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New twist in alleged al-Dura cover-up Karsenty: Al-Dura case is ’bigger than Dreyfus Affair’

Full title : "New twist in alleged al-Dura cover-up Karsenty tells The Jewish State case is ’bigger than the Dreyfus affair’"

The Jewish State 

Sarah Morrison
March 27, 2009

A documentary released March 4 on German-owned TV station ARD attempts to prove that the notorious video of the killing of 12-year-old Muhammad al-Dura was a hoax, and could set two European allies on a collision course.

The 55-second video, shown on France 2 television on September 30, 2000, shows Muhammad huddling with his father, Jamal, unsuccessfully hiding from gunfire at the Netzarim junction in the Gaza Strip. After Muhammad’s death, he was considered a martyr in the Arab world, appearing in everything from TV programs to postage stamps as a symbol of Palestinian suffering in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The video was used to fuel the Intifada.

In a letter to supporters released March 10, Philippe Karsenty, head of the French media watchdog group Media Ratings, describes five crucial pieces of evidence uncovered by the documentary that support the claim that the video was deliberately filmed as propaganda and knowingly aired as such by France 2 television: A biometric analysis of faces proves that Muhammad is not the boy presented at the Gaza morgue; a lip-reading technique revealed al-Dura instructing people standing behind the cameraman; the boy filmed by France 2 moves a red piece of cloth down his body for no apparent reason; there is no blood on Muhammad or his father when they were both supposed to have received a total of 15 bullets; and the body at Muhammad’s funeral arrived at the hospital before 10 a.m., whereas France 2’s footage was filmed after 2:30 p.m.

Two weeks after the German documentary aired, France 2 sent ARD a letter threatening a lawsuit for defamation, the same case brought against Karsenty in 2004 for publishing an article discrediting the video. Karsenty believes that because France 2 and ARD are owned by the French government and German government respectively, the lawsuit threat may become a diplomatic row.

"The relations between France and Germany could be damaged just because of this blood libel," Karsenty told The Jewish State in a phone interview March 19. "Are we getting close to a diplomatic crisis between France and Germany? If there were really a lawsuit, it would basically be the French state suing the German state."

The new documentary is getting support from Israel as well. Yigal Palmor, spokesman for Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told The Jewish State, "The documentary by Esther Schapira is remarkably researched and was reviewed by a number of German papers in a rather favorable tone, without the strident controversy that used to characterize debates on this sensitive issue."

According to Karsenty, very little is being published in France about the video. No media outlet or individual blogger will publish information on the German documentary, for fear of being sued by France 2. Anyone who does speak out receives a letter demanding an apology, and without an apology, a lawsuit follows.

That’s exactly what happened to Karsenty in November 2004. After years of advocating for the retraction of the video, he published an article accusing France 2 of broadcasting a fake news report. Two weeks later, France 2 sued Karsenty for defamation, and two years later, a court battle ensued.

"When German TV broadcasted a documentary in 2002, it said that the bullets were not from the Israeli side," Karsenty said. "They figure out he was killed by the Palestinian side. I thought it was shocking. I went all over Paris saying that Jews have been assaulted all over the world for this and to please correct it. And nobody wanted to correct it. All places said they were not interested. I kept going because I thought it was important for the basic truth, the French democracy, the state of Israel, and the Jewish people."

Israeli scientist Nahum Shahaf, who originally investigated the video, confirmed Karsenty’s suspicions several months into his work. This motivated Karsenty to investigate the video himself, and what he found was "shocking."

"I realized it was completely fiction," Karsenty said. "Everything was absurd in the film."

During the defamation trial, then-French President Jacques Chirac wrote a character testimony for French journalist Charles Enderlin, who originally edited, commented, and aired the piece. The testimony, Karsenty said, may have had very strong influence in a country with no real separation of powers.

"In French society, where powers aren’t separated, you don’t want to make your retirement too early," Karsenty quipped.

The French court ruled in favor of France 2 and Enderlin and fined Karsenty 1,000 Euros, 3,000 Euros in court costs, and a symbolic damage payment of one Euro to each of the plaintiffs. Karsenty immediately appealed, and another trial was held in September 2007. It was during this trial that the judges realized that there were problems with the al-Dura video.

"Instead of one hearing, which is typical, during the hearing, the judges realized there were problems," Karsenty said. "They asked the lawyers [for France 2] if they agree that this part is staged. The lawyers said that it was not staged."

Still wary of the video, the judges demanded to see all 27 minutes of video, but France 2’s lawyers only produced 18 of the 27 minutes.

"They deleted nine minutes of the most ridiculous part," Karsenty said. "Eighteen minutes were ridiculous enough."

The 18 minutes of footage showed "rehearsals" for other videos, including Palestinian children falling down and then getting up again, and people being escorted into ambulances, only to walk back out of them. Though that would leave nine minutes of video unaccounted for, Enderlin claimed there was no more video.

However, the courts determined that Muhammad was still alive at the end of the film, and in May 2008 reversed the defamation verdict against Karsenty.

"The trial was devastating for France 2," Karsenty said. "Everything was on the table so I could argue with them."

The most crucial part for Karsenty was his victory in a court that had, through the government, an interest in seeing France 2 vindicated.

"France 2 is owned by the state," Karsenty said.

Another facet to the controversy was the reaction of the American Jewish Committee’s representative in Paris, Valerie Hoffenberg. Karsenty, in a letter to supporters in May 2008, said Hoffenberg discouraged French officials from looking into the al-Dura affair, and even blocked access to Karsenty and others presenting evidence to discredit Enderlin’s video. AJCommittee responded with its own statement disputing Karsenty’s accusations. Karsenty raised the point that AJC’s statement was only in English for the domestic audience, in order to make AJC donors believe that their organization was on the right side of the picture. But, when asked to make a comment in French, their representative in Paris refused. She didn’t want to jeopardize her relationship with the French establishment, Karsenty said.

"They just wanted to protect their access to the French government," Karsenty told The Jewish State about AJCommittee. "Access is everything for them."

Almost a year after the ruling, France 2 still vehemently defends the al-Dura video’s authenticity. What helps their cause, Karsenty said, is Enderlin himself.

"Enderlin went all over the world and got influential people to cover the blood libel," Karsenty said. "He is the most respected French journalist in the Middle East. Even before his story, he was the voice of the western world in the Middle East -- amazingly connected. Muhammad was an icon protected by another icon, Enderlin, and he attracted many people to cover up his lie."

Karsenty said the fear of a financially and physically draining lawsuit from Enderlin and France 2 paralyzes other media throughout France. The release of the German documentary was not reported for this reason.

"No... media published anything that the documentary was published, not even the Jewish weekly," Karsenty said. "The government succeeds well with controlling the media outlets in France."

What the French media ignores attracts international attention, and Karsenty takes up the offer. Karsenty has spoken in Italy, America, Belgium, England, and Israel about the al-Dura affair and is slotted to travel to India and Australia to present his evidence.

"We win by making France look ridiculous around the world," Karsenty said. "This case is bigger than the [Alfred] Dreyfus affair. He was just a little Jewish guy who was sent away. This is about the Israeli state, which represents in people’s minds every Jew in every region. When Israel is accused of killing a little boy for pleasure, it says that all the Jews are killing for no reason. It’s exactly the blood libel that we’ve had for centuries. When [President Nicolas] Sarkozy understands that he will be on the wrong side in the history books, maybe he will change. But until then, we need to make him listen. Unfortunately, he is surrounded by people who lie to him about the whole story."

Eight years after the original air date, Karsenty is still one of the sole voices in France who speaks outright about the al-Dura affair. He still wants an admission of fault from France 2 and Charles Enderlin, an apology he may never hear, but is determined to pursue.

"What’s important is that we were asked to prove that al-Dura is a hoax," Karsenty said. "Now we know it’s a hoax. When will the French government cease to support this lie? We have to fight them. I can lose a trial on a technical ground, but it doesn’t mean that I’m wrong."

Sarah Morrison

© The Jewish State

Mis en ligne le 30 mars 2009, par
M. Macina, sur le site