Images of Mohammed al-Durrah
December 22, 2001
BOB GARFIELD: A powerful media image has been a rallying point in the latest wave of violence in Israel. It is of a 12 year old boy named Mohammed al-Durrah, shot in his father's arms in the Gaza Strip at the beginning of the current intifada in September of last year. This particular death, caught on film by France 2 Television was reproduced everywhere and even incorporated into a promo for the Middle East news station Al Jazeera. Reporter Deborah Campbell traces the impact of the pictures on the reporter who took them, on the editor who chose to air them and on the family whose dead son now belongs to the world.
DEBORAH CAMPBELL: Talal Abu Rachma, a Palestinian correspondent for France 2 and CNN, had taken shelter behind a van when he spotted the father and son huddled opposite the Israeli military post. [EXCITED EXCHANGE WITH SIREN BLARING] [BARRAGE OF GUNSHOTS] [MEN SHOUTING] When he sent the footage to Charles Enderlin, the Jewish bureau chief for France 2 in Jerusalem, Enderlin contacted their Paris headquarters.
CHARLES ENDERLIN: It's very strong. We just give a warning to the viewers. These are very disturbing pictures. I called the Israeli Army spokesman--
DEBORAH CAMPBELL: The Army spokesman dismissed the incident as an example of Palestinians making cynical use of women and children, but the image of father and son became an instant symbol for Palestinians opposed to Israeli occupation. [ARAB MAN SINGING ABOUT THE CHILD WHO WAS SHOT] At a Gaza souvenir shop the image appears on tee shirts next to another revolutionary icon, Che Guevara. Arab musicians sing popular songs about Mohammed. [ARAB MAN SINGING ABOUT THE CHILD WHO WAS SHOT] But within Israeli media coverage focused mainly on the followup investigation. In a 60 Minutes episode, the general commanding the area, General Yom-Tov Samia, told Bob Simon he would clear the name of the Israeli soldiers. Since the actual location had been destroyed by the Army, to deny Palestinian gunmen cover, the Army said, it stated a re-enactment that aired on 60 Minutes. CBS quoted reports that said investigators commissioned by General Samia were not actually ballistics experts and at least one of the investigators publicly stated prior to the investigation that he was convinced Palestinians were responsible. Later the Israeli Army chief of staff told Israel's Parliament that General Samia had acted alone and the Army was investigating his actions. The investigation also questioned why father and son were in a war zone, but Enderlin explains it took place at a major crossroad in Gaza. For the al-Durrah family whose home has become a shrine to Mohammed's memory their loss is first personal, then political. His father, Jamal al-Durrah, is dismayed by the way images of their son's death have been commercialized by other Palestinians. [JAMAL AL-DURRAH SPEAKING IN ARABIC]
TRANSLATOR: I had very bad feelings when I saw some toilet paper -- they put the picture of the killing of Mohammed with me on the cover just to sell it. I didn't like it, because this is a symbol and a martyrdom. The next day people took the roll cover and threw it in the garbage.
DEBORAH CAMPBELL: Rumors spread of Jamal al-Durrah's instant wealth, but while other funds were collected throughout the Arab world, he says none ever reached him or any Palestinian. His boxlike home in the Bourij refugee camp is furnished with white plastic chairs and a child's bed as a sofa. But social workers told him he no longer qualifies for aid because, apparently, King Abdullah of Jordan has given him a palace. Jamal is angered by these accusations. [JAMAL AL-DURRAH SPEAKING IN ARABIC]
TRANSLATOR: Of course I will leave my home and live in the palace. I wouldn't live in the house that fills up with water in the winter.
DEBORAH CAMPBELL: For Abu Rachma, the journalist who took the famous picture, the incident meant professional recognition. He's received some 15 journalism awards at international festivals. But fame brings with it greater risk. Forty five journalists have been injured by bullets in the region in the last 15 months, so he heeded safety warnings and for a time died his hair before going to the front lines. More frustrating are accusations that he used this profession to further the Palestinian cause.
TALAL ABU RACHMA: I think these people, they don't need me to defend them, you know. I'm professional journalist. I will never do it. I will never use journalism for anything, as-- because journalism is my religion. Journalism -- it's my nationality. Even journalism is my language!
DEBORAH CAMPBELL: Charles Enderlin, the Jewish bureau chief who decided to air the footage, has had his share of fallout.
CHARLES ENDERLIN: I got the Israeli extreme right on my back; there were death threats. My wife and my 2 young kids were also threatened. We had to put private guards at night around our home. Since then we moved and we changed also our phone lines.
DEBORAH CAMPBELL: Early on Enderlin decided to waive agency fees and give away the footage.
CHARLES ENDERLIN: For a simple ethical point of view -- I don't believe that we could have made money with the death of Mohammed al-Durrah or any other child. By the way, if it would have been a Jewish child being killed in front of the camera, I believe our reaction would be the same. We try to show the reality of what happens here. For us the sad story of Mohammed al-Durrah belongs to the sad reality of this region.
DEBORAH CAMPBELL: Israel recently refused to renew Talal Abu Rachma's press card for undisclosed reasons. France 2 and CNN are planning to go to Israel's high court to have it reinstated. For On the Media, I'm Deborah Campbell.