In 1839, the Russian novelist Mikhail Lermontov published A Hero of our Time, the tale of a melancholy romantic by the name of Grigory Pechorin. In the preface to the book, Lermontov explains that his protagonist is “a portrait, but not of one man. It is a portrait built up of our own generation’s vices.” Pechorin is presented as a self-indulgent cynic, prone to bouts of dejection, world-weariness and pre-Existential nihilism. “What do I expect from the future?” he asks, and replies, “nothing at all.”
It was my great privilege to meet recently another kind of “hero of our time,” one who has nothing in common with Pechorin with whom he differs in two crucial ways. To begin with, he most certainly is not a representative figure of our pusillanimous epoch but a singular presence, very much in the courageous mold of Geert Wilders, who holds the era to account. And secondly, there is nothing of the cynic about him; on the contrary, he is a man notable for his sense of justice, crusading energy, and his belief in the eventual triumph of the truth—a man who expects everything from the future.
I’m speaking of Philippe Karsenty, who delivered a talk in Montreal on October 13 of this year dealing with the infamous Mohammad al-Dura hoax perpetrated by France 2 TV. Karsenty, deputy mayor of Neuilly-sur-Seine and director of the Paris-based analysis firm Media-Ratings, has become justly celebrated as the man who single-handedly defied the entire French media, political establishment and intellectual synod which closed ranks to defend the official version of what happened on September 30, 2000 at the Netzarim junction in Gaza. The episode and its aftermath are by this time widely known, but a brief recapitulation would not be out of place.
Jamal al-Dura, a native of Gaza, and his 12-year-old son Mohammad, were filmed supposedly caught in a crossfire between Palestinian operatives and Israeli soldiers at the Netzarim junction, approximately five kilometers from Gaza City. According to Israeli-French journalist Charles Enderlin, France 2 TV’s Jerusalem correspondent who edited and narrated the clip, and his cameraman Talal Abu Rhama who bore witness to the event, the Israelis deliberately targeted the two victims for a full forty-five minutes, wounding the father and killing the son. An expurgated version of the film circulated around the globe, and the international media, with scarcely an exception, condemned the Israelis as child killers. With the collusion of the Western press, the Palestinians had invented yet another martyr to grace their faux hagiography.
Indeed, it did not take long before Palestinian national poet Mahmoud Darwish published his Requiem for Muhammad al-Dura, a piece of versified hogwash which became an instant hit and continues to this day to resonate. “Mohammad,” Darwish writes, “hunters are gunning down angels, and the only witness/is a camera’s eye…” Postage stamps commemorating the event were issued throughout the Islamic world, monuments were erected, the Second Intifada which had only just begun took on a second wind, journalist Daniel Pearl was beheaded in revenge and Israeli citizens were murdered in the streets by Palestinian suicide bombers. No one doubted the official story of Israeli barbarism and Palestinian innocence. Even the Israeli political and military establishment did not contest world opinion and issued a hurried apology. But there was a serious problem with the universally accepted transcript of the “firefight.” The only significant “shooting” was done by the camera crew.
It was soon revealed that France 2 TV possessed 27 minutes of tape but released only 59 seconds worth of material. Enderlin, who was not present at the Netzarim shootout but justified his reportage by saying that “the image corresponded to the reality of the situation,” insisted that portions of the film were too painful to reveal, enabling him to bury the outtakes. This, of course, rendered him complicit in what became a worldwide campaign of slander and disinformation, a modern blood libel in everything but name. A subsequent investigation conducted by the Israeli Defense Force arrived at the conclusion  that Israeli fire, coming from an oblique position, could not have produced the round bullet holes that pocked the wall against which the al-Duras were crouching. A forensic team from Germany, which examined the evidence in March 2002, went one better, determining from angles and trajectories that the soldiers manning the Israeli outpost could not possibly have shot the al-Duras, at least not in our familiar Euclidean world dominated by the laws of geometry and ballistics.