Critic Who Questioned Shooting of Palestinian Boy Vindicated by French Court

By Eva Cahen | July 7, 2008 | 8:19 PM EDT

( - A Paris appeals court has overturned the libel verdict against a French media critic who claimed that French state television aired a fraudulent news report showing the alleged shooting of a Palestinian boy by Israeli soldiers in 2000.

Philippe Karsenty, who was found guilty of libel in 2006 for claiming that French TV faked the footage, hailed Thursday's court ruling as a significant victory.

After threatening to sue anybody who questioned the authenticity of its story, France 2 Television filed defamation charges against three Web sites that challenged the network's allegations that the incident really took place.

France 2's images of 12-year-old Mohammed al-Dura, allegedly shot during a gun battle between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian gunmen at Gaza's Netzarim junction, became a symbol of the second Palestinian intifada (uprising).

But Karsenty on his Media Ratings Web site detailed various analyses of the network's video, raising questions about whether scenes included in the news report had been staged, whether the child had been hit by bullets, and whether he had been killed at all.

Karsenty presented the same material to the court during his appeal last February.

The court on Wednesday ruled in his favor and dismissed the libel judgment. It did not make a ruling on the veracity of his claims. France 2 reportedly plans to appeal.

The network has denied the footage was fraudulent and has defended its correspondent, Charles Enderlin, who was not present during the alleged incident but provided commentary over the images shot by his Palestinian cameraman.

The court's decision on Wednesday came as a surprise, even to Karsenty, who said in an interview earlier that he was prepared to wage a long battle for the truth.

"I am fighting for the truth. I am not fighting against Enderlin," he said.

Karsenty said the France 2 cameraman had created "the lie" and then covered it up. Enderlin had "propagated" the story, which had been also been "covered up by the highest French authorities, like [former president] Jacques Chirac."

Speaking after the court decision, he called the outcome "the victory of truth over lies. It's the victory of honesty over intellectual dishonesty. It's the victory of French justice over corporatism and the media mafia."

"It is time for France to recover its decency and admit that they produced, protected and covered up the biggest anti-Semitic lie of the century," he said.

Shortly after the September 2000 incident, the Israeli Defense Force apologized for al-Dura's death, but in a subsequent investigation it concluded that based on relative locations of the people involved, bullet angles and other factors, the boy could not have been killed by Israeli gunfire.

Pictures of al-Dura cowering for protection behind his father have featured frequently in the years since France 2 first sent them around the world. The image appeared in a video showing the 2002 beheading of Wall Street Journal journalist Daniel Pearl. According to Richard Landes, a professor of medieval history at Boston University, the image has also repeatedly been used in anti-Israeli demonstrations in Paris and other European capitals.

"It's under the aegis of this story that people began comparing the Israelis to the Nazis," said Landes, who has published his own analysisof the France 2 video.

He said Islamists have used the media to gain sympathy. "They use the Western media as a theater of war and our Western media, having been trained to believe that the media should not be a theater of war, refuses to acknowledge that they have been manipulated."

Landes said the French network's attempt to stifle analysis of its coverage amounted to bullying the public into not criticizing or questioning it.

"If they can use the courts to shut down the criticism of themselves, they are creating a situation where the media becomes a protected entity," he said.

Karsenty, who last March was elected as an assistant mayor in Neuilly - a Paris suburb where President Nicolas Sarkozy used to be mayor - has been a frequent guest speaker on the affair in the United States and Britain, though much of the established French media has ignored the case, rallying around France 2 instead.

Karsenty was honored as a "hero of conscience" on Sunday at a dinner held by the American Freedom Alliance in Los Angeles.

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