- The French court’s dismissal of the libel case brought by France 2 TV, in response to evidence that the death of Muhammad al-Dura was staged, has increased the examination of the NGO campaigns that propelled this issue.
- The unquestioned repetition of claims by Palestinian “eyewitnesses” without further investigation reflects the standard pattern used by Amnesty International and HRW in condemning Israel for alleged human rights violations.
- Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report that labeled al Dura’s alleged death as “a case of indiscriminate and illegal use of force.” HRW’s lengthy report based on “the accounts of eyewitnesses” simply repeated the claims of the Palestinian cameraman for France 2, without any independent verification.
- HRW’s press release (November 21 2000) ostensibly condemned a Palestinian bombing attack on an Israeli school bus, in which a number of teachers and children were killed and injured. But most of this document refers to the “indiscriminate or excessive use of force by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF),” citing the al Dura allegations, and anonymous witnesses.
- Amnesty International claimed that al Dura was deliberately targeted, and repeated Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) claims, with no supporting evidence.
- Amnesty also used this unverified case as evidence of “long-standing patterns of human rights violation suffered almost exclusively by Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli forces.”
- The image of al-Dura was a central icon at the NGO Forum of the 2001 Durban Conference, in which both NGO superpowers played a central role. The father, Jamal, was a featured speaker in Durban.
On September 30, 2000, journalist Charles Enderlin from France 2 TV reported that Israeli soldiers shot and killed Muhammad al-Dura, a 12-year old Palestinian. Iconic images of al-Dura’s death, filmed by France 2 cameraman Talal Abu Rahmeh, were shown worldwide, inflaming the Palestinian violence, and this was used to justify further attacks. Based entirely on this single source, major news organizations repeated the accusation and blamed Israel for “deliberately target[ing]” the child. An Israeli investigation showed that al Dura could not have been killed by the IDF (based in part on the angles made by the bullet holes), France 2 refused to release the unedited video footage, and Richard Landes suggested that the incident was staged in the framework of “Pallywood”. Philippe Karsenty charged France 2 with inventing and then covering up the al Dura myth, and on May 21, 2008, a French court ruled that he was not libelous in his criticism. The court also emphasized the evidence that Abu Rahma could not be considered “perfectly credible”, given his partisanship.
From the beginning, the politicized NGO network involved in human rights issues promoted the al Dura images, which were central icons at the NGO Forum of the 2001 Durban Conference. And, the father, Jamal, was a featured speaker who was brought to Durban in order to amplify the impact. Many Palestinian NGOs joined the campaign, in close cooperation with NGO superpowers, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. In their publications on this issue, the authors of these reports never questioned the accuracy of the claims or the lack of credible witnesses. This incident was also featured prominently in false claims that Israel was “deliberately targeting” Palestinian children.
Human Rights Watch
In a reported published in October 2000, Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned Israel for the alleged death of Mohammed Al-Dirra, “a case of indiscriminate and illegal use of force.” The HRW report claimed to have compiled the report based “on the accounts of eyewitnesses,” but the only one that is mentioned is the Palestinian cameraman for France 2. HRW extensively repeated Talal Abu Rahmeh’s claims word for word, without any independent verification.
HRW also issued a press release on November 21 2000, headlined “Israel/Palestinian Authority: Gaza Bus Bombing Condemned — All deliberate attacks on children must be investigated, prosecuted”. This statement was ostensibly issued to condemn a Palestinian bombing attack on an Israeli school bus, in which a number of teachers and children were killed and injured. However, HRW devoted over half the document to a condemnation of “indiscriminate or excessive use of force by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF),” citing the al Dura allegations, and anonymous “witnesses”.
In 6 separate reports and publications between October 2000 and November 2001, Amnesty International repeated the allegation that Israel had killed Al Dura. Amnesty International’s major report Broken Lives – A Year of Intifada (April 2001), included a section headlined “Killings by Israelis”, which highlighted the iconic photo of al Dura and his father. The text dismissed the IDF’s investigation, but quotes extensively from a “sworn affidavit” from Talal Abu Rahma, provided by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), version of the events. Amnesty concludes that Israel was responsible for the killing: “Photographs taken by journalists…showed a pattern of bullet holes in the wall…where the two were sheltering. This suggested that Jamal and Muhammad al-Dura were targeted by the Israeli post opposite where they were cowering” (page 16, emphasis added).
Other Amnesty publications exploit this incident to condemn Israel, repeating the allegation that Al Dura “was shot dead by Israeli soldiers” and demonstrating “one of the many long-standing patterns of human rights violation suffered almost exclusively by Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli forces.”
For an appendix of Amnesty and HRW statements on Al Dura, click here.