Thursday, May 22, 2008

Muhammad al-Durra: The Blood Libel

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.


Lydia McGrew said...

France2 blatantly disregarded a court order to show the relevant film, uncut, in its entirety. I gather the judge was not amused. There is, I'm gathering, a kind of chutzpah to the French media to the effect that no one should dare to imply that they may not be telling the truth. It is very clear at this point that some people with France2 lied outright when they claimed at one point that they had footage of the boy writhing in his death agony but cut it because it was too disturbing. Not only has no one else ever seen this footage, the courtroom would have been the obvious place to present it, especially when ordered to, but they could not. That is decisive.

Actually, some people do seriously question whether the child died, given the other fakery going on in other parts of the film (you've probably seen it--the boys running around and faking injuries) and given the fact that the child is seen to move after the voice-over narrator says that he is "dead." I'm not ready to go that far, because it would have required a lot more fakery and cover-up--a living and unhurt child would have had to be hidden and/or renamed, someone else would have had to be buried under his name, and so forth. On the other hand, given that apparently all the people actually involved were Palestinians (including at the hospital, I believe), I'm not sure what level of fakery is possible.

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

It matters because the image was about Israeli murderous blood thirst.

No, it was not, and you know it. No one ever said that the image showed that Israelis were blood-thirsty, and obviously you can't find a reputable source that claims so.

The image was about whether the Zionist claim that all deaths of Palestinian children are unavoidable collateral damage is true or not. And it isn't true, regardless if the Durra tape was doctored or not.

As I have documented many times, there are countles accounts by Israeli soldiers, as well as Palestinian witnesses, of instances of children being killed for no reason whatsoever. The Durra case makes no difference, except that it was supposedly caught on tape.

Who's to blame? The US public, which needs images. It doesn't matter if an Israeli soldier confesses to have shot a child. The US public won't believe it until it sees an image.

That's why, among other things, the Simon Wiesenthal Center had an image on its website of a Nazi death camp with smoke coming out of the crematoria (yes, a doctored picture like the Reuters one), until the Holocaust deniers exposed them and they had to remove the picture. The US public needed the smoke.

But just as Jews were mass-murdered in Nazi camps, doctored smoke or not, the Israeli soldiers kill small children, doctored Durra video or not.