Jewish Political Studies Review 23:1-2 (Spring 2011)
30 September 2000, Netzarim Junction in the Gaza Strip. State-owned France 2 TV airs footage of the allegedly fatal shooting, in real time, of a Palestinian youth and the critical wounding of his father, “targeted by gunfire from the Israeli position.” The news report, distributed free of charge to international media, created the icon of the Second Intifada, Muhammad al-Dura.
Ten years after the controversial al-Dura news broadcast triggered – and helped justify – a worldwide onslaught of anti-Jewish violence, Charles Enderlin, the France 2 Jerusalem correspondent who produced the report, has published a book-length defense in which he portrays himself as the victim of far-right, ultra-Zionist Likudnik conspiracy theorists determined to undermine his role as a speaker of Middle East-conflict truth.
Dramatizing the threats and insults he endured at the hands of these enemies, the journalist minimizes the atrocities committed in the name of the shahid al-Dura (37). Although the Jerusalem correspondent acknowledges a radical increase in anti-Semitic acts perpetrated in France from October to December 2000 (43), attributed by “several sociologists…to non-politicized, non-Islamicized youths of immigrant origin,” he refuses to accept responsibility for the (mis)use of the incident: “If a journalist were expected to anticipate the subsequent use of his report by extremists, it would amount to unacceptable self-censorship” (99).
Does such a defense also cover a false report or an outright hoax? A journalist who knowingly or unwittingly validates a staged scene deliberately fabricated as an incitement to violence bears a heavy responsibility. A reader with no personal malice toward Enderlin would expect to find in this book a coherent defense of the al-Dura report that would put to rest all doubts about its authenticity. Instead we are offered an accumulation of pseudo-factual details, remodeled to accommodate the inconsistencies that have been revealed by researchers over the past decade. Anyone familiar with the affair will recognize the text as one more in a series of elastic reconstructions of the background story that interested parties have used to shore up the al-Dura video.
A Fabricated Defense
This amplified revisionist version of the al-Dura myth is enhanced with journalistic name-dropping to show that Enderlin has access to important people who trust him. The credentials of Talal Abu Rahma, his trusted cameraman who filmed the incident, are burnished beyond all plausibility. Israeli authorities, we are repeatedly told, say he is “pure as the driven snow.” By contrast, Monsieur Enderlin pours contempt on every writer, thinker, journalist, specialist, public official, or simple citizen who dares to cast doubt on the authenticity of his al-Dura “news report.”
A detailed exposé of the way Un enfant est mort refurbishes the al-Dura report would be counterproductive; it would only sustain the illusion that we are dealing with an event that actually occurred. One or two examples of glaring aberrations should suffice to discredit the journalist and his cameraman.
The allegation that Israeli soldiers deliberately and knowingly fired at the man and boy for an uninterrupted forty-five minutes upholds the image of Israeli soldiers as murderous. But it goes against common sense. Why would it take soldiers forty-five minutes to hit a clearly visible sitting target? Enderlin peppers his book with vivid accounts of various occasions in which merciless Israeli soldiers allegedly mowed down innocent Palestinian civilians. For some reason, however, he now retrospectively tempers his cameraman’s assertion that the soldiers could see Jamal and Muhammad al-Dura. “I was not convinced; I asked him to express this doubt when he testified the next day before the Palestinian Center for Human Rights” (17).
Apparently undaunted, Talal testified on 3 October that the Israeli soldiers wounded the man and killed the boy deliberately, in cold blood. Equally undaunted, Enderlin says his cameraman’s testimony was improperly elicited and incorrectly transcribed. This is ludicrous. Talal Abu Rahma and Jamal al-Dura repeated the accusation of cold-blooded murder on the airwaves, on the internet, in documentary films, at political meetings, in fact wherever they went, for years on end. And this begs another question: why did the cameraman, as he also stated in his testimony, feel the need to testify under oath three days after filming the incident?
For years, Enderlin led us to believe that the raw footage shot that day at Netzarim Junction held clinching evidence. Finally on 14 November 2007, when eighteen minutes of videotape were viewed in a French court, it turned out that Talal Abu Rahma had captured less than one minute of the al-Dura scene. There is no raw footage of the alleged forty-five-minute ordeal, nothing but the montage of six thin slices that made up the original broadcast, plus another pinch of film depicting the child’s nonexistent “death throes.”
For Enderlin the seasoned journalist, this lack of footage needs no explanation. If you don’t understand, he says, it shows you know nothing about war reporting. He affirms with similar nonchalance that the Palestinian general, Ossama el-Ali, picked up all the spent shells – which would have proved the origin of the gunfire – on the day after the incident, and told Talal to keep it quiet (52). One could go on pointing out discrepancies forever, and Enderlin would presumably come up with a new incoherent explanation or ad hominem attack for each detail in an endless dance.
The Enduring Effects
Since the al-Dura myth has nothing to do with facts, it cannot be undone by factual arguments. Perniciously introduced into the news stream as though it were a piece of – albeit imperfect – journalism, it cannot be undone until it is removed from that usurped position. The effect of the blood libel was both instantaneous and enduring. In a few brief seconds it seared into the collective consciousness a quintessential Jewish guilt for which the only rightful punishment is extermination. The al-Dura image awakened something deep and primitive in the human mind, triggering the age-old mechanisms of an ongoing genocidal narrative: Jews as iconoclasts, Christ killers, murderers of the prophets, a poison in the bloodstream of the human race. These deadly accusations are tragically facilitated by a Jewish sense of responsibility or guilt. The al-Dura blood libel operates on a level that is beyond the reach of rational reexamination. The effect is indelible.
Factual demonstrations enlighten some people individually but do not touch the immensity of a blood libel. If the al-Dura shooting had been a news report broadcast by conscientious media, it would have been withdrawn long ago. If it were simply biased journalism, it might be too late to put it through a disinformation wringer and set the record straight. This has long been the position of Israeli authorities, convinced that no rectification would ever be accepted by “international opinion,” and wary that attempts to clear Israel’s name would only reinforce the accusation of merciless child killing.
Blood libel stokes visceral Jew-hatred in Arab-Muslim populations already steeped in scriptural and historical anti-Semitism, and inures the wider population to the attacks it incites. The atrocious slaughter of Israelis that began in the immediate aftermath of the al-Dura broadcast – human beings torn limb from limb in restaurants and buses – was too often condoned by international opinion as a reaction to Palestinian distress. Synagogue burnings and attacks against Jews in Europe were attributed to the resonance of Palestinian suffering in Arab-Muslim immigrant communities. Nothing was savage enough to shock hearts and minds under the influence of the lethal blood-libel narrative.
The al-Dura blood libel can be judged by its fruits: a relentless cycle of attacks against Israeli civilians, an international wave of anti-Jewish violence unlike anything seen since the Shoah, an endless series of lesser blood libels swallowed with shocking gullibility and perversely fostered by condemnation of Israel’s slightest gesture of self-defense.
During the first two years of the Second Intifada, “everyone” knew there was no way to stop the “suicide bombers,” glorified as the poor man’s weapon of mass destruction. After the Park Hotel massacre of Passover 2002, Israeli forces went on the offensive and wiped out the jihadi nest in Jenin. A massacre! Palestine sources claimed five thousand dead. “Everyone” was outraged. The body count was reduced to five hundred, and finally settled at a bit over fifty, most of them armed combatants. And yet the “Jenin massacre” endures.
Israel began construction of a security barrier. Casualties on both sides were drastically reduced, but it is regarded as a “wall of shame.” The unilateral withdrawal from Gaza left an “open-air prison.” The Cast Lead operation launched late in 2008 to stop incessant rocket attacks from Hamas-controlled Gaza was “disproportionate force.” Jihadis on the Mavi Marmara – a “humanitarian” mission to break the naval blockade of Gaza – were foiled and Israel was condemned. Almost no gesture of self-defense is acceptable to the warped collective mind. On the scale of threats to humanity, the building of homes for Jews in disputed neighborhoods is rated far above the development of Iranian nuclear power avowedly aimed at Israel’s annihilation.
Charles Enderlin, of course, is not the mastermind behind this scheme; he is a cog in the machine. Acclaimed in France as an international authority on the Middle East conflict, he periodically publishes laborious books that read like a compilation of a journalist’s daily notes. He claims that his detractors use the al-Dura controversy to subvert the impact of his scrupulously objective analysis of the conflict. “I trouble [them] because my books and documentary films contradict official propaganda and, first and foremost, the demonization of Yasir Arafat, accused of refusing the Palestinian state generously offered by Ehud Barak at Camp David in July 2000” (197). The author insists to this day that the Second Intifada was a spontaneous popular uprising, not a campaign planned by Arafat and his cronies. He paired up with Robert Malley (now an adviser to President Obama) to write articles denouncing the Camp David offer of a “Bantustan” state that no respectable Palestinian leader could accept.
The systematic condemnation of the state of Israel is not media bias, not sophisticated Palestinian PR, not blithering anti-Semitism; it is war. It is a strategy of contemporary jihad. Unable to defeat Israel militarily, its enemies are trying to destroy the state by a blitzkrieg of specious arguments and lopsided analyses. Now as in the past, blood libels unleash murderous violence. But the designated victims today are not defenseless Jews grabbed from their shtetl, stripped, and shot on the rim of mass graves. The sovereign state of Israel with its exemplary army stands between Jews and genocide.
In this slim volume crafted to put fresh makeup on the al-Dura myth, Charles Enderlin stubbornly pursues his engagement in the battalion of journalists who disdain the honest demands of their profession and reach for the higher vocation of resolving the “Middle East conflict”…over our dead bodies.
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 The publisher, Don Quichotte, is a small publisher integrated into the prestigious éditions du Seuil.
 Based on figures released by the then interior minister Daniel Vaillant, nine violent anti-Semitic acts were reported in 1999 compared to 116 in the period October-December 2000, with an additional six hundred “acts of intimidation.”
 Nidra Poller, “Al Dura Affair: France Cooks the Raw Footage,” Pajamas Media, 15 November 2007, http://pajamasmedia.com/blog/al_dura_affair_the_raw_footage.
 Gérard Huber and Nidra Poller, “Blood Libel International,” Atlas Shrugs, 5 June 2006, http://atlasshrugs2000.typepad.com/atlas_shrugs/2006/06/blood_libel_int.html.
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NIDRA POLLER is an American writer living in Paris since 1972, and author of the recently published Karimi Hotel et autres nouvelles d’Africa(Paris: l’Harmattan, 2011) [French].