A bird terrorized
by the hell from the sky,
in his father's arms:
Keep me from flying, father,
my wings are still
weak against the wind . . . and the light is black
From Mahmoud Darwish’s translated poem Muhammad.
The scene is harrowing; a boy covers behind his father terrified whilst his father desperately pleads for his son’s life. This ensues for 45 horrific minutes, ending in Muhammad’s death. His body crumpled and limp, and his father losing consciousness. It is September 30, 2000. A twelve year old Palestinian boy is dead. His father tried to shield him, yet he was shot by the Israeli Defence Forces.
As the world watched in horror, the defining image of the second intifada, became the image of a boy whose father was powerless to protect him. Muhammad symbolised the horrific toll that the occupation and its violent measures against the Palestinians has taken, and was a thorn in the Israeli Public Relation Machine’s side. This thorn has stung for thirteen years.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu requested a report on the incident, in a commission of inquiry that started in September 2012. The report’s findings can be summed up in these few lines:
(The) Israeli investigative panel has found "there are many indications" that Mohammed al-Dura and his father, Jamal, "were never hit by gunfire" – neither Israeli nor Palestinian – after all.
The report is accompanied by an international public relations campaign, and photos of a smiling Netanyahu, clutching the 40-page report. In a preamble to the report, Netanyahu states, “It is important to focus on this incident – which has slandered Israel’s reputation. This is a manifestation of the ongoing, mendacious campaign to delegitimise Israel.”
For all its theatrics, the report seems to have missed the point. The report’s bias is evident from its very title, French TV station France 2's coverage of the Mohammed al-Dura affair, its results and implications. This is clearly not an investigation about the fact that an innocent 12-year-old boy was killed by IDF gunfire, or at least, whether or not it was IDF gunfire that killed him. The report is a response to the fact that it was caught on camera, and how detrimental this has been to the Israeli public image. The video was potent because it showed an example of a very commonplace occurrence in the occupied territories: the killing of children by the IDF.
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The report neither included new evidence, nor statements from the boy’s father, or even from France 2. The expert forensic opinion that was offered determined that Muhammad did not die, commenting that he did not seem to be going through death throes, this of course, was his expert opinion as gleaned from the poor quality video footage, a deduction almost worthy of the best episodes of Columbo.
The audacity of the allegation that the scene was staged and that Muhammad never died is ridiculous and desperate. What I would really like to know is where the poor 12-year-old boy was shipped off to since he had to pretend he was dead, maybe the enquiry should add an addendum with theories about where Muhammad is hiding. Muhammad’s father, Jamal, in response stated that he is ready for an international enquiry, and for his son’s body to be exhumed and examined. Something the world will definitely want to see.
The obsession with Muhammad’s shooting and the attempt to salvage Israel’s reputation 13 years too late is somewhat surprising. Several theories about the timing have surfaced, including it being a revenge campaign against the France 2 reporter Charles Enderlin, an Israeli Jew. I believe, however, that it is a calculated media diversion, taking attention away from more land grabbing in Jerusalem, and the fact that a report was published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development on Wednesday, stating that Israel has the highest poverty rate in the developed world.
It also coincides with the 65thanniversary of Al-Nakba (Catastrophe), a part of history that Israel has been desperately trying to re-write/justify/divert media attention from during these 65 years.
This should remind us that Israel systematically denies wrongdoings, and has done so since its genesis as a state. Take for instance the flat denial that the violent actions of the Israeli army, including massacres, rape and expulsion in 1948, or that the Al-Nakba never happened. That the destruction of over 500 villages, and the displacement of over 700,000 people, simply coincided with the formation of the state of Israel, which also marks Israel’s independence day, its independence from the indigenous inhabitants of Palestine, and their right to existence, national identity, and land.
Professor Ilan Pappé, Israeli historian and socialist activist calls this “memorycide,” and I don’t think a more fitting word could be used. Purging memory, it is a calculated way of culling any narrative that deviates from the official story, one in which Israel is a victim of a continued smear campaign that is meant to “delegitimise Israel” to quote Netanyahu. Clearly, the fact that Israel was founded on ethnic cleansing and a racist, violent policy against Palestinians is not damning or “delegitimising” enough, nor the fact that 1376 Palestinian children have been killed since the year 2000*. Will Netanyahu be commissioning reports on these deaths anytime soon, or will he start addressing Israel’s poverty rate of 20.9%?
Either way, the world awaits the next report, and will not forget.
* According to statistics by B'Tselem - The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. More statistics can be found from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) for the number of children killed from 2000-2007 http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/BE07C80CDA4579468525734800500272
And the Defence for Children International Palestine for statistics between 2000-2013 http://dci-palestine.org/content/child-fatalities