The man behind a recent government report calling into question Israel’s responsibility for the iconic death of a Palestinian boy at the start of the second intifada worked for a right-wing group that sought to prevent the reporter who broke the story from continuing to work in Israel.
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Brig. Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser, the director general of the Strategic Affairs Ministry, was employed by Shurat HaDin – Israel Law Center, which has pressed the Supreme Court to revoke the press passes of French journalist Charles Enderlin and his employer, the France 2 television network, for alleged ethical violations in reporting the incident. The report does not fully disclose this information, despite mentioning Enderlin. Further, it does not include the testimony of the only Israeli official to say the army fired on the boy and is unclear about the nature of the committee that wrote it.
The alleged killing of Mohammed al-Dura, a 12-year-old resident of the Gaza Strip, by IDF soldiers on Sept. 30, 2000, fueled Palestinian and international outrage against Israel and made the boy into a martyr among many Arabs. In the initial broadcast, al-Dura appears to die in the arms of his father, Jamal al-Dura, and Enderlin, France 2’s bureau chief in Israel at the time, reports that the al-Duras had been the “target of fire from the Israeli positions.” Even before the publication of the Israeli report on Sunday many had questioned whether Mohammed al-Dura was in fact shot – as additional unaired footage appears to show him moving – and whether Israel was in fact responsible.
The report – which has revived the controversy surrounding the incident, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referring to a “campaign of de-legitimization directed against Israel” and Jamal al-Dura calling for an international investigation – says, “There is no evidence that Jamal or the boy were hurt” by either Israeli or Palestinian gunfire. It also says the France 2 report creates the false impression that the channel had evidence that al-Dura was killed by IDF gunfire.
The names of the members of the committee that wrote the report have been kept secret, but it is widely known that the chairman was Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who was the strategic affairs minister when the committee was created, and that Kupperwasser, who has also served as an intelligence officer in the GOC Southern Command and later as the head of research and analysis for Military Intelligence, advocated its establishment.
Kuperwasser wrote a legal opinion in 2009 for Shurat HaDin – which has made claims about France 2’s ethics similar to those included in the report – regarding the Palestinian Authority's involvement in terror attacks as part of a legal campaign waged by terror victims against the authority. He received NIS 16,000 for his work, which he reported to the Strategic Affairs Ministry in 2011. But this did not prevent him from participating in writing the report, which mentions Shurat HaDin, without full disclosure.
In a statement sent to Haaretz, the Strategic Affairs Ministry downplayed the significance of Kuperwasser's work for Shurat HaDin, saying, "A long time has passed since the legal opinion was provided to Shurat HaDin, and therefore, no legal impediment was created to [his] involvement on the topic. The mention of Shurat HaDin in the report is immaterial with respect to the organization."
The ministry also said it could not detail the committee’s activities. But questions remain about what the committee did not do. For example, the report mentions that Maj. Gen. (res.) Giora Eliand said the IDF shot at al-Dura before retracting his statement in 2006, but the committee never sought his testimony.
The report is also unclear about the status of the committee. On the website of the Prime Minister’s Office, the report is called, "The Committee of Inquiry Report on the French Television Station France 2's reporting on the Mohammed al-Dura Affair, Its Outcomes and Implications."And within the report it says, "Benjamin Netanyahu instructed Deputy Prime Minister and Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon to establish a government committee of inquiry in September 2010." But at the end of the report it again says the committee is an investigative committee. It is also at one point referred to as a “government control committee,” which is not a real entity.
The powers of both committees of inquiry and investigative committees are defined by the Israel's Government Law. A committee of inquiry is a public commission established by ministerial resolution to examine a subject in an area under the minister's jurisdiction.
An investigative committee, on the other hand, is established by a government resolution or by the Knesset's State Control Committee, with its members appointed by the president of the Supreme Court. It is considered the most serious type of committee for reviewing matters of public importance and is chaired by an emeritus judge empowered by the justice minister to summon witnesses to provide testimony and legally caution those who could be held responsible for their conduct, among other things.
The Strategic Affairs Ministry says the committee behind the report on the al-Dura incident is neither a committee of inquiry nor an investigative committee, but something called an “inter-ministerial team of inquiry,” which has no legal basis.
"This is an interministerial team of inquiry and not a committee of inquiry established by force of the Government Law, Clause 8A," said the ministry. "Consequently, [the committee] has no letter of appointment or written rules. The source of the mistakes in the report defining the inter-ministerial team was that of the [report's] author."
The term "inter-ministerial team of inquiry" appears nowhere in the report.