By David Sidman
Gaza, September 30, 2000. Amidst large scale rioting throughout Judea and Samaria, Jamal al-Durrah and his 12-year-old son, Muhammad, were filmed by Talal Abu Rahma, an Arab cameraman freelancing for France 2 Television. After getting caught in a crossfire between Palestinian security forces and Israeli soldiers, the father and son took cover behind a concrete barrier. The footage, whose duration lasts just under a minute, shows the two gripping each other while the boy weeps and the father waves for help. A burst of gunfire and dust is followed by young Muhammad collapsing onto his father’s lap. The iconic video of Muhammad Al Dura’s death spread like wildfire throughout major news outlets. Following an emotional funeral, Al Dura was hailed throughout the Arab world as a martyr. Without any official investigation, the IDF accepted responsibility and apologized for the boy’s passing. The death of Al Dura quickly became a PR casus belli for the Palestinian cause, intensifying the second intifada dramatically.
There’s just one catch: it never happened. It was later revealed that France 2 cut the last few seconds which showed a ‘lifeless’ Muhammad who appeared to lift his hand from his face. This footage, had it not been omitted, would have exonerated Israel. But Israel didn’t even need to recover the footage to prove the video was a complete hoax. A simple analysis of the footage reveals that there were no traces of blood drawn from the body of the boy who was just allegedly shot to death. Upon realizing that the event was staged, Israel retracted its apology. But it was too late. The damage was done and the footage was so far reaching that it was even blamed for the eventual lynching of two IDF reservists in Ramallah. Israel’s PR policy of apologizing before investigating is nothing short of peculiar. Perhaps Israel’s attempt at rejecting the most basic principle of international public relations which is to never ever apologize (and certainly not to a hostile press) was a bold maneuver. It cost them dearly and worst of all, Israel didn’t learn from its mistake.
Fast forward to 2006. Eight Gazan Arabs were killed and at least thirty others maimed in an explosion in Gaza’s Beit Lahiya beach. The aftermath of the incident was caught on video and showed a troubled eleven-year-old girl named Huda Ghaliya, grieving at the loss of her family members who were killed in the attack. The footage of Ghaliya, which received massive media attention, was shown on news networks throughout the world, transforming her into yet another icon of Palestinian suffering. Again, the Israeli Army and Israeli officials took responsibility before investigating only to later discover that the explosion was not caused by IDF artillery fire at all. Defense Minister Amir Peretz proudly announced: “We have gotten our hands on enough evidence to prove that as we suspected, the attempt to label this incident as an Israeli incident was simply false.” Again, it was too late. The damage was done and any exoneration of Israel’s role in the explosion was yesterday’s news.
On July 17, 2014, during the IDF’s operation Defensive Edge, a blast killed four teenagers who were allegedly playing hide and seek on the beach. Again, the images of the aftermath were plastered amongst top international media outlets making them the latest iconic sacrifices of Israel’s most recent battle. Again, before the IDF completed its official investigation, (wait for it…) Israel Defense Forces Spokesman Col. Peter Lerner went on ABC’s 7:30 program and apologized from the hip explaining that “we should have been able to determine who was on the beach.” Trying to understand what exactly it will take for the IDF’s Spokespersons Unit to end its preposterous policy of ‘apologize first, ask questions later’ boggles the mind. One would think that after all the staged and self-inflicted deaths produced and directed by Pallywood, the IDF spokespersons unit would maintain a policy of innocence until proven guilty (or at least until Israel completes its investigation). Israel’s culpability in Palestinian deaths ought to be yesterday’s news, not the opposite. Until then, Israel should deny its role in any and all deaths publicized by the manipulative Palestinian PR machine while reminding the interviewing journalist of the countless instances of Arab deaths that were either staged or self-inflicted and were initially blamed on Israel. Otherwise, the Israeli government would be better off refusing to speak to the media altogether.