Who caused the televised death of 12-year-old Mohammed al-Dura?
What happened to Mohammed al-Dura on September 30, 2000?
In the early days of the al-Aqsa intifada, twelve-year-old Mohammed al-Dura (or Durrah) and his father Jamal were on their way home in Gaza when, at the remote Netzarim junction, they were caught up in a firefight between Palestinian snipers and the Israel Defense Force. It was September 30, 2000 at about 2:30 in the afternoon local time.
The battle was fierce, with a mob of Palestinians attacking the Israeli position with gasolene bombs, and small arms fire in addition to a torrent of rocks. Fire was directed at the IDF from multiple directions and the IDF fired back at targets they could see.
Mohammed and his father took shelter behind a concrete barrel, out of the line of fire from the IDF position. Crouching in terror behind his father, who struggled in vain to protect his son from the gunfire, Mohammed was shot. He died there, cradled in his father’s arms, after both father and son frantically pleaded for help.
What was first reported in the media?
The deadly scene was filmed by a television crew working for a French TV network; one frame appears on this page, above. The film of the tragedy was widely shown, around the world. Palestinian television created an edited version with pictures of an Israeli soldier shooting spliced into the original footage, creating a false impression that the IDF shot the boy. The headline over many of the stories was, “Israeli Occupation Forces Kill Palestinian Child in Cold Blood”.
It was also widely reported that “a French photographer” or “a French television crew” had filmed the tragedy, lending more credibility to the account by attributing the filming to France, a “neutral” country. In reality, although the news organization was French, the photojournalist who actually filmed the shooting was a Palestinian named Talal Abu Rahma, who lives in Gaza.
Initial investigation by the Israelis, under enormous pressure to explain what happened, seemed to confirm that Mohammed was killed by the IDF, although not on purpose. The army’s head of the southern command, Yom Tov Samya, said on October 3, 2000:
- It could very much be — this is an estimation — that a soldier in our position, who has a very narrow field of vision, saw somebody hiding behind a cement block in the direction from which he was being fired at, and he shot in that direction.
IDF rules of engagement forbid soldiers from intentionally firing upon innocent bystanders. But, no other explanation was available so the Army apologized for the “accidental shooting”.
Israeli officials has some questions: why were the boy and his father at the isolated location in a farming area, the only ones in the middle of the cross fire, and why was the film crew present before the events? There were other issues too: why didn’t the Palestinians, who were in contact with the IDF, stop the firing long enough to get the civilians out of the way? But these questions were lost in the general wave of disgust over the killing that swept the globe.
By the end of the initial firestorm over the event, pro-Palestinian groups had elevated Mohammed al-Dura to the status of a first-class martyr to their cause and the media were filled with denunciations of Israel for the cold-blooded murder of an innocent child.Local and regional television networks broadcast the scene hundreds of times. Arab poets and songwriters composed dozens of tributes to the boy’s memory. Jamal al-Dura, the wounded father, giving interviews from his hospital bed in Amman, Jordan, became a regional celebrity. Egypt renamed the avenue in Cairo where the Israeli Embassy is situated Mohammad al-Dura Street.
What further investigations were done?
Netzarim Junction, Scene of the Tragic Death of Mohammed al-Dura
[IDF firing in blue, Palestinian attackers firing in red]
On October 23, 2000 Yosef Doriel, an Israeli engineer and former IDF sniper, spearheaded an Israel Defense Force investigation and re-enactment of the Mohammed al-Dura shooting. Their analysis starts with the fact that the IDF position was at a sharp angle, about 30 degrees, to the wall against which Mohammed al-Dura and his father were pressed. At an IDF base, a similar wall was constructed and shots were fired at it from a variety of weapons. Photos of the holes made in the wall in tests were compared to frames of the Dura film.
It was immediately clear that no firing by the IDF could have produced the holes in the wall that are seen clearly in the film and even in the one frame shown on this page. The holes shown in the film are the circular type made by firing directly into the wall, not the elliptical gouges made by shots fired from a 30-degree angle, as from the IDF position. Secondly, the concrete barrel to the right of al-Dura and his son effectively shielded them from the IDF. The pair could not be seen and they could not be shot by IDF guns.
On November 27, 2000 the Israeli Army released the report of the findings, accompanied by schematic diagrams of the lines of fire, second-by-second analyses of crucial portions of the France 2 videotape, and aerial photographs of the site. The report was immediately attacked by pro-Palestinian sources who denounced it without producing any contradictory evidence.
What is the best information now available about what happened?
What really happened may never be known. But the previously unthinkable theory, backed by considerable evidence, is that a Palestinian shot the boy in cold blood to create a needed martyr to advance the Palestinian cause. The event, including the Palestinian film crew, was staged for maximum effect. The boy was “just another martyr”.
The key evidence is in the film itself. Not only the suspiciously round holes, but the sequence of events in the film show that:
- Jamal al-Dura was initially not frightened by anything in the direction of the IDF. He and his son were safely behind the barrel and there were no bullet holes in the wall.
- Jamal suddenly is looking right at the camera and there are now 3 round bullet holes to the left (photo above). He is now very frightened.
- A burst of fire erupts and the camera swings wildly upward. This indicates shooting from very close by (not the distant IDF position).
- When the camera steadies, Jamal is slumped over and Mohammed al-Dura lies in his lap. Two new bullet holes are in the wall, round holes, tucked well behind the barrel a point that could not have been reached by any firing from the IDF position.
The IDF removed the wall and other materials from the site shortly after the event, trying to eliminate the possibility of another attack, but also destroying evidence. Mohammed al-Dura’s body was buried by Palestinians before an autopsy could be performed or before any Commission of Inquiry could be set up. The Palestinians never produced the bullets that were taken from the body so it could not be confirmed what type of weapon they were from. And it has never been explained how the cameraman happened to be in position, where his original unedited tape ended up, and who produced the many copies of the edited version that started to appear on TV right after the incident?
Soon after being brought to a Jordanian hospital, Jamal al-Dura gave a television interview in which said emphatically that his son had been “shot in the back!” When he learned that there were no Israeli troops firing from behind his son, he became indignant and replied:
- Everybody knows the truth. The bullets of the Zionists are the bullets t
hat killed my son!
It also came out in the Army investigation that the father, Jamal al-Dura, a Hebrew-speaking carpenter and house painter who had worked for 20 years near Tel Aviv, was “suspected of collaborating with Israel” and had been accused locally of drug trafficking. Could that be why he and his son were chosen for the mission?
In March 2002, a German TV network broadcast a report of its own investigation into the tragedy. Their work casts even more doubt on the Palestinian claim that the IDF shot the al-Duras and supports the alternative: they were shot by Palestinian operatives. Among the new details revealed by the German investigation was that it can be proven that the Israeli soldiers were stationed in low places, whereas the Gaza pathologist determined that the bullets that hit the boy were fired from above.
The former IDF commander, Yom Tov Samya, who headed the Army investigation into the shooting of al-Dura, told Israel Radio on March 19, 2002 that the army had erred in hurrying to apologize for the boy’s death. Senior IDF officers who issued the apology, said Samya:
- …made a very grave mistake. One day it will be proven that the whole story… was one big Palestinian production. And Palestinian propoganda has been riding on this for a long time now.
His words gained new force in 2003 when a long-term journalistic investigation conducted in France concluded that the Mohammed al-Dura affair was actually a piece of Palestinian “street theater”. Their analysis shows that al-Dura may still be alive and well. [See “12-year-old Palestinian boy’s martyrdom ‘staged'” in Sources.] In June 2003 The Atlantic Monthly published a long article by James Fallows, in which he says:
- … almost since the day of the episode evidence has been emerging in Israel, under controversial and intriguing circumstances, to indicate that the official version of the Mohammed al-Dura story is not true. 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. Whatever happened to him, he was not shot by the Israeli soldiers who were known to be involved in the day’s fighting?or so I am convinced, after spending a week in Israel talking with those examining the case. [See Who Shot Mohammed al-Dura? (James Fallows, Atlantic) in Sources]