(MintPress) – Twelve years after the killing of Muhammad al-Durrah, a 12-year-old boy from Gaza, the slain Palestinian child and his father, Jamal, remain enduring symbols of the Second Intifada, a period of intense fighting between Israeli Defense Forces and Palestinian armed groups. The Second Intifada, or “uprising,” from 2000-2005, resulted in more than 5,500 Palestinian deaths and approximately 1,100 Israeli casualties. Al-Durrah’s death resonates today as human rights organizations, including B’Tselem, report high numbers of Palestinian civilian deaths during Israeli incursions, including the deaths of 318 children during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza 2008-2009.
In the early stages of the conflict, Jamal al-Durrah and his 12-year-old son, Muhammad, were pinned down in a particularly heavy gun battle at the Netzarim Junction in the Gaza strip. The intense exchange of gunfire was captured by a France 2 television crew — an iconic clip that helped shift international public opinion in favor of the Palestinian uprising. Muhammad’s death also became a symbol of the Intifada and Palestinian resistance against Israel.
However, 12 years after the incident, controversy still surrounds the 59 second clip of the boy’s death, as conflicting Israeli and Palestinian sources continue to debate the incident, each blaming the other for the side for Muhammad’s demise.
The Muhammad al-Durrah shooting
According to Joseph Massad, professor of history at Columbia University, al-Durrah was one of 500 Palestinian children killed during the Second Intifada. The deaths of children during Israeli incursions, Massad claims, are an unfortunate part of the protracted Israel-Palestine conflict that often do not receive coverage in Western media.
“The story of Arab children, and especially Palestinian ones, is not only tragic in the context of Israeli violence, but one that also remains ignored, deliberately marginalised, and purposely suppressed in the U.S. and Western media – and in Western political discourse,” Massad wrote in an article last year.
Additionally, an estimated 10,000 Palestinian children were injured in the Second Intifada and more than 300 were killed in Israel’s 2008-2009 Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. For Emily Hauser, a contributor at the Daily Beast, both Israeli and Palestinian children suffer as a result of the protracted conflict, writing earlier this summer:
“Shalhevet Pass was only 10 months old when she was killed; Abir Aramin 10 years. Shalhevet was shot in her stroller in Hebron; Abir was shot when the Israeli border patrol opened fire on suspected stone-throwers. The facts surrounding these children’s deaths cannot mitigate them in any way; these are two little girls buried in the ground. There is no excuse or absolution.”
Just two days before Muhammad al-Durrah’s death, on Sept. 28 2000, then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount, the site of the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. Surrounded by 1,000 armed guards, Sharon entered the the Temple Mount, the third holiest site for Muslims, declaring, “The Temple Mount is in our hands and will remain in our hands. It is the holiest site in Judaism and it is the right of every Jew to visit the Temple Mount.”
Rioting immediately broke out following the provocative visit, however, some scholars believe that it is possible the uprising could have been planned before Sharon’s visit, after the failure of the Camp David Accords.
On Sept. 30, 2000, during the second day of the Second Intifada, a France 2 television crew filmed Muhammad al-Durrah and his father, Jamal, crouching behind a concrete cylinder trying to avoid a barrage of bullets.
Jamal is seen desperately waving his hand, trying to stop gunfire between Israelis and Palestinians.
After the footage briefly cuts off, the concluding frames of the video show Muhammad laying prostrate across his father’s lap, apparently suffering fatal gunshot wounds to the abdomen and chest. His father also suffered injuries as a result of the cross fire, but survived the shooting.
The popularly accepted account in Palestinian society is that Muhammad and his father were targeted by Israeli gunfire and struck by several Israeli bullets. Although there is no footage to support the claim, many believe that the ambulance rushing the pair to the hospital was also struck by IDF fire in one of the most inflammatory attacks during the Second Intifada.
Charles Enderlin, the Jerusalem correspondent for France 2 did not witness the incident first hand, but received an account of the event from the cameraman, Talal Abu Rahman who filmed 27 minutes of the 45-minute gun battle.
The gun battle was pared down to a 59 second clip broadcast on French television with a voiceover by Enderlin, the Jerusalem correspondent telling viewers that Muhammad and his father were “the target of fire from the Israeli positions” and that the boy had died.
Although nearby observers can be heard yelling, “the boy is dead!” Muhammad continues to move during the final frames of the footage. When questioned about the film, Abu Rahman, the cameraman, said that he stopped filming because the boy was in spasms or “death throws” too graphic for a television audience.
However, the boy’s movements at the end of the film and the sudden cuts in the film have raised flags for Israeli and French skeptics questioning the validity of the Palestinian narrative.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) initially admitted responsibility for the event saying that Muhammad was likely killed by IDF fire. However, the IDF later rescinded the statement after an internal investigation of the film. Eight weeks after the incident, the IDF issued a statement saying that “it is quite plausible that the boy was hit by Palestinian bullets.”
Similarly, an analysis of the film by three senior French journalists revealed that there “is no clear proof” to assign responsibility for the death of Muhammad since gunfire from three positions, one Israeli and two Palestinian, could have resulted in the boy’s demise.
In 2004, Phillipe Karsenty, owner of the website Media Ratings claimed that the al-Durrah incident was completely staged and that France 2 was instrumental in doctoring footage to give the appearance that Muhammad had been killed by Israeli gunshots.
France 2 brought legal action against Karsenty for slander, a charge that was originally upheld by French courts.
A Paris appeals court later overturned the original ruling May 2008 after Karsenty filed an appeal. While the courts did not rule on the veracity of the footage, they did uphold Karsenty’s right to question the France 2 coverage of the al-Durrah incident.
The Second Intifada
Twelve years later, Muhammad’s murder remains an indelible image of the Second Intifada and an enduring symbol of the Palestinian resistance. Palestinian society has since embraced the slain boy as a martyr during one of the most intense periods of fighting in the turbulent history of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Charles Enderlin, the reporter for France 2, stands by his work and the work of his colleagues to this day, saying that everything as it was originally reported was factually accurate. Enderlin admits to not seeing the incident first hand, saying in an interview:
“Everyone uses correspondents. France 2 uses correspondents and I am a correspondent. The cameraman was Palestinian but he was doing his job as a journalist. Nobody found him to belong to any organization, Israeli security found him to be totally clean; ‘white as snow’ somebody from Shin Bet told me.”
Some outright rejectionist Israeli sources have gone so far as to say that the Palestinian boy was never killed and remains alive today. Regardless of the veracity of the images, the broader Israel-Palestine conflict remains unresolved as Israel continues to expand checkpoints and illegal settlements on the West Bank in opposition to international law.
Many groups within Palestinian society have turned to strategies of non-violent resistance after the 5 years of intense fighting. Al-Durrah’s death and the deaths of thousands more has led to a broader embrace of popular, peaceful resistance following the Second Intifada.
Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian activist and leader of the Palestine National Initiative, has emerged as one of the leading advocates of popular non-violent resistance supported by many within the Palestinian and allied activist community.
“Many people understand and realize now that nonviolent resistance is much more effective than military actions; it is a very good way of linking the Palestinian struggle to international solidarity with a clear aim, which is to change the parameters of the struggle and of the conflict and change the balance of power. We believe that so far the Israeli occupation has been profiting from occupying us, and this popular nonviolent resistance is going to make the occupation costly,” said Barghouti in an interview earlier this year.