Powered by WebAds

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Al Durah Trials: Portrait of French Culture at the Beginning of the 21st Century

The Augean Stables has a series of three posts about the Mohammed Al-Dura affair. Al-Dura, as many of you may recall, was the child who was murdered by 'Palestinians' during a gunfight at Netzarim crossing during the early days of the second 'intifadeh.' As you all may also recall, Israel was blamed. This was likely the first instance of 'Pallywood,' a term that is now accepted by all but the hard left.

In the first post, the author discusses a series of trials that are scheduled to take place in France this fall relating to the Al-Dura affair:

Starting on the 14 of September, 2006, there will be a series of three trials of individual French citizens who used internet sites to publish criticism of France2’s coverage of the Muhammad al Durah affair. Each of these trials invokes an 1881 law on press freedom that protects the individual, group, ethnicity, or religion from defamation that “strikes at the honor and consideration (reputation) of ”the individual or institution in question” (either France2 or Charles Enderlin).

The statements for which these individuals have been brought to trial are mild by American standards: “come protest France2’s gigantic manipulation…” “Charles Enderlin has committed grave professional errors…” “grave presumptions of disinformation exist around this affair…” “France2’s continuous refusals [to open an investigation] constitute so many brutal and unacceptable obstructions in the search for and demonstration of the truth.” Yet many of the people I have consulted on this matter think that France2 will win their cases. “French justice is not like American justice,” one Frenchman said to me. “C’est trucquée.” [It’s fixed.]


The trials will take place fairly rapidly (two to three hours for each one), and the decisions will come within several weeks.

Two of these trials were initiated by France2 and Charles Enderlin in late 2002 when the first substantial evidence of either gross negligence or criminal manipulation first became available, and provoked public demonstrations concerning al Durah. The evidence was MENA’s short documentary and Esther Schapira’s longer Three Bullets and a Dead Child. The third trial (first to reach the court) dates from two year later and concerns an article written by Philippe Karsenty at his Media watchdog site, Media Ratings, in which he argues explicitly that the al Durah footage was staged and that heads should roll. The trials were inaugurated at a time when France2’s version enjoyed almost complete dominion in public opinion, even among Jews. At the time, France2 could count on widespread support for their position from other journalists. The plaintiffs aim at using the law of 1881, designed to keep journalists from abusing their freedoms and defaming members of the public, to stifle public criticism of a case of journalistic negligence that defamed an entire people.

Since then, however, a great deal has changed. Fallow’s piece in the Atlantic Monthly (June 2003), multiple articles on the internet, and Nidra Poller's piece in Commentary, have shifted opinion among those who are informed. Only people who have not seen the evidence still argue for scenario 1 (Israelis on purpose), even if most remain shy of scenario 5 (staged). In addition the material available at Second Draft has made it possible for anyone to view the evidence for him or herself, and Pallywood has become not only a widespread term, but a spur to rapid skepticism at Palestinian and now Lebanese efforts to produce new icons of sympathy and hatred.

But the shift goes still further: even among French media elites the word is out. In November of 2005 the scandal almost broke when two independent journalists – Daniel LeConte of Arte and Denis Jeanbar of L’Express — saw the Palestinian cameraman Talal abu Rahma’s rushes (what he recorded during the previous half hour). The embarrassment was palpable. Apparently, Jeanbar and Leconte were as astonished as was I, and also commented on the pervasive staging. They got the same answer from Enderlin’s boss that I got from Enderlin: “Oh, they do that all the time.” “You may know that,” responded Jeanbar, “ but your viewers don’t.”

And they still don’t know. The measures protecting media from having to admit error in this matter mobilized. Some heavy efforts from people of influence got both independent journalists to stop discussing the matter. If the public sees the rushes, this private embarrassment could become a terminal catastrophe for France2.

In the final analysis, these are not arcane French legal matters at stake, but tests of the French ability to meet 21st century challenges. This is a Dreyfus affair played out in an international theatre in which the country’s success or failure has global implications.


Al Durah represents a major error of the French media that have severe problems living up to their ethical standards (déontologie). The consequences of this particular error have had a catastrophic impact on both Israelis (their reputation) and the Palestinians (led into a losing war with this picture as incitement). They have also done serious damage globally to the fabric of civil society. If free and responsible (hence reasonably accurate) media are the eyes and ears of civil society, then we are flying blinded by this kind of information over very dangerous terrain. The ability of French courts to defend the rights of citizens to criticize the media’s work and make their criticisms known, to assess the evidence before them fairly, and to understand what is at stake in their decision – all of these matters will be played out this fall in the Parisian court.

Much in our troubled world hangs in the balance. The more people know, the more the judges become self-conscious about making their decision, and the more we can hope that France will make a sane decision from the perspective of both the law and the media. And if the French courts decide against these defendants, then at least those of us paying attention will have a sense of just how reliable French society is, and how resilient it will be in these coming years.

Read it all.

The other two posts are here and here. They are also well worth checking out.


Post a Comment

<< Home