Jerusalem Letter / Viewpoints
No. 482 6 Av 5762 / 15 July 2002
WHO KILLED MUHAMMAD AL-DURA?
BLOOD LIBEL -- MODEL 2000
Muhammad Al-Dura, the poster child of the current Palestinian uprising, was not killed by IDF gunfire at Netzarim junction, according to an inquiry by the German ARD television network based on a study by Israeli physicist Nahum Shahaf. Shahaf analyzed all available unedited videotape from the area of the event, spoke with IDF soldiers and photographers who were present, and concluded: The Palestinians, in cooperation with foreign journalists and the UN, arranged a well-staged production.
Meet Nahum Shahaf / The Investigation / Where was the Ambulance Driver? / The Photographer Denies Claiming that the IDF Killed the Boy / What Do the Tapes Show? / Scenes at the Israeli Position / Acting for the Cameras / An Additional Angle / Determining Responsibility
The story of the death of the child Muhammad Al-Dura -- who, according to reports from world and local media, was shot and killed by IDF soldiers at Netzarim junction -- became the symbol of the intifada: the Palestinian martyr whose blood must be avenged by the Muslim and enlightened world. His death turned into a blood libel accompanying the terror and violence, and it became the altar upon which the good name of the people and the State of Israel was sacrificed during the last two years. The world was flooded with pictures of the dead child. As a result of, among other things, world incitement originating with the mantra: "Israel murders Palestinian children," the UN conference in Durban turned into a frightening anti-Semitic crusade.
Meet Nahum Shahaf
Nahum Shahaf has worked in Israel's defense establishment as a physicist for the optical intelligence unit of the IDF. He has contributed much in various ways to the defense system, and was among the leading developers of pilotless light aircraft and video instrumentation. Shahaf investigated the damage done by the Iraqi missiles in 1991, and concluded that part of the damage was caused by Patriot missiles. His work on the Muhammad Al-Dura affair was much more complicated. Shahaf accumulated and analyzed all available material connected to Al-Dura's death.
Shahaf says that immediately he felt that something was not right in the report on the boy's death. Indeed, many who saw and heard the reports on TV asked themselves how the reporters dared to conclusively determine that the child was shot by IDF gunfire on the basis of one "shot" by a television photographer who filmed the wounded boy.
Shahaf's work was at the center of the IDF investigation of the affair, and was also the basis for an investigative program produced by Esther Shapira, editor of "The Fourth Square" documentary series, that was broadcast on the German ARD television network on March 18, 2002.
French Jewish leaders, who faced a rise in anti-Semitism in their country after the airing of a special television program called "The Death of Little Muhammad," in which Israel was categorically blamed for the killing of Muhammad Al-Dura, were so impressed with Shahaf's detailed and solid analysis that they felt secure enough to press charges against "France 2" television in the French courts.
A room in Shahaf's office was turned into a computerized video lab, where he gathered most of the material that was filmed on that day -- hours of raw, unedited videotape recorded on 30 September 2000, the third day after the outbreak of the fighting. Shahaf overlapped photography angles, isolated frames, and carefully analyzed what occurred that day between IDF soldiers and Palestinians at Netzarim junction. He questioned the soldiers and their officers who were stationed at the IDF fortification there, designed to guard the road into the Jewish town of Netzarim. At various times during the day the Israeli position was surrounded and fired upon from three sides by Palestinian gunmen. Shahaf also found many of the TV photographers who were there that day.
Of all the photographers and journalists whom he questioned, Shahaf was particularly interested in the Palestinian photographer for "France 2" -- Talal Abu-Rahma -- the man who brought to the world the famous pictures which show Muhammad Al-Dura at the moment that he was shot.
Where was the Ambulance Driver?
In his investigation, Shahaf also looked into an additional blood libel, which occurred near Al-Dura. According to the dramatic reports of that day, right after the child was shot, an ambulance arrived on the scene. The driver got out in order to attend to the child, and he was also reportedly shot and killed by IDF gunfire. However, there are no photos of this dramatic event. Some twenty TV photographers were in the area and not one of them filmed it, while the scene depicting the death of Al-Dura was filmed by Abu-Rahma and one other photographer. (Shahaf later discovered the second photographer's film.)
How is it that not one of the tens of photographers at the scene filmed the ambulance driver who was shot? The report was that he was killed when he got out of his ambulance to rescue the child. He had to have been opposite the camera of Abu-Rahma, or at least nearby. Abu-Rahma had to have been able to film him. And what could be more dramatic? An ambulance driver emerges to rescue a wounded child and then is fired upon and killed. It was Abu-Rahma who told NBC that the driver was killed, and showed a picture of the driver.
Shahaf asked Abu-Rahma: "Why didn't you film the ambulance driver at the time of the rescue?"
Abu-Rahma: "Because the driver was killed before he arrived."
Shahaf: "How do you know this?"
Abu-Rahma: "Because he didn't arrive."
Shahaf: "Where was he killed?"
Abu-Rahma: "I don't know. I didn't see. I don't know."
The Photographer Denies Claiming that the IDF Killed the Boy
Shahaf then questioned him about the death of Muhammad Al-Dura. Here is the answer of Abu-Rahma, the photographer who was standing about 30 meters from the father and son when they were shot:
"I don't think that the Palestinians said that Israel killed the child."
Shahaf: "But you said that you were sure that IDF soldiers killed the child!"
Abu-Rahma: "I did not say that IDF soldiers killed him. I said that the bullets came from the direction...and hit Muhammad Al-Dura and Jamal [the father]."
"That is to say, he does not know and isn't saying
where the gunfire came from," explained Nahum Shahaf. Charles Andrelan of "France 2," the station's main journalist in Israel, told Shahaf the same thing.
One of the reasons given as to why only Abu-Rahma was filming at a time when close to twenty photographers were on the scene was that IDF soldiers were shooting "like crazy people," and that no one could get to the junction. The truth is that during that day there were long periods when the Palestinians began shooting at the IDF position from their own position, on the opposite side of the junction. The father and son had taken shelter next to a wall near the Palestinian position.
The Israeli soldiers were questioned thoroughly, and they explained that their actions were in accordance with the clear instructions that were given to them. They did not shoot in reaction to stone throwing or firebombs, but only returned fire toward the source of gunfire directed at their position.
What Do the Tapes Show?
Through the raw videotapes, which covered almost the entire day, Shahaf was able to clearly reconstruct what happened around the IDF position at the junction. These videos completely verify the testimonies of the IDF soldiers, who were recorded on film as saying that the death of a Palestinian child next to the Palestinian position was not known to them at that time. They only heard about it 24 hours later.
What does one see in the videotapes, before they were edited into a series of images of conflicts between Palestinian youth and IDF soldiers, with blood, fire, and smoke?
The material may be grouped into three different episodes or scenes:
- Youth, among them small children, gathering at a distance of a few meters from the firing slits of the IDF position at Netzarim junction.
- Large-scale events that look violent, which are not in the immediate area of the IDF position and have no connection to the IDF post at the junction.
- Events which occurred at the front of the Palestinian position on the other side of the junction, at a distance of approximately 120 meters from the IDF fortification.
Scenes at the Israeli Position
The photographers recorded a number of activities that occurred exactly opposite the firing slits of the IDF post. At first, one sees youth and children behind a pile of sand close to the wall of the IDF position. They are throwing great quantities of rocks and bottles at the position -- so many that at a certain stage the roof began to collapse from the weight of the rocks. Firebombs are also being thrown, which continually cause small fires on the roof of the position. Yet the IDF soldiers do not respond, despite the fact that a few of them were burned by the firebombs. Only occasionally does a soldier appear in the lookout post, which is protected from the top. Clearly, one sees that there is no IDF shooting.
In addition, one sees a teenager who seems to be hurt, meters from the IDF position. But behind him life appears to be going on as normal. People are standing and walking around, talking among themselves and smiling. Farther away, people are standing and looking pleased with what they are seeing. The injured teenager raises his hand and begins to run backward. No one crouches in instinctive self-defense in order to take cover. At least five TV photographers are seen moving around without fear, swooping down on the injured person. A UN ambulance arrives with surprisingly good timing, and the injured person is put inside.
In another recorded incident, a teenager is running with what looks like blood flowing from his forehead, and he is holding a soda bottle in his hand. If he had suffered a gunshot wound, he would be lying down and it would have been necessary to go in and get him. Yet, instead of running for cover to the orchard across from the junction, the teenager is seen running into the center of the junction, where his friends with the cameras and the same UN ambulance are waiting for him. After the ambulance makes its obligatory turn around the triangle in the center of the junction, the wounded youth is transferred from the UN ambulance to a Red Crescent ambulance as the ambulances stand back to back -- all of this at a time when there is supposed to be IDF gunfire which supposedly had wounded the teenager.
Behind this scene -- that is, in front of the Palestinian position -- in the area that is supposed to be
under IDF fire, one can see the audience. Standing there are close to 200 men, teenagers, and children, in two or three rows, with the people in the front row sitting on the edge of the sidewalk. Passing next to them are teenagers riding on bicycles.
Acting for the Cameras
In the videotapes recorded in an area distant from the IDF position, behind a factory, everything is staged and acted out. Here one sees the same phenomena as in front of the IDF post but without an IDF presence. People are posing as if they are taking cover at the time of battle, while at the same time, behind them, men and children are walking around freely and smiling, as are many TV photographers (all of whom are Palestinians), just like in Hollywood.
On tape, groups of armed terrorists can be seen, many of whom are in uniform, together with scores of rock-throwing teenagers. Those with guns are firing volleys and single rounds. The firing is not directed at anything, but it could really endanger the youth in the area. Some of those carrying guns are dressed nicely in shirts and ties. In one taped scene, a teenager is posing as if taking cover, lying on his back, behind an automatic teller machine, as he is talking excitedly on his cellular phone. But what is the man who is standing upright next to him doing? Isn't he afraid of getting hurt?
An Additional Angle
Through his diligent compilation work, Shahaf located some previously unknown taped material that depicts the scene of Muhammad Al-Dura and his father from additional angles. There is a scene in which a television photographer may be seen kneeling right next to the child and his father. Thus, there had to be an additional photographer there as well, the one who filmed the first photographer.
There is also a picture of youths running and passing by a barrel of cement in order to get away from the place. Al-Dura and his son stay behind the barrel and do not join the people who, it seems, are getting themselves away from a dangerous area. Either they felt secure enough behind this cover, because the gunfire from the IDF position could not hurt them, or they stayed there for some other purpose.
Finally, there are single frames of film showing Al-Dura after what looks like a hand wound. The pictures show that the child changed his position, and also moved his hand and leg. At the end of a day of filming, these scenes are presented to the world as "The Death of Muhammad Al-Dura."
The raw videotape shows that the Palestinian television photographers themselves were part of the events, and that by the time their edited material was received by European, American, and Israeli news editors or networks, it was already in such a format that all that was needed was to add a few anti-Israel comments.
IDF spokesman Brig. Gen. Ron Kitri says the IDF did not claim responsibility for the death of the boy, but did take responsibility for the heavy gunfire. Kitri also acknowledged that a child had been killed there and Gen. Yom-Tov Samia, head of the IDF Southern Command, ordered an investigation. Yet there was no Palestinian cooperation in the investigation, and they were not willing to allow an autopsy to be conducted.
The IDF investigation, in which Nahum Shahaf participated, was completed in January 2001 and reported that the cause of death of the child was not known. The IDF report also indicated that no unedited film exists showing who shot the child. Furthermore, the father's testimony, that Muhammad was hit in the back, does not square with the claim that he was shot by IDF soldiers.
However, the German television inquiry, based on Shahaf's own decisive conclusion, determined that Muhammad Al-Dura was not killed by IDF gunfire at Netzarim junction. Rather, the Palestinians, in cooperation with foreign journalists and the UN, arranged a well-staged production of his death.
Two blood libels instigated the current war: One, a visit to the Temple Mount by a Jew -- the current prime minister of Israel -- and the second, the collective guilt of the people of Israel for the murder of a Palestinian child.
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Amnon Lord is a veteran Israeli columnist.
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