Earlier this month, the Israeli government released its first official report on the long-debated and presumed death of Muhammad al-Dura. The report showed with overwhelming certainty that the young Palestinian from Gaza, who was reported by a French television crew to have been shot to death by Israeli bullets during the Palestinian uprising in 2000, was not killed by Israeli fire.
After 13 years of heated debate, forensic evidence, medical inspection and the viewing of the unedited footage of the incident, it is now clear, beyond any reasonable doubt, that Israel was not responsible. The report further concluded that it was highly likely that the boy survived the incident unscathed and therefore may still be alive.
The incident took place on Sept. 30, 2000 — the early days of the second intifada — when Jamal al-Dura and his 12-year-old son were filmed by a French news station as they crouched in fear as bullets whistled over their heads,
caught in a crossfire between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian police forces in Netzarim Junction, on the Gaza Strip’s main north-south highway. The French station reported that the boy was killed by direct IDF fire.
The story was widely covered by the international media and in these years since, the image of the young child as it was portrayed by European and Arab media became a symbol of Israeli aggression, cruelty and violence.
The image spiked a sharp rise in anti-Semitism in Europe, helped rally people to protest alleged Israeli abuse of human rights and significantly contributed to the delegitimization of Israel that has gained such momentum over the past decade.
And now, after all these years, we learn that the story happens to be untrue.
The question that begs to be answered at this point is: How is it that the world fell for this? How come it took 13 years for someone to yell, “The king has no clothes.” These were years of ferocious anti-Semitism, of an isolated Israel and of Jewish guilt for something that we didn’t do. The answer to this troubling question is the same as the answer to so many other questions in life: We believe what we want to believe.
In a world where there is great desire and demand for aggressive images of Israeli soldiers, where the Israeli “David” is portrayed more and more as the “Goliath” instead — especially in a Europe that really wants to believe that Israel is treating its Palestinians at least as badly as the Europeans treat their Jews — it is no wonder that the al-Dura image circled so fast and with such momentum.
The lesson we, as Jews, need to take from this seemingly unending fiasco is a simple and very Jewish lesson: Don’t believe everything you are told and especially don’t believe everything written about Israel just because it’s in the media. Give things their time, see if there are other interpretations of the story, try and follow news channels that might offer a different perspective on the matter. Most important of all: Believe what you want to believe.
With deep faith in the Israeli commitment to high moral standards, with trust and confidence in the moral integrity of Israeli soldiers — the Jewish people’s best and brightest — make sure that next time you see something in the media that questions the moral integrity of Israeli soldiers, you should understand that there is nothing in your Jewish heart that wants to believe this.
Rabbi Elchanan Poupko is a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Research in Jewish Law at Yeshiva University and the founding editor of the Y.U.’s Lamdan-The Wilf Campus Torah Journal.