview. The commentary is confused. Is Charles Enderlin saying the fire was coming from the Palestinian positions?
Finally-it’s not clear how-we get to the al Dura footage. And all we see is what you got in the original September 30, 2000 broadcast. It’s spliced. But we recognize the details. Karsenty interrupts every few seconds to point out the anomalies. No blood. The boy is holding a red kerchief to make it look like blood. The soldiers were supposed to be firing at them for 45 minutes, the wall is intact, there are a few holes. Round holes, shot head on.
Charles Enderlin and Talal Abu Rahma have consistently claimed that the Israeli position was directly opposite the targeted man and boy. It is not true. Enderlin stands in front of the judge and says everything and the opposite about the positions. He does not reply to a single objection raised by Karsenty, raised by other analysts repeatedly over the past seven years: The father’s arm is intact, he claims he was hit nine times by high power bullets, his muscles smashed, his bones crushed. No blood on his white t-shirt. Voices in Arabic shout “the boy is dead! the boy is dead!” He is sitting next to his father, eyes wide open.
Charles Enderlin standing in a French court explains: Oh, that’s something cultural. In their culture, when they say “the boy is dead” they mean he is in danger of dying, that he is in a very dangerous situation, he might die. The judges smile.
We reach the end of the scene as it figured in news reports, the point where Charles Enderlin said, “Mohamed is dead, his father is critically wounded.” We might ask what that means in his culture…because the scene continues for another three seconds in which we see the boy who is lying on his stomach with his hands over his eyes, turn, lift his elbow, shade his eyes, look at the camera, and slowly return to his prone position.
Philippe Karsenty interrupts every few seconds, leaps up, points to the screen, asks for a slow forward, backward, forward. The boy is moving. He is alive.
The expert steps in, points to the image, the position of the boy’s foot, and declares: “A living person couldn’t hold his body in that position.”
Back in the autumn of 2000 when the al Dura news report first hit the screens, Talal Abu Rahma and Charles Enderlin often told how they experienced, by exchange of cell phone calls, that terrible ordeal as it was happening. Talal phoned to say the man and the boy were pinned down by gunfire. Enderlin said be careful. Talal described how the man tried to protect the boy, called someone on his cell phone, tried to show the Israeli soldiers he was a helpless civilian, with a child. Abu Rahma filmed, phoned, filmed. He told Enderlin to look after his family if anything happened to him. He was ducking bullets, shielded by a panel truck, a few kids were gathered around him, seeking refuge. Bullets were flying. How many phone calls? Maybe a dozen, as they told it then. All the way up to the fatal outcome.
On November 14th, Charles Enderlin, standing before the judges, as the brief one-minute of raw footage focused on Mohamed al Dura and his father drew to an end, began that litany: and Talal was calling me as it was happening…
He would have gone on if someone hadn’t interrupted him. Most likely Philippe Karsenty, making another point about the signs of life in the allegedly murdered child. He might have gone on, and described the dramatic phone calls back and forth, without realizing that everyone in the courtroom saw that the raw footage focused on the al Dura incident lasted only one minute. Just one minute. How many times did the cameraman call the journalist as he filmed that dramatic one-minute incident?
And the totality of film recorded by the France 2 cameraman on that fateful day, over a period of at least 5 hours, was eighteen minutes?
The session ended. The debate continued in the marble halls of the Palais de Justice. Interviews were filmed. Information and impressions exchanged. The behind the scenes story will be reported in the coming days.
The next hearing is scheduled for the 27th of February 2008.
My inside informer says that the judges will do a thorough re-examination of the entire case.
Paris, November 14, 2007
The Mohammed Al-Dura drama reached a climax as France 2′s auteur, who had up till now not appeared in court, took the stand.
Charles Enderlin came to court personally today to defend the images shot by his trusted cameraman Talal Abu Rahma at Netzarim Junction in the Gaza Strip on September 30, 2000. The cameraman had declared under oath that he filmed 27 minutes of the ordeal of Mohamed al Dura and his father Jamal, pinned down by Israeli gunfire. France 2 turned over to the court a CDRom certified as an authentic copy of the raw footage, of a total duration of 18 minutes. Despite those statements the pertinent al Dura scenes contained in the rushes lasted one short minute. Nothing more.
The remaining footage, 17 minutes, was consistent with what was already known about that day at the Junction: staged battle scenes–out of range of the Israeli position–with instant ambulance evacuations, alternating with images of men and boys attacking the Israeli position with stones, firebombs, and burning tires.
An overflow crowd waited for more than an hour outside the courtroom and dozens were left outside. Those who were lucky enough to get in were treated to a demonstration of Charles Enderlin’s defense strategy. Did Enderlin’s testimony convince the court despite its lack of corroboration by the rushes? He did not convince this correspondent who came away with greater doubts than ever about France 2′s film.
More reactions to the Enderlin’s testimony
Richard Landes: “Today Charles Enderlin presented in court the “rushes” of Talal abu Rahmah which the Judge had requested from him. And he presented an edited version in which he took out at least three minutes, and several scenes that I distinctly remember seeing. In the United States that’s called tampering with evidence, obstruction of justice, and perjury. In France, we’ll find out what it’s called.”
Melanie Phillips: “Enderlin offered only a vague, rambling and unconvincing explanation of why he had only produced 18 minutes of footage rather than the 27 he claimed to have received from his cameraman in Gaza (Enderlin himself was not in Gaza when these events occurred).”
Fausta’s blog: “Mind you, nine minutes of raw footage In al Dura Case are still missing. And I assure you, they will never ever turn up.”
PJM Al Dura background coverage here.