Over a decade after his death, Muhammed al-Durrah continues to ignite passions on both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.Al Durrah was 12 years old when he was fatally shot on the 30th of September 2000, just two days into what would become to be known as the 2nd Intifada. On Friday 29th of April a French court closed one more chapter of what has been an ongoing saga into the circumstances of Mohamed’s death that day.
The story has been rehashed countless times in the media, in courts, in military investigations and in the homes of those interested in the conflict. On the morning of the September 30th 2000, Muhammad al Durrah and his father Jamal became pinned down amidst shooting between Palestinian and Israeli forces near their home in the Gaza Strip. The day before, Israeli Prime Minister Arial Sharon had visited the Western Wall of the Temple Mount, a sacred site for both Muslims and Jews, reigniting slumbering tensions between Israeli and Palestinian forces. Palestinian cameraman Talal Abu Rahma was on site that day for France 2 and picked up on the father and son as they were caught up in the cross fire.
The film Rahma shot shows a cowering, terrified Muhammad sheltering behind his father and a concrete drum, situated between them and the Israeli position. In the clip Jamal can be seen waving to the Israeli side in an attempt to alert them to their position. The film shows an initial volley of shots, followed by a second. As the smoke from the second volley of shots clears Jamal can be seen slumped over, his eyes and mouth open and his neck hanging loosely from his shoulders. Muhammad can be seen lying dead across his father’s lap.
Subsequent examination of the video taken that day has shown the evidence of who shot Mohamed and his father Jamal, who was injured in the incident, is inconclusive. Some have gone so far to say that France 2 and the journalist who broke the story, Charles Enderlin, were victim to or complicit in a staged fraud by Palestinian forces.
One such individual is Israeli physician Dr Yehuda David, who, on December 13th in an interview with Israel’s Channel 10, claimed that he had treated Jamal al Durrah in 1994 for injuries sustained during a knife and axe attack by a Palestinian gang. The scars that Jamal says were caused by Israeli gunfire on the day his son died, Dr David claims, are the result of the previous injuries sustained by Jamal in 1994. Dr David repeated these claims in an interview with Actualite Juive in 2008 and was subsequently sued by Jamal al Durrah for defamation in the French courts. On Friday 29th April of this year the court upheld Jamal’s complaint and ordered the offending parties to pay a fine of 5,000 euro each as well as print a retraction. In reaction to the ruling Dr David said that “in the past two years I’ve been fighting the State of Israel’s just war. This is a terrible scam.” He has appealed the decision and the Israeli government have agreed to fund his case.
The stark image of a 12 year old boy, struggling for cover behind his father from Israeli gunfire, before he is brutally gunned down, encapsulated the brutality of Israel’s war against Palestinians for many across the Arab world. Its power to evoke the injustice of the conflict was compared favourably to the famous image of the naked Vietnamese girl, burnt badly by American Napalm gas during the Vietnam War, and, most unfavourably for Israel, to the image of the small Jewish boy with his hands raised before Nazi guards in the Warsaw ghetto in 1943. Murals across the Palestinian Territories used Muhammad’s terrified face as a call to action against the Israeli occupation, stamps were issued and street names changed across the region to mark the 12 year olds martyrdom. The IDF quickly accepted responsibility for the boy’s death and did its best to put the incident into the past.
Many in the Israeli lobby claim that the video is another example of “blood libel”, an anti Semitic accusation that Jews spill the blood of others children, and that the international media’s automatic acceptance of the video at face value is evidence of its inherent bias against the Jewish state. However those sympathetic to the Palestinian cause have dismissed the historical accuracy of the video as unimportant. They claim that as a representation of Israeli brutality the piece conveys the reality of occupation with 100% accuracy.
Given the reports that come from the Palestinian Territories every week, month and year of the extensive civilian causalities, many of them children, caused by Israeli and settler attacks; for many Palestinians, whether Muhamed al Durrah was intentionally killed that day by Israeli bullets is irrespective. The picture, they say, tells all their stories.