Israel Must Fight Back Against the al-Dura Accusations

Philippe Karsenty may have lost his case, but Israel's priority must be to clear its name regarding the iconic death of Mohammed al-Dura, a pawn in the propaganda war that unjustifiably fixes Israel as a demonic perpetrator of war crimes.

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail

What is a man supposed to do, if he is accused of a crime that he believes he did not commit?

Judging by various reactions to Israel's recent claim that it didn’t kill a Palestinian boy – well then, he should simply shut up. Never mind how much evidence he has on his side, he should nevertheless remain silent.

The case in question is, of course, the iconic al-Dura case, which centers around a Palestinian boy who was allegedly killed by Israel in Gaza on September 30, 2000, the first day of the Second Intifada. TV footage broadcasted on that evening by the French station France-2 showed Jamal al-Dura and his son Mohammed trying to protect themselves from automatic fire. After a few seconds, in which the father yells and waves his finger at the apparent source of firing, a strange silence prevails: The boy lies in his father's lap, while the father's head tumbles towards the ground.

From the beginning, there were questions raised about the likelihood that Mohammed died as a result of Israeli fire. An Israeli committee concluded two months later that in light of the exchanges of fire between Israeli soldiers and armed Palestinians, “the possibility that the boy and his father were shot by Palestinians is greater than the possibility that they were shot by IDF soldiers.” That was a very hesitant attempt to say: Israel didn't do it.

It was too little, too late. The media, both Israeli and international, reported on the Israeli committee with a mix of doubt and amazement. The growing violence of the intifada overshadowed the story. In the meantime, Mohammed al-Dura became a hero in the Arab world and an icon of Palestinian martyrdom.

Most importantly, the image of a young boy, shot mercilessly by IDF soldiers, fixed Israel's image in the last decade as a brutal and bloodthirsty country, opposite whom weak and unfortunate Palestinians are struggling just to survive. It is a tragic and universally recognized fact of wartime that civilians die, and surely enough, Palestinian children, as well as Israeli children, have died in the decades-old conflict. But the al-Dura case was different. According to the Palestinian narrative, an unarmed Palestinian father begged Israeli soldiers to spare his boy's life. And what did they do in return? Execute him. It would be hard to find an act that encapsulated more symbolism than that.

The al-Dura case was in fact one of the pillars of a narrative that propagandists hostile to Israel have worked on tirelessly to create. According to that narrative, Israel isn't simply a side in an armed conflict, but a demonic entity, doing everything it can to hurt helpless Palestinians, not hesitating to break international law and to commit horrific war crimes – and then cover them up.

Last month, an Israeli governmental committee finally published its report about the case, concluding that "there is no evidence that the IDF was in any way responsible for causing any of the alleged injuries". The report noted that raw footage from the seconds after the boy’s apparent death seem to show him raising his arm.

Additionally, according to the report, while the father, Jamal, claims that he was struck by eight to twelve bullets, the footage does not show a single blood stain or bullet wound on him. Furthermore, an analysis of the angles between the IDF post and the barrel, and the shape and position of what appears to be bullet holes on the wall behind the father, all indicate that the shots did not come from the Israeli position.

The report mentions the German documentary "The Child, the Death and the Truth" (2009), according to which, the boy who died later that day at a Gaza hospital and was proclaimed to be al-Dura, arrived at the hospital much before the incident with the IDF soldiers took place.

On the other side, the Palestinians and France-2 could not provide along the years even a single piece of evidence to support their claim. On the contrary, in February 2005, France 2′s news editor, Arlette Chabot, told the International Herald Tribune that “no one can say for certain who killed him (Al-Dura)." When I asked France 2's correspondent in Jerusalem, Charles Enderlin, in an interview for Haaretz if he was too hasty that evening, he gave a revealing answer: "If I didn't say that the boy and father were victims of fire coming from the IDF position, they would have said in Gaza 'How did Enderlin not say this was the IDF?'" This is not enough in order to broadcast such a dramatic accusation.

But somehow, in the case of Israel, due procedure is turned upside down. Instead of proving that the defendant is guilty, he has to prove that he is innocent. While the evidence against Israel is at best slim, it is still the Jewish state that has to prove beyond its harshest critics' doubts that it is not guilty.

Israel was certainly slow to react and made some mistakes, like admitting the killing of the boy early on. But these are secondary issues. Instead of focusing on the abundance of evidence in the report, the overall reaction of the international media was of disbelief and ridicule – for being so late, for digging up an old story or for preaching to the choir.

The most natural instinct – to prove one's innocence and to fight for one's good name – is what the State of Israel is denied. The Jewish state is expected to sit silently on the bench with its head lowered, and say nothing. Just utter the words: yes, we are guilty. How strange: Albert Dreyfus fought for 12 years to prove his innocence. The ones who ridiculed his fight – as we know today – were on the wrong side of history.

The fight-back by Israel is necessary not only for the sake of the truth, but also for correcting the distorted narrative about this incident and about Israeli military conduct more broadly that has penetrated many circles – not only in the Arab world, but in the West as well.

Adi Schwartz is an independent journalist. He covered the Al-Dura affair and its aftermath for Haaretz for the ten years after 2000.

In this Sept. 30, 2000 file image from television, Jamal al-sutra signals his position while protecting his 12-year-old son Mohammed al-Dura, as they shelter behind a barrel from crossfire Credit: AP

Click the alert icon to follow topics: