Muhammad al-Dura: Theater of the Absurd?
When ARD documentary filmmaker Esther Schapira viewed the now iconic images of Muhammad al-Dura and his father Jamal back in 2000 she felt there was more of a story to tell. So she set out to produce a film called How Soldiers Live with the Knowledge of Killing a Young Child. But during her research it emerged that this wasn't simply the story of a Palestinian boy killed by Israeli soldiers. "It wasn't clear who killed him," Schapira said. "But ultimately it appeared highly unlikely that he was killed by Israel."
So she ditched the original idea and instead made the documentary Three Bullets and a Dead Child, which shows the nearly impossible likelihood that the boy was shot and killed by the Israeli army. Schapira admitted that while she was researching the documentary, evidence also surfaced suggesting the incident was staged. But she left that aside.
When the documentary aired nationally in Germany, public reaction was tremendous. Schapira was accused of whitewashing the Israeli army's actions and she received death threats. She hired security guards and chose to part ways with the al-Dura affair. Busy working on other documentaries, she said she "didn't want to get too involved with one specific story." But in 2008, French media analyst Philippe Karsenty used some of her footage in French courts to hammer home his theory that France 2 Television's al-Dura report was staged. The courts ruled in Karsenty's favor, prompting Schapira to roll up her sleeves and go back in for another round.
Her latest work -- The Child, the Death and the Truth: The Mystery of the Palestinian Boy Mohammed Al-Dura -- aired in Germany this month. This time Schapira and crew went back to ask follow-up questions about issues that had surfaced the first time around. "Why don't we see blood in the images?" Schapira asks. "That didn't make sense to me back then. There was a claim of three bullets to the child -- 15 fired on him and his father altogether -- but no blood."
And then there was the issue of missing video. France 2's cameraman claimed to have shot six minutes of video but only 52 seconds were ever aired. That remained a sticking point. The decisive "moment of death" appears non-existent. Schapira said her professional background told her there might be a cover-up underway.
"There was a lie," Schapira said by phone from Germany. "It was clear there must've been something else going on because from my professional background and from working in news for quite a while, I found it highly unlikely that an experienced cameraman with tape in his camera -- 15 minutes worth and battery life -- would film less than a minute when confronted with such strong images. It went against all my professional experience."
What wasn't being shown to the public? Was it a clear view of bullets coming from the Palestinian side? Or a sequence showing how the child is killed?