Is it fair to accuse someone of wrongdoing, without proof? Is it equitable to summarily convict someone on murder charges or even aggravated manslaughter without presenting rock-solid evidence proving the allegation? Pictures of someone injured (even seriously) do not prove who or what caused the injury. Indeed – upon close examination- pictures that purport to show injury or death sometimes fail to show any such thing at all. In a court of law finger-pointing without any proof can be punishable. In the court of public opinion, people get away with it all the time. But fairness and honesty demands that we review the evidence supporting allegations of fault – and that we test that evidence to see whether it supports or contradicts an accuser’s claim.
In this section, we examine the evidence concerning France2’s claim that the Muhammad and Jamal Al Durah were hit by fire coming from the Israel position and Talal Abu Rahma’s more pointed accusation made under oath to the Palestinian Centre For Human Rights in Gaza on October 3, 2000 that “the child was intentionally and in cold blood shot dead and his father injured by the Israeli army.”
The claims made by France2 involve the following elements – and are addressed one by one:
- The ballistics
- The bullets (or lack thereof)
- The blood (or the lack thereof)
- The body ( the identity of the boy buried as Muhammad Al Durah)
At the outset we note there are peculiar conditions complicating the forensic examination of the event.
Conditions complicating the forensic examination of the scene
After the broadcast of the Al Durah footage on the evening of September 30, 2000, the rioting at Netzarim Junction intensified. While Palestinian photojournalists and gunmen roamed the area freely and heavy weapons appeared, Israeli soldiers could not venture outside their compound without their mere presence inviting violent attack. One can recall the lynch of the Israeli reservists 70 miles away in Ramallah on October 12, 2000, as representative of the danger facing the Israeli soldiers at Netzarim.
The Israeli compound remained the target of sustained attack. The Israelis found themselves without relief for a solid week – low on supplies and having scant prospect of extraction without provoking skirmishes deadly to both sides. It was in this environment that the IDF was informed of the Al Durah accusations – but it had no way to properly investigate them. Brigadier-General Osama al-Ali, a member of the Palestine National Council, contaminated the scene by altering crucial evidence and –although France2 had already shot footage near the barrel showing no blood on the ground and none on the wall nor the barrel — blood, or another bright red substance, was poured onto the ground near the barrel in time for a Palestinian press conference convened to show the “crime of the Zionists”.
Violence continued to escalate in the area until October 10, 2000 when the head of the Israeli Southern Command, General Yomtov Samieh, made the decision to level every structure within 500 meters of the Netzarim IDF outpost. As soon as the order was carried out, quiet ensued and the casualty count on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides went to zero.
Although Samieh’s tactical decision eliminated the violence in the area without further injury it removed all possibility of Israel’s direct examination the scene – because the wall and the barrel where France2 filmed the alleged shooting of the Al Durahs were destroyed. Israel’s subsequent examination of the scene was largely restricted to analysis of film footage shot by France2 and other media networks – notably AP and Reuters.
The Palestinian authorities declared that from their perspective, examination of the scene was superfluous. Senior Palestinian security official Saeb al -Ajez, the police chief for the West Bank and Gaza appointed by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on July 17, 2004 observed “When there are differences in the assessment of a specific case – when further inquiries prove necessary- then, of course, an investigation is mounted. But when there is an agreement over the identity of the culprit , then there is no need to conduct a detailed investigation.” When asked: “Then what do you all agree on?” al-Ajez answered: “That it was the Israeli side that committed this murder”.
Similarly, Dr. Abed El-Razeq El-Masry – the Shifa Hospital pathologist who examined the body later buried as Muhammad Al Durah – never formally traced the trajectory of the bullets that struck the boy nor collected them for ballistic testing. Instead El- Masry summarily concluded that the shots must have come from a height and so the “Israelis must have done it”.
It should be obvious to any fair-minded person that making accusations without credible supporting evidence is wrong. Refusing to examine the evidence that contradicts an accusation of murder -while promoting that allegation insistently – is very wrong. In this section we examine the accusations in light of the photographic evidence – and invite those interested in the truth to make their own judgments.