Rubbing Salt Into the Wound

In September 2000, the world was shocked by French television footage of a boy from Gaza, Mohammed al-Dura, being shot to death in the arms of his father, Jamal, who was wounded.

There was a lavish news report on Israel Radio: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had phoned Dr. Yehuda David personally to congratulate him upon his acquittal in France's highest court after he'd been sued for libel by Jamal al-Dura. Netanyahu praised Dr. David, preening that he "proved Israel's righteousness to the world." He promised that, at its next meeting, the cabinet would discuss awarding him compensation to cover his court costs.

In September 2000, the world was shocked by French television footage of a boy from Gaza, Mohammed al-Dura, being shot to death in the arms of his father, Jamal, who was wounded. The son and father were caught in cross fire between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants at the Netzarim junction in Gaza. In subsequent years, debates raged about the authenticity of the footage; detractors claimed that the incident was staged and that the boy was alive and well, and that the father was never hurt.


Dr. David declared that the father was wounded by a knife and ax in a 1992 skirmish, and that he had operated on the Palestinian at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer. The wounds in question are deep cuts in Jamal al-Dura's right hand and tendons; treatment involved the transplant of another of the man's tendons. I cannot purport to express a view on whether the 2000 shooting incident occurred or not, and if it in fact happened, I wholeheartedly hope that no Israel Defense Forces soldier was implicated in it.

My sole intention is to address testimony provided by Dr. David, who has been praised by the prime minister for having acted with integrity and persistence to defend the reputation of the state of Israel. The facts are completely different. After the incident in 2000, Jamal al-Dura was treated in Gaza, and transported the next day to Amman's King Hussein Hospital. His entire medical file has been relayed to me; it is 50 pages in length, and features pictures of the wounds and x-rays.

Dr. David claimed it was indisputable that the wounds were identical to ones treated eight years previously. The fact is that the medical documentation compiled in Amman shows completely different wounds: there is a gunshot wound in the right wrist, a shattered forearm bone, multiple fragment wounds in a palm, gunshot wounds in the right thigh, a fractured pelvis, an exit wound in the buttocks, a tear in the main nerve of the right thigh, tears in the main groin arteries and veins, and two gunshot wounds in the left lower leg.

Diagnoses in this file also provide detailed documentation of the 1992 wounds, including a paralyzed nerve in the right hand which was, in fact, treated by Dr. David. Photographs, x-rays, surgery reports, expert consultation reports and the rest of the data compiled in this medical file corroborate the diagnoses. I regretfully state that the statements made by my colleague, formulated as though "there isn't a shadow of doubt," are not well founded.

Dr. David, of course, did not examine the man and ignored data furnished by the hospital in Amman. In light of the fact that the medical file was put at the disposal of parties in this case years ago, this seems peculiar.

I would like to clarify the gist of the French court's ruling. The verdict does not conclude that Dr. David's statements were true; instead, the court found that his conclusions were written in good faith, on the basis of information he had in his possession, and that they are protected by principles of free speech. Meantime, the journalist who published the report denouncing Jamal al-Dura was required to pay 6,000 euros in compensation to him. I should think Israel's good name deserves more substantive defense than an unfounded declaration. Unquestionably, a declaration of the sort made here does not warrant the praise of Israel's prime minister.


The writer is deputy director of Sheba Medical Center, a member of the board of directors of the Physicians for Human Rights, and a lieutenant colonel in the IDF reserves