Nearly 12 years later, the most indelible incident of the Second Intifada – in which Muhammad al Dura died in his father’s arms – is rehashed on the pages of the Huffington Post in an article that whitewashes the facts for the sake of saving Israel from bad publicity.
By Rechavia Berman
Something strange is going on over at The Huffington Post. The quasi-liberal answer to sites like Town Hall and Little Green Footballs ran a piece this week by an Israeli writer, Lilac Sigan, who pretended to give her readers a lesson in critical thinking and strict adherence to actual facts, however inconvenient they may be to one’s preconceived notions.
A laudable message, no doubt; it’s just a pity that Sigan’s actual words belied her purpose at every turn.
Sigan recounts a ruling by the French Supreme Court last week, and then proceeds to twist all but passing resemblance to the truth in order to paint Israel’s critics as fabricators of atrocities used to inflame passions against the country.
The facts, however – the very ones that Ms. Sigan so sarcastically waves as a flag of virtue – are in fact against her.
The erroneous “facts” Sigan was waving were based on a libel suit filed in France by Jamal al Dura, the father of 12-year old Muhammad Al-Dura, against an Israeli doctor, who called the said father a liar. The doctor was convicted in court of libel, but acquitted on appeal by the Supreme Court of France. Sigan took this acquittal to mean that the French court found Dr. David to be telling the truth and Mr. Al-Dura to be lying.
For those of you who do not recall, Muhammad Al-Dura was a Palestinian child shot and killed in September 2000, at the very beginning of the Second Intifada, when he and his father were caught in the crossfire of a gunfight between the IDF and armed Palestinian fighters.
Nobody knows who fired the bullets that killed Al-Dura, and some on the Israeli right went so far as to doubt that he died at all, while being certain that the incident itself was staged from the start as a “Paliwood” production.
Since then, the bereaved Jamal Al-Dura (yes, his son did die that day), along with the French television station that aired the footage and made initial claims that the boy and his father were definitely hit by IDF shooters, have been enmeshed in various legal battles with supporters of Israel in France over mutual accusations of libel and perjury regarding various aspects of the incident.
The incident itself has taken on mythical proportions since, and has become what is known as a prism issue, which each side sees as affirming their darkest emotions about the other (“They shoot poor kids begging for life”/”They make up the most vile lies about us out of pure hate”).
However, the verdict by the French Supreme Court, referenced so triumphantly by Ms. Sigan, was not about the core issues – who killed Muhammad Al-Dura – but about a side issue. Dr. Yehudah David, an Israeli physician, claimed that Al-Dura the father was lying about the wounds he claimed to have sustained in the incident. “I treated him eight years earlier for stab wounds caused by Islamic militants,” said Dr. David. “These wounds he claims were caused by the shooting in 2000 are the same ones!” and hence, Al-Dura must be lying about the entire incident, etc. etc.
I trust the gentle reader will not be too shocked to learn that this, in fact, is not the case. In fact, Ms. Sigan and Dr. David’s version of events was refuted very convincingly that very day by a rather unimpeachable source – an Israeli physician with higher standing than Dr. David, both medically and by Israeli security ratings. He is Dr. Rafi Walden, Deputy Director of the Sheba Medical Center and one of the personal physicians of a certain elder statesman named Shimon Peres (The First Citizen, aka President of the State of Israel).
So, on the one hand we have Dr. Walden, the second in command at Israel’s largest medical facility, and a man trusted enough by the establishment to treat the living embodiment of Israeli sovereignty. On the other hand we have Dr. David, who I’m sure is a competent enough physician in his own right, but evidently not as prominent professionally, nor as senior security-wise.
Dr. Walden states flatly that Dr. David’s testimony – according to which the injuries Mr. Al-Dura claimed to have sustained the day of his son’s death were actually sustained some years before, at the hands of Palestinians, treated by Dr. David himself – was false. Again: Dr. David’s statement, for which he was sued, was indeed false. The French Supreme Court did not contest this. It simply found that Dr. David wasn’t criminally liable for his erroneous statement, because he had reasonable cause to be misled. In other words, Dr. David may not know what he’s talking about, and may not have read the full Al-Dura medical file despite it being made available to him, a file which shows gunshot wounds which he did not treat back in 1992, and indications of surgery by doctors in Gaza and in Amman following the events of 2000. Dr. Walden, on the other hand, did read the 50-page file.
Yet Lilac Sigan, in responses to readers’ comments, tries to paint Dr. Walden as just another med-school newbie off the street with an opinion, and goes so far as to add, “I don’t know what his incentive is. None of us do.” Well, I suppose that in a Socratic sense, that is true. But you know whose incentive we do know about? Ms. Sigan’s preferred source, Dr. David, who said outright that he did what he did “in order to defend the IDF from slander.” But that’s not a bias or an agenda.
Sigan also ignores the fact that another man, who also accused Mr. Al-Dura of lying about the tragic incident in which his son was shot, either by Palestinian or IDF fighters, was found to have even less actual basis for his claim or even his belief, and was forced by the very same French court system to pay Mr. Al-Dura 6,000 Euro in compensation.
In short, under the smarmy headline “Could You Please stop Confusing Me With The Facts,” Sigan continues to embrace the very attitude she pretends to mock, ignoring facts that were available for hours before the publication of her piece.
Of course, Ms. Sigan’s opinion is only of any interest to someone (Hebrew readers included) because such a successful international venue as the AOL-owned Huffington Post made the regrettable decision to run such a piece. This widely-read and high-aspiring venue has not accepted inexplicably, perfectly decent comments such as:
All legitimate questions, but since we are commenting on Ms. Sigan’s article, wouldn’t it be prudent to first ask why she chose to base her exposition on a falsehood?
Amazing, isn’t it? And the pitch to share the story at the end is perfect. That’s how I got here, through Facebook shares by people who normally don’t buy Hasbara straight-up. Here are the fact, BTW: http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/rubbing-salt-into-the-wound-1.413383”
Interestingly, that very same day, the Huffington Express ran a piece by Ms. Arianna Huffington, extolling Israeli President Shimon Peres and his indefatigable faith in peace – a pro-Israel fluff piece. Is it possible that this is an indication of an editorial policy, and statement about the boundaries of acceptable opinions at the HP? For those who read the HP and hope to use it as a means of disseminating accurate information, this would be useful to know.
Rechavia Berman is the author of “Jewcy Story”, a popular history of the 2nd Temple Era, which can be bought for Amazon Kindle, for cell phone or for PC here.