The release of never-before-seen footage in the shooting of Mohammed al-Dura at Gazaâ€™s Netzarim Junction in 2000 is raising new questions about the authenticity of an incident long used to vilify Israel.
The video was ordered released by a French judge considering an appeal in a defamation lawsuit that France 2 TV, which filmed the incident, successfully brought against a media watchdog who claimed the shooting was staged.
While the video has not been released to the public, many of those who saw it in court Wednesday said the footage showed that seconds after al-Dura was seen lying motionless and apparently dead in the arms of his father after supposedly being shot, the boy lifted his arm and peered through his fingers at the camera.
“For me, the killing of al-Dura does not exist anymore,” said Philippe Karsenty, the media watchdog who was the subject of France 2â€™s defamation suit. “The images furnished Wednesday by France 2 prove nothing.â€
The controversial shooting became an instant icon for Palestinian suffering at the hands of Israeli brutality, with Palestinians claiming the 12-year-old al-Dura was killed by Israeli troops during an exchange of gunfire with Palestinian militants. But Israel, after initially apologizing for the incident, said an investigation showed IDF troops could not possibly have struck the boy from their positions that day.
Karsenty, director of Media Ratings, went so far as to claim the shooting was a hoax.
France 2 TV and the journalist who filed the report, Charles Enderlin, sued Karsenty for defamation and won, but Karsenty appealed the decision and in September a Paris judge ordered France 2 TV to release the raw footage of the shooting.
Enderlin, a seasoned French journalist and a Jew, wasnâ€™t actually at the site of the shooting on that fateful day, Sept. 30, 2000. Cameraman Talal Abu Rahma shot the exclusive footage, which was considered a major scoop at the time, and Enderlin filed his report from the West Bank.
On Thursday, France 2 TV showed approximately 18 of the 27 minutes of the raw footage â€” the other nine minutes were shot by a Reuters cameraman and were not available.
Witnesses said they were taken aback when they saw al-Dura lift his head up after allegedly being shot.
“Enderlin had cut that scene from the report that was originally broadcast in September 2000,â€ said the former editor of Le Monde, Luc Rosensweig. â€œBut when everyone in the courtroom saw it, you could feel the tension and the surprise. I believe that this screening of the raw footage in court was very damaging for France 2 officials and Enderlin, largely because of that last scene.”
Observers and supporters of Karsenty and Enderlin packed the courtroom, and afterward Enderlin was mobbed by questions from the media. His lawyers shepherded him out of the court and Enderlin did not take any questions.
After the last court hearing in the case, in September, France 2 communications director Christine de la Vena told JTA these â€œhearings are of little importance.â€
â€œEnderlin is a top professional journalist and the images are real,” she said. â€œEveryone has forgotten about this case except this man in the hearing and a couple of others who refuse to give it up. Only in France could a couple of individuals cause so much trouble.â€
Karsenty had complained his claims were being ignored by Franceâ€™s major media outlets, but after Wednesdayâ€™s hearing media outlets from Paris to Jerusalem carried stories about the shocking footage.
â€œThe story has left the domain of the Jewish activist blog sites and is now in the general public,” Rosensweig pronounced.
Karsenty said the footage proves his case â€” and that al-Dura may not even be dead.
“How much longer will French politicians and media bosses continue covering up for France 2 and for Enderlin?â€ Karsenty said to JTA. â€œThe claims of al-Dura’s death have now become ridiculous.â€
Karsenty says the original trial â€” in which he was found guilty of slander and ordered to pay about $7,000 in fines and court fees â€” was a travesty.
Since that original trial, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Israel Defense Forces, and Op-Ed columnists from Washington to Jerusalem have lined up to support Karsentyâ€™s campaign to get the original footage of the incident released.
Some have compared the al-Dura controversy to the infamous Dreyfus case, when it took 12 years to prove the innocence of the French Jewish army captain Alfred Dreyfus. Others have called the al-Dura case a classic blood libel against the Jews.
The next hearing in Karsentyâ€™s case is scheduled for Feb. 24, 2008.