It’s been more than a dozen years since Mohammed al-Dura, a 12-year-old Palestinian boy, was caught in the crossfire between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian security forces at the outbreak of the second intifada and allegedly killed by Israeli bullets.
“Allegedly” because a 36-page report issued this week by an Israeli panel of experts concludes that the killing was a hoax. The report says “there are many signs” that the boy was not shot. But given the long, tortuous history of this case, it is not at all clear that the Israeli report will mark the end of the controversy, which began the day of the incident (Sept. 30, 2000), was shown in a controversial video on a French television station and hasn’t stopped.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this week it was important to revisit the case because “it exemplifies the mendacious campaign of delegitimization we keep experiencing against Israel.” But some critics say the report offers no new evidence to support its claims and that it was a diplomatic mistake to bring the case back into the limelight.
Barak Ravid, writing in Haaretz, said Israel’s effort “only threatens to awaken sleeping dogs,” prompting the international media to focus attention on Palestinian children killed or injured as a result of IDF operations.
But those who have long insisted that the TV footage was false will take some degree of comfort in the careful substantiation of the long-held opinion that the IDF did not kill the youngster.
For all the mystery surrounding this case, there is no doubt that the incident, for which the IDF initially took responsibility and apologized, made a martyr and a powerful rallying cry out of al-Dura. The Palestinians said it confirmed the blood libel against the Jews, and it prompted riots against Israel. The Israelis, who retracted their apology after an early investigation found that Palestinian gunfire was to blame for the boy’s death, have argued that this was an example of Palestinians sacrificing their children in the name of their cause.
The new report blames the French TV station for airing the video of the shooting and for not apologizing for the way it was edited, or telling viewers the report was based solely on its Gaza-based reporter at the time.
All of this adds up to a tragic, cautionary tale about the deadly ripple effect of a piece of half-baked journalism, and the fact that in all that time since, the two sides remain far apart. The latest report underscores, though, that there is no statute of limitations on the truth.