Al-Dura Verdict: What Prognosis for Civil Society in France?

At 3:00 p.m. on September 30, 2000, everything turned upside down at Netzarim Junction in the Gaza Strip. France2 cameraman Talal abu Rahma -- after a day of filming spontaneously staged scenes of Palestinian injury and ambulance evacuation -- deliberately participated in staging footage of a boy being murdered by Israeli troops while his defenseless father tried vainly to protect him.

Curiously, despite the claim that the boy’s ordeal continued for an hour, Talal only managed to film a (very unfocused) minute -- itself chopped up into six “takes” of about ten seconds each.

Several hours later, France2 Middle East correspondent Charles Enderlin went live with five of the “takes,” presenting them as a live capture of the Israelis “targeting” the two and killing the son in a hail of bullets.

The footage, packaged as an accusation of deliberately killing the boy “in cold blood” and "in his father's lap," circumnavigated the globe instantaneously, deeply touching those who saw it and raising outraged voices everywhere against supposed Israeli cruelty. For both Islamist jihadis and the “radical left,” the Israelis became the new Nazis: ruthless, genocidal villains. Even normally sober political analysts like French news anchor Catherine Nay somehow judged: “This image replaces, erases that of the boy in the Warsaw Ghetto.”

Within months, Hamas began a campaign of suicide terror attacks on civilian Israelis “to avenge the boy’s blood”; Osama bin Laden made a recruiting video starring al-Dura; and by the end of the year, the UN Durban Conference against Racism, with al-Dura borne in effigy, orchestrated a massive assault on Israel. Al-Dura was the icon, the patron saint of hatred in the 21st century.

Concurrently, a school of lethal journalism took over among Middle East correspondents. In a sense, this image proved all those earlier accusations of Israeli baby-killing. From  al-Dura onwards, the journalistic default mode accepted Palestinian claims as true, dismissed Israeli denials, and when events proved they had been wrong, fell silent. Rather than offer even a feeble “mistakes were made,” journalists continued to serve as a major pipeline for Palestinian war propaganda.

From the Oslo Intifada onwards, “lethal narratives” about Israel entered the Western public sphere as news, as real events that accurately conveyed the conflict. Starting with Jenin in 2002, every Israeli maneuver to stop Palestinian attacks has produced media coverage that systematically pumped Palestinian accusations -- most of which proved subsequently false or wildly exaggerated -- into the Western public sphere.

This journalistic behavior, much as it may claim to want to help, does the Palestinians no favors.

It militarizes their society and cuts the ground beneath any constructive contact with Israelis. Once the image of al-Dura hit, the lights went out from all the “confidence-building” dialogues set in motion by Camp David. When the campaign of suicide bombers who blew themselves up among Israeli women and children broke out three months later, 80% of Palestinians said they supported it.

The other poorly served party: the journalistic malfeasance does untold damage to the democratic societies among which these journalists ply their lethal trade.

It apparently occurred to few that Israel’s enemies also considered both Americans and Europeans, Christians and post-Christians, as enemies.

As a result, this lethal European journalism -- far more strident than the American kind -- poisoned the public sphere, provoking violent anti-Semitism among its Muslim populations (See Taguieff’s Rising from the Muck) and justifications among the rest: “Look what you do to their cousins in Palestine, what can you expect?”

European crowds cheered on suicide terror, without a clue that they were also to be targets.

Last year, a French-born Muslim – one radicalized by jihadis using lethal narratives -- murdered two five-year-old students and a father at a Jewish school in Toulouse, claiming he was avenging how "the Jews kill our brothers and sisters in Palestine."

But Muhammad Merah never saw an Israeli deliberately kill a Palestinian child.

He had only seen videos claiming to document the outrage. The false accusation against Israel had justified his real, abominable crime of child-murder.