The “al-Durrah incident”

I had the opportunity last night to listen to a presentation regarding one of the most famous, and subsequently, controversial episodes in the Israel/Palestine conflict in recent years. A now infamous piece of film-footage is now widely considered to be at best, rather dubious and at worst, an outright fraud. While I am really not a fan of conspiracy theories – I do try to keep an open opinion about the issues they raise.

After a slightly fraught afternoon – no I can’t go, yes I can go, the meeting room is moved, the meeting is delayed – a shockingly long queue at security – I just about managed to get to the Committee Room only have arrived early!

The image of the incident that most people will probably recognise is below:

This is part of a short new story shown on a French news channel, which became a totemic issue for Palestinians and Arabs generally as an example of the Israeli army’s aggressive tactics. In short, the film appeared to show a father and son cowering behind a barrel sheltering from gunfire. The son died and was proclaimed a martyr, while the father survived with 12 gunshot wounds.

A lot of inconsistencies exist with issue, such as doctors disagreeing which leg a bullet went into, what time things happened etc – most of which I am personally willing to put down to an acceptable level of inaccuracy due to the situation at the time. It is very rare for witnesses at a British road accident to give identical opinions of what happened at an event, so I think we can be forgiving of mistakes in the middle of a de-facto war zone.

There is also unbroadcast footage of the dead son lifting his head and moving around a bit, although I would be tolerable of arguments that this is reflex actions or the results of impacts from later gunshots.

For me though, what certainly peeked my interest was that two people next to a wall and hit with 15 high-calibre bullets tend to leave rather a lot of blood on the wall. There is absolutely no blood at all at the scene of the attack as shown in the film footage. That is bizarre. Also, if shot with over a dozen military grade rifle bullets, you tend to have very little of the person left intact. Unlike the handguns seen on movies, military rifles tend to use much larger bullets – the sort that shatter limbs and kill very effectively. However, not only did the father survive, but his wounds are totally unlike what bullet wounds should look like. Medically, this is just an impossibility.

The question being raised is whether a minor incident occurred that was then expanded upon to create a propaganda story – or was it in fact an outright fraud and the whole thing a “hollywood” production.

The presentation last night was given by the French journalist, Philippe Karsenty who comes down very firmly on the fraud side of the debate, and is currently in the middle of legal action in France over his views – which have been supported by other news media outside France.

My personal opinion is that there is something seriously wrong with the footage, and if you see the unedited raw films, more questions are raised. Not just about the Palestinians, who have an understandable desire to spin a news story to their favour, but more worryingly, the actions of a French news channel in reporting the story, knowing that the story reported differs significantly from the raw footage. Apparently, CNN turned down the story when presented to them due to its dubious quality.

So, an incident some 10 years ago was talked about last night. So what?

The reason it matters is an area which interests me in general – and that is how a media story becomes The Truth, even after the facts show it to be otherwise.

Show most people the above photo, and they will tell you it shows the Israeli army killing an innocent family – but wont be aware of the later controversy about its origin.

Another favourite of mine is the Paediatrician who was attacked by a mob who didn’t understand that a Paediatrician is not a Paedophile. Although a home was vandalized by idiots, there was never a mob. Nonetheless, the story of the Mob attacking a home still recurs as an example of the dangers of vigilantism in tabloid newspapers.

I find it fascinating, in a slightly morbid sense, as to how people can be whipped up into a fury about something, but these same people don’t seem to care about the facts of the matter. To quote Yes Minister; “Something must be done. This is something, therefore we must do it.” However, as pointed out – doing nothing is often better than doing the wrong thing.

Why, I wonder, are people able to be so incredibly passionate about a topic – and yet at the same time utterly indifferent as to the details and facts that underpin it?

Are we as humans driven by an urge to seek the satisfaction that comes from “doing something”, even if that something actually makes matters worse? Disaster aid agencies are well aware of the problems that can be caused by too much aid turning up and causing overlaps or delays due to congestion. Yet the public were outraged when charities cried “Stop!” when flooded with donations following the Boxing Day Tsunami, and is starting to happen with the Haiti earthquake.

I don’t know the answer, but do find it curious.

Anyway, back to last night – a vastly more detailed overview of the complex controversy surrounding the al-Durrah incident can be found over at Wikipedia.

Also, thanks to the Henry Jackson Society for pulling the presentation together, and squeezing me in at the last minute.

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