Al-Dura libel verdict U-turn

By Shirli Sitbon, May 23, 2008

A pro-Israel activist who had accused French TV of forging its report on the death of Mohammad al-Dura, the 12-year-old boy killed in Gaza in 2000 who became an icon of the second intifada, has been found not guilty of defamation by a Paris court. 

French website owner Philippe Karsenty had insisted that the France 2 report of the September 2000 incident, which showed the boy and his father crouching in front of a wall amid an exchange of fire between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants at the Netzarim junction in the Gaza Strip, was faked.

Al-Dura libel verdict U-turn

Mohammed al-Dura's last moments: the disputed footage

The report shows the father Jamal al-Dura gesturing to try to stop the shooting — then cuts to a shot of the boy lying in his father’s lap, with the station’s correspondent Charles Enderlin saying he was killed by Israeli fire.

The French channel later admitted it did not know if the bullets came from the Israeli or the Palestinian position.

On November 22, 2004, Mr Karsenty wrote on his website Media Ratings that al-Dura’s death had been staged and that France 2’s conduct “disgraces France and its public broadcasting system”. Mr Karsenty accused Mr Enderlin, who was not on location during the clashes, of using images staged by his Palestinian cameraman Talal Abu Rahma for propaganda purposes.

The French station filed a complaint and Karsenty was convicted in the original defamation trial. But he filed an appeal and in a second trial the judge examined the 18-minute footage used for the al-Dura report before deciding whether Karsenty was guilty of defamation or not.

It ruled on Wednesday that Karsenty was not guilty.

Charles Enderlin did not appear in court for the verdict.

Mr Karsenty was cheerful, saying his four-year “solitary battle” has come to an end.

Speaking to reporters in the courthouse, Karsenty called on France 2 to apologise officially and on the evening news. “This is a victory of France over lies,” he added.

“France 2 must recognise its mistake. If it does not do so, it will bear responsibility for the hatred and incitement launched by this report.”

“Incitement against Israel, Jews and the West in the Muslim world must stop. This hatred led to violence and the death of Daniel Pearl.”

In February, Mr Karsenty defended his position in court saying the images did not show Mohammad al-Dura getting killed, although the cameraman suggested that he was already dead. He provided a bullet report from a French ballistics expert, Jean-Claude Schlinger, showing the shots fired over the al-Duras came from the Palestinian position, corroborating claims that the footage was doctored. He also pointed out that several scenes on the footage, which preceded the al-Dura incident, appeared staged.

At that hearing, the judge declared that the scenes before the al-Dura incident did seem forged.

However, Mr Enderlin said that the images were no different from the clashes he had witnessed repeatedly. The prosecution reminded the court that a dead Palestinian boy had been buried after the Netzarim junction incident and that Jamal al-Dura gave his consent for DNA tests that could prove the boy was his son.

The prosecution criticised Mr Karsenty for maintaining his accusations when DNA tests could prove the boy’s death, and Mr Karsenty said DNA tests would not prove anything and that he based his accusations on the footage.

Mr Karsenty told Haaretz that the fact that Israel did not speak out for him played against him in the affair.


The Al-Dura case

Twelve-year-old Mohammad al-Dura became an iconic image of the second Intifada, his last moments captured by a French TV camera team. Killed on September 30, 2000, Israel accepted responsibility for his death. But later on, an IDF reconstruction claimed to prove that he had been shot by Palestinians. Campaigners accused France 2 of distorting the footage. One Israeli researcher even claims that he never died, and still lives in the refugee camp, working as an ice-cream seller.

Last updated: 9:15am, May 28 2008