Kommentar

Påstander om at det palestinske martyr-symbolet fremfor noen, 12 år gamle Mohammad al-Durra, skulle være drept av sine egne, er vanligvis blitt avvist som dårlige forsøk på israelsk propaganda. Men saken har nå tatt en helt ny vending, som reiser alvorlig tvil om de berømte TV-bildene er hva de gir seg ut for. Ting kan tyde på at kameramannen til franske TF2 konstruerte hele hendelsen. Bildene ble historiske, og ingen turde rive dem ned senere.

Gabriel Weimann er leder av institutt for massemedier ved Haifa-universitetet, og underviser i tillegg ved Militærakademiet i nasjonal sikkerhet og massemedier. Høsten 2002 holdt han et kurs om bilder som hadde fått ikon-status. Han begynte med annen verdenskrig, så Vietnam, og endte opp med Mohammad al-Durra, og nevnte hvilken enorm skade bildene hadde gjort på Israels renommé. Da kom det fra en av elevene: – Jeg var der. Det var ikke vi.

«Prove it,» Weimann said. He assigned part of the class, as its major research project, a reconsideration of the evidence in the case. A surprisingly large amount was available. The students began by revisiting an investigation undertaken by the Israeli military soon after the event.

Det var et tyvetall TV-fotografer til stede ved det aktuelle veikrysset 30. september 2000. Deres råfilm viser en rekke kampscener og tilfeller av sårede palestinere som fraktes vekk i ambulanser. Det viser seg at dette utspant seg på et område utenfor israelernes rekkevidde. Episoder som ble satt i scene for å illudere dramatikk. Hvor alvorlig det var ment, kan kanskje diskuteres, men noen av scenene ble senere klippet inn i den autentiske nyhetssekvensen av al-Durras død. Dette dokumenterte Weimanns studenter ved å studere råfilmene.

Råfilm

Early in the morning of Saturday, September 30, a crowd of Palestinians gathered at the Netzarim crossroads. TV crews, photographers, and reporters from many news agencies, including Reuters, AP, and the French television network France 2, were also at the ready. Because so many cameras were running for so many hours, there is abundant documentary evidence of most of the day’s events — with a few strange and crucial exceptions, most of them concerning Mohammed al-Dura.

«Rushes» (raw footage) of the day’s filming collected from these and other news organizations around the world tell a detailed yet confusing story. The tapes overlap in some areas but leave mysterious gaps in others. No one camera, of course, followed the day’s events from beginning to end; and with so many people engaged in a variety of activities simultaneously, no one account could capture everything. Gabriel Weimann, the chairman of the communications department at the University of Haifa, whose book Communicating Unreality concerns the media’s distorting effects, explained to me on my visit that the footage in its entirety has a «Rashomon effect.» Many separate small dramas seem to be under way. Some of the shots show groups of young men walking around, joking, sitting and smoking and appearing to enjoy themselves. Others show isolated moments of intense action, as protesters yell and throw rocks, and shots ring out from various directions. Only when these vignettes are packaged together as a conventional TV news report do they seem to have a narrative coherence.

To watch the raw footage is to wonder, repeatedly, What is going on here? In some scenes groups of Palestinians duck for cover from gunfire while others nonchalantly talk or smoke just five feet away. At one dramatic moment a Palestinian man dives forward clutching his leg, as if shot in the thigh. An ambulance somehow arrives to collect him exactly two seconds later, before he has stopped rolling from the momentum of his fall. Another man is loaded into an ambulance — and, in footage from a different TV camera, appears to jump out of it again some minutes later.

At around 3:00 P.M. Mohammed al-Dura and his father make their first appearance on film. The time can be judged by later comments from the father and some journalists on the scene, and by the length of shadows in the footage. Despite the number of cameras that were running that day, Mohammed and Jamal al-Dura appear in the footage of only one cameraman — Talal Abu-Rahma, a Palestinian working for France 2.

Sitatene er fra James Fallows’ artikkel i Atlantic Monthly juni 2003. Han hadde ingen konklusjon om hvem som drepte al-Durra, men reiste spørsmål, flere av dem tekniske. Hvis det var israelerne, må de ha skutt gjennom betongfatet far og sønn skjuler seg bak, men det var ikke gjennomhullet av kuler. Slike ting. Lesere forblir skeptisk.

Frankrike

Det er i Frankrike saken har tatt en overraskende vending. Mannen som filmet de sterke scenene, Talal Abu Rahmeh (skrives på flere måter), arbeider for den statlige franske kanal 2. Hans journalistiske partner var Charles Enderlin. Men han befant seg i Ramallah. Rahmeh ringte ham og sa han befant seg i en livsfarlig situasjon, og ba ham ta seg av familien hans, hvis han ble drept. De snakker sammen flere ganger utover ettermiddagen. Det er Enderlin som legger stemme på bildene av Mohammad al-Durra og faren. Filmen går verden rundt.

Vi ser ikke gutten dø. Enderlin sa det var for grusomt. Det ble sagt at kanal 2 satt på opptak som viste at israelerne skjøt mot far og sønn i 45 minutter.

Selve sekvensen som blir kringkastet er på 55 sekunder.

Alle forespørsler om å få se resten av opptakene er blitt bryskt avvist, som forsøk på å trekke journalistens integritet i tvil.

Det er Nidra Poller som forteller den spennende historien i en artikkel i bladet Commentary:

As Enderlin would later explain, the reason France-2’s scoop was offered free to the world was that the producers did not want to earn a profit from so tragic an incident. Only the terrible moments of the child’s death throes, he added, had been edited out, being «too unbearable.» The film sequence itself, attributed at first to a «France-2 cameraman,» was subsequently identified as the work of the station’s Palestinian stringer, Talal Abu Rahmeh. By then, the full authority and reputation of France-2 itself had been indelibly stamped on the footage.

Within days, an elaborate narrative was being disseminated to flesh out the elusive details of the 55-second video. On October 3, 2000, testifying under oath before the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, the cameraman Talal Abu Rahmeh alleged that Israeli soldiers had intentionally, in cold blood, murdered the boy and wounded the father. Abu Rahmeh’s testimony was precise and vivid. There had been, he said, a five-minute exchange of fire between Palestinian policemen and Israeli soldiers. This was followed by fully 45 minutes of gunfire coming exclusively from the Israeli position and aimed directly at the man and the boy crouching desperately behind a concrete barrel. According to the cameraman, he had captured on film a total of 27 minutes of this fusillade, risking his own life in the process. As an experienced war photographer, he could attest without hesitation that the Israeli outpost was the only position from which the boy and the man could be hit.

Historien ble fortalt i detalj. Jeg husker spesielt detaljen om ambulansen som ble tilkalt og sjåføren som ble skutt og drept ved ankomsten. Maken til råskap!

He waved to the soldiers, who could see he was an innocent civilian trapped there with a boy; they shot him in the hand. He tried to protect his son with his arm, but they shot him in the arm and shoulder. He tried to protect him with his leg, but they shot him in the leg, smashing his pelvis. The tragic outcome was described for a BBC documentary by Talal Abu Rahmeh: Jamal tried to call for help on his cellphone, asking someone to get the soldiers to stop shooting, or to send an ambulance. The ambulance driver was shot dead. The soldiers kept on shooting until they killed Muhammad, who died either instantly from a fatal wound to the stomach or, in another version, bled to death for 15 to 20 minutes because no ambulance could get through to evacuate him.

In the following weeks, journalists like Suzanne Goldenberg in the (London) Guardian, Gilles Paris in Le Monde, and dozens of others would write about this incident as if they themselves had been at Netzarim junction on the fatal day.

Kritikere

Flere har stilt seg kritisk til hendelsesforløpet. Den tyske dokumentarfilmskaperen Esther Schapira kom til Israel fast overbevist om at IDF var skyldig, men etter å ha jobbet med saken endret hun mening. En franskmann utga bok med samme konklusjon. I IDF var det en tekniker som aldri ga seg, men samlet et helt bibliotek. Det var ikke populært. IDF mente all omtale av al-Durra var negativ.

Early doubters of the received version included the French documentary filmmaker Pierre Rehov, who sued France-2 for spreading false information; the case was thrown out of French court. Nahum Shahaf, an Israeli physicist who led the first official IDF investigation, has been studying the incident ever since, accumulating one of the most exhaustive film libraries on the subject. Metula News Agency (MENA), an Israel-based, French-language service, likewise undertook a lengthy and still ongoing investigation. Esther Schapira, a German television producer who went to Israel convinced of IDF guilt, came away with a film exposing the contradictions and discrepancies of the France-2 news report; she was convinced that the boy had been killed by Palestinians. In a June 2003 article in the Atlantic, the American journalist James Fallows concluded that Muhammad al-Dura «was not shot by the Israeli soldiers who were known to be involved in the day’s fighting,» but also that we would never know who killed him.

Nidra Poller har studert råfilmene. Hun ser to ulike scener: Den ene virkelig, den andre arrangert:

The Reuters, AP, and France-2 outtakes that I viewed show two totally different and easily identifiable types of activity at Netzarim junction: real, intifada-style attacks, and crudely falsified battle scenes. Both the real and the fake scenes are played out against a background of normal civilian activity at a busy crossroads. In the «reality» zone, excited children and angry young men hurl rocks and Molotov cocktails at the Israeli outpost while shababs («youths») standing on the roof of the Twins throw burning tires down onto the caged lookout; this goes on seemingly for hours, without provoking the slightest military reaction from Israeli soldiers.

At the same time, in the «theatrical» zone, Palestinian stringers sporting prestigious logos on their vests and cameras are seen filming battle scenes staged behind the abandoned factory, well out of range of Israeli gunfire. The «wounded» sail through the air like modern dancers and then suddenly collapse. Cameramen jockey with hysterical youths who pounce on the «casualties,» pushing and shoving, howling Allahu akhbar!, clumsily grabbing the «injured,» pushing away the rare ambulance attendant in a pale green polyester jacket in order to shove, twist, haul, and dump the «victims» into UN and Red Crescent ambulances that pull up on a second’s notice and career back down the road again, sirens screaming. In one shot we recognize Talal Abu Rahmeh in his France-2 vest, filming a staged casualty scene.

Det er her Weimanns studenter kommer inn: Ved å studere råopptakene, kunne de identifisere flere av personene og se at de dukket opp i flere roller:

Students in a special course at the Israeli Military Academy, who had access to this raw footage, tagged and tracked the amateur actors as they went through their day, playing multiple roles. The injured and dead jump up, dust themselves off, play at offensive combat; casualties evacuated by ambulance are later seen loading a fellow actor into an ambulance or smiling with satisfaction as the ambulance door slams shut…

Ingen andre enn Abu Rahmeh filmet al-Durras lidelser. Hvorfor ikke? For å oppklare mysteriet ble det viktig å studere resten av opptakene til Abu Rahmeh. Men TF 2 nektet.

Enderlin

It is no easy task to challenge the integrity of a powerful broadcaster in France, where the state-owned media operate with limited independence and no real competition. Charles Enderlin’s prestige and the dominant position of France Télévisions were enough to discredit the most diligent early analysts. To this day, Enderlin (a French Jew who became an Israeli citizen some 20 years ago and has served in the Israeli army) refuses to reply to questions about the accuracy of the news report and its enveloping narrative; responding with ad-hominem counterattacks, he threatens to sue his detractors for libel.

More than normal journalistic pride may be involved here. Enderlin’s news report was consistent with his stated overall view of the Middle East conflict. In his 2003 book, Shattered Dreams, he places the blame for Oslo’s failure squarely on Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak and U.S. President Bill Clinton, effectively absolving the Palestinians of responsibility. The same interpretation is, of course, shared by virtually the entire French intellectual and political elite, and endorsed by influential print media like Le Monde, Le Monde Diplomatique, Le Nouvel Observateur, and Télérama.

Gjennombrudd

I oktober 2004 skjer det noe som skal endre storyen dramatisk. En tidligere journalist i Le Monde, Rosenzweig, har skrevet en artikkel som anklager TF2 for manipulasjon. Artikkelen skal på i L’Express, men de vil dobbeltsjekke:

Then, at the end of October 2004, something happened that would have broken the logjam if the French media were truly free, which they are not.

Luc Rosenzweig, a retired Le Monde journalist who had doubted the veracity of the al-Dura news report from the first, completed an investigative article in which he formally accused France-2 of an «almost perfect media crime.» His essay was scheduled to appear in the 2_kommentarstream newsweekly l’Express on the fourth anniversary of the intifada. But the magazine’s editorial director, Denis Jeambar, decided to delay publication in order to double-check Rosenzweig’s facts.

Bombe

L’Express har en posisjon å forsvare. Saken er en bombe under den statlige kringkastingen. Jambear ber om et møte med nyhetsredaktøren for TF2. Det er under dette møtet bomben springer:

Given his position, Jeambar was able to arrange a meeting with France-2’s news director. He was accompanied there by Rosenzweig and Daniel Leconte, a prize-winning TV producer. Asking simple questions about Abu Rahmeh’s satellite feed, the trio got shocking answers. They requested the 27 minutes of raw footage showing the al-Duras pinned down by Israeli gunfire; they were shown a half-hour of fake battle scenes similar to those described above. They asked why there were no pictures of Israeli soldiers aiming at the al-Duras; they were told that on this point the cameraman had retracted his testimony, given «under pressure» to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. They asked to speak to the cameraman, then said to be undergoing medical treatment in Paris; they were told he did not speak French and that his English was too rudimentary (patently untrue). They asked to see the scene of the child’s death throes, professedly edited out by Charles Enderlin because it was «too unbearable»; they were told that no such images existed.

They in turn produced pictures of a dead child, identified as Muhammad al-Dura, who had been admitted to Gaza’s Schifa hospital at noon or 1 PM on September 30, several hours before the alleged incident occurred; his face did not match that of the boy in the shooting scene, his wounds did not match the eyewitness descriptions. They were told that the channel’s forensic specialists would look into the matter.

Motstøt

At this point, Jeambar, perhaps thinking that the whole affair had become too hot to handle, reneged on his commitment to publish Rosenzweig’s exposé. Seizing the initiative, Metula News Agency immediately leaked a report of the meeting and, at a press conference in Paris, reiterated its case for the al-Dura death scene as an outright falsification. Thereupon France-2, threatening legal action against anyone daring to question the integrity of its journalists, launched a spin operation: it sent Abu Rahmeh to Gaza to film Jamal al-Dura’s scars and showed the resulting footage at a press conference from which all known skeptics were excluded.

Articles appeared defending Charles Enderlin and denouncing Metula News Agency; most of them were incongruously illustrated with an image from the original news report clearly showing Jamal’s bare arm—perfectly intact—a few short seconds before the round of gunfire that ended the scene.

Ballongen sprekker

But the bubble of tolerance protecting the French media had begun to stretch and tear. Three months after their October 2004 meeting with France-2, Denis Jeambar and Daniel Leconte came forward with their side of the story. The gist of their essay, published in Le Figaro after being rejected by Le Monde, confirmed the MENA release while chastising both Rosenzweig and MENA for jumping to the unwarranted conclusion that the death scene had been staged. Jeambar and Leconte also enjoined France-2 to make a full disclosure, withdraw its unjustified accusations, and recognize the incalculably damaging effects of its report in inciting violence and blackening Israel’s name.

The very next day, Enderlin responded with an article in Le Figaro suggesting that his distinguished colleagues join him in a sort of gentleman’s agreement to lay the affair to rest. His broadcast may have been hasty, he wrote, but it was justified on the grounds that the public had to know the truth, because so many children were being killed. He should have said, «were going to be killed,» because Muhammad al-Dura, as his father proudly proclaimed, was the first shahid, and Enderlin’s broadcast itself was instrumental in much of what followed. But, more than four years later, Enderlin was still trying to defend his report as an accurate reflection of the situation on the ground.

Whatever his intentions, the result for Enderlin was disappointing. Indignantly defending their integrity, Jeambar and Leconte took him to task for having compromised his own. As Jeambar stiffly noted, journalists are supposed to report on what happens, not on what might have happened. Or, one could add, might not have appened.

Nidra Poller ser på Reuters råstoffet igjen, og får det ikke til å stemme:

All this time, traffic trundles through the intersection, schoolchildren go by with their bookbags, a fashionably dressed woman talks on her cellphone and chats and jokes with cameramen who stand nonchalantly with their backs to the Israeli position. Things are moving, the energy level is high, the shababs are fearless. Palestinian policemen mingle in the crowd, occasionally shoot a few rounds into the air, join in the battle scenes, get «wounded» and come back for more. Children set fire to tires; you can almost smell the rubber burning. The France-2 cameraman, Abu Rahmeh, is there, too, clearly visible, in the heat of the action, filming ambulance evacuations of fake casualties in large patches of real time. Familiar, retrievable, believable.

Hvem er opphavet?

Hvor kommer historien om Mohammad og Jalal al-Durra fra? Nidra Poller peker på kameramann Abu Rahmeh. Det er han som tok bildene. Enderlin går fem på, bildene blir verdensberømte. TF2 får æren for scoopet. Abu Rahmeh gjentar historien som utbroderes og blir til en myte i hele den muslimske verden.

På et eller annet tidspunkt må Enderlin og TF2 ha blitt klar over at det ikke var slik verden trodde. Men hvem ville stå opp og drepe en slik story, med påfølgende tap av prestisje og skade for palestinernes sak? Da bedre å dysse det ned. Poller tror det er den sannsynlige historien.

Den er vel verdt å studere. Hvis det er slik det forholder seg, burde den bli standardpensum på alle journalistskoler.

Who Shot Mohammed al-Dura?

The image of a boy shot dead in his helpless father’s arms during an Israeli confrontation with Palestinians has become the Pietà of the Arab world. Now a number of Israeli researchers are presenting persuasive evidence that the fatal shots could not have come from the Israeli soldiers known to have been involved in the confrontation. The evidence will not change Arab minds—but the episode offers an object lesson in the incendiary power of an icon
by James Fallows

Myth, Fact, and the al-Dura Affair

Nidra Poller