By Oren Rawls

Published May 30, 2003, issue of May 30, 2003.
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Shot Seen ’Round the World: The most enduring image of the 32-month-long intifada is undoubtedly that of Mohammed Al-Dura, the 12-year-old boy who died in his father’s arms during an exchange of fire between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians in Gaza.

The footage of the firefight, shot by a French television cameraman, has become a touchstone in the Arab world. The Palestinian boy’s terrified face is memorialized on postage stamps in several Arab countries, streets and parks have been named in his honor and even Osama bin Laden invoked Al-Dura’s name in one of his recorded video invectives against the United States.

There’s only one problem with the heart-wrenching tale of Al-Dura, James Fallows writes in the June issue of The Atlantic Monthly: “It now appears that the boy cannot have died in the way reported by most of the world’s media and fervently believed throughout the Islamic world.”

Fallows reports the findings of a motley crew of nongovernmental researchers — “a variety of academics, ex-soldiers and Web-loggers who have become obsessed with the case” — detailing the minutiae that led them to conclude that “whatever happened to [Al-Dura], he was not shot by the Israeli soldiers who were known to be involved in the day’s fighting.”

The saga of Al-Dura, Fallows writes, is as much about the packaging of images into a coherent narrative as it is about the boy’s death. “Through the compression involved in editing the footage for a news report, the scene acquired a clear story line by the time European, American and Middle Eastern audiences saw it on television: Palestinians throw rocks. Israeli soldiers, from the slits in their outpost, shoot back. A little boy is murdered.”

There’s more than meets the cameraman’s eye, Fallows argues, than the narratives adhered to by both the vast majority of Arabs who are certain that Israel intentionally targeted Al-Dura and the cadre of hard-line Jews who believe the boy’s death was a staged production.

“The truth about this case will probably never be determined. Or, to put it more precisely, no version of truth that is considered believable by all sides will ever emerge,” he writes. “For anyone else who knows about Mohammed al-Dura but is not in either of the decided camps — the Arabs who are sure they know what happened, the revisionists who are equally sure — the case will remain in the uncomfortable realm of events that cannot be fully explained or understood.”

What can be understood, though, is the polarizing effect images such as the one of Al-Dura have on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — and on the American war against terrorism.

“The images intensify the self-righteous determination of each side,” Fallows writes. “If anything, modern technology has aggravated the problem of mutually exclusive realities. With the Internet and TV, each culture now has a more elaborate apparatus for ‘proving,’ dramatizing and disseminating its particular truth.

“In its engagement with the Arab world, the United States has assumed that what it believes are noble motives will be perceived as such around the world.… The case of Mohammed Al-Dura suggests the need for much more modest assumptions about the way other cultures — in particular today’s embattled Islam — will perceive our truths.”

* * *

Not a Prayer: Joe Lieberman should be the hands-down front-runner for president among Democrats,” Jeffrey Birnbaum writes in the June 9 issue of Fortune magazine. “But polls show that the Connecticut Senator is behind in such key states as Iowa and New Hampshire, and political insiders don’t give him much chance of winning the nomination. There are several reasons for this, but one big one is rarely discussed in public: Lieberman is a Jew.”

The Connecticut senator’s chances for the Democratic nod are weakened by more than his religion, Birnbaum admits, starting with his hawkish views on Iraq, his moderate pro-business stance and his lackluster fundraising efforts to date. Nonetheless, Birnbaum argues, it is Lieberman’s Judaism that is most likely to impede the senator’s push for the party nomination.

“I hate to write those words,” Birnbaum continues. “I’m Jewish and — I admit it — I like Lieberman. He’s wry and wise in the right proportions and willing to defy his party on matters of principle. He’s a good man. But he is also a member of a tiny and long-scorned minority. Plenty of people won’t vote for him simply because of his religion, whether they admit it or not. And, I’m ashamed to say, lots of Jews are reluctant to back him as well.”

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