It was the day after the shot heard around the world -- one of the many shots that rang on Sept. 30, 2000, at the beginning of the second intifada, the day those "brutal Israeli occupiers" allegedly killed a young Palestinian boy named Mohammad al Dura as he crouched for cover near his panicked father.
Within hours, virtually every television station in the world had played and replayed the now-famous tape of that tragic scene. I remember being confronted myself by one of my closest friends, an assimilated Jew who knew I was a supporter of Israel, and who was quite shaken by what he had just seen on the evening news. There wasn't much I could say, because I, too, was pretty shaken after watching the same images.
It was a low point for Israel, and for her supporters.
For the next few months and years, the picture of the crouching, dying boy unleashed a global wave of resentment against Israel and became the icon par excellence to incite further terrorist violence against Jews and the Jewish state. To this day, the Al Dura image continues to proliferate throughout the Muslim world, in everything from postage stamps, billboards and T-shirts to memorials, films and television shows.
For the Palestinians, it has been a PR bonanza -- the money shot that says it all in one second: helpless victim of violent oppressor.
The only problem is, there's compelling evidence that it's all a hoax.
Beyond the stuff I've read over the years (most notably, an exposé by James Fallows in the Atlantic Monthly), I've recently seen evidence with my own eyes. I saw, for example, footage that was kept out of the original news clip, which shows the "dead" boy lifting his hand from his face, almost as if to say: "Can I get up now, or are you still filming?"
I also saw footage, taken during those infamous 45 minutes when Israeli soldiers were said to be shooting, that shows the impossibility of the angle between where the Israelis were stationed and the boy and his father. At the same time, I saw a Palestinian "director" staging two scenes of "wounded" Palestinians being carried off to ambulances, with one of the participants applauding after a scene was completed.
I saw close-ups that showed there were no gunshot wounds to the father or the kid -- during the time they both appeared dead and immobile -- with the only "red stuff" being on a rag that appeared to be a prop. I saw a camera tripod conveniently placed a few feet from the crouching boy. In short, I saw overwhelming evidence that the whole thing was staged; but perhaps the most chilling thing was the edited French newscast that cobbled together all these staged scenes, creating the impression that the Israelis killed a helpless child.
All this was shown to me by a French gentleman named Philippe Karsenty.
More than 100 years after another Frenchman named Emile Zola wrote the famous "J'Accuse!" (I Accuse!) declaration of anti-Semitism by French officials in the Dreyfus Affair, Karsenty has been fighting an uphill battle for the last five years to expose what he calls a "slander against the Jewish nation."
As he was enjoying some Parisian-style French fries the other day at Shilo's while on a short visit to America, Karsenty's passion on this subject could not be contained. He didn't wait to finish his fries before he pulled out his laptop to show me the evidence. This is the same evidence that is now being shown in his ongoing trial in France against the French television station that sued him for libel a couple of years ago -- and won.
But after they turned the tables on him, he is turning the tables on them.
Through his appeal, which began last month, the evidence of a hoax has been gushing out, and the number of his supporters, even among the anti-Israel intelligentsia in Europe, is growing. It helps that his accusers in court have been anything but forthcoming, producing, for example, 18 minutes of original footage instead of the 27 the cameraman swore he shot.
Karsenty, a Sephardic Jew and Internet entrepreneur, thinks he lost the first trial because the president of France at the time, Jacques Chirac, sent a personal letter in support of his opponent. But now, with the next hearing coming up in Paris on Feb. 27 and more evidence coming out, the momentum is shifting to Karsenty's side. (One sure sign of momentum is that he's already stimulating interest from Hollywood to turn his crusade into an "Erin Brockovich"-type movie.)
Karsenty is clearly an ambitious man, and his ambition is fueled by outrage.
Outrage at the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish bias in Europe and in his home country of France, where he says he was maligned as a "conspiracy nut," and where Israel is usually "guilty until proven innocent." Outrage at the anti-Semitism that was awakened by the Al Dura global "PR campaign." Outrage at the general incompetence and timidity of the Israeli diplomatic corps, who rarely publicly confront the lies against their country.
And, finally, outrage at the Jewish groups who jump to scrutinize and criticize Israel over every roadblock and outpost, but who have remained remarkably quiet over this Palestinian deception that has contributed to so much violence against Jews.
Ironically, he's not especially outraged at the Palestinian deceivers. As he says, calmly: "They lie. That's what they're taught to do. That's how they fight."
Karsenty would rather fight with the truth.
He's hoping the words Zola wrote a century ago will still apply today: Truth is on the march and nothing can stop it.
David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.