An Israeli investigative panel has released a report into the killing of 12-year-old Palestinian boy Muhammad al-Dura in 2000, images of which became a powerful symbol of the Second Intifada. The panel claims that "many signs" indicate that al-Dura and his father, Jamal al-Dura, were never hit by gunfire and that Muhammad appears to be alive at the end of the footage. The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) initially admitted that it had killed Muhammad by accident, but not long after changed its account of the event, instead claiming that he had died as a result of Palestinian gunfire. Both Jamal and Charles Enderlin, the reporter for France 2 who presented the original footage, have rejected the new Israeli report and have offered to cooperate with an independent international investigation and even take polygraph tests.
Israel's claims that the original France 2 report was incorrect and that the whole event may have been staged, a claim it has made before, are nothing but a propaganda attempt to try and improve Israel's image. And yet this appears to be backfiring, with the report instead drawing attention to the hundreds of Palestinian children that have been killed by Israel's defense forces.
According to Haaretz, the panel was commissioned by "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon in September 2012, and was headed by Yossi Kuperwasser, former director general of Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs. It included representatives of the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Ministry, the IDF Spokesperson's Unit and the Israel Police, as well as outside experts." That's hardly a panel that is likely to produce an independent and non-partisan analysis of such a symbolic event, especially given its ties to the Israeli government. Kuperwasser, as Barak Ravid of Haaretz points out, was the person who advocated investigating the incident in the first place, as part of "a 13-year-long public relations campaign against the Palestinians."
The panel claims that France 2 edited the footage of the incident to make it look like Muhammad died as a result of Israeli gunfire, but that raw footage left out "indicates that at the end of the video — the part that was not broadcast – the boy appears to be alive." According to the panel, "since it aired, the France 2 report about Israel's actions has served as inspiration and justification for terror, anti-Semitism and the Israel's de-legitimization."
However, as a Haaretz editorial argues, "the report doesn’t bring any new evidence that would significantly alter the accepted version of events. The report's authors," it goes on, "arrive at that dubious conclusion [that there is no evidence Muhammed or Jamal were hurt] using a collection of circumstantial evidence, some of it barely serious, like the impressions of an Israeli pathologist who watched the video." Neither Enderlin nor Jamal al-Dura, nor other witnesses, were interviewed by the committee, which also ignored "the fact that Jamal was hospitalized in Amman, where he underwent surgery and other treatment for his wounds."
Although the panel claimed that the initial IDF admission of responsibility was made in "the fog of war," instead of lifting "the fog off this case," Haaretz writes, "it raises a more painful issue: the many young people killed by IDF soldiers during the second intifada." According to the Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem, 951 Palestinian children and teens were killed by Israel between 2000 and 2008. And more Palestinian children have been killed since then, with some of those who have died named here. And yet, as Haaretz points out, "no government committee was ever established to investigate the circumstances of their deaths. Only in the al-Dura case was such a committee convened."
Even supposing that Muhammad al-Dura was not shot by the IDF and was either not hurt or hit by Palestinian gunfire instead, such a selective focus by the Israeli government simply represents an attempt to draw attention away from the hundreds of Palestinian children that Israel has killed. And it appears, fortunately, that the attempt has largely failed. A government friendly panel that focused on one incident 13 years after it happened and reached no significant conclusions does not change the overall, and more significant, reality of the many young Palestinians killed by the IDF. As the Haaretz editorial concludes:
"If the government had chosen to investigate that [the many young people killed by the IDF during the second intifada], perhaps it would have been reasonable to include a chapter on the al-Dura incident. But focusing only on him is mere propaganda that won't in any way improve Israel's problematic image of being responsible for too many children’s deaths."