In 1839, the Russian novelist Mikhail Lermontov published A Hero of our Time, the tale of a melancholy romantic by the name of Grigory Pechorin. In the preface to the book, Lermontov explains that his protagonist is “a portrait, but not of one man. It is a portrait built up of our own generation’s vices.” Pechorin is presented as a self-indulgent cynic, prone to bouts of dejection, world-weariness and pre-Existential nihilism. “What do I expect from the future?” he asks, and replies, “nothing at all.”
It was my great privilege to meet recently another kind of “hero of our time,” one who has nothing in common with Pechorin with whom he differs in two crucial ways. To begin with, he most certainly is not a representative figure of our pusillanimous epoch but a singular presence, very much in the courageous mold of Geert Wilders, who holds the era to account. And secondly, there is nothing of the cynic about him; on the contrary, he is a man notable for his sense of justice, crusading energy, and his belief in the eventual triumph of the truth—a man who expects everything from the future.
I’m speaking of Philippe Karsenty, who delivered a talk in Montreal on October 13 of this year dealing with the infamous Mohammad al-Dura hoax perpetrated by France 2 TV. Karsenty, deputy mayor of Neuilly-sur-Seine and director of the Paris-based analysis firm Media-Ratings, has become justly celebrated as the man who single-handedly defied the entire French media, political establishment and intellectual synod which closed ranks to defend the official version of what happened on September 30, 2000 at the Netzarim junction in Gaza. The episode and its aftermath are by this time widely known, but a brief recapitulation would not be out of place.
Jamal al-Dura, a native of Gaza, and his 12-year-old son Mohammad, were filmed supposedly caught in a crossfire between Palestinian operatives and Israeli soldiers at the Netzarim junction, approximately five kilometers from Gaza City. According to Israeli-French journalist Charles Enderlin, France 2 TV’s Jerusalem correspondent who edited and narrated the clip, and his cameraman Talal Abu Rhama who bore witness to the event, the Israelis deliberately targeted the two victims for a full forty-five minutes, wounding the father and killing the son. An expurgated version of the film circulated around the globe, and the international media, with scarcely an exception, condemned the Israelis as child killers. With the collusion of the Western press, the Palestinians had invented yet another martyr to grace their faux hagiography.
Indeed, it did not take long before Palestinian national poet Mahmoud Darwish published his Requiem for Muhammad al-Dura, a piece of versified hogwash which became an instant hit and continues to this day to resonate. “Mohammad,” Darwish writes, “hunters are gunning down angels, and the only witness/is a camera’s eye…” Postage stamps commemorating the event were issued throughout the Islamic world, monuments were erected, the Second Intifada which had only just begun took on a second wind, journalist Daniel Pearl was beheaded in revenge and Israeli citizens were murdered in the streets by Palestinian suicide bombers. No one doubted the official story of Israeli barbarism and Palestinian innocence. Even the Israeli political and military establishment did not contest world opinion and issued a hurried apology. But there was a serious problem with the universally accepted transcript of the “firefight.” The only significant “shooting” was done by the camera crew.
It was soon revealed that France 2 TV possessed 27 minutes of tape but released only 59 seconds worth of material. Enderlin, who was not present at the Netzarim shootout but justified his reportage by saying that “the image corresponded to the reality of the situation,” insisted that portions of the film were too painful to reveal, enabling him to bury the outtakes. This, of course, rendered him complicit in what became a worldwide campaign of slander and disinformation, a modern blood libel in everything but name. A subsequent investigation conducted by the Israeli Defense Force arrived at the conclusion that Israeli fire, coming from an oblique position, could not have produced the round bullet holes that pocked the wall against which the al-Duras were crouching. A forensic team from Germany, which examined the evidence in March 2002, went one better, determining from angles and trajectories that the soldiers manning the Israeli outpost could not possibly have shot the al-Duras, at least not in our familiar Euclidean world dominated by the laws of geometry and ballistics.
Karsenty entered the fray shortly afterward, airing his rebuttal on his Web site, and soon found himself on the wrong end of a libel suit. In a partial reprise of the notorious Dreyfus scandal, the French Court of First Instance, despite the recommendation of the public prosecutor that it rule in Karsenty’s favour, convicted the defendant of libeling France 2 TV and Charles Enderlin. (To compound the mockery, the government of Nicolas Sarkozy later awarded Enderlin the Legion of Honor.) Karsenty vowed to continue the fight and has recently won a second decision, of which more later.
Karsenty has prepared a slide/video display with which he accompanies the lectures he has given in many cities around the world. The evidence he has marshaled from various sources, including the eighteen minutes of tape France 2 was compelled by the court to reveal, definitively reduces the entire anti-Israel media offensive regarding al-Dura to the level of abject farce. (What happened to the other nine minutes remain a mystery.) Frame after frame reveals the depth of ignominy which Israel’s besmirchers were more than willing to plumb.
We see the almost festive atmosphere on the road prior to the first burst of fire; the man struck in the leg who is then bundled the wrong way on a stretcher with his weight upon the injury; the ambulance stationed close by, as if in readiness, begin to move before the “wounded” man has even fallen to the ground; Rhama’s testimony that hundreds of shots were fired at the al-Duras although the wall behind them shows only eight bullet holes; the claim that the elder Dura took twelve bullets, which would have sufficed to kill him several times over, apart from the fact that he did not budge as he was supposedly being shot and neither a trace of blood nor a single wound was visible on his body; the migrating blood stain (!) on the bandage on his right arm, displaced from one day to the other when he was photographed on his hospital bed, and many more such countervailing details.
There was a time problem as well. Apparently the short journey from the Netzarim junction to the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, probably not more than half an hour, must have crossed several time zones. As Nidra Poller explains, Arlette Chabot, news director for the network, was caught off guard during a brief trial recess when she was informed that the dead child identified as Mohammad al-Dura was brought to the hospital in the late morning, while the alleged shooting occurred in mid-afternoon. Making the motions of someone who turns back a clock, Madame Chabot explained there was “some kind of time change that day in Gaza.” Karsenty reproduces this strange temporal hiccup in his report, adding the precise times as being between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and quoting the Palestinian biometrician on duty who deposed that the dead child was not Mohammad al-Dura and in fact was several years older.
As if this were not enough, Karsenty exhibits ten seconds of initially suppressed footage from the France 2 TV film, after the newscaster tells us that “the child is dead,” in which the boy moves and lifts his head, arm and leg. Karsenty then wonders whether we have come to believe “that a ‘dead’ child can move.” It seems that the effect of the media on the structures of our mental life may actually have impinged upon our very perceptual abilities, so that we no longer see what we are seeing, disbelieving the very evidence of our senses in our refusal to recognize images that violate our biases. As Eliyahu m’Tsiyon writes, “Here we have more testimony to the power of suggestion in a situation of ongoing indoctrination and emotion.”
Although the “sense of facts,” Theodore Dalrymple comments in _The New Vichy Syndrome_, “is not in the facts themselves, but in the mind that assesses them”—a perspectival truism if ever there was one—it endures as the intellectual and moral duty of the decent individual to separate what is a gross (mis)interpretation from a clear and absolute datum. A fact is not always or necessarily a function of parallax or desire or preference and Mohammad al-Dura is not Lazarus. No doubt some viewers, presented with the concluding portion of the tape, wanted so badly to see the youngster killed by the Israelis that they could not see the boy was quite alive, and could not arrive at the obvious conclusion that the entire episode was rehearsed and staged by the Palestinians with the compliance of French TV. As Karsenty points out, everyone involved in the scene, except the traduced Israeli soldiers, were “actors.”
Karsenty is a modern day Émile Zola, although without Zola’s international fame as one of France’s most prominent writers and without the support Zola could rely on from those who shared his moral outrage at the French military’s scapegoating of Alfred Dreyfus on false charges of treason. Undeterred, Karsenty launched his J’accuse at the French media juggernaut and its enablers in the corridors of power, the judiciary, the public and the massed intelligentsia which had rushed to convict Israel of a fictive crime on tainted evidence. Karsenty had to contend with President Jacques Chirac’s pressure on the court to acquit France 2, with the initial verdict of defamation pronounced against him, and with the fact that he was effectively on his own, abandoned even by those who might have been considered his natural allies. The Israeli government, for example, wished only to wash its hands of the entire affair and kept a frowning distance, apparently recommending that its ambassadors and consuls give Karsenty a wide berth. Even a sympathetic compatriot like Bernard Henri-Lévy, a member of the distinguished school of New Philosophers and an acclaimed author, was obviously reluctant to risk the prospect of public and professional ostracism and did not come to Karsenty’s assistance. “I am completely alone in France,” Karsenty said.
Despite his isolation and the manifold obstacles raised against his quest for justice, Karsenty persisted and in May 2008 the result of his first trial was overturned by the Paris Court of Appeals which declared he was not in defamation, but went no further into the case against France 2 and Enderlin. This remains something of a Pyrrhic victory and augurs further “trials” ahead. That, according to the Mena News Agency, there was only a “petite dizaine de journalistes” (a handful of ten journalists) in the courtroom illustrates the indifference to the truth demonstrated by the French media.
To add to his tribulations, he will once again have to confront and deconstruct the frankly despicable Charles Enderlin who has published a new book, Un Enfant Est Mort (A Child Is Dead), in which he announces his good faith and embarks upon an orgy of self-vindication, claiming that his enemies wish “to demolish an inconvenient journalist” (“_abbatre un journaliste qui dérange_”). Enderlin can expect reinforcement from the leftist French and Israeli press and probably, to some extent, from the Israeli diplomatic corps as well. As Karsenty says, “_Charles Enderlin s’est érigé une muraille d’amis qui le protègent de la critique_” (“Charles Enderlin has erected a wall of friends that protects him from criticism.”) The fact that the doctor who testified in support of Enderlin’s blood libel, Raphy Walden, is married to the daughter of Israeli president Shimon Peres can’t hurt either.
The brazen impropriety of defending the indefensible is as undeniable as it is disheartening. Karsenty, however, is undaunted and has now taken his show on the road, convinced he will ultimately prevail in bringing the incontestable facts to the attention of a jaded and skeptical world. “My goal,” Karsenty writes, “is to have France 2, the entire French society, and, finally, the whole world, admit that the al Dura story is a hoax” and “to identify an emblematic symbol of Jew-hatred and Israel bashing.” This will be a formidable job. As National Post columnist Barbara Kay ruefully acknowledges, “such myths can only be countered by truth-tellers, but the principal truth-teller in the case of the Muhammad Al Dura story, Philippe Karsenty, has found that where libels against Jews are concerned, truth-telling is an uphill slog.”
If we believe that the Palestinian dramatis personae and their media accomplices have been chastened by the exposure of their clandestine purposes, we should think again. The latest piece of theater in the Palestinian repertory involves a rock-throwing incident in Silwan in East Jerusalem, in which an Israeli vehicle with its two occupants (interestingly, a father and son) was ambushed by Palestinian youths, some of them hooded. In attempting to escape the barrage, the driver hit and lightly injured one of the rock throwers. (A second youth brushed by the swerving car was plainly unhurt and ran off.) Naturally, a gaggle of photographers was conveniently on stand-by to record its congenial narrative of an Israeli settler going on a violent rampage against Palestinian children protesting the “occupation.” Following the usual propaganda line, the French News Agency AFP informs us that “A Jewish settler leader runs over two stone-throwing Palestinian boys.” (The “settler leader,” incidentally, is David Be’eri, director of the ir David archeological foundation currently excavating biblical Jerusalem’s City of David.) Karsenty clearly has his work cut out for him, but there is no question that he is equal to the task.
Philippe Karsenty is a man who has put the timid and the calumnious, the liars and hypocrites and cringers among us, to shame and amply merits the title of “a hero of our time”—not because he personifies it but because, like far too few among us, he challenges its myths, evasions and mendacities. He has understood that the storm of antisemitism and anti-Israelism shaking the globe is only the other face of the growing drift toward the appeasement of Islam and the surrender to the advancing armies of an alien god, with Israel as the first burnt offering. And he has targeted the media—of which France 2 TV is only one exemplar—as the chief collaborators in the war against the Jewish state and, indeed, against the moral principles of integrity and rectitude that sustain professional responsibility. Karsenty has, in effect, taken the temper of the age to court. Israel needs more like him. And so does the truth.