A Child Is Dead: We're Not Invited to Toast Charles Enderlin's Definitive al Dura Production
Ten years after the blockbuster "Killing of Mohamed al Dura" film was brought to the world by Charles Enderlin under the aegis of state-owned France 2 TV, the book version, Un enfant est mort, is about to hit the shelves...with a whimper. Why?
No one can forget the dramatic "news broadcast" that placed the "dead child" at the feet of viewers worldwide, unleashing waves of Jew hatred on a scale not seen since the Shoah. "A las cinco de la tarde"... 3 PM... shootout at Netzarim Junction... Mohamed is twelve years old... on last burst of gunfire...the child is dead... Blood libel on a planetary scale [link Makor Rishon 2005]. The brief-under one minute-video shot at Netzarim junction in the Gaza Strip on a day of anger organized by Israel's enemies and dutifully relayed by Western media, has been astutely analyzed, exposed as a fake, dragged into the French courts, defended by Enderlin's hierarchy and the majority of his French colleagues... What is left to be said?
My email request for a review copy left unrequited, I phoned the don Quichotte (French for Don Quixote) publishing house to ask if I could stop by and pick up a copy. The receptionist--who is apparently also press attach?, editor, publisher, and Enderlin's bodyguard-replied that it would be impossible. Might I be on a blacklist, guilty of having written extensively about the al Dura hoax? Declining her offer to mail a copy that would arrive, if ever, a week after the October 7 release, I inquired about the launch. Not that I expected an invitation...
There will be no launch, no book party, no press conference, no pride and joy. After all, a child is dead.
I jokingly remarked that I was a jealous of Pierre Haski who has already reviewed the book for the Rue89 website. "We made a very restricted distribution of review copies. I don't know why you think you should have received one." I defend my reputation: "I'm one of the few journalists based in France writing for English-speaking media."
True. I've written about the al Dura affair for, among others, Commentary and the Wall Street Journal. Which is why I didn't get a review copy and find myself in even hotter water as this curious conversation comes to a boil. "Will you be posting information," I ask, "about public appearances, TV and radio broadcasts..."
"No we will not! I know very well why you ask me for that information! No! We are not going to publicize his public appearances!"
Phew. The phone is burning. I honestly don't know why she thinks I should know why she knows I want to know. It's only later that I realize she thinks I might turn up to assault monsieur journalist Charles Enderlin... with a legitimate question. In a world hooked on PR where writers and publishers will die for a bit of high profile publicity, this quixotic publisher seems to be terrified that some uncontrollable element might dare to express an opinion about the untouchable book.
"Actually, I would just like to know so I won't miss the programs.
"He was on Les 4 v?rit?s [France 2 TV] this morning."
"Tr?s bien. I'll catch it online."
Quatre v?rit?s means more than "4 truths"; it's the whole truth. On this episode of the whole truth show, Roland Sicard serves Charles Enderlin like an impeccably polite waiter in a posh restaurant. Sicard swallows whole whatever his colleague Enderlin offers to plug the holes in the al Dura story. It's worth watching, even if you don't understand a word of French.
They actually begin with a rerun of the al Dura "death scene" originally aired at prime time on that fateful September 30, 2000. Sicard innocently asks how the report became controversial. Monsieur journalist Charles Enderlin calmly explains how, two months after the incident, Israeli army officials concluded that the gunfire more likely came from the Palestinian position. Curiously enough, says Enderlin, one of the two experts on that commission had declared only two days after the broadcast that it was a staged scene.
In urbane tones--several levels below the dramatic voice-over that convinced the world of the deliberate murder of a Palestinian child by Israeli soldiers--Charles Enderlin tells how the absurd notion that the killing was a staged scene became internet buzz, eventually picked up by-unnamed-- personalities, and finally blossomed into a full blown conspiracy theory. Upon which, with a paradoxical dose of mockery, France 2's eternal Jerusalem correspondent unwittingly describes what happened that day:
Conspiracy theorists would have us believe that 24 hours after the start of the Intifada, Palestinians brought together hundreds of people to play act; the boy and his father play acted; the scene in the Jordanian hospital was faked and the blood seeping from the father's wounds was ketchup. "Francis Ford Coppola in Gaza! Harumph."
It's true: Dozens if not hundreds of Palestinians were organized to play act combat scenes -- totally out of firing range of Israeli soldiers, complete with fake injuries and comical ambulance evacuations. All of this was captured on raw footage from Reuters and other agencies whose Palestinian fixers, including Talal Abu Rahma, can be seen filming these vignettes.
Did Enderlin ever doubt the sincerity of his cameraman? Of course not. Talal has worked with France 2 for years. He won several prizes for this reportage. Following a request for clarifications from monsieur Enderlin, the Shin Beth cleared the cameraman of all suspicion: "He's white as the driven snow. He doesn't belong to any anti-Israel organization."
Timidly taking the initiative (perhaps he was told to ask one tricky question) Sicard wonders if the al Dura controversy is more intense in Israel or France. Enderlin replies with a yes, no, yes, no, adding that there is also a campaign against him in the United States. Then, waxing philosophical, he sums up the "war of images" theme: "When an image makes trouble for Israel, Israel makes trouble for the image."
The strategy is transparent. We can expect to see it employed in Enderlin's book and reflected in forthcoming friendly reviews and interviews. It requires an iron grip on all elements of this staged debate in which every detail must be kept slightly out of focus. Counting on the real or feigned ignorance of the journalistic class and the impossibility of making dissenting voices heard in mainstream French media, every question will be placed just far enough beside the point to maintain the overall blur. No precise detail of the meticulous investigations that have exposed the al Dura hoax will ever be mentioned. No precise objection will ever be answered. Questioned about the authenticity of the video, Enderlin and his handmaidens will always reply with attacks on those who question it. He will lump them together as conspiracy theorists even as he weaves them into his very own conspiracy theory.
Falsehoods about the falsified killing of a young man portrayed as a child, the better to accuse Jews of blood libel, will be smoothed like butter on Enderlin's bread. Any one equipped to call him on these falsehoods will be pushed aside and dismissed. In a debate on RSS [link] Elisabeth L?vy [causeur.fr] asks when Charles is going to explain himself on the "death throes." "He said he edited out the death throes, it was too horrible to show. But in fact there is no footage of death throes." Journalist Fran?ois Gross snaps back: "They don't save all the raw footage."
False, of course. They did save the raw footage. Enderlin testified, under oath, that it was kept in a safe. He turned over (some of it) in compliance with a court order. Lo and behold, there is no raw footage of the al Dura death scene. Nothing more than the snippet aired on September 30th and forever after. Everyone knows by now that the so-called death throes are in fact the few seconds where the boy, allegedly dead, moves and looks at the camera. Further, Enderlin claimed some years later that the "death throes" are the whole incident from beginning to end (allegedly 45 minutes), the complete footage (allegedly 27 minutes). But why should Fran?ois Gross possess such useless information?
Officially there will be no launch of "Un enfant est mort." For all we know, a lovely cocktail party will be held behind closed doors, in the presence of a smiling Talal Abu Rahma and an aggrieved Jamal al Dura. Champagne and petits-fours, knowing winks and pats on the back. Worldly smiles and blas? sighs. But I'm not invited and neither are you.
What surprises me, actually, is that the book will be sold on the open market. Knowing the methods of the al Dura affair, I would expect it to be restricted to True Believers. Will I have to prove my good faith when I walk into a bookstore tomorrow and fork up 18 euros for the ultimate smokescreen?
[Original version of an article published Oct. 6, 2010 in Hebrew translation in Makor Rishon]
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