Saturday, September 29, 2007

Changing History's Course

Something important has been taking place in a court case in Paris that the world has paid little attention to. Last week the 11th Chamber of the Appeals Court of Paris heard an argument from the lawyer of Philippe Karsenty, a French press watcher who, in 2004-2005, was sued by the national television station France 2 and by its Middle-East correspondent Charles Enderlin.
The plaintiffs had accused Mr. Karsenty of defaming them by declaring on his Web site they had participated in a fabricated news report about the killing by Israeli troops at the Netsarim Junction in the Gaza Strip, on September 30, 2000, of 12-year-old Mohammed el-Dura, the most famous Palestinian "martyr" of the Second Intifada. Found guilty by a lower court, which awarded the plaintiffs symbolic damages, Mr. Karsenty is now appealing his conviction.
The court did not rule last week on this appeal. Instead, it issued an order to France 2 to show it the 27 minutes of rushes originally received from Palestinian photographer Talal Abu-Rahmeh, who shot the events in Gaza. Condensed into 45 seconds of TV reportage, this footage, which France 2 has repeatedly refused to release, provided the raw material for its newscast. Mr. Karsenty and others have long claimed that if it were made public and studied, the hoax perpetrated by France 2 would be provable.
For a hoax it most certainly was. Today, seven years after the event, it should be clear to anyone who has read the literature on the subject and viewed the available film clips that the entire episode of Mohammed el-Dura was staged by the Palestinian Authority. The evidence is overwhelming.
The shots seemingly aimed at the boy and his father could not, because of their angle, have come from an Israeli position; Palestinian civilians were strolling unconcernedly between that position and the two el-Duras at the very moment that they were supposedly being fired at it; while father and son were allegedly taking cover behind a barrel, other Palestinians, who were not being shot at, came running by them and could have been joined by them; there was no blood on the sidewalk where Mohammed el-Dura was said to have been fatally wounded; in the film clips he can be seen calmly changing his position to make himself more comfortable after the alleged moment of his death, etc., etc.
Indeed, Mohammed el-Dura may never have died and may not even have been named Mohammed el-Dura. There was never any autopsy and what was said to be the boy's funeral was very likely that of someone else. He could easily have been any Palestinian child from Gaza, paid a few dollars to play his part in the deception, and make himself scarce afterwards.
If France 2 did not know of this deception at the time it broke the story, Talal Abu Rahmeh certainly did. And there is no way that France 2 and Mr. Enderlin could have failed to become aware of it themselves once they had a chance to go back to the footage and review it more carefully. The worst part of the Mohammed el-Dura story, which did incalculable harm to Israel's image and helped pave the way for many of the other lies spread about the Jewish state during the Intifada, is not that it was uncritically aired by France 2 and just as uncritically picked up and parroted by hundreds of other television stations and newspapers around the world. This was scandalous, but such things happen.
The greater scandal has been that to this day neither France 2 nor any other of the story's propagators has bothered to confess its negligence, much less apologize for it, let alone deal seriously with the whole subject of the international press's collaboration, time and again, with the Palestinian Authority's systematic dishonesty in the Yasser Arafat years.
The prevalent attitude has been: So maybe Mohammed el-Dura wasn't killed by the Israelis as we all said that he was — so what?
Last week's decision by the Paris Appeals Court has been hailed as a victory, not only for Philippe Karsenty, but for Israel and the historical truth. And yet, as Mr. Karsenty pointed out to me in a phone conversation the other day, this is not necessarily so. Even while ordering France 2 to produce the footage, the court's three judges were hostile toward him — and it is these same judges who will view the 27 minutes of rushes in November and decide after doing so whether or not to uphold his appeal. Unless they choose to bring in experts to scrutinize the footage professionally, Mr. Karenty fears, they may overlook the ways in which it was doctored and end up by whitewashing France 2 instead of exposing it.
Mr. Karsenty is now calling upon the president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, who as chief of state has ultimate authority over France 2, to appoint such a panel of experts himself. Whether this is politically or legally feasible, I don't know.
If the Appeal Court's judges do their work conscientiously, or order France 2 to make the original rushes available to the general public instead of showing them just once to the court, Mr. Sarkozy's intervention will in any case not be necessary.
The truth about Mohammed el-Dura is not a minor matter, or one having to do with his case alone. It is not even just a matter of the campaign of lies against Israel that has caused it to become the most disliked country in European opinion polls. It is also a matter of how, in general, today's press feels free to manipulate the truth as they wish and then to disclaim all responsibility for what they have done.
Philippe Karsenty is not Dreyfus, but if he can win his case, he may have done something of historical importance. In wishing him luck, I am wishing it to all of us.
Mr. Halkin is a contributing editor of The New York Sun.

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