The Fake Palestinian Video that Cost Over a Thousand Israeli Lives

Two days after Ariel Sharon walked onto the Temple Mount on September 28, 2000, an alleged shooting of a young boy and his father at the Netzarim Junction in Gaza launched the deadly second Intifada. The several years of savagery that followed resulted in approximately 1,500 Israeli deaths from shootings, suicide bombings and other attacks by various Palestinian terror groups including Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and an assortment of Fatah-affiliated groups under the supervision or control of Yassar Arafat.

The Sharon visit to the Temple Mount followed two months after the collapse of the Camp David talks between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Palestinian Authority President Arafat, and U.S. President Bill Clinton.  Arafat abandoned the talks, clearly uninterested in resolving the conflict, and as is now well known, immediately began planning  the new intifada. His widow Suha Arafat has confirmed that the planning for the violence began soon after the talks broke up and had nothing to do with any provocation by Ariel Sharon. 

Palestinians and the media friendly to their side were nonetheless quick to slam Sharon for his appearance on the Temple Mount, which lasted only a short time and harmed no one. The next day, there were major disturbances in the area, assaults on worshippers at the Western Wall, and responses from Israeli forces. The stage was set for the theatrical acts the following day, September 30th, which would captivate the Palestinian street and Israel haters from around the world for years to follow.

A dozen camera crews descended on the Netzarim junction in central Gaza, where a small Jewish settlement was guarded by Israeli forces. Clearly, the word had gotten out that something big was going to happen that day (September 30th). For most of the day, it could have been a Hollywood set, as fake shootings were filmed and ambulances arrived to pick up the allegedly wounded. There were phony films made in hospitals as well, including one with some boy, later described as Mohammed Al Dura. However, the scene with the boy in the hospital was filmed three hours before the supposed shooting of Al Dura and his father occurred.  In other words, this was an average day in building the “Palestinian narrative.”

The big moment came at 3 PM. For most of the day Palestinians had been flinging rocks, and tossing burning tires at the Israeli position with no gunfire from either side. People were walking and driving through the intersection as on a normal day.  But as broadcast on French Channel 2 by the well-known newsman Charles Enderlin, a boy and his father were shot by the Israelis.  According to the dramatic broadcast, the boy had died and the father was gravely wounded in the incident.  The shooting, as reported, was a deliberate act (no crossfire explanation was offered).  The Israelis were charged with having fired at the pair for 45 minutes before hitting the targets.  Enderlin was not at the scene, but provided the dramatic voiceover to a few pictures taken by one of his camera crew, Talal Abu Rahma.  The short video of the shooting with the dramatic announcement that the boy is dead was out over the air within minutes, and quickly became the photo that proved the cold bloodedness of the Israelis -- a bunch of vicious child killers.  Mohammed Al Dura immediately became the latest Palestinian victim of Israel’s “colonization of Palestinian lands,” stealing their land and their lives.

The cameraman, not Enderlin, was the source for the claim that the Israelis had been shooting at the man and his son for 45 minutes.  He argued the Israelis had a clear line of sight.  If this were true, not only would the boy and his father have been killed a lot earlier than the 45th minute, but the wall they were huddled behind would have been shattered and destroyed.

One might think that there would be some blood to be found, since the father was supposedly wounded in 9 places, and the boy shot to death. 

It turns  out that  the wounds later found on the father , were attributable to an earlier event in 1992. Enderlin was a respected journalist (in France at least) and like almost all French journalists, had never been a fan of Israel. As the story about what happened at Netzarim or what was staged there, was studied over the months and years which followed, Enderlin, the French government and  almost all French journalists, never really wavered in their support for the original presentation and explanation of what happened. 

Nidra Poller was a novelist living in Paris when the Al Dura story broke.  It did not take long for Poller to see the damage the Al Dura story had caused.  Twelve days after the alleged child killing, the Palestinian bloodlust for avenging Al Dura had become so stoked that it resulted in the murder of two Israeli army reservists who made a wrong turn in Ramallah, and were then torn to pieces by an angry mob in a police station.   One killer waved his bloody hands approvingly to the frenzied crowd. 

 Over the next 14 years, Poller meticulously followed the story and the challenges to its authenticity in a wide variety of print and online publications.   Her new book, Al Dura: Long Range Ballistic Myth, is a collection of her writings on the alleged shooting that, based on what is known today (and really soon after the incident occurred),  was  almost certainly a  deadly hoax.  The articles are largely organized chronologically and because of the large number of publications where Poller has published on this incident, there is a basic summary of the details of what supposedly occurred at the Netzarim junction at the start of almost every one of them. One can skip through the repetitive parts without missing any of the substance. 

Many enterprising journalists from several countries worked to derail the fake story over the succeeding years, none more so than Philippe Karsenty. French defamation laws are more like Britain’s than those in the United States, and Enderlin sued Karsenty for defamation for damaging his reputation by challenging the authenticity of the story. Karsenty then had the burden of proof to show he had not defamed Enderlin, when of course Enderlin had defamed Israel.

Largely as a result of legal technicalities that had no relation to the substance or the merits of the case, Karsenty eventually lost and was fined a few thousand Euros. But the trials enabled him to demonstrate to anyone interested that the story was a hoax.

The 45 minutes of video supposedly shot by Enderlin’s cameraman, turned out to be 27 minutes, almost entirely of clearly staged scenes, with but 55 seconds for the Al Dura incident. Even those 55 seconds do not show the supposed shooting itself. The Enderlin lie that a few seconds at the end were edited out because they were so painful to watch, instead showed some life and movement by the boy, presumably after he was shot dead. He may have needed to know what he was to do next.

Remarkably, none of the other camera crews in the Netzarim junction area have any video of the shooting, but they did shoot lots of video of faked events that day. Eventually, Enderlin turned over 18 minutes of the 27 minutes of footage to the Court in the Karsenty trial, and some of this appeared to have been spliced from other events not even in Netzarim.  Richard Landes, a history professor at Boston University also studied the Al Dura case for years, and was one of a small number of people to have viewed the original 27 minutes of footage. The description of what the cameraman claims to have seen and filmed and what Landes viewed have almost no overlap.

Both Poller and Landes in his writings have emphasized that the Al Dura story is hardly unique in terms of deliberate misreporting or completely fabricating  the news concerning Israel and the Palestinians. Landes calls the staged productions- whether on a Gaza beach, or a  Lebanese village, “Pallywood.”

Poller spends much of the second half of her book detailing why these second rate fake videos have so much appeal.  Israel can’t win and must not win in the eyes of the modern media, almost all of whom are leftist and have bought into the Palestinian narrative of the theft of their land, forced relocation, and brutal occupation by Israel in the territories.  Throw in the intimidation of journalists by groups like Hezb’allah and Hamas, and it is clear that to gain access and stay alive, the reporters have to adopt a certain stance and tone.  Charles Enderlin was too big to fail in French journalism, so his determination to indict Israel for the Al Dura story, was a safe bet, whatever the actual facts of the case, and he felt confident he never had to look back and adjust his story.   Enderlin had throughout his career, been invested in Palestinian suffering and Israeli brutality.  Israeli officials, despite their obvious skepticism about the event, for years refused to challenge the official story,  sensing that there would be no favorable outcome from doing so.  What were the chances the French were going to admit they created a hoax which cost thousands of innocent lives over the next few years?  Ne va pas se produire. (Not going to happen.)