Richard Landes: Camera Obscura: How French TV fudged the death of Mohammed Al Durah. 10.17.06

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http://www.tnr.com/docprint.mhtml?i=w061016&s=landes101706

On September 30, 2000, images of 12-year-old Mohammed Al Durah and his father–cowering behind a barrel at Netzarim Junction, in the Gaza Strip–circulated globally, along with a claim that they had been the targeted victims of Israeli fire. If Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount two days earlier had sparked riots, these images triggered all-out war. The ensuing horror and outrage swept away any questions about its reliability. Indignant observers dismissed any Israeli attempt to deny responsibility as “blaming the victim.”

But, by 2002, two documentaries–one German, one French–raised troubling questions. The raw footage from that day reveals pervasive staging; no evidence (certainly not the most widely circulated tape offers evidence of Israeli fire directed at the barrel, much less of Israelis targeting the pair; given the angles, the Israelis could scarcely have hit the pair at all, much less 12 times (indeed the only two bullets that hit the wall above them came from the Palestinian side, inexplicably 90 degrees off target); there was no sign of blood on the ground where the father and son reportedly bled for 20 minutes; there was no footage of an ambulance evacuation or arrival at the hospital; there was no autopsy; and none of the dozen cameraman present filmed anything that could substantiate the claim that the father and son had been hit, much less that the Israelis had targeted them. These documentaries had limited exposure, in part thanks to France2’s refusal to run the one by a sister station in Germany. But they did spark a demonstration in Paris outside the France2 offices by citizens outraged to discover that so horrendous an image may well have been a fake.

The demonstrations apparently ruffled feathers. Some writers lambasted France2’s coverage–most prominently Philippe Karsenty, who called for Al Durah beat chief Charles Enderlin and France2 chief Arlette Chabot to resign, and, in response, Enderlin and France2 itself–using the same law invoked against Emile Zola in the Dreyfus Affair–have accused three critics (including Karsenty) of “striking at their honor and respectability.”

Now, four years later, the lawsuits are finally coming to trial in Room 17 of the Palais de Justice in Paris. The three suits (one for each defendant) come in rapid succession–September 14, October 26, and November 30–with judgments four weeks following each hearing. And, in at least two of the trials, I, a medieval historian, have been asked to testify.

I have become involved for two reasons. First of all, I noted almost immediately that Palestinians and anti-Zionists, insisting that Israel killed the boy on purpose, used Al Durah in a way familiar to medievalists–as a blood libel. This was the first blood libel of the twenty-first century, rendered global by cable and the Internet. Indeed, within a week, crowds the world over shouted “We want Jewish blood!” and “Death to the Jews!”. For Europeans in particular, the libelous image came as balm to a troubled soul: “This death erases, annuls that of the little boy in the Warsaw Gherro,” intoned Europe1 editorialist Catherine Nay. The Israelis were the new Nazis.

And second, when I saw the raw footage in the summer of 2003–especially when I saw the scene Enderlin had cut, wherein the boy(allegedly shot in the stomach, but holding his hand over his eyes) picks up his elbow and looks around–I realized that this was not a film of a boy dying, but a clumsily staged scene.

On October 31, 2003, at the studios of France2 in Jerusalem in the company of Charles Enderlin and his Israeli cameraman, I saw the raw footage of Al Durah from the only Palestinian cameraman who actually captured the scene on film–footage France2 still refuses to release for public examination. I was floored. The tapes feature a long succession of obviously faked injuries; brutal, hasty evacuation scenes; and people ducking for cover while others stand around. One fellow grabbed his leg in agony, then, upon seeing that no one would come to carry him away, walked away without a limp. It was stunning. That was no cameraman’s conspiracy: It was everyone–a public secret about which news consumers had no clue.

But the real shock came when I mentioned this to Enderlin, who said he trusted this cameraman. “They always do that,” he said. “It’s a cultural style.” So why wouldn’t they have faked Al Durah? “They’re not good enough,” he said. A year later, the higher-ups at France2 made the same remark to three French journalists who also noted the pervasive staging: “You know well that it’s always like that,” they said.

I tried unsuccessfully to interest the mainstream press in this obvious fakery, but nobody was interested. “I don’t know how much appetite there is for this material here,” one person at a major studio told me. So I made Pallywood (Palestinian Hollywood)–a video-essay showing the dishonesty and the still-more-astounding Western complicity in using this footage to inform us about the Middle East. Then I made a follow-up, Al Durah: The Making of an Icon (and soon, Icon of Hatred). I established a website, The Second Draft, where I posted the movies along with my evidence so that, unlike France2, people could check my sources. And now the accused have asked me to testify.

Why did they want me? In trying to dismiss my first testimony, the plaintiff’s lawyer wondered, “what does he know about images? He’s a medievalist.” Well, I know about the power of images, of narratives, and of forgeries, and especially blood libels. And, since my first book, Relics, Apocalypse, and the Deceits of History, was about a set of forgeries that continued to fool historians for decades even after a critic revealed them as fakes in the 1920s, I also know something about the difficulty of getting specialists to acknowledge they were duped.

But this image goes beyond blood libel and anti-Semitism, beyond blackening Israel’s image and whitewashing Palestinian violence. Al Durah became the icon not only of the Intifada, but of global jihad. Within months of the incident, bin Laden came out with a recruiting video that featured extensive Pallywood footage and highlighted Al Durah. Months later, Pakistani jihadis killed Daniel Pearl, interweaving Al Durah’s image into their tape of the execution.

In 2000, anyone told of Muslim plans to Islamicize the West laughed with scorn. It was the least of Western worries. Today, some have already given up Europe for lost; others see it in the balance; and others are finally awakening with shock to the radical shift in the balance of forces. And every aspect of l’affaire Al Durah is emblematic of why: from the Palestinian forces that staged it; to the Western mainstream press and the NGOs that presented it as news without asking hard questions (and that believed any subsequent Palestinian claims of Israelis killing children and resisted efforts at correction); to the Muslim world that turned it into an icon of hatred and a call to genocidal holy war; to the “leftist” revolutionaries who jumped on the jihad bandwagon in Durban, South Africa; to a public distressingly eager for “dirt” on Israel and unaware of the forces empowered by diffusing such poisons.

Three court trials, then–in which France2 seeks to bury any serious assessment of their coverage–are also trials of France’s ability to defend her republican values against an Islamist onslaught that it seems ill-equipped to resist. And, as France goes, so goes Europe. (Would France have it any other way?)

The plaintiff at the first trial, on September 14, was Philippe Karsenty of Media-Ratings, the boldest of France2’s critics. No one from France2 showed up. Its solitary lawyer had no witnesses, no questions for Karsenty’s witnesses, and no comments about the evidence damning her clients. Her summation insisted on France2’s honor and reputation, offered a letter of praise from President Jacques Chirac, and cast aspersions on the defense’s witnesses.

Then the procureur de la republique (a court-appointed officer charged with assessing the case in the interests of civil society) gave her nonbinding opinion. She rebuked France2 for not addressing the evidence, for not showing their raw footage, and for not even showing up in court. She further admitted that, although Karsenty had impugned Enderlin’s and France2’s reputations, he had offered enough evidence to make such assertions a legitimate part of public discourse. Judgment on Karsenty’s case is Thursday. Next trial: October 26. So far, the best coverage–surprise!–comes from the blogosphere.

Richard Landes, medieval history professor at Boston University, established www.seconddraft.org and blogs at www.theaugeanstables.com . He is the author of Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience (forthcoming). Professor Landes is on the Board of Directors of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East www.spme.net Those wishing to contribute to his work may go http://www.spme.net/pallywood.html . You contributions through SPME may be tax deductible.

Richard Landes: Camera Obscura: How French TV fudged the death of Mohammed Al Durah. 10.17.06

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AUTHOR

Richard Landes

Richard Allen Landes is an American historian and author, specializing in Millennialism. He retired from teaching history at Boston University in the Spring of 2015. He currently serves as the Chair of the Council of Scholars at SPME.

His work focuses on the role of religion in shaping and transforming the relationships between elites and commoners in various cultures. He has coined the expression "demotic religiosity," an orientation that prizes 1) equality before the law, 2) dignity of manual labor, 3) access to sacred texts and divinity for all believers, and 4) a prizing of moral integrity over social honor. Trained as a medievalist, his early work focused on the period around 1000 CE, a moment, in his opinion, of both cultural mutation (origins of the modern West), and intense apocalyptic and millennial expectations.

From 1995-2004, he directed the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University which held annual conferences and published an online journal, Journal of Millennial Studies. This involvement refocused his work on millennialism the world over and in different time periods, and has resulted in the Encyclopedia of Millennialism and Millennial Movements, (Berkshire Reference Works; Routledge, NY, 2000); Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience (Oxford U. Press, 2011), and The Paranoid Apocalypse: A Hundred-Year Retrospective on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (NYU Press, 2011).

His work on the apocalyptic currents that built up during the approach to 2000 has led him to focus on Global Jihad as an apocalyptic millennial movement, whose relationship to the internet may parallel that of Protestantism to printing, and whose active cataclysmic apocalyptic scenario (Destroy the world to save it), makes it potentially one of the most dangerous apocalyptic movements on record.

In addition to his courses on medieval history, he offered courses on

Europe and the Millennium,

Communications Revolutions from Language to Cyberspace

Honor-shame culture Middle Ages, Middle East

The Biblical origins of the Democracy.

In 2011, he is a fellow at the International Consortium on Research in the Humanities at Alexander University, Erlangen, Germany. There he is working on the study with which his medieval work first began, the history of the “sabbatical millennium” with its expectation of the messianic kingdom in the year 6000 from the creation of the world: While God Tarried: Demotic Millennialism from Jesus to the Peace of God, 33-1033.

In 2005 he launched a media-oversight project called The Second Draft in order to look at what the news media calls their “first draft of history.” Since January 2005 he has been blogging at The Augean Stables, a name chosen to describe the current condition of the Mainstream News Media (MSNM) in the West.

As a result of this work on the MSNM, he has come to understand the role of cognitive warfare in the campaign of apocalyptic Jihad against the West in the 21st century, and the abysmal record of the West in defending itself in this critical theater of War. He plans a book addressing these issues tentatively entitled They’re so Smart cause We’re so Stupid: A Medievalist’s Guide to the 21st Century. 

Books

  • Landes, Richard A.; Head, Thomas J. (eds.) (1987). Essays on the Peace of God : the church and the people in eleventh-century France. Waterloo, Ontario: Waterloo University. OCLC18039359.
  • Landes, Richard A.; Paupert, Catherine (trans.) (1991). Naissance d'Apôtre: Les origines de la Vita prolixior de Saint Martial de Limoges au XIe siècle. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols. 9782503500454.
  • Landes, Richard A.; Head, Thomas J. (eds.) (1992). The Peace of God: social violence and religious response in France around the year 1000. Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press. ISBN 080142741X.
  • Landes, Richard A. (1995). Relics, apocalypse, and the deceits of history: Ademar of Chabannes, 989-1034. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674755308.
  • Landes, Richard A. (ed.) (2000). Encyclopedia of millennialism and millennial movements. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0415922461.
  • Landes, Richard A.; Van Meter, David C.; Gow, Andrew Sydenham Farrar (2003). The apocalyptic year 1000: religious expectation and social change, 950-1050. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195111915.
  • Landes, Richard A. (2011). Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Landes, Richard A.; Katz, Stephen (eds.). The Paranoid Apocalypse: A Hundred Year Retrospective on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. New York: New York University Press.


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