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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 November 2007, 13:53 GMT
Gaza media battle in French court

By Henri Astier
BBC News

Memorial to Muhammad al-Durrah in Bamnako, Mali
Memorial in Mali to Muhammad al-Durrah based on the disputed images
At the start of the second intifada, pictures of Muhammad al-Durrah and his father seeking shelter from gunfire were seen everywhere as a powerful symbol of Palestinian suffering and the brutality of the Israeli occupation.

Seven years on, a Paris court is set to look at the footage on Wednesday, as part of a libel case that could in turn become a cause celebre.

For both sides, the stakes could hardly be higher.

The report is a fake that has fuelled hatred of Israel, the Jews and the West around the world
Philippe Karsenty

Defendant Philippe Karsenty, who runs a French media watchdog website, says he wants to expose a forgery that he says could be every bit as damaging as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion - the notorious forged document that alleges a Jewish plot to rule the world.

"The report is a fake that has fuelled hatred of Israel, the Jews and the West around the world," he told the BBC News website.

The plaintiff, state-owned TV channel France 2, says it is both fighting a smear campaign by conspiracy theorists and standing up for honest reporting.

"The arguments of the people we have sued run counter to the values and practice of journalism," the author of the original report, France 2's Jerusalem correspondent Charles Enderlin, told the BBC News website.


The incident occurred on 30 September 2000 at the Netzarim junction in the central Gaza Strip, and was filmed by Gaza cameraman Talal Abu-Rahma.

The report shows Jamal al-Durrah and Muhammad, 12, cowering in front of a wall marked with seven bullet holes. In his comment, Mr Enderlin says the pair was being targeted from Israeli positions.

I can't imagine that a court can vindicate people who say that Muhammad al-Durrah's death was staged. That would mean that you can cast doubt on any report
Charles Enderlin

When Muhammad slumps to the ground, the reporter's script says the boy is dead and the father wounded.

The Israeli army first said there was a "high probability" its soldiers had killed Muhammad and apologised. But amid the international outcry that the footage caused, a second inquiry revised the findings, concluding - it said from the angle of the shots - that it was unlikely to have been Israeli fire.

Muhammad was most probably shot dead by Palestinian gunmen, the Israeli army suggested.

But Mr Enderlin stuck to his story and expressed full confidence in Mr Abu-Rahma, a veteran cameraman who has worked for France 2 since 1988.


In an effort to quell the doubts, the journalist released an edited three-minute version of the footage - not the full raw footage, which he said was too distressing.

However sceptics continued to investigate, examining every frame.

30 September 2000: Mohammad al-Durrah killed at Netzarim crossing in Gaza
19 October 2006: Court rules that Philippe Karsenty libelled France 2
14 November 2007: Appeal court views all footage relating to incident
Appeal decision in February 2008

Eventually a third version of events began to circulate on the internet - Muhammad was struck by neither Israeli nor Palestinian bullets. The whole scene, it was said, had been staged.

Some observers were allowed to see the full recording, which they said also contained scenes of boys pretending to be injured by Israeli fire.

Mr Karsenty was among those who concluded that France 2 had been tricked into broadcasting a fake.

In November 2004 he wrote on his Media-Ratings website that the channel's decision to stand by its story had "disgraced France and its public broadcasting system".

France 2 and Mr Enderlin sued him for libel - and won.

In late 2006, Mr Karsenty was required to pay a symbolic Euro in compensation, as well as 3,000 euros in costs. He immediately filed an appeal.

Burden of proof

When the case returned to court in September, Mr Karsenty claimed a significant victory when France 2 was ordered to show the raw footage to the court on 14 November.

He is convinced he will be vindicated by the full 27-minute recording.

"The burden of the proof is on France 2 now," he says. "Where is their evidence of the brutal murder?"

The footage contains several features which Mr Karsenty says supports his allegation of fraud:

  • The cameraman spoke of 45 minutes of continuous Israeli gunfire aimed at the pair, yet there are only seven bullet impacts on the wall
  • No blood is seen
  • At one point, an ambulance apparently rushes to rescue a wounded Palestinian before he falls down
  • At the end of the recording, Muhammad, who is said to have already been killed, moves his arm.

Mr Enderlin, for his part, expresses equal confidence ahead of the viewing.

"There's nothing suspicious about the raw footage - you see stones being thrown, shots being fired by Palestinians, kids running for cover," he says.

"Nothing is staged. Footage of the same events filmed by other news organisations confirms this."


Mr Enderlin says Israeli soldiers were metres away from the scene, and it would have been impossible for anyone to fake a shooting incident there.

"We are ready to take part in any official inquiry with legal safeguards that conform to international standards," he says.

"We were never asked to be part or to testify before such a commission. There was never any official or other complaint against our crews."

He concedes the actual moment of Muhammad's death may not have been caught on film, but he is convinced that the boy was killed on that day.

Mr Enderlin insists he is the victim of a "campaign of intimidation" that has already had a chilling effect in some French newsrooms, where he says coverage of Israel's treatment in Palestinians in the occupied territories is being toned down.

"I can't imagine that a court can vindicate people who say that Muhammad al-Durrah's death was staged. That would mean that you can cast doubt on any report," he adds.

The Paris appeals court will decide on Mr Karsenty's appeal next February.

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