Muhammad Al-Durrah

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Muhammad al-Durrah
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Muhammad al-Durrah and his father Jamal before the shooting on September 30, 2000. The scene, now iconic, was recorded by Talal Abu Rahma for France 2.

Muhammad Jamal al-Durrah (1988–
2000 (aged 11–12); Arabic: محمد جمال الدرة), a Palestinian boy, became an icon of the Palestinian uprising when he was filmed crouched behind his father during a violent clash between Palestinians and Israeli security forces in the Gaza Strip. The two were sheltering during a crossfire between troops at an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) outpost and Palestinian police and gunmen shooting from a number of locations.[1] After a burst of gunfire, the two slumped into prone positions. Al-Durrah was reported to have been killed and his father severely injured by Israeli gunfire. The footage, which was filmed by the French television station France 2, was re-broadcast around the world and produced international outrage against the Israeli army and the government.[2] Images from the footage became an iconic symbol of the Palestinian cause and al-Durrah himself was portrayed as an emblem of martyrdom; the footage was shown repeatedly on Arabic television channels and al-Durrah was publicly commemorated in a number of Arab countries.[3]
Although the Israeli army initially accepted responsibility for the shooting, a number of commentators later sought alternative explanations. They disputed the authenticity of the tape and questioned the honesty of the France 2 cameraman and reporter, the source of the fatal bullets,[1] whether Palestinian gunmen had shot him rather than the Israelis and the identity of the boy in the footage. Some even speculated that the entire incident had been faked with no actual casualties.[4][5][6][1] Campaigners sought the reopening of the case but did not attract public support from the Israeli government or army. Instead, unofficial investigations were carried out that disputed the official account of the shooting; these conclusions were not publicly endorsed by the Israeli state.

In 2004 the affair became the subject of legal proceedings in France. The France 2 channel sued the commentator Philippe Karsenty, who alleged that the channel had faked the footage and demanded the sacking of
Charles Enderlin, the journalist who had produced the original September 30, 2000 report on the al-Durrah shooting. A French court ruled in favour of France 2 in 2006 and convicted Karsenty of libel, though he subsequently took the case to an appeal that is still ongoing.
Personal background
Muhammad al-Durrah was in fifth grade when the shooting occurred, living with his four brothers, two sisters, his mother, Amal, and his father, Jamal, in the United Nations-run Bureij refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. His father was a house painter, normally working for Israelis in the wealthy suburbs north of Tel Aviv.[7][8]

His teacher told reporters that he enjoyed swimming, looking after his pet birds, and was an excellent English student. On the day of the incident, the school was closed because of a general Palestinian "protest day" strike.[7] His mother, Amal, stated that Muhammad enjoyed watching people set fire to things on such protest days and that three days before the incident, the boy asked her "if you're killed in Netzarim, do you die as a martyr?".[1]

The incident

Muhammad and Jamal under fire.

The camera goes out of focus at the moment of the shooting.

As the dust clears, the father and son are slumped across each other.

In an interview with Talal Abu Rahma on the day after the shooting, the cameraman who filmed the incident, Jamal al-Durrah said that he and Muhammad had been out that day looking for cars at a used car dealership. Having failed to buy anything, they decided to take a cab home, which was two kilometers away.[9]

Around lunchtime, they arrived near a road junction where Palestinians were throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at Israel Defence Forces (IDF) soldiers protecting the nearby settlement of Netzarim, which was dismantled following the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.[10] With the cab driver unwilling to go further because of the rioting,[7] Jamal decided to cross the junction on foot to look for another cab.[11]

According to Matt Rees of Time, Palestinian gunmen started shooting at the Israeli soldiers from a nearby orange grove.[10][12] Muhammad and his father crouched behind a cylinder or drum, with their backs to a cinderblock wall, to shelter from the gunfire.[10]

The shooting incident

The incident was recorded by Talal Abu Rahma, a veteran freelance Palestinian cameraman who lives in the Gaza Strip and had worked for France 2 for many years. Working alone, Abu Rahma captured 27 minutes of the incident on tape. He also reported that the Israelis had fired at the boy and his father for a total of 45 minutes.[11]

The tape was edited for broadcast by Charles Enderlin, a French-Israeli journalist who was France 2's bureau chief in Israel at the time. The original tape was edited down to 59 seconds, with a voice-over provided by Enderlin. Enderlin was not present during the shooting itself.

The tape as broadcast shows Muhammad and his father crouching behind a concrete cylinder, situated between the Israeli and Palestinian positions. The two are shown in considerable distress, with the child screaming and the father shielding him. According to Matt Rees writing in TIME, Muhammed told his father "Don't worry, Daddy, the ambulance will come and rescue us."[10] The father is shown waving toward the Israeli position, shouting "Don't shoot!" The camera goes out of focus at the moment of the shooting. A final frame shows the father sitting upright, injured, and the boy lying over his legs.

In his voiceover, Enderlin stated that the IDF had killed the boy.[13]

Reports of injuries

Muhammad and his father Jamal were taken to the Shifa hospital in Gaza, where Muhammad was pronounced dead on arrival. There were conflicting reports on the injuries sustained by the two. Muhammad was reported by the BBC to have been shot four times[14], though other reports stated that the pathologist had identified three injuries.[1] Talal Abu Rahma referred in his affidavit to one shot to the boy's right leg.[11] No autopsy was performed on the body and Muhammad was reported to have been buried that night.[7] Doctors were reported to have removed bullets from both Jamal al-Dura's arm and pelvis,[15] though other reports stated that no bullets were found because they fragmented upon entering the body, and that no fragments were found either.[1] The BBC also reported that the father's right hand was paralyzed permanently.

Father's story

In an interview with the father, the BBC reported that Muhammad had pleaded with his father for protection. "For the love of God protect me, Baba (Dad),".[15] The boy's father told the BBC that Israeli troops had fired relentlessly, and had shot at an ambulance that tried to rescue the pair, killing the ambulance driver, Bassam al-Bilbeisi,[7] and injuring another.

The father said: "I appeal to the entire world, to all those who have seen this crime to act and help me avenge my son's death and to put on trial Israel ..." He said he planned to take Israel to the international courts.
[15] In another interview, he said his son had died for "the sake of Al-Aqsa Mosque," which was the subject of Palestinian protests at the time following a controversial visit by the Israeli politician Ariel Sharon.[14]

Cameraman's testimony

This diagram of the incident was provided by the cameraman in an affidavit given to the Palestine Centre for Human Rights.[11]

Charles Enderlin, the France 2 correspondent, later wrote that he had based his initial conclusion that the IDF had shot al-Durrah on the testimony of the cameraman, Talal Abu Rahma.[13] Abu Rahma stated in a sworn affidavit given to the Palestine Centre for Human Rights in Gaza in October 2000 that he believed the IDF had intentionally shot the boy.[11] According to Rahma, "They were cleaning the area. Of course they saw the father, they were aiming at the boy, and that is what surprised me, yes, because they were shooting at him, not only one time, but many times".[16]

The cameraman stated in his affidavit that he had been alerted to the incident while at the northern part of the road leading to the Netzarim junction, also called the al-Shohada junction. He said he could see an Israeli military outpost at the northwest of the junction, and just behind it, two Palestinian apartment blocks, nicknamed "the twins." He could also see a Palestinian Security Forces outpost (police station), located south of the junction, just behind the spot where the father and his boy were crouching. He observed shooting coming from there too, but not, he said, during the time when the boy was reportedly shot. The Israeli fire was being directed at this Palestinian outpost. There was another Palestinian outpost 30 meters away. His attention was drawn to the child by Shams Oudeh, a Reuters photographer who was sitting beside Muhammad al-Durrah and his father. The three of them were sheltering behind a concrete block.[11]

Regarding the shooting incident, Abu Rahma stated:

Shooting started first from different sources, Israeli and Palestinian. It lasted for not more than 5 minutes. Then, it was quite clear for me that shooting was towards the child Muhammad and his father from the opposite direction to them. Intensive and intermittent shooting was directed at the two and the two outposts of the Palestinian National Security Forces. The Palestinian outposts were not a source of shooting, as shooting from inside these outposts had stopped after the first five minutes, and the child and his father were not injured then. Injuring and killing took place during the following 45 minutes.

I can assert that shooting at the child Muhammad and his father Jamal came from the above-mentioned Israeli military outpost, as it was the only place from which shooting at the child and his father was possible. So, by logic and nature, my long experience in covering hot incidents and violent clashes, and my ability to distinguish sounds of shooting, I can confirm that the child was intentionally and in cold blood shot dead and his father injured by the Israeli army.[11]


Family's reaction

Muhammad's mother, Amal, watched the incident on television, worried that her husband and son had not returned home, but without recognizing the two figures she saw sheltering from the gunfire. It was only when she watched the scene in a later broadcast that she realized who it was. Her children said she screamed at the sight, then fainted.[7]

She told reporters: "My son didn't die in vain. This was his sacrifice for our homeland, for Palestine."[14] and "[n]othing good will come of this. We will have many more martyrs, and nothing will change."[16] One of Muhammad's brothers, Iyad, told TIME magazine: "He's a symbol not only for Palestinians. He left his impact on the whole world. It was shaken by his death."[10]


The IDF initially stated that it was "probably responsible" for killing al-Durrah and expressed sorrow at his death.[15] IDF operations chief Giora Eiland announced that "there had been an investigation by the major-general of the southern command and apparently [al-Durrah] was killed by Israeli Army fire at the Palestinians who were attacking them violently".[17]

A later, informal IDF investigation concluded that al-Durrah had probably been killed by Palestinian fire,[18] but Israeli officials said it would be a "losing proposition" to reopen the case formally, because they would be "accused of blaming the victim."[19] (See Shahaf/Duriel investigation below.)

Muslim world

A Tunisian postage stamp entitled: The young Palestinian martyr, Muhammad al-Durrah
Enderlin's statement that the IDF had killed the boy was widely accepted as fact in the Islamic world and his death became a symbol of opposition to Israel. Egypt and Tunisia issued postage stamps depicting him as a martyr.[4] Egypt re-named the street on which the Israeli embassy is located in his honor.[4][20] The Palestinian Authority gave the same name to a street in Jericho; Saddam Hussein similarly named a main thoroughfare in Baghdad "Martyr Mohammed al-Dura Street"; and Morocco created an al-Dura Park.[21] The Iranian Ministry of Education developed a website to commemorate him,[22] and the Iranian foreign ministry suggested renaming a street in Tehran in his honor.[23] Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, composed a poem in his honour.[24]

On October 7, 2001, Osama bin Laden warned President George W. Bush that he "must not forget the image of Mohammed al-Dura and his fellow Muslims in Palestine and Iraq. If he has forgotten, then we will not forget, God willing."[21] In May 2004, the Kuwaiti investment company Global Investment House created the "Al-Durra Islamic Fund" with the investment objective of seeking "capital growth through investing in Sharia'a-compliant local shares."[25]

Jamal al-Durrah is reportedly dismayed by the way that images of Muhammad's death have been commercialized. He told the Media:

I had very bad feelings when I saw some toilet paper — they put the picture of the killing of Mohammed with me on the cover just to sell it. I didn't like it, because this is a symbol and a martyrdom. The next day people took the roll cover and threw it in the garbage.

Amnesty International

Citing the cameraman's statement that the IDF had killed the boy deliberately, a November 2001 Amnesty International report entitled "Broken Lives — A Year of Intifada" said that photographs taken by journalists showed a pattern of bullet holes indicating that the father and son were targeted by the Israeli post opposite them. AI also stated that, on October 11, 2001, the IDF spokesperson in Jerusalem had shown AI delegates maps that purported to show that al-Durrah had been killed in crossfire.[27]


The controversy over al-Durrah's death centers on two main areas. First, neither Palestinian nor Israeli officials appear to have conducted a full investigation. No bullets appear to have been recovered; there was no autopsy; and no ballistics tests were conducted at the scene to determine the angle of the shots. Second, there is controversy regarding the way the France 2 footage was shot, edited, and reported.

No autopsy, bullets, or ballistics examination

Bullet holes can be seen in the wall behind the al-Durrahs. It was reported that no bullets were collected by the Palestinians, and that the IDF demolished the wall before ballistics tests could be carried out.[28]

It was reported that no autopsy was performed,[29] and no bullets appear to have been recovered, either at the hospital or at the scene. In an interview with Esther Shapiro for Three Bullets and a Child, a 2002 documentary for Germany's ARD channel, Talal Abu Rahma, the cameraman, said that bullets had been recovered; he said that Shapiro should ask a named Palestinian official, a general, about them. The general told Shapiro that he had no bullets, and that there had been no Palestinian investigation into the shooting because there was no doubt about who had shot the boy. "It was the Israeli side who committed this murder," he said.[28]

When told the general had no bullets, Abu Rahma said instead that France 2 had collected the bullets at the scene. When questioned about this by Shapiro, he replied: "We have some secrets for ourselves ... We cannot give anything ... everything."[28]

Shapiro also reported that the wall the al-Durrahs sheltered behind, in which bullet holes are visible in the footage, had been destroyed by the IDF before a ballistics examination could be conducted. [28][30] Shapiro's documentary concluded that the boy could not have been shot by the IDF, and that the shooting and his death were accidental.[28][30]

What the raw footage showed

The France 2 footage became controversial because Enderlin's report showed only 59 seconds out of 27 minutes of raw footage, and did not include the scene of the boy's death. Just over three minutes of footage was provided to other news organizations and to the Israeli army. France 2 provided the footage free of charge to the world's media, saying it did not want to profit from the incident.[4] None of the distributed footage shows the boy dying.

Independent journalists view the footage

Charles Enderlin, the France 2 bureau chief in Jerusalem, said that he had cut the death scene from his original report, and from the footage supplied to other media, because it showed the boy in his death throes ("agonie"), which he said in an interview with Télérama in October 2000 was "unbearable."[31]
In October 2004, in response to criticism that the footage may have been edited inappropriately, executives at France 2 allowed three senior French journalists to view all 27 minutes of the raw footage. The three were Daniel Leconte, a former France 2 correspondent; Dennis Jeambar, the editor-in-chief of L'Express; and Luc Rosenzweig, a former editor-in-chief of Le Monde, and a Metula News Agency (Mena) contributor.

Shortly after the viewing, Mena's editor-in-chief Stéphane Juffa reported that the footage did not show the boy's death.
[6] Leconte and Jeambar wrote about the footage in an article co-authored a few weeks after viewing it, although it was first published five months later on January 25, 2005 by Le Figaro, allegedly only after it had been offered to, and rejected by, Le Monde.[4] In their article, Leconte and Jeambar write that there is no scene in the France 2 footage that shows the child had died. They wrote that they did not believe that the scene had been staged, but that "this famous 'agony' that Enderlin insisted was cut from the montage does not exist."[4]
They also wrote that the first 20 minutes or so of the film showed young Palestinians "playing at war" for the cameras, falling down as if wounded, then getting up and walking away. They told a radio interviewer that a France 2 official had said "You know it's always like that."[32] In an interview with Cybercast News Service, Leconte said that he found France 2's statement disturbing. "I think that if there is a part of this event that was staged, they have to say it, that there was a part that was staged, that it can happen often in that region for a thousand reasons," he said.[4]

Leconte did not conclude that the shooting of the boy and his father was faked; in his view "At the moment of the shooting, it's no longer acting, there's really shooting, there's no doubt about that."[32]

In February 2005, France 2 also showed the raw footage to the International Herald Tribune. The reporter, Doreen Carvajal, writes that the footage of the father and son lasts several minutes, but does not clearly show the child's death. She also writes there is a cut in the scene that France 2 executives say was caused by the cameraman's efforts to preserve a low battery.[4]

Leconte asks France 2 to correct its report

February 15, 2005, Leconte said in an interview with the Cybercast News Service that al-Durrah had been shot from the Palestinian position. He said: "The only ones who could hit the child were the Palestinians from their position. If they had been Israeli bullets, they would be very strange bullets because they would have needed to go around the corner."[32] He dismissed an earlier claim by France 2 that the gunshots that struck al-Durrah were bullets that could have ricocheted off the ground, stating "It could happen once, but that there should be eight or nine of them, which go around a corner? They're just saying anything."[32]
Leconte also told the Cybercast News Service that the cameraman had retracted his testimony. France 2's communications director Christine Delavennat said that Abu Rahma had not retracted his testimony, but rather "denied making a statement — falsely attributed to him by a human rights group [the Palestine Centre for Human Rights] — to the effect that the Israeli army fired at the boy in cold blood."[32]

Leconte said that because the pictures had "devastating" consequences, which included the public lynching of two Israeli soldiers and a rise in antisemitism among French Muslims, France 2 or Enderlin should admit that their report may have been misleading. "Who will say it, I don't know, but it is important that Enderlin or France 2 should say, that on these pictures, they were wrong — they said things that were not reality," he said.[32]

Enderlin's response

Enderlin responded to Jeambar and Leconte's charges in a January 27, 2005 article in Le Figaro. He wrote that he had alleged the bullets were fired by the Israelis for a number of reasons: first, he trusted the cameraman who, he said, had worked for France 2 for 17 years. It was the cameraman, he said, who made the initial claim during the broadcast, and later had it confirmed by other journalists and sources. The initial Israeli statements also played a role, he said.[13]

Enderlin said "the image corresponded to the reality of the situation, not only in Gaza but also in the West Bank," where, he wrote, in the first month of the Intifada, the IDF had already shot around one million bullets, and killed 118 Palestinians, including 33 children, compared to the 11 Israelis killed. Enderlin attributed these figures to Ben Kaspit of Maariv.[13]

Leconte responded: "I find this, from a journalistic point of view, hallucinating. That a journalist like him can be driven to say such things is very revealing of the state of the press in France today."[32]

Enderlin also wrote that a journalist does not have to take note of "possibly dishonest" later uses by "extremist groups," and accused Jeambar and Leconte of promoting "censorship".[13]

Allegations that the incident was staged

Richard Landes
Richard Landes,[33] a Boston University professor specializing in medieval cultures, and founder and director of the Center for Millennial Studies,[34] studied full footage from other Western news outlets shot on the day of the shooting, including the pictures of the boy, and concluded that the shooting had probably been faked.[35]

He called the footage an example of "Pallywood" cinema, writing: "I came to the realization that Palestinian cameramen, especially when there are no Westerners around, engage in the systematic staging of action scenes."[4] Landes went on to found the website Second Draft, dedicated to gathering evidence on the al-Durrah case and other controversies in journalism.[36]

Shahaf/Duriel investigation
Nahum Shahaf, a physicist, and Yosef Duriel, an engineer, were informally commissioned by IDF Southern Commander Major General Yom Tov Samia to begin a second investigation of the case. Shortly after the shooting, the IDF acknowledged that there was "a high probability" that IDF gunfire had killed al-Durrah. Ha'aretz writes that Deputy Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon expressed his sorrow over the tragedy, assuming that "the damage to Israel's reputation was irreversible, and knowing that Israel faced the reality of more children dying ..."[37] Senior officers in the Southern Command were allegedly bitter about what they saw as this hasty capitulation, which is why Shahaf and Duriel's offer to help investigate was accepted. The two were already familiar with one another after being involved in attempts to develop alternative theories about the assassination of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.[37]

On October 23, 2000, Shahaf and Duriel arranged a re-enactment of the shooting on an IDF shooting range, in front of a CBS 60 Minutes camera crew. Duriel told 60 Minutes that he believed al-Durrah was killed by Palestinian gunmen collaborating with the France 2 camera crew and the boy's father, with the intent of fabricating an anti-Israel propaganda symbol.[37] Samia immediately removed Duriel from the investigation, but Duriel continued to insist that his version was accurate and that the IDF were refusing to publicize it because the results were "explosive".[37]

The results of the investigation were released on November 27,2000. Samia stated: "A comprehensive investigation conducted in the last weeks casts serious doubt that the boy was hit by Israeli fire. It is quite plausible that the boy was hit by Palestinian bullets in the course of the exchange of fire that took place in the area." IDF Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz later insisted that this investigation was a private enterprise of Samia's.[38] Yossi Almog, a retired senior police officer who specializes in evidence-gathering, told Ha'aretz: "I don't believe the IDF would release a conclusion revising a previous declaration without first conducting a thorough examination, using the best professionals in the security establishment. I wouldn't rely on an approach made by some anonymous person. I might welcome that person's initiative, but I certainly wouldn't accept his conclusions without conducting a systematic, orderly examination, under the best possible conditions. Anything less than that isn't serious."[37]

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