A Child Is Not Dead: Philippe Karsenty and the Al Dura Hoax

On September 30, 2000, Charles Enderlin, the Israel bureau chief of the France 2 television network, received an urgent call from his cameraman. It was the beginning of the second Palestinian intifada, and Talal Abu Rahma claimed to be filming a firefight between Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces at the Netzarim junction in the Gaza strip. He sent Enderlin footage of a panicked young boy caught and killed in the crossfire as his father tried in vain to protect him from Israeli troops, whom Rahma accused of purposely targeting the defenseless pair. Enderlin added a voiceover grimly narrating the boy’s death and hurried the footage to France 2.

The disturbing video circled the world faster than you can say “blood libel” and aroused international condemnation of Israel. Images of the atrocity immediately achieved iconic status as confirmation of Israeli brutality and Palestinian victimhood. It inflamed the intifada, which left thousands dead. Bin Laden even referred to the boy’s death in a taped warning to America, and the now-familiar image of the al Duras under fire appeared in the background of the videotaped beheading of Jewish-American journalist Daniel Pearl. Streets, parks, youth camps, and public buildings have been named in Mohammed al Dura's honor. His image adorns stamps and monuments.

Yet suspicions arose that the boy’s martyrdom was not only untrue, but actually staged for the cameras, for a gullible media all-too-eager to paint Israel in a damning light. As Nidra Poller put it, “the husk, the raw footage that would reveal the fakery, had been removed, leaving the kernel rich in anti-Israel nutrients.”

Thanks to a 2002 German TV documentary and the work of Israeli investigators, Philippe Karsenty, now a French media analyst, saw the dramatized shooting as a new blood libel against the Jews, and felt compelled to challenge its authenticity: “There is nothing in the film that proves that al Dura was shot to death, or shot at all in this incident,” he says.

The director of the Israel Government Press Office also accused Enderlin and Rahma of a "modern blood libel" against Israel, and Rahma of the "systematic staging of action scenes.” French reporters acknowledge that such Palestinian staging of news events happens all the time. Despite this, and despite the evidence Karsenty has subsequently marshaled to expose the killing as a hoax, European media, politicians, and intellectuals closed ranks against his inconvenient truth and subjected him to defamation, threats, and lawsuits. Why?

Israel is very much hated in France. It is seen as a strong and wealthy country whose army acts like the Nazis. My decision to fight has angered many people, not only in the French establishment, but in the Jewish community as well. Many Jews and non-Jews have told me that I'm right, but that they can't support me publicly, because they can't fight the establishment. They have too much to lose.

Even the Israeli authorities themselves resisted Karsenty’s exoneration. “In Israel they wanted to forget the whole affair,” he says.

Now, in conjunction with the recent tenth anniversary of the al Dura incident, Charles Enderlin continues to promote the orthodox narrative by publishing a book about it; Un Enfant est Mort (A Child is Dead) has swiftly become a bestseller in France and the winner of the Prix Gondecourt literary prize. As an indication of how big a thorn in his side Karsenty has become, Enderlin mentions him 114 times in the book, making his nemesis virtually as central a character as Mohammed al Dura himself.

Throughout his travails, the urbane Karsenty has held steadfast to his pursuit of truth: “I'm fighting for the sake of history.” David Solway calls him “a man notable for his sense of justice, crusading energy and his belief in the eventual triumph of the truth,” “a man who has put the timid and the calumnious, the liars and hypocrites and cringers among us, to shame and amply merits the title of ‘a hero of our time.’”

I interviewed Mr. Karsenty after his presentation last week in Los Angeles: