Report of the Government Review Committee
19 May 2013
The Al-Durrah Affair has its origins in a media report first aired by the French public television channel France 2 on September 30, 2000. The report claimed to show the killing of a Palestinian boy, targeted along with his father, according to the report, by fire from an Israeli position. The story was quickly relayed worldwide by the international media, which repeated the claims made by the France 2 journalist who narrated the report. The report had the immediate effect of harming Israel’s international standing and fanning the flames of terror and hate.
Since that day, the narrative deriving from the France 2 report regarding Israel’s actions has served as an inspiration and justification for terrorism, anti-Semitism, and the delegitimization of Israel. The echoes of the Al-Durrah report, both in terms of accusations against Israel, and the behavior of Western media outlets and their local stringers, have continued to resonate in the media coverage of Israel’s operations against terrorist organizations. At the same time, critical examinations and investigations have shown a number of the key components of the France 2 narrative to be false, and others to be highly-doubtful. While some had hoped that left on its own, the Al-Durrah narrative would eventually be relegated to the back pages of history and the damage it caused would wane, it has become increasingly clear that this is not the case.
In light of the Al-Durrah narrative’s continued deleterious consequences, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu directed the Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Strategic Affairs Moshe Yaalon in September 2012 to set up a governmental review committee. The purpose of the committee was to examine the affair in light of the continued damage it has caused to Israel, and to formulate the Government of Israel’s position with regards to it. The committee was comprised of representatives of relevant government ministries and official bodies, and consulted with outside experts.
Following an extensive review of materials related to the affair, the committee determines that the France 2 report’s central claims and accusations had no basis in the material which the station had in its possession at the time of the report. Contrary to the report’s claim that the boy was killed, the committee’s review of the raw footage showed that in the final scenes, which were not broadcast by France 2, the boy is seen to be alive. The review revealed that there is no evidence that Jamal or the boy were wounded in the manner claimed in the report, and that the footage does not depict Jamal as having been badly injured. In contrast, there are numerous indications that the two were not struck by bullets at all. There is no evidence that the IDF was in any way responsible for causing any of the alleged injuries to Jamal and the boy. The review showed that it is highly-doubtful that bullet holes in the vicinity of the two could have had their source in fire from the Israeli position, as implied in the France 2 report. The lack of evidence for its central claims was or should have been clear to France 2 before it broadcast the report. Yet the report was edited and narrated in such a way as to create the misleading impression that it substantiated the claims made therein.
Over time numerous additional inconsistencies and contradictions have come to light, and question marks have been raised regarding nearly every aspect of the report. Repeated contradictions and falsehoods have been found in the statements of Talal Abu Rahma, France 2’s Gaza stringer, who was the chief, and for all practical purposes the sole source of information for the France 2 report. Despite the inconsistencies and contradictions, France 2 and its Jerusalem Bureau Chief Charles Enderlin, who narrated the report, have refused to acknowledge their errors and have even reaffirmed their original claims. They have repeatedly defended Abu Rahma’s credibility with the irrelevant claim that the Israeli security services have stated that the stringer is not suspected of involvement in terrorist activity, as if this reflected on the accuracy or credibility of his reporting.
It is important to note that since November 2000, official Israeli sources have consistently stated that Israel has very significant doubts regarding the accuracy of the France 2 report. While during the initial ‘fog of war’ a small number of official sources did accept the possibility that IDF bullets had inadvertently struck the boy (though certainly not the claim that the IDF had targeted him intentionally), numerous subsequent official statements, formulated following more thorough investigations, made clear that Israel rejected or found highly-unlikely the claims of the report.
The Al-Durrah affair demonstrates the need for media outlets to implement the highest professional and ethical standards when covering asymmetric conflicts. There is a particular need for international media outlets to critically evaluate information provided by local stringers, especially in arenas in which repeated attempts to stage or fabricate media items have been documented. Media outlets must also be willing to acknowledge inaccuracies and mistakes, and engage with the public in a dialogue regarding their reporting. Given the evidence which has come to light, France 2 should have retracted or qualified the unequivocal claims of its reporter that the boy was the target of Israeli fire and died in the sequence shown, apologized for misleadingly editing the footage, and clarified that it relied unquestioningly on its Gaza stringer in formulating the report.
An additional lesson of the Al-Durrah affair is that countries which scrupulously adhere to the laws of armed conflict must not remain complacent in the face of misleading or mendacious media coverage. The potentially deadly consequences of such coverage mean that they do not have the luxury of simply hoping that the malignant narratives will run their course and that the truth will come to light. Rather they must investigate the claims in a thorough and timely manner and present their findings to the public. It is worth noting that the French-Algerian terrorist who murdered three Jewish children, a rabbi and three French soldiers in Toulouse in March 2012, while not mentioning Al-Durrah directly, informed police that he had carried out his actions to avenge Palestinian children killed by Israel. Al-Durrah has very frequently been cited as the ultimate proof or iconic example by those accusing Israel of intentionally targeting Palestinian children.  The committee included representatives from the Prime Minister’s Office, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Strategic Affairs, Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, IDF Spokesperson’s Unit and the Israel Police.