Richard Landes: How a medievalist became a witness in a lawsuit involving a controversial documentary about PalestiniansHistorians in the News
On September 30, 2000, images of 12-year-old Mohammed Al Durah and his father--cowering behind a barrel at Netzarim Junction, in the Gaza Strip--circulated globally, along with a claim that they had been the targeted victims of Israeli fire. If Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount two days earlier had sparked riots, these images triggered all-out war. The ensuing horror and outrage swept away any questions about its reliability. Indignant observers dismissed any Israeli attempt to deny responsibility as "blaming the victim."
But, by 2002, two documentaries--one German, one French--raised troubling questions. The raw footage from that day reveals pervasive staging; no evidence (certainly not the most widely circulated tape offers evidence of Israeli fire directed at the barrel, much less of Israelis targeting the pair; given the angles, the Israelis could scarcely have hit the pair at all, much less 12 times (indeed the only two bullets that hit the wall above them came from the Palestinian side, inexplicably 90 degrees off target); there was no sign of blood on the ground where the father and son reportedly bled for 20 minutes; there was no footage of an ambulance evacuation or arrival at the hospital; there was no autopsy; and none of the dozen cameraman present filmed anything that could substantiate the claim that the father and son had been hit, much less that the Israelis had targeted them. These documentaries had limited exposure, in part thanks to France2's refusal to run the one by a sister station in Germany. But they did spark a demonstration in Paris outside the France2 offices by citizens outraged to discover that so horrendous an image may well have been a fake.
The demonstrations apparently ruffled feathers. Some writers lambasted France2's coverage--most prominently Philippe Karsenty, who called for Al Durah beat chief Charles Enderlin and France2 chief Arlette Chabot to resign, and, in response, Enderlin and France2 itself--using the same law invoked against Emile Zola in the Dreyfus Affair--have accused three critics (including Karsenty) of "striking at their honor and respectability."
Now, four years later, the lawsuits are finally coming to trial in Room 17 of the Palais de Justice in Paris. The three suits (one for each defendant) come in rapid succession--September 14, October 26, and November 30--with judgments four weeks following each hearing. And, in at least two of the trials, I, a medieval historian, have been asked to testify.
I have become involved for two reasons. First of all, I noted almost immediately that Palestinians and anti-Zionists, insisting that Israel killed the boy on purpose, used Al Durah in a way familiar to medievalists--as a blood libel. This was the first blood libel of the twenty-first century, rendered global by cable and the Internet. Indeed, within a week, crowds the world over shouted "We want Jewish blood!" and "Death to the Jews!". For Europeans in particular, the libelous image came as balm to a troubled soul: "This death erases, annuls that of the little boy in the Warsaw Gherro," intoned Europe1 editorialist Catherine Nay. The Israelis were the new Nazis.
And second, when I saw the raw footage in the summer of 2003--especially when I saw the scene Enderlin had cut, wherein the boy(allegedly shot in the stomach, but holding his hand over his eyes) picks up his elbow and looks around--I realized that this was not a film of a boy dying, but a clumsily staged scene....
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Charles S Young - 10/26/2006
The expert contortionists who dispute the shooting are on the same level as the tinfoil hat folks who say the Pentagon was not hit by a plane on 9/11.
[http://www.guardian.co.uk/galleryguide/0,6191,377275,00.html Guardian newspaper diagram of incident site]
[http://www.guardian.co.uk/israel/Story/0,2763,376639,00.html Journalist Suzanne Goldenberg reports]
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