Who killed Mohammed al-Dura?

A new report by German television tells us more about the media and
the failures of the IDF spokesman than it does about the death of a
young boy

Segev Tom

Published date - 22/03/02

Mohammed al-Dura , a Palestinian boy, was shot and killed at the
Netzarim junction in the Gaza Strip on September 30, 2000. His death
was captured by France 2 television and he immediately became the
symbol of the nascent intifada. The footage created the impression
that the boy was shot by Israeli army fire, and that may be so, but
possibly not. The Israel Defense Forces, which initially expressed
its regret over the incident and thus implicitly assumed responsibility
for the boy's death, claimed afterward that he had been hit by
Palestinian gunfire.
This week, the German channel ARD broadcast a report on the incident,
and the Israeli media were quick to state ARD's "investigative report"
had found that the boy was apparently shot by the Palestinian side
and not by the IDF. These are trying times for Israeli Foreign
Ministry staff, who have to "explain" what the IDF is doing to the
residents of the territories, so there was great joy in the ministry
at this windfall. At last the truth had come to light.
The German television report was entitled "Three bullets and a dead
boy." It has nothing new to tell us about the boy's death; it does,
though, have something to tell us about the media and propaganda,
about the power of myths and the failures of the IDF Spokesman's
Office.
The reporter, Esther Shapira, speaks in a dramatic alto voice, but
she does not succeed in citing even one detail that rules out the
possibility that the boy was killed by the Israeli army. All that
she did - as many have done before her - was to assert that on the
basis of the footage taken by the French television cameraman it is
impossible to say for certain that the boy was hit by Israeli fire,
nor can this be ruled out. He may have been shot by Palestinians who
were on a high floor of a building that at the time still stood behind
the IDF position. Or maybe not.
The difficulty in determining who killed the boy stems from the fact
that no autopsy was performed on his body; a Palestinian physician
showed the reporter photographs of the body and said the boy was shot
from high up and from the front. A narrator-interpreter repeated these
words with heavy emphasis, as though they could prove something. The
photographs do not prove a thing. Both Israelis and Palestinians were
shooting from high up and from the front. The reporter did not examine
bullets that were removed from the boy's body or from his father's
body, nor is it clear whether they were removed at all. What the father
has said on this point contradicts what the doctors said.
The wall in front of which the tragedy occurred was knocked down
at the order of the IDF, though photos of it remain, on which the
bullet holes can be seen. There is an argument over whether they were
caused by rifles that were in Israeli use or by rifles that were in
Palestinian use. There is nothing new in this argument, and it's
doubtful whether a court would accept either of the versions. The
father and his son hid behind a barrel on which there was a block.
The reporter discovered that someone had replaced the original block
with one that was flatter - perhaps to conceal the fact that the father
and son could not have been seen from the Israeli position, because
the block hid them, whereas the flatter block would have made it
possible to see them. There is no proof that the block actually hid
the two from the soldiers in the position.
In the absence of concrete evidence, the reporter tries to guess:
Why would the Israelis want to kill a boy? How is it possible that
they fired for 45 minutes without hitting him? And what were they
doing there in the first place, the boy and his father: For an instant,
the victim becomes the criminal. What is the France 2 photographer
- a Palestinian from the Gaza Strip named Talal Abu Rahma - hiding?
(Are the media to blame?)
The reporter tries to make a case out of the suspicion that France
2 is hiding material that supposedly undermines the contention that
the IDF is to blame for the boy's death. On this point there seems
to be a contradiction between what the photographer says and what
his superiors say; that, too, is not definitive proof. All the
questions were asked in the past, and they do not prove that the IDF
killed the boy, nor do they prove the opposite.
Major General (res.) Yom Tov Samia, who was the head of Southern
Command, shows for the umpteenth time the measurements he made using
his laptop computer, which are supposed to prove that the soldiers
in the position could not have shot the boy. The measurements were
made on a wall and using a Hollywood-style replica of the original
site, so they are of no value as evidence. The IDF Spokesman's Office
issued an aerial photograph and subsequently a quasi- "in-depth
investigation." It was all done too late and too slowly and it didn't
prove anything.
The reporter lets us listen to the voices of three people whose faces
we don't see. She says they are soldiers who were at the position
and identifies them by their first names only, "for reasons of
security," as she says in a mysterious tone: "Ariel," "Alexei" and
"Idan" say that they did not kill the boy. According to earlier
reports, the soldiers who manned the position were Druze. This new
information also proves nothing. The IDF Spokesman's Office was
represented in the report by an officer with the rank of major named
Olivier Rafovic. He had no concrete information to offer.
The interesting sections of the report document the propaganda use
that the Palestinians make of the boy's death on television and in
schools. The father is taken on visits to other countries, where he
tells his story and gives autographs. The good guy in the report is
an Israeli contractor named Moshe Tamam. He employed the boy's father
and still keeps in touch with him. He is the only one who had a scoop
for the reporter: a video film made at his son's bar mitzvah party
showing Mohammed's father among the guests.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published date - 22/03/02