An Israeli government review of the death of 12-year-old Muhammad al-Dura during the Al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000 has officially debunked a French television report suggesting he was killed by direct Israel Defense Forces fire.
The 36-page report, which was presented to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday, further concluded that it was highly likely that the boy survived the incident unscathed and therefore may still be alive. The boy’s father, Jamal, urged an international inquest into the shooting.
The incident took place on Sept. 30, 2000—the early days of the Al-Aqsa Intifada— when Jamal al-Dura and his 12-year-old son Muhammad were filmed by a France 2 news crew as they were taking cover behind a concrete barrier after they were caught in a crossfire between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian police forces in Netzarim Junction, on the Gaza Strip’s main north-south highway.
France 2 reported that the boy was killed by direct fire from a nearby IDF post. The story was widely covered by the international media, and the footage of the boy and his father, crouching in fear and sobbing as bullets whistled over their heads, quickly became one of the Second Intifada’s most potent symbols, causing Israel’s international image considerable damage.
The IDF had initially accepted responsibility for the incident, but an inquest headed by then-GOC Southern Command Maj. Gen Yom-Tov Samia concluded that the boy was not hit by IDF fire.
Footage edited to support biased reporting
The Israeli government review committee was formed in 2012 by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who at the time served as strategic affairs minister. The committee examined the raw footage filmed by the France 2 crew, and found that it was edited to exclude a part at the end in which the boy—declared dead by the reporter on film merely a moment earlier—is clearly seen alive and moving.
The report, which was presented to Netanyahu by Minister for International, Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz, further found that there was no evidence that the boy and his father were injured at all, let alone severely, by IDF fire; concluding that the French television station edited the footage to support its biased reporting.
The report also criticized other media outlets for basing their coverage of the case solely on France 2‘s report, disregarding the fact that the incident was witnessed by multiple reporters. “The French reporter’s own account of the events has varied over the years and is riddled with contradictions and falsities,” the report said.
The review also found gross inconsistencies in the medical reports detailing the treatments the two underwent at Shifa Hospital in Gaza: “None of the bullets that supposedly hit both was ever recovered, not by the journalists who witnessed the incident, not by Palestinian security forces and not by the doctors who treated them.”
“The al-Dura case clearly demonstrates the need for the media to adhere to the strictest ethical and professional standards when covering asymmetric conflicts,” the report stressed.
‘The truth will prevail’
“It is important to focus on this incident, which has slandered Israel’s reputation,” Netanyahu said Sunday. “This is a manifestation of the ongoing, mendacious campaign to delegitimize Israel. There is only one way to counter lies, and that is through the truth. Only the truth can prevail over lies.”
Meanwhile, Jamal al-Dura was quoted by Army Radio on Monday as saying, “Israel keeps changing its version of the events, but I want an international investigation. There’s a body—my son in buried in Bureij [refugee camp].”
The Israeli government “is afraid of the results of an independent investigation… When Israel agrees to an international inquest, I will agree to have the remains exhumed,” he said.
Director-General of the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, who headed the review, told Army Radio, “Israel has never opposed an international inquest in the case. If anyone wanted to hold one, it could have been done 13 years ago.”
A statement by France 2 said, “It is hard to understand why no one in the committee contacted France 2 or (as far as we know) Mr. al-Dura in the matter, despite his willingness to have his son’s remains exhumed.” Yarden Vatikai, head of the government’s National Information Directorate, disputed France 2‘s assertion that it was not consulted or contacted for the report, saying that “numerous attempts were made” to get their input.
‘This case was fabricated’
Dr. David Yehuda, who was sued by France 2 for libel after he refuted claims that the boy’s father was injured in the incident, and was later cleared by a Paris court, welcomed the report’s findings, saying, “This whole case was fabricated. The boy didn’t die. This is a very important day, not just for me but for the country.”
The government review committee had asked Yehuda to submit the same records and expert opinion he had presented the French court during his trial, in which he provided proof that scars Jamal al-Dura claimed to be the result of the incident were in fact caused years earlier.
“I operated on [Jamal] in 1994 after he was abused by Hamas operatives who suspected he was collaborating with Israel,” Yehuda said. “He was shot in the backside and his right arm was mangled from knife injuries. In 2005 and for some years after that, he presented those scars as if they were the results of that incident.”
Yehuda stated that the medical findings concerning the boy’s injuries were also fictitious: “We know that on the day of the incident a boy named Muhammad al-Dura was pronounced dead at Shifa at 9 a.m. The boy in the report, who allegedly suffered gunshot wounds, was hit at 3 p.m. He is not Muhammad al-Dura and I have no doubt that the boy in that report is still alive. We know where he is and I’ve asked the Shin Bet to produce him.”
“This case is nothing but a pile of lies and it has caused Israel tremendous damage I hope it can still be rectified,” he said.
Last February, Netanyahu called Yehuda a “hero” who set out to determine the truth in the Muhammad al-Dura libel campaign.