The outpouring of sympathy and aid to the Tsunami victims is obviously heart-wrenching and heart-warming. But it begs the question of why we react so readily to the pain inflicted by nature but rarely to the evil done by men. Why aren’t we more proactive to the tragedies that affect hundreds of millions of people around the world every day? Why are we silent in the face of state-sponsored deceptions and institutional betrayals? Why do we react only when it costs us nothing in terms of confronting governments, international organizations and corporations?
Where are the voices pleading for the devastated of Darfur when our own government still refuses to call their slaughter a genocide? Why are we so ambivalent to absolving “reformed” gangsters like Khaddafi just for a few pieces of silver? When do we put an end to “business as usual” with regimes that wreck havoc on the lives of hundreds of millions of enslaved workers around the world?
Perhaps one of the answers is that we have abdicated our reason to the onslaught of media Tsunamis. Whatever images and opinions flood us from television and magazines we readily accept as reality. Whatever sound bites we are fed by politicians we digest as quickly as any fast food. It is nothing less than a failure of faith in the possibilities of our own capacities.
But sometimes we get a wake-up call. And one such call is the following article by Jim Duff. Jim is not only a good friend and collaborator-- and a member of the Institute’s Consultative Roundtable-- but as the editor of The Suburban, remains one of the few practitioners of the art of advocacy journalism. This article (written before the Tsunami hit), Jim called his choice for most important international story of 2004. It exposes, in Churchill’s words, a “…bodyguard of lies…” that has protected a modern blood libel for almost four years. It is well worth your while to read it.
Of all the major news stories of 2004, my candidate for #1 hasn’t made a single front page or led a single newscast. To the best of my knowledge, it has been published only once, in the Nov. 26 Wall Street Journal’s European edition.
It took four years of dogged journalism by Stéphane Juffa, editor-in-chief of Israel’s Metula News Agency, to prove how Palestinian propagandists, aided by a reporter-cameraman team from French state-owned TV channel France 2, created the mythical martyrdom of Mohammed al-Durra, the little boy allegedly shot and killed by Israeli soldiers during a firefight at Netzarim junction in Gaza on Sept. 30, 2000. Remember, this was two months after Yasser Arafat walked out of the Camp David peace talks and barely a month after Ariel Sharon’s walk on the Temple Mount was used as the pretext for what we’ve come to know as the Second Intifada.
What I find disturbing is how the world’s media have not picked up the story of how Juffa forced France 2 to admit their reporter and cameraman lied and how it’s very likely that the al-Durras, father and son, are alive and well somewhere in the Arab Middle East.
“The first thing that comes up when you Google Mohammed al-Durra’s name is a poem written by Sheikh Mohammed of the United Arab Emirates called “To the soul of the child martyr”, Juffa writes. “It gives an idea of the mythical proportions that the young boy has assumed in the Middle East. The images of Mohammed al-Durra hiding from Israeli fire behind his father¹s back, shocked the world and became the symbol of Palestinian suffering under Israeli occupation.”
The Israeli army hastily conceded that the boy may have accidentally been killed in Israeli crossfire. Only later did the IDF authorize a forensic investigation by civilian physicist Nahum Shahaf, who concluded that, given the angle of the Israeli position vis-à-vis the al-Durras, the soldiers could not have possibly killed the boy.
Juffa continues: “Shahaf then uncovered an incredible plot: He demonstrated that since the shots must have come from directly behind or next to the cameraman, the whole scene of the supposed infanticide must have been staged, and that the boy seen in the film was not killed at all. Going through the film in slow motion, he could even see the cameraman’s finger making a “take two” sign, used by professionals to signal the repeat of a scene.
Juffa also cited the testimonies of Dr. Joumaa Saka and Dr. Muhamad El-Tawil, two Palestinian doctors of the Gaza Shifa hospital, who said Mohammed’s lifeless body was brought to them before 1 p.m., even though Charles Enderlin, the France 2 correspondent in Jerusalem, claimed the shooting started at 3 p.m. Nor do the pictures themselves show bullet strikes, wounds or a drop of blood, even though official Palestinian sources claim Mohammed was killed by three high-velocity bullets, and Jamal al-Durra wounded by nine.
The most damning evidence, said Juffa, was France 2’s ongoing refusal to release 27 minutes of footage allegedly shot by Palestinian cameraman Talal Abu Rahma. The clip made available to the world media by France 2 was 55 seconds long. Another three minutes and 26 seconds of material was made available to the Israeli army, but the network, quoting Abu Rahma and Jerusalem correspondent Charles Enderlin, insisted the footage was too graphic and horrifying to be released.
In an October 2000 interview with the French monthly Telerama, Enderlin embellished the horrors contained in the 27 minutes. “I cut the child’s death throes. It was too unbearable. The story was told, the news delivered. It would not have added anything more.”
From the outset, Juffa didn’t believe Abu Rahma’s footage existed. “One of the most bizarre aspects of this affair is that among the hundreds of people present at the scene, including dozens of other cameramen, only Talal Abu Rahma claimed to have actually witnessed the alleged killing of the boy and managed to catch it on film,” Juffa writes.
Juffa pleaded with France 2 to let him view the additional pictures. “We are senior pressmen living in a troubled area, certain we could endure the “unbearable” pictures. We sent numerous registered letters, made phone calls and repeatedly suggested to compare our findings with the France 2 report. But to no avail. France 2 would not let us see its footage.”
Finally, this past Oct. 22, France 2 caved in to growing political pressure and agreed to let a delegation view the controversial out-takes. “The state-owned channel was forced to invite Luc Rosenzweig, a former chief editor of Le Monde and one of our contributors, to view the ominous rushes. On that Friday, Mr. Rosenzweig, together with Denis Jeambar, editor-in-chief of L’Express, and Daniel Leconte, a former France 2 reporter, was admitted into the office of Arlette Chabot, the head of France 2’s news department.
Our friend delivered the sentence we had rehearsed so many times: “I came to watch the 27 minutes of the incident mentioned in Mr. Abu Rahma’s statement under oath.”
A legal clerk for France 2 told Rosenzweig and his colleagues that they “will be disappointed.” “Didn’t you know?” added Didier Epelbaum, an adviser to the president of France Télévision (the department presiding over all French state-operated TV networks) “that Talal has retracted his [written affidavit]?”
Nobody knew, said Juffa, because France 2 never made the retraction public until that instant.
As it happened, the 27 minutes did exist, “but didn’t contain a single new relevant scene, except for one that showed the child in a different death position from the one shown before. So the child moved after he was presumably dead?” Juffa concludes by asking: “How is it possible that, after having been caught in a lie, Messrs. Abu Rahma and Enderlin are not only still working for the public TV channel but are still covering, often together, the Israeli-Arab conflict?”
How is it possible that France 2 has not yet informed the public of the significant new developments in the Mohammed al-Durra case? This would be standard behavior for any responsible media organization. By refusing to do so, France 2 is violating even its own ethical code.
Calling the French footage a modern blood libel and “one of the greatest media manipulations the world has ever seen,” Juffa concludes: “For four years, France 2 has been holding the 27-minute footage, pretending it contained crucial evidence, knowing full well though that both of their journalists simply lied. France 2 must be held responsible for this manipulation, first for issuing this fabrication and then for not coming clean.”
The implications are enormous. Why, then, has nobody picked up this story?