When someone tells a lie about you, one that is being believed by all your enemies, you might take instant action against the perpetrator and try to squash the lie before it spreads. Or you might decide to complain but hope that the lie will eventually lose its appeal to your enemies and be quietly forgotten over time. This second course of action seems to have been the one Israel’s government chose in handling the infamous affair that helped to expand the early sparks of the second intifada into a raging blaze of violence and death. On 30th September 2000, during a major riot in the Gaza Strip, an unarmed civilian father and son, Jamal and Mohammed Al Durrah, were filmed by the TV station France 2 apparently trying to take cover from Israeli soldiers firing at them. During the fifty five seconds of released footage, it was claimed that Mohammed (the young son) was deliberately shot dead and his father Jamal seriously injured. The iconic image of the pair seen helplessly trying to protect themselves behind a concrete barrel became one of the major publicity weapons used against Israel from that day on throughout the intifada that followed.
Unfortunately for the Israeli government, who consistently denied the truth of the France 2 report from the start, the twelve year old lie hasn’t quietly died away. In fact the incident and its notorious accompanying image have been used innumerable times to delegitimise and demonise the Jewish state. From suicide bombers in their farewell speeches to Osama Bin Laden and his deputy, terrorists of all shapes and sizes have used the “Al Durrah affair” to mobilise hatred against Israel.
Realising that the lie was not going to go away, Israel’s government finally commissioned an inquiry into the France 2 report in September 2012. The report of that inquiry, the “Kuperwasser Report”, was published on 21st May this year. Contrary to her detractors’ claims, Israel is generally very thorough in investigating claims against its armed forces and a number of IDF soldiers have been disciplined over the years when claims against them have been verified. In the Al Durrah case, however, Israel has resolutely maintained that her soldiers did not target the father and son and has now produced many pages of solid evidence and testimony to back up this position. Further, Israel has also consistently cast doubt on the testimonies of the cameraman and the reporter he was working for (who, incidentally, was not even at the scene of the incident). The cameraman, by the way, was a Palestinian who is said to have stated that he went into TV film work to defend Palestine!
The Kuperwasser Report (view or download here), makes for uncomfortable reading for the West’s anti-Israel groups, who have themselves made full use of the “motif” of Mohammed Al Durrah’s supposed death (the report finds that the released film footage nowhere shows a dead boy). It should also make salutory reading for every journalist tempted to slant a story in the direction he would like it to go in rather than presenting the truth unvarnished by political bias.
The Middle East conflict does seem to throw up more doubtful and biased reportage than almost any other conflict zone and the main reasons for this are not to hard to find. Firstly, the Israel-Palestinian conflict has been going on for over 60 years and the terrorist groups that make up the opposition to Israel have had a long time to perfect their publicity and media strategies.
Secondly, in places where Western film crews have to make use of local “fixers”, they are vulnerable to the possibility that the fixer will find them situations and incidents that support his agenda, or that of his political chiefs. Sadly, journalists sometimes play along although to be fair they risk not being able to work at all if they don’t. Add to this locally appointed photographers, reports and editors working for international media agencies and you have a recipe for the potential twisting of news items to suit the agenda of terrorist organisations or anti-West regimes.
Examples of this abound, from the notorious “green helmet man” in Israel’s 2006 Lebanon conflict to the dead baby in Gaza reported as having been killed by Israeli shell fire when in fact he was killed by a Hamas rocket falling short. We have seen photographs retouched to suggest an inferno of Israeli missiles and murdered Syrian children made out to be casualties of Israeli attacks on Gaza. The Kuperwasser Report essentially places the Al-Durrah incident into the same category of staged tragedy to support terrorist publicity aims.
Reporting from a combat zone is never going to be the easiest work and the reporters who do so make immense sacrifices and often place themselves in harm’s way to bring us important news. Only those who have been in a war zone can fully empathise with the situation of a John Simpson, a Kate Adie or an Alex Crawford (all journalists of the greatest integrity). But on shoulders such as theirs lies the responsibility of bringing us news; not a political statement or staged fictitious footage that fits someone else’s politics or nationalism. Fortunately for us, most “journos” have the integrity to do that. Media regulators and editors (including some in the UK!), however, should crack down heavily on shoddy or biased reporting so that an incident like the Al Durrah one cannot get out of hand and cause death and misery over many years.