Al-Dura: French Court (Re-)Considers Philippe Karsenty’s Fate

The Court’s president asks Karsenty to introduce himself.

Karsenty presents the equipment he will use in order to defend his standpoint: a PowerPoint presentation consisting of September 30, 2000 press agencies' rushes; and a one-hundredth model of the Netzarim crossing.

Then, he corrects the president’s aforementioned error: there was only one Israeli position at Netzarim crossing.

He reminds the Court about his political duties as deputy mayor of Neuilly (a posh suburban municipality in Greater Paris, of which Nicolas Sarkozy was mayor until being elected president) and as spokesman and person in charge for international affairs at the Liberal Democratic Party (nothing to do with the American Democrat party -- they were the only ones in France to support Mitt Romney). Then, he places the Al-Dura case within the global historical context and points to the controversial pictures’ "planet-wide impact": from Osama Bin Laden, who used them to instill hatred among jihadists; to the video featuring the slaughtering by jihadists in Pakistan of the American journalist Daniel Pearl, inlayed with the face of Mohamed Al-Dura; to the French jihadist Mohamed Merah, who ascribed his killing spree in Montauban and Toulouse in March 2012 to a will to avenge the Palestinian boy:

Back in 2002, I, like many other people, just held as wholly unthinkable that France 2, the French public television, would broadcast a false report, or make any mistake, especially within the framework of a report commented by Charles Enderlin. ... He is seen in France as the voice of the Middle East. Dominique de Villepin is reported to have asked, just ahead of a press conference at the French embassy in Israel: "What does Charles think about it ?" One must remember how powerful Enderlin is as a character. He is a very convincing person. I would dare to say that he is the Middle East’s Thierry Roland.

(Dominique de Villepin is a former conservative foreign minister and prime minister of France. Thierry Roland was for decades the number one TV commentator on sports in France.)

Karsenty reminds the Court about Enderlin’s political friends: Jacques Chirac, the former president of France; Bertrand Delanoë, the mayor of Paris. "And Shimon Peres," Enderlin adds. Karsenty:

As a matter of fact, I think that Enderlin is a victim. He is the victim of his cameraman, who supplied him with doubtful pictures. He is the victim of his own fame, which somehow prevented him to admit he had erred. He is the victim of his friends or of those who pass as his friends, who built around him a wall to protect him against the truth.

Karsenty then explains how he gradually got involved in the ever-changing controversy, both through personal research and professional investigation undertaken within his agency’s activities.

Karsenty starts his presentation by quoting "La Charte des Antennes de France Television" [2], the ethical and deontological charter of France Televisions. He then displays samples from France 2 news programs devoted to the Al-Dura case and its legal developments as evidence that the channel did not just report facts or events, but actually distorted them in its own interest.

Moreover, he mentions that Senator Jean-Pierre Plancade, the deputy chairman of the French Senate’s commission on Culture, Education and Communication, quoted another deontological code -- the "Charte du Groupe Audiovisuel Public (Charter for Public Broadcasting)" -- on July 12, 2010, in a question to Remy Pfimlin, then a candidate to France Televisions' chairmanship.

As he did in the 2008 hearings, Karsenty displays evidence that on October 1, 2000, France 2 broadcast as a factual report complete with comments by Enderlin a mere staging by Gaza militants. The respondent party looks embarrassed.

Karsenty then displays more samples to establish that anonymous Palestinians were staging various war sketches at Netzarim crossing on September 30, 2000, the very day of Mohamed Al-Dura’s alleged killing, and shows how these playlets were staged in order to pass as real incidents and as evidence of tension on the ground. He lists the famous Al-Dura report’s many contradictions. He insists on the unlikelihood of many parts of the report: no blood on the sidewalk, the walls, or the alleged victims’ clothes, almost no bullet impacts on the wall after what was a supposedly 45-minute shooting, and so on. He stresses that there are many contradictions between Enderlin’s and Abu Rahma’s narratives on the Netzarim shooting. Regarding the Palestinian cameraman, Karsenty reminds the Court that he said on April 2, 2001, in an interview with Le Matin du Sahara, that "he made a decision to become a journalist in order to uphold the Palestinian cause."

All in all, Karsenty speaks for about an hour and one half (with one interruption by Enderlin on a factual point). To conclude, he quotes one of the two texts for which he is being sued: "Charles Enderlin erred and by his very erring led us into error."

Enderlin did not express any dissent with what amounted to a lecture on controversial images. The only time he attempted to correct Karsenty, he withdrew on face of evidence. When Karsenty quoted Abu Rahma as saying: "The Israelis kept shooting the child for 45 minutes," Enderlin shook his head, and claimed "that was not true." "Let’s look again", Karsenty replied. Indeed, the France 2 cameraman was heard saying it, several times: "The Israeli soldiers targeted the child for 45 minutes."

It is now the plaintiff’s turn. Enderlin stresses that he is a good Israeli citizen, that he served in the Israeli Army and that his children served in the Army also. In other terms, there are no reasons why he would harm his country.

He then quickly conjures up the tensions stirred in September 2000 by Ariel Sharon’s visit to what he terms "the Mosques Esplanade" (the Temple Mount, according to Jews and Christians). True, he was in Ramallah (on the West Bank) on September 30, and not in the Gaza Strip. On the other hand, he knew the place very well and trusted Talal Abu Rahma, who at the very moment he was filming the controversial scene called him on the phone and told him in a tragic tone that he was "filming a child’s death." Charles Enderlin does not make clear how the cameraman would know, in a premonitory manner, that the child would die, and not the father, especially since the child did not appear to be wounded.

Did Enderlin ever entertain doubts about the cameraman? He says that he consulted the Shin Bet (Israel’s home security service) about Talal Abu Rahma, "who constantly goes out of Gaza." He admits that Abu Rahma does not hold a press card anymore.

Enderlin admits that he made a mistake when he mentioned to Telerama (a magazine dealing with TV programs and cultural issues) that he edited out images showing "Mohamed al-Dura’s agony." "Agony" ("agonie" in French, which means both "dying" and "unbearable suffering") was not the proper word to be used, even if the Littré dictionary (the French language’s most respected, but somewhat outdated dictionary) could be quoted to the contrary.

Enderlin and France Televisions then use DVDs to make their point. They intend to show again the Al-Dura report and other films they already submitted in the 2008 hearings. Unbelievably, technical difficulties arise. Karsenty obligingly lends his own loudspeakers to allow for a proper sound level.

Some scenes had already been dissected by Karsenty, and had raised the audience’s hilarity.

As for the picture of a Palestinian child brought to the morgue on September 30, held by the plaintiffs as being Mohamed Al-Dura’s, Karsenty establishes on sheer chronological grounds that it must be another child.