October 2, 2007

The unraveling narrative

In today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) Natan Sharansky applauds the Israeli decision to deny responsibility for the killing of Mohammed al-Dura seven years ago. The change was triggered by a lawsuit filed by Philippe Karsenty against French TV station France 2 and is reporter Charles Enderlin.

To its credit, Israel has come to recognize that it must play an active role in uncovering the truth. The IDF recently sent a letter to France 2 demanding the release of Talal Abu Rahmeh's 27 minutes of raw footage, asserting the implausibility of IDF guilt for the death of Mohammad al-Dura, and raising the possibility that the entire affair may have been staged. Tragically, there is no way to repair the damage inflicted on Israel's international image by the France 2 report, much less restore the Israeli and Jewish victims whose lives were exacted as vengeance. It is possible, however, to deter slanderous news reporting -- and the violence that often accompanies it -- by setting a precedent for media accountability via the handover of Talal Abu Rahmeh's full 27 minutes of raw footage. Encouragingly, the judge presiding over Mr. Karsenty's appeal has now requested the tapes. France 2 must make a full public disclosure. If there is nothing to hide, why should it refuse?

There's a bigger problem with the al-Dura case. There was available information to show that Israeli soldiers were not purposely firing on civilians. Israel almost immediately released a captioned photograph of Netzarim junction showing the positions of the participants in the supposedly fatal gun battle. There were Palestinian positions both in front of and behind the al-Duras. It would appear with that picture and the picture of the father and son hiding behind a barrier that the position that had the clearest shot at the al-Duras was the Palestinian position behind them. Because the Israeli soldiers were returning fire to positions both in front of and behind the al-Duras its impossible they could have realized that they were there. And I also think it was pretty clearly impossible for the Israelis to have hit the al-Duras given the angle they were firing at and the barrier in front of them.

Yet there was no journalistic investigation immediately to determine the accuracy of the imagery. The Israeli government surely failed by failing to act decisively, but the international media also failed miserably. Curiosity, which is supposed to be their hallmark, was totally absent.

It's because the media has a tendency to rely on narrative. The narrative here was that Ariel Sharon's walk on the Temple Mount provoked a spontaneous, justified outbreak of violent riots by the Palestinians.

The first effort by the media to find a victim of Israel's overreaction to the rioting failed. The Israeli policeman, it turned out, wasn't beating the bloodied Palestinian. Rather he was rescuing the Yeshiva student who had been set upon by a mob not seen in the picture.

Chastened by the mistake, the media admitted error and actively sought a new symbol of Palestinian grievance and Israeli overreaction. They found one in the death of Mohammed al-Dura provided by France 2. The "Aqsa Intifada" was not spontaneous. It was weeks in coming having been planned by Arafat to bring diplomatic pressure on Israel as David Samuels reported:

The second intifada also began with the intention of provoking the Israelis and subjecting them to diplomatic pressure. Only this time Arafat went for broke. As a member of the High Security Council of Fatah, the key decision-making and organizational body that dealt with military questions at the beginning of the intifada, Nofal has firsthand knowledge of Arafat's intentions and decisions during the months before and after Camp David. "He told us, 'Now we are going to the fight, so we must be ready,'" Nofal remembers. Nofal says that when Barak did not prevent Ariel Sharon from making his controversial visit to the plaza in front of al-Aqsa, the mosque that was built on the site of the ancient Jewish temples, Arafat said, "Okay, it's time to work."

The start and consequences of the "Aqsa Intifada" have been protected by a false narrative for 7 years now. Philippe Karsenty's lawsuit has a attacked a crucial element of that narrative. Will the unraveling of the al Dura myth lead to a fundamental re-telling of the early days of the violence? The media, though it flatters itself as a "rough draft" of history is resistant to acknowledging and correcting its mistakes. It will be up to others to drive the quest for the truth.

Further background: James Fallows, Scott Shuger.

Related thoughts: Augean Stables, Smooth Stone, Mere Rhetoric, Yourish, A blog for all, Israel Matzav.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad
UPDATE: I've made minor changes from my original post for purposes of clarity. , .

Posted by SoccerDad at October 2, 2007 6:37 AM
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