What Fury Over Iconic Video of Palestinian Boy Says About Israel

Death in Gaza Caught on Tape 13 Years Ago — Or Was It?

Enduring Dispute: This iconic image shows a Palestinian boy identified as Mohammed al-Dura cowering on a Gaza street during an Israeli attack. But did he really die — and does it really matter?
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Enduring Dispute: This iconic image shows a Palestinian boy identified as Mohammed al-Dura cowering on a Gaza street during an Israeli attack. But did he really die — and does it really matter?

By Gal Beckerman

Published June 11, 2013, issue of June 14, 2013.
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But the really fascinating question is this: Why does Israel feel the need to return to this story, almost pathologically unable to quit the scene of this crime? Who was the intended audience of this report?

The appointed government committee was rightly criticized for not interviewing any of the individuals who might counter the Israeli narrative. They did not speak with Charles Enderlin, the France 2 reporter and Israeli citizen who has insisted on the truth of his initial report; the cameraman who shot the footage, or Mohammed’s father, Jamal al-Dura, who recently told Haaretz that he would be willing to “do anything to reveal the truth, including opening my son’s grave.”

But even if they had conducted a more thorough report, short of producing a 25-year-old Mohammed al-Dura alive and well in Gaza, it’s hard to see how it was meant to sway anyone who at this point is not already inclined to the Israeli perspective. As the reporter Barak Ravid succinctly put it, changing the narrative now is like “trying to put the toothpaste back into the tube.”

It must be aimed, then, at Israelis, a way to reinforce a story they need to hear about themselves. The report lends credence to this idea. It is formulated as a response to an incident that, the committee writes, “served as inspiration and justification for terror, anti-Semitism and Israel’s delegitimization.”

From this starting point, how could the panel come to any other conclusion but to absolve Israel from having brought these calamities down upon itself? All they had to do was remove one bullet from a 12-year-old’s abdomen. If the bullet never hit, then the whole newsreel that follows could be unspooled — all that follows, from boycott campaigns to cartoons depicting Israelis as bloodsuckers. None of it happens.

It’s from this place of magical thinking that Israel finds itself still riveted by al-Dura’s death, as the media event that first made the world so unanimously respond in disgust to the Jewish state. Behind this desperate desire to reveal his death as constructed, as an event made up for the media, is embedded Israel’s own distress at the pariah it has become in so much of the world. Erase al-Dura and you erase that.

On the left, news of yet another Israeli response to al-Dura’s death was met with bewilderment. As Open Zion put it, why would the Israelis decide again to stir up “this hornet’s nest?” But while it’s easy to write this off as another tone-deaf attempt at hasbara, Israel once again awkwardly trying to make its case, to me the report is sad. It’s a message directly from the Israeli psyche, raging against its own failure to present the face it wants to present to the world, one of essential goodness, one of righteous purpose, and not a country that kills small children.

Gal Beckerman is the Forward’s opinion editor and writes a monthly column about the media. Contact him at beckerman@forward.com or on Twitter, @galbeckerman.


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