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Revisiting ‘Al Durah’ in Time of Iranian Media Control

There's a world of difference between the video coming out of Iran and the infamous footage out of Gaza.

by
Richard Landes

Bio

June 23, 2009 - 12:21 am

The startling footage of Neda, the 27-year-old woman shot to death in the streets of Tehran recently, has reminded some of the image of 12-year-old Muhammad al Durah:

The footage of a Palestinian man [sic] being shot dead [sic] next to his 12-year-old son, Muhammad Jamal al-Durrah, by Israeli forces in Gaza in 2000 has been etched in the minds of many Iranians, as state television has continually replayed the images to highlight the “Zionist regime’s brutality.”

Now, the Islamic regime itself has become the subject of similar allegations at home and abroad after gruesome footage of a dying young woman during the suppression of an opposition protest on Saturday was released on the internet.

The image of Neda Salehi Agha-Soltan, a 27-year-old philosophy student, bleeding to death on the asphalt road of a Tehran street after she was shot in the chest, has become the rallying cry of the country’s opposition, which is disputing the June 12 election of Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad.

Only al Durah wasn’t killed — not by Israeli soldiers, probably not by anyone, and certainly not “on TV.” These days, while real footage of brutal repression makes it out of Iran, a country where the leaders make every effort to shut down the media, it may be useful to revisit the case of Muhammad al Durah.

With al Durah, we have a case of footage uncensored by authorities coming out of a conflict in which the allegedly repressive regime — the Israelis — provides the most welcoming atmosphere of freedom for journalists. These journalists repay the Israelis for their tolerance by running Pallywood footage staged by the Palestinians, specifically designed to provoke outrage.

And in the case of Muhammad al Durah, the boy behind the barrel at Netzarim Junction on September 30, 2000, the footage was not only staged, but, thanks to the efforts of France2′s Middle East correspondent, Charles Enderlin, it made it around the world with the imprimatur of Western mainstream media. In short order, it became an icon of hatred, provoking outrage, hatred, and violence against both Jews and Israelis — the first blood(less) libel of the 21st century.

On November 14, 2007, France2 presented to the court eighteen minutes of the raw footage that Talal abu Rahmah had shot on September 30, 2000, including the final segment of the alleged shooting of Muhammad al Durah and his father Jamal.

Different people were outraged for different reasons. I, having seen the rushes earlier, was incensed that France2 had cut the footage and removed some of the more ludicrous scenes of “Pallywood.” Others, who knew about Nahum Shahaf’s “red rag” theory, gasped when they saw the high-definition segment when the boy is initially hit in the leg — and the rag is clearly visible. The judges were also outraged by what they saw, given the severe decision they passed down in favor of Karsenty, bluntly critical of France2 and Charles Enderlin.

But Esther Schapira — the most consequential of the non-judicial viewers, as she authored Three Bullets and a Dead Child, the first major documentary on al Durah — was outraged to find that there were only 65 seconds of footage of the al Durahs under fire. When she made her first film, Talal had told her he sent six minutes to his boss, and under oath he had claimed to shoot 27 minutes of the 45 minute ordeal under Israeli fire.

Charles Enderlin at France2 had made much of the footage he had not shown the world, supposedly intolerable footage of the boy’s death throes.

“Charles, where’s the rest of the footage?” she asked Enderlin as he walked brusquely by after his bruising exchange with Karsenty in front of the court. He didn’t deign to look at her.

Dropping the caution that marked her first movie — in which she only argued the minimalist position that the Israelis had not killed the boy — she started to explore what she had always suspected:

A fake.

The results came out a few months ago with her German documentary, The Child, Death and the Truth. Here, she openly embraces the “staged” hypothesis, and even brings in a facial recognition expert who claims that the boy behind the barrel and the boy in the hospital who is subsequently buried are two distinctly different people. The movie recently appeared with English subtitles.

One of the most important revelations in the movie comes from the segments of an interview with Enderlin, in which he comes across as belligerently defensive and contemptuous of evidence. In his replies, in his body language, Enderlin reveals just how insubstantial his case is.

One of Enderlin’s favorite arguments is the following: “look, if there were any substance to these allegations, the Israelis would be all over me and Talal. The fact that they’ve done nothing is proof that we’re right, and Talal is ‘as white as snow.’” He most recently repeated these arguments at his blog.

So let me suggest a counter-argument: If there were any substance to Charles Enderlin’s defense, he would have informed himself of the details of the evidence.

Instead, he continues to remain supremely ignorant of all the telling problems with both Talal’s account and his own.

His performance in the interview with Schapira shows us precisely the kind of know-nothing folly that first inspired the term Pallywood, which came not from evidence of Palestinian fakes — I’d already seen many — but from Enderlin’s complacent response to having them pointed out:

“Oh yeah, they do that all the time. It’s a cultural thing.”

Below, I list some video footage detailing the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of a major MSM figure — one of the most influential journalists in Europe for the last two decades. Not one word that he utters has any substance in terms of serious argumentation.

In any first-year graduate seminar in history, the cavalier contempt for hard evidence and argumentation that Enderlin displays here would earn him the disbelief of fellow students and a ticket to ride from the professors … unless, of course, we were in an honor-shame culture where someone with protected status could get away with anything he wished to say.

Both in the details, and in the argumentation, Enderlin gets an “F” in the “Second Draft” of journalism.

Below is Charles in court the day of the showing of Talal’s rushes — the beginning of his downfall — pugnaciously leading with his chin. He is typically dismissive (“you can say he was killed by Martians”) and categorical (“we didn’t fabricate these images” — by the way, if that “we” includes Talal, it’s problematic). But the most revealing “argument” is that people who oppose him do so because they “don’t want my reports, my books, and my commentaries.”

Note the revealing slip at the beginning: “This is a libel suit … uuuh, a libel against me.” He’s the one bringing the suit against Karsenty, but he’s trying to position himself as the victim. Indeed, we met one vociferous ex-Israeli French journalist in the court who was indignant at how Enderlin was being dragged through the judicial mud by this suit against him.

But the larger question is certainly worth considering. Enderlin, true to style, uses conspiracy-theory logic. Cui bono? To whom the good? If I lose this case, then my whole oeuvre will be in doubt. Ergo, those who attack me on this case actually want to discredit me entirely.

Actually, I had never heard of Enderlin before this, and my concern was both to challenge such a powerful and hate-engendering icon — a blood libel — and, as I became involved, to challenge the inexcusable complaisance of the MSM with Pallywood footage.

As I’ve learned more about Enderlin, I think he’s right on one point: his behavior here should call into question the rest of his work which, as I’ve learned, is also tendentious and treats evidence loosely. But to stretch from there to “it’s a conspiracy to shut me up” not only shows the paranoid quality of Enderlin’s thinking, but also the nature of his appeal:

“Don’t listen to them; they don’t like my politics.”

Alas, this works all too often these days.

Below, Charles is asked about why he claimed that the child was dead, and then three “takes” later, he’s still moving. This is, of course, a critical issue, since the scene in which the child moves was one that he cut from his broadcast. I don’t know if Schapira asked him why he cut it, but I presume he’d have answered the same way he has for nine years — “it was the death throes, and too unbearable for the public to view.” You be the judge regarding to whom this cut footage is unbearable — the viewer, or Talal’s and Enderlin’s “narrative.”

In response, Enderlin lets us know how he works: “This is the way I do a story …”:

I’m very sorry, but the fact is the child died. Maybe not at the precise moment I showed. But this is the way I do a story. “The child is dead,” is a statement. What’s your problem with it?

This man thinks he won’t be challenged by anyone who counts. He doesn’t have to give a serious answer, because the people who count — his bosses at France2, his fellow journalists — support him fully.

The following video is my favorite, in part because it’s based on my testimony (both in court and to Esther Schapira), and also because it makes it clear what the problem is with the MSM’s handling of the Middle Eastern conflict — the inability to handle the culture of deception that they face with the Palestinians, and their willingness to ignore the problem as their form of a “solution” to what otherwise would be a very sticky problem.

Can you imagine what would happen if Western journalists actually demanded real footage and rejected the staged stuff?

Here are my remarks describing my first viewing of Talal’s rushes in October 2003.

Presumably having asked Charles a question related to my remarks, he responds as follows. Note that this answer goes to the heart of “Pallywood.” This is the thinking of one of the most prominent Middle East correspondents on the problem of staging evidence.

Recall the New York Times comment on Rathergate: “fake but accurate“?

For those who can’t believe their eyes and ears, here’s a transcript of Enderlin’s remarks with some added fisking.

This is not staging, it’s playing for the camera. When they threw stones and Molotov cocktails, it was in part for the camera. That doesn’t mean it’s not true. They wanted to be filmed throwing stones and being hit by rubber bullets. All of us — the ARD too — did reports on kids confronting the Israeli army, in order to be filmed in Ramallah, in Gaza. That’s not staging, that’s reality.

First, note that this is the Palestinian frame of the story: boy vs. tank, David vs. Goliath. This is the “reality” that Enderlin and his colleagues purvey to their Western audiences. Lots of pictures of little kids up against tanks. Very few of the men with weapons standing behind, firing in the hopes of getting Israel to kill one of their own kids for the camera. And none of the hate industry that urges genocide and produces dancing in the street at any news of dead Israeli (or American) civilians.

Second, what we have here is a man who’s so deeply immersed in Pallywood that he can’t tell the difference between “reality” and staging. Take away the cameras and what have you got? Virtually every journalist I’ve spoken to — including ones sympathetic to Enderlin — admit that without the cameras there’s no action, that the “street” waits for the cameras. As a scientist attentive to the impact of the observer on the observed, Enderlin gets an “F.” He doesn’t seem to care.

Why? Because he can point the finger at everyone, since the whole MSM is complicit — ARD too! So don’t get high and mighty with me!

That’s not staging, that’s reality.

The words of a man who’s been on camera so long, and had people believe him for so long, that he can no longer tell the difference between celluloid reality and the real thing. Enderlin is a poster boy for the noxious role of the MSM in blinding Westerners to the troubles they face both in the Middle East and at home.

In the following segment, Enderlin tries to turn the tables on Schapira by challenging her and what he contemptuously refers to as the “conspiracy theory.” The argumentation is classic Enderlin. Note how at the end, in response to her answer, he shoots himself in the foot:

Enderlin: “Do your really believe … you really believe that the father and the son would be playing a comedy? Right in front of an Israeli post? In front of dozens of Israeli soldiers? Live bullets are being fired and they’re acting. You believe that?”

Schapira: “I wasn’t there.”

Enderlin: “You weren’t there. Then I’m telling you I wasn’t.

Precisely Charles — you weren’t there, and therefore should have exercised much more caution in reporting this story, as the French court admonished you:

Considering that it is determined that Charles ENDERLIN did not witness the events that he commented on in “off-screen narration” — a procedure that is in no way contrary to the journalistic code of ethics, as long as that is understood by the viewers to be the case; that in this instance, FRANCE 2 pointed out on October 1, 2000, that the death of the child had been “filmed by Talal Abu Ramah, [his] correspondent in Gaza” and on October 2, that the cameraman “had filmed the unacceptable,” which did not necessarily lead one to deduce that the commentator was not at the scene; that this fact led Philippe KARSENTY — without being thus able to deduce that the events reported were false — to question the concordance between the images chosen by the Palestinian cameraman (“It’s I who decides what is important,” we hear him say in one of the interviews), and Charles ENDERLIN’s commentary on these images.

Maybe if Enderlin had been there, he wouldn’t have drawn maps that place the Israelis on the wrong side of the street:

enderlinmap

Enderlin’s hand-drawn map next to a real map of Netzarim Junction. Notice how Enderlin has placed the Israelis opposite the barrel, not diagonally across the junction.

But the real problem here is Enderlin’s form of argumentation. Historians call it “argument ex silentio” — claiming proof from lack of contrary evidence. In this case the silence of the Israeli army soldiers is proof, because presumably if the Israelis saw anything so suspicious they would have objected formally and publicly.

This argument has a major flaw: the Israelis have other things to do, especially when the bullets are flying. Even when they’re not, even when the soldiers can see fakery right in front of them, they don’t consider it important.

Here is the testimony of a soldier who was at Netzarim that day, interviewed by Schapira in 2001 and included in the new movie:

But al Durah’s more serious. Wouldn’t they have reported that?
Perhaps, if:

A) They had been able to identify what was going on, much less prove it (Once they knew the people behind the barrel weren’t shooting at them, they had no reason to keep watching. And with Talal filming behind the truck, how could they even know it was being recorded?);

B) Or if anyone had any idea of how powerful that image would become.

As for the “live bullets,” all the identifiable bullets in Talal’s film were from the Palestinian side, and appear to be part of the “comedy” as Enderlin refers to it. They were there, smacking against the wall over their heads precisely to make the father and son’s acting realistic. (The alternative explanation is worse: the Palestinians were aiming at the two behind the barrel.)

All of Enderlin’s thinking starts with Talal telling the truth, and everything else is deduced from that premise. It makes sense: Enderlin begins with the axiom of his innocence and works from there.

Below is the most striking of Enderlin’s responses, showing his complete contempt for any data contradicting his fantasies. Schapira has pointed out that there’s precious little blood in any of Talal’s footage — none on the father, and a red spot on the son that migrates from his leg to his stomach in the shift from scene 4 to 5 — and there’s bright red blood in the picture taken the next day, suggesting that it was freshly added to the scene.

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The photo in question, taken the following day (October 1, 2000) about noon. Note in addition to the bright red blood almost 24 hours later, the red rag, and the lack of blood where the boy lay.

Enderlin doesn’t even deal with the problem — he just denies it outright.

Schapira’s too kind. I would have split the screen and had Enderlin talk about how the blood was dark with the picture alongside him. This, more than anything, sets the record straight on Enderlin’s intellectual dishonesty. He doesn’t know anything? The picture has been out there and used against him for over seven years and he still knows nothing about it. Instead he directly contradicts the very evidence he’s discussing.

Are you going to believe me, or your lying eyes?

How does Enderlin get away with this appalling behavior? Normally one would expect to be in one of the recondite corners of David Pryce-Jones’ Closed Circle to find such blatant disregard for evidence and intellectual integrity. Only in an honor-shame culture can one find a group of authority figures ignoring reality in order to shore up the “honor” of another power-holder in such bald-faced fashion.

One would expect that in post-Dreyfus France — a country that a century ago confronted the pre-modern call for preserving the honor of a major institution (the army, then the Church) and preferred the evidence of an individual’s innocence — Enderlin would not find support for his outrageous behavior.

Alas, the guild mentality of journalists who circle the wagons continues to protect him, regardless of what the courts or the now publicly available evidence has to say. Here’s his boss, the head of France2′s news service, on the case:

Note the pre-modern, magical mode of thought. What anthropologists call a “performative utterance” — as long as I state things categorically, they’re true. Note that, if anyone at France2 knows about the evidentiary problems, it’s Chabot — he was on the dock at court.

I still believe that the Israeli army shot him. So far I have no cause to say we’re dealing with a staged scene. And why should it be staged? There are already enough victims on both sides. There’s no proof for these accusations. So there’s no reason to doubt the authenticity of this scene.

So she’s frozen in a time capsule that dates back to 2000. No one who’s looked closely at the evidence is still arguing that the Israelis shot him. Enderlin, already in 2002, insisted to Esther Schapira that: “I never said the Israelis did it.” Even Talal sent a fax to France2 formally contradicting his own sworn testimony before the Palestinian Committee on Human Rights, where he explicitly stated, in the most inflammatory language that:

I can assert that shooting at the child Mohammed and his father Jamal came from the above-mentioned Israeli military outpost, as it was the only place from which shooting at the child and his father was possible. So, by logic and nature, my long experience in covering hot incidents and violent clashes, and my ability to distinguish sounds of shooting, I can confirm that the child was intentionally and in cold blood shot dead and his father injured by the Israeli army.

Now we have the fax he sent to France2 in order to cover his legal rear end, a fax that France2 never made public.

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Talal’s fax, sent to France2 denying he ever said the Israelis killed al Durah. Supplied by Philippe Karsenty.

    I never said to the Palestinian Human Rights Organization in Gaza that the Israeli soldiers killed willfully or knowingly Mohamed al Dura and wounded his father. All I always said in all the interviews I gave is that from where I was, I saw the shooting coming from the Israeli position.

No wonder she thinks there’s no evidence against her. Apparently even if she’s seen it, nothing will shake her faith. (On a side note, I had a conversation in early 2005 with Daniel Leconte, one of the three journalists to view the as-yet uncut tapes of Al Durah — he said to me that when Chabot saw them, and the obvious staging involved, she became “white as the wall.”)

As a result, she, like Enderlin, resorts to the “it’s true because it happens” defense. “Why would they fake it?” she asks, as if the propaganda value of actual footage were not immensely valuable. “There are already enough victims on both sides.” But at the time this happened, there were few victims, and no children of 12-years-old.

Like so many viewers, Chabot confuses cause and consequence: the image that her station broadcast had an immense impact on the rioting against Israel — it even spread to within the Green Line — and the body count rises dramatically after France2 aired it. Chabot’s logic is like Enderlin’s “reason” for believing the picture was real: “It corresponded to the situation on the West Bank and Gaza.”

Ultimately, this is Palestinian, pre-modern (or ideologically driven, post-modern). As the official from Palestinian Authority TV responded when challenged that editing of the material makes it look like an Israeli soldier shot him:

These are forms of artistic expression, but all of this serves to convey the truth. … We never forget our higher journalistic principles to which we are committed of relating the truth and nothing but the truth.

Adam Rose gave the post-modern version of this “fake equals real” argument:

[T]he critical question in an examination of the dynamics of Mohammed al-Dura’s “martyrdom” is not whether the singular “Story of Mohammed al-Dura” is true, but whether the “universal Mohammed al-Dura Story” is true.

Not satisfied with her performative utterances, she openly lies to Schapira in order to affirm her faith:

They presented the court with a cut version of Talal’s rushes — the same rushes that made her blanch a few years ago. They’ve never made Talal’s contradictory fax public. They have certainly not put up any evidence at their website where the curious cybernaut might judge for him or herself. If her principle were transparency, this would have been over long ago.

So how do Chabot and Enderlin continue to show sheer contempt for the public’s intelligence? Because they have the full backing of the guild. Here’s René Backmann, a supporter of Enderlin who tried to get my presentation of this material at a faculty luncheon at Harvard blocked several years ago, and who subsequently signed the infamous petition of support for Charles after the court ruled against him.

The boy was killed and the father wounded. Everyone knows that. For me, the fact that the boy was killed is indisputable.

(Note the correction of the English subtitle, based on the German voice-over, itself a translation.)

It’s hard to imagine a more Luddite position … something along the lines of:

    The Emperor wore magnificent clothes. Everyone knows that. For me, the fact that the Emperor was naked is not up for discussion.

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Chamberlain responding to a question about the Emperor’s Wardrobe.

This kind of support doesn’t stop with Enderlin’s good friend, René Backmann. Immediately after the court decided against Enderlin, his friends started a petition at Le Nouvel Obs (a major French weekly newsmagazine) in support of Charles. The text is a monument to the guild mentality of French journalists. It rejects both the principle of journalistic transparency, and the notion that a private citizen has the standing to question the work of a “veteran journalist.”

It’s even worse than that. Some (how many?) of the journalists who signed are guilty of the same shoddy work, and many (most?) never saw the evidence before signing. Indeed, an Italian journalist who’s preparing a piece on this affair told me recently that he interviewed Jean Daniel — the spearhead and sponsor of the petition, the editor-in-chief of Le Nouvel Observateur, and a major French (“Jewish“) intellectual — who admitted he still hasn’t looked at the evidence.

When I got involved in this case six years ago, I had no idea it would lead me to realize such extensive intellectual corruption, and such contempt for evidence. Nor did I imagine it would all come out so obviously. Is anyone paying attention?

Richard Landes is a Professor at Boston University in history. He has just come out with two books: Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience and The Paranoid Apocalypse: A Hundred-Year Retrospective on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. He blogs at The Augean Stables.
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