Raymond M. Berger
Real Bullet Points

A Little Boy and a Big Controversy

In order to understand the Mohammed al-Dura incident, it is vital to know that it happened in the context of a Palestinian war against Israel.

According to news reports at the time, on September 30, 2000, 12 year old Mohammed al-Dura, from the Bureij refugee camp in the Gaza strip, was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers.

Since that day there has been a maze of contradictory news reports, investigations, forensic analyses and legal proceedings. Various investigators and others have questioned whether Mohammed was shot at all and whether Palestinians staged the incident. To this day no one knows for sure.

The al-Dura incident is now a small part of a long history of Arab-Jewish conflict. Revisiting the incident and its aftermath is not an academic exercise. Rather, it carries lessons about a conflict between two peoples, the wages of armed attacks by those who care little about human life, and the use of propaganda to perpetuate blame and hate.

The Story Takes on a Life of Its Own

What is certain is that Muslims across the world used images of a dead Mohammed al-Dura to incite against Israel.

A photo of little Mohammed crouching behind his father became an iconic image of war, much like the famous photo of the Jewish boy in the Warsaw ghetto, with hands raised over his head, or the Vietnamese girl on fire after being doused with napalm.

Across the Muslim world, the photo of Mohammed was printed in newspapers. Video of the incident was played and re-played on television broadcasts. Arab governments named parks and streets in Mohammed’s honor.

When al-Qaeda murdered the Jewish-American journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002, they broadcast a video of the killing that showed an image of Mohammed al-Dura in the background. After the September 11 attacks against the US, Osama bin Laden mentioned the al-Dura incident in a warning to President George Bush. Arab countries issued postage stamps bearing images of a terrified Mohammed cowering behind his father, as son and father take cover. Commentators argued that these images were behind the 2000 lynching of two Israeli soldiers in Ramallah. After French News Channel 2 broadcast video purporting to show that Israeli soldiers had killed Mohammed, anti-Semitism in France increased.1

The Intifada as Background

In order to understand the Mohammed al-Dura incident, it is vital to know that it happened in the context of a Palestinian war against Israel.

The day before the shooting, the Palestinians’ Second Intifada against Israel began. Earlier that summer, US President Clinton had hosted negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. Barak offered Arafat an end to the Israeli occupation. Under Barak’s offer, the Palestinians would receive East Jerusalem, all of the Gaza Strip, and all of the West Bank with the exception of Israeli settlement blocs (for which the Palestinians would receive swaps of Israeli territory as compensation). Arafat rejected this generous offer and decided instead to launch the Second Intifada. Like the so-called Arab riots of the 1920s and 1930s, Arab leaders led a war against the Jews, targeting Jewish Israelis. The Second Intifada lasted four years and cost 4,000 lives, about two-thirds of them Arab.

The Gun Battle

The al-Dura incident happened at an Israeli army outpost at a large junction at the intersection of two roads outside the Jewish settlement of Netzarim in the Gaza Strip. Just prior to the incident, three Israeli soldiers at the IDF outpost reported that they knew something was about to happen because camera crews arrived at the junction. Then, from near-by high rise buildings, Palestinian gunmen, including Palestinian Authority Police, opened fire on the Israeli outpost. The attack was unprovoked. Israeli soldiers, looking through slits from within the outpost shelter, directed their shots at the source of fire.

There was another Palestinian position 30 meters to the left of the spot where Mohammed and his father had taken refuge from the gun battle, crouched behind a cylindrical cement block. The Israeli soldiers directed their shots at the fire coming from the Palestinian position to the left of the father and son. At least one of the soldiers said he had not seen Mohammed or his father, and that any shooting of the father and son could not have come from the Israeli position.2

Four Theories

Initially the IDF accepted responsibility and apologized for the shooting. But later, Israeli investigators confirmed that the fire could not have come from the Israeli position. I have looked at aerial maps of the Netzarim junction with the Israeli and Palestinian positions clearly marked. From my amateur’s vantage point, I do not see how bullets that may have killed Mohammed could have come from the Israelis. They did not have a straight shot within their sight.

Four theories have emerged about the incident: 1) Mohammed was killed by Israeli gunfire; 2) Because of the trajectory of the shots, Mohammed was most likely killed by Palestinian gunfire; 3) It is impossible to determine which side fired the fatal shots; and 4) The scene was staged by Palestinians to make Mohammed a child martyr who could be exploited for propaganda purposes to demonize the Israelis.

The last theory is plausible. The film footage of the incident was taken by a Palestinian cameraman employed by the French News 2 television station. Part of this footage shows Palestinian fighters feigning a gun battle. In this footage, they fall on the ground, as if hit by gunfire. They then stand up. Were they rehearsing for a staged battle? The Palestinians have a long history of staging incidents and then presenting the resulting video to the media for propaganda purposes. This staging has become so common among Palestinians, that it has become known as Pallywood—a combination of the words Palestinian and Hollywood. Today many videos are available on-line that show staged scenes in which the deaths of Palestinians are faked. These videos are then carefully edited and distributed to the international news media in order to implicate Israeli armed forces.3

Questions Remain

Many questions remain about the video footage shot by the French News 2 cameraman. For example, in the moments in which Mohammed was allegedly shot, the video image blurs. It is not clear exactly how much footage was shot. French 2 News editors admit discarding some of the footage, which they say did not involve the shooting. The chief editor omitted the final few seconds of the portion of video that he broadcast on French 2 television. That omitted footage shows Mohammed al-Dura moving his hand toward his face, suggesting he was alive. No part of the French 2 News video—-not that shown on television or on portions released later—shows Mohammed dead.

I have read several accounts of the incident in which the Palestinians claim that Mohammed al-Dura was killed by Israeli soldiers. After a while I became overwhelmed by the details and their complexity, as well as the contradictions reported by various witnesses, investigators, media figures, Israeli and Arab government officials, court decisions and partisans of every stripe. It seems reasonable to me that we may never know the truth.

A great deal of effort has been made to determine whether Mohammed al-Dura was in fact killed by Israelis. Much of it has been partisan. My opinion is partisan as well. I believe that the Jews of Israel are fighting a war of survival against an unscrupulous enemy.

Who is to Blame?

What if the bullets that killed Mohammed came from Israeli gunfire? It is tempting to then blame the Israeli soldiers who fired those shots. But if we do that, we miss the larger point. Civilians always get hurt and killed in military conflicts. The Netzarim junction battle was started and pursued by Palestinians. Whatever the source of the bullets that may or may not have killed Mohammed, the Palestinians must take responsibility for the consequences of their unprovoked attack on the Israeli outpost.

When civilian deaths result from military action it is important to investigate the circumstances, if for no other reason than to help military officials avoid unnecessary civilian casualties in the future. But this motivation does not apply to an unscrupulous enemy that deliberately causes civilian deaths on both sides of the conflict in order to score propaganda points.

If little Mohammed was indeed killed, he is yet another victim of the Arab war to kill and expel the Jews from the Middle East.

 

Footnotes

  1. Muhammad al-Durrah Incident. Wikipedia. Retrieved June 13, 2017 from:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammad_al-Durrah_incident#Why_the_footage-stopped_when_it_did

 

  1. Ibid.

 

  1. Pallywood. Wikipedia. Retrieved June 11, 2017 from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pallywood

 

 

About the Author
The author is a life-long Zionist and advocate for Israel. He believes that a strong Jewish state is invaluable, not only to Jews, but to the world-wide cause of democracy and human rights. Dr. Berger earned a PhD in Social Welfare from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has twenty-seven years of teaching experience. He has authored and co-authored three books as well as over 45 professional journal articles and book chapters. His parents were Holocaust survivors.
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