A French court has quashed the slander charges against Phillipe Karsenti, who claims on his website that the famous broadcast from the beginning of the 2nd intifada was staged. The court seems not to have ruled on what did happen that day, but accepted that some of the film seems doctored. Doctored, one might add, is more serious than merely confused or inept. Doctored means intent to lie.
So far as I know, no-one seriously claims the little boy didn't die, or wasn't killed. Yet there's a world of difference between a story of Israeli soldiers purposefully shooting down a child, as the story was presented at the end of September 2000, and a story of a Palestinian gunman murdering a Palestinian child because a camera was focussed on him and it would be only too easy to blame the Israelis for his death - those are the two extreme narratives that now seem possible. There are two slightly more moderate narratives: that Israeli soldiers under fire were so careless that their fire killed a child while his father pleaded for their lives, vs. the possibility that it was Palestinian "friendly fire" that killed the child, as was claimed in the French court. The disparity between these two narratives is also great.
Does it all matter, the Israel bashers (including the homegrown ones) will ask. After all, Israeli fire has killed hundreds of Palestinian children since the death of Muhammad al-Dura. Israelis do things like that, and the full veracity of this one case is neither here nor there.
Well, yes, it does matter.
It matters because the image was about Israeli murderous blood thirst, and no matter what the Israel-bashers say, this doesn't exist. Indeed, too many Palestinian die in the wars the Palestinians insist on waging, but that's a very different story.
It matters because of the power this particular image had, and still has, to inflame feelings against Israel. Less than a week after it happened no less a person than the French President himself, Jacques Chirac, threw the incident in the face of no less than the Prime Minster of Israel, Ehud Barak, as justification for blocking an agreement to stop all violence which had just been crafted by the American Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, Yasser Arafat and Barak. (This is a true and fully documented story).
It matters because it now seems that media the world over colluded in a false narrative (best-case version) or perhaps a cynical lie designed to defame Israel (worse-case narrative).
It matters because the Palestinians on-site had to know that the Israeli soldiers couldn't be doing that particular shooting; worse, as the father pleaded for their lives, the Palestinian gunmen continued shooting, consequences for the father and son be damned. Afterwards, until this very day, they did their utmost to disseminate the lie. Some of the disseminators had to know it was a lie; others simply never cared. When you're willing to sing the praise of your people who blow themseles up to kill Jews, you certainly will have no compunctions not to lie.
It matters because truth is better than lies.
Finally, it matters because the story of the tragic death of the child Muhammad al-Dura fits so exactly into the centuries-old motif of the blood libel. Yes, this is a case where the standard protestations of the antisemites that they're merely criticizing Israel, with no taint of antisemitism about them, hit reality.
(James Fallow wrote an interesting article about this in The Atlantic).
PS. Will the Guardian run the story from the French court? So far they don't have it on their website.