On September 20, 2000, a day after Yasser Arafat launched his war of terror, euphemized as the al-Aqsa intifada, state-owned France 2 Television broadcast a news report, filmed by a Palestinian cameraman, of the fatal shooting of a 12-year-old Palestinian identified as Muhammad al-Dura. The dramatic voiceover commentary by the station’s longtime Jerusalem correspondent, Charles Enderlin, described how the boy and his father Jamal were pinned down by Israeli gunfire at Netzarim Junction in the Gaza Strip. The father pleaded frantically with the soldiers to stop shooting, to no avail. “A last burst of gunfire,” intoned Enderlin, “the boy is dead, his father critically wounded.”
This event, which came to be known as the al-Dura affair, is the starting point for Nidra Poller’s 288 page intellectual journey, Al-Dura: Long Range Ballistic Myth.
Poller, an American writer based in Paris, traces the repeated attempts by the state-owned French television station to intimidate via legal measures anyone who publicly questioned the authenticity of the event. The French courtroom thus becomes the stage where an obvious fabrication, masquerading as earnest journalism, is transformed into an indisputable fact.
Although the repeated stifling of objectively sound criticism helped to reveal the true nature of French journalism, especially in its biased depiction of Israel, the damage caused by the original incident in Netzarim was already done and the results were deadly. Poller writes:
The bloodless images of Jamal and Muhammad al-Dura were instantly seared into the public mind. Distributed free of charge to international media, repeated endlessly like a raucous war cry, the Dura video provoked anti-Jewish violence in Israel and, on a scale not seen since the Holocaust, throughout Europe.
The book, however, is much more than a detailed account of the al-Dura affair or a condemnation of unethical journalism. Playing the combined role of a journalist and novelist, Poller continuously rehashes the story and grapples with the unfolding events, each time widening her understanding of both the isolated incident and its connection to the larger regional context. This process is the intellectual journey referred to above that brings Poller, and the reader with her, to a broader awareness.
Armed with this clarity, Poller argues that the al-Dura affair is not just propaganda but rather a “lethal narrative”, a term she coins to denote a type of weapon that is designed to both intellectually undress the enemy and one that will, like any weapon, eventually lead to bloodshed.
Touching upon this point she states:
The systematic condemnation of the state of Israel is not media bias, not sophisticated Palestinian PR, not blithering anti-Semitism; it is war.
She then adds:
It is a strategy of contemporary jihad. Unable to defeat Israel militarily, its enemies are trying to destroy the state by a blitzkrieg of specious arguments and lopsided analyses. Now as in the past, blood libels unleash murderous violence.
The problem of not fully grasping the nature of this weapon and its connection to the broader picture is cogently addressed by Poller.
Instead of comprehending the overall situation we are dealing case by case with endless examples and persistently attributing our own criteria to an enemy that is playing by utterly different rules. This not only jeopardizes our self-defense on the ground, it subverts the very rationality that defines our civilization and preserves our precious freedom. Logic is not an affectation for intellectuals. It is our light, our backbone, our invincible weapon.
In summary, the real strength of the book is that the author manages to remove the localized al-Dura event from the limiting confines of a one-time incident and to place it squarely within the wider context where it belongs. Moreover, for all those who are concerned about the many threats currently facing the State of Israel the understanding of this wider context has never been more crucial.
For this reason, I strongly recommend this book.