Background

Mohammed al-Dura was a twelve year old Palestinian boy who was shot and killed during an exchange of fire between Israeli Soldiers and Palestinian snipers on September 30th 2000. This was within the first few days of the Intifada.

Mohammed and his father Jamal were on their way home in Gaza. They were at the remote Netzarim junction, an uninteresting crossroads near the Netzarim settlement (recently evacuated by Israel), where they were caught in a firefight between Palestinian snipers and Israeli soldiers. This was at about 2.30pm local time.

This was no "David and Goliath" situation, with Palestinians throwing stones against Israeli tanks. There was a large mob of Palestinians, attacking the Israeli position (defending the nearby settlement) with petrol bombs and small arms fire. There was a single Israeli position, with fire being directed at them from various directions. The Israelis fired back at targets they could see directly.

Mohammed and Jamal took shelter behind a concrete barrel, out of the line of fire of the Israelis. Mohammed, crouching in terror behind his father, was shot and died there.

The scene was filmed by a television crew working for a French TV network, and was shown widely around the world. Palestinian networks created an edited version that showed an Israeli soldier shooting, spliced into the original footage, giving the impression that the soldier killed the boy. Their headline was "Israeli Occupation Forces Kill Palestinian Child in Cold Blood". It is interesting to note, however, that the initial footage is usually creditted to a "French Photographer" or a "French Television Crew" - with France being a "neutral" country. However, although the news organisation was French, the actual journalist who filmed the scene was a Palestinian named Talal Abu Rahma, who lives in Gaza.

The Initial Investigation

The Israelis started an initial investigation, under enormous international pressure. 3 days later - October 3rd - The army's head of the Southern Command, confirmed that Mohammed was killed by the IDF, although not on purpose. He said "It could very much be -- this is an estimation -- that a soldier in our position, who has a very narrow field of vision, saw somebody hiding behind a cement block in the direction from which he was being fired at, and he shot in that direction." IDF rules of engagement forbid soldiers from intentionally firing upon innocent bystanders. But, no other explanation was available so the Army apologized for the "accidental shooting".

Never-the-less, officials in Israel had some questions.

  • Why were the boy and his father in such an isolated location in a farming area?
  • Why were they the only ones in the middle of the crossfire?
  • Why did a film crew just happen to be present before the events?
  • The Palestinans, who were in contact with the IDF, could have stopped the firing to evacuate the civilians. Why didn't this happen?

But unfortunately, these were all brushed under the carpet in the general wave of disgust. Once the initial firestorm had died down, Palestinians had elevated Mohammed to the level of a martyr, and Palestinian media was filled with denunciations of Israel and incitement for revenge. Arab poets and songwriters composed tributes in his memory. Jamal, his father, gave interviews from his hospital bed in Amman and became a regional celebtrity. Egypt renamed the road in Cairo where the Israeli embassy sits "Mohammed Al-Dura Street".

What further investigations were done?

About 3 weeks later, an Israeli engineer and former IDF sniper, worked on an investigation and re-enactment of what happened. Their analysis starts with the fact that the IDF position was at about a 30 degree angle to the wall against which Mohammed and his father were pressed. At an IDF base, a wall of the same material was constructed, and shots were fired from a variety of weapons. Photos of the holes left in the wall were compared to photos from the film from Gaza.

These showed immediately that there was no way the IDF could have produced the holes in the wall. The holes on the film are circular - made from a bullet fired directly into the wall. The holes made from a 30 degree angle are elliptical. Furthermore, the concrete barrel was strong enough to prevent any shots being fired directly at Mohammed and his father in the first place. The IDF couldn't even have seen them.

A month later, the Israeli army released its report accompanied with schematic diagrams of the lines of fire and a second-by-second analysis of the French network's tape. Not surprisingly, the report was immediately attacked by Palestinan and pro-Palestinan groups, who denounced it - but without producing any contradictory evidence.

What is the best information now available about what happened?

We will probably never know exactly what happened. But as is the case with all forensic investigations, we have to use the evidence to figure out the most likely sequence of events.

  • Early on in the film, Jamal didn't appear to be frightened by anything in the direction of the IDF. He and Mohammed were safely behind the concrete barrel, and there were no bullet holes in the wall.
  • Suddenly, Jamal turns to look at the camera, and there are 3 round bullet holes to his left. The fact the holes are round indicates they were fired roughly from the direction of the camera.
  • A burst of fire erupts and the cameraman is clearly distracted as his camera swings upwards. This sounds much closer to the camera than the prior shooting, which is clearly from some distance - the IDF position was over 100 metres away. This shooting was therefore from nearby the camera.
  • When the camera setles down, Jamal is slumped with Mohammed in his lap. There are two new bullet holes in the wall - again, round holes, tucked well behind the barrel. The IDF couldn't have fired these shots.

This evidence therefore points to a Palestinian sniper, from somewhere near the camera position shooting Mohammed and his father. Suicide bombers make it very clear to the world that Palestinians are happy to give up their lives for the "cause". So maybe in this case, the Palestinian sniper figured it was worth giving up the life of a child for the cause too. It's also hard to ignore the fact that Mohammed's family would receive $2000 - a fortune for them - from the Palestinian Authority - for having a child "martyrd".

Shortly after the incident, the IDF removed the wall and barrel to avoid the possibility of another attack - but unfortunately destroying the evidence (at this point, they had already taken the blame). Mohammed's body was buried by the Palestinans before a proper autopsy or any form of Commission of Inquiry could be set up. The Palestinians never produced any bullets so the type of weapon couldn't be confirmed. And it has never been explained just how the cameraman ended up in such a perfect position, where his original tape ended up at, and how so many copies were produced in just a few hours.

Just after being taken to hospital, Jamal gave a TV interview in which he emphasised that his son had been "shot in the back". However, he was then told that there were no Israeli troops behind his son, at which point he simply said "Everybody knows the truth. The bullets of the Zionists are the bullets that killed my son!". Again, no contradictory evidence.

On further investigation, it came out that Jamal was a Hebrew-speaking carpenter, who had worked near Tel Aviv for many years, and was suspected of collaboration with the Israelis (a "crime" which now, Palestinians are murdered for by terrorist groups). He had also been accused of drug trafficking. Perhaps that Palestinian sniper didn't just choose Mohammed to kill - perhaps he and his father had even been chosen specifically for the suicide mission.

In March 2002, a German TV network made its own report into the investigation, and agreed totally with the latest Israeli army views. Furthermore, they also noticed that the Israeli soldiers were stationed low down, whereas the Palestinian pathologist determined that the bullets that killed Mohammed were fired from above.

Conclusion

As I say above, the complete truth will almost definitely never be known. We can, with some certainty though, say that Mohammed Al-Dura was killed by a Palestinian. The only question is whether it was an accident or intentional.

There is, however, an interesting conspiracy theory. Videotapes have been seen of funerals of Palestinians killed by Israel - except the corpse falls off the board it's being carried on and gets up again! The point being, these things can easily be staged for propaganda purposes. Some people say that Mohammed wasn't even killed, and the whole thing was a set up. The camera totally losing shot just when Mohammed is shot could confirm this. Is this likely? Probably not. But when the most lasting photo of the Intifada (Tuvia Grossman - see Honest Reporting) was a clear case of Palestinian manipulation of the media, who knows.

Sources

Do a search on Google for "Mohammed al-Dura". There are plenty of sites - some Israeli, some Jewish, and some general international media. The huge majority give the same story.

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