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Lethal Narratives: Weapon of Mass Destruction in the War Against the West

by Nidra Poller (June 2009)

Delivered to the New English Review Symposium May 30th, 2009.


On September 30, 2000, state-owned France 2 television channel broadcast a video showing the alleged killing of a 12 year-old Palestinian youth, Mohamed al Dura, and the wounding of his father, Jamal. The ordeal was supposedly filmed as it happened at Netzarim Junction in the Gaza Strip by a France 2 cameraman, later identified as a Palestinian--Talal Abu Rahma. France 2 Jerusalem Bureau chief Charles Enderlin announced, in a dramatic voice-over, that the man and boy were “targets of gunfire from the Israeli position.” Seconds later: “Another round of gunfire. The boy is dead, his father is critically wounded.” The inflammatory al Dura image triggered an outburst of murderous violence against Jews in Israel and set off the worst wave of anti-Jewish attacks in Europe since the Shoah.

Doubts raised about the authenticity of the news report were pushed aside. In fact, its impact was based on the force of the accusation of child murder, not on the credibility of the images or alleged circumstances. Analysts and investigators have exposed inconsistencies, anomalies, and outright lies but the French network has consistently refused to participate in an honest search for the truth. On the contrary, lawsuits were brought against webmasters of three sites that had taken a stand on the controversy or simply posted articles about it. The avowed intent of the suits was to silence critics once and for all but the case against media watchdog Philippe Karsenty backfired when he appealed his defamation conviction. In May 2008 the appeals court ruled in his favor. 

But the al Dura hoax clings stubbornly to the public mind. My extensive experience with this thorny issue, which began with a letter to the editors published by the International Herald Tribune in October 2000,
[1] led me to the broader question of “lethal narratives,” a term I coined to describe a formidable weapon that interferes with the rational thinking that is essential to Western civilization. In trying to understand why people could not reason about the al Dura news report I came to see how the same method of lethal narratives kept them from reasoning about the Arab-Israeli conflict, the war in Iraq…and global jihad.         

Global jihad, like the Qur’an itself, is timeless and uncreated. Pressing forward or hanging back according to circumstances, it remains focused on the ultimate objective of bringing the entire world into a state of submission to Allah. The Khomeinist revolution that led to the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran marks the contemporary revival of jihad conquest. Khomeini lived like a head of state in exile at Neauphle-le-Château France for a year before his triumphant return to Iran in 1979. Three decades later Iran is developing nuclear weapons to fulfill its vow to destroy Israel and exterminate the Jews. The al Dura hoax, presented by France 2 as a legitimate news broadcast, prepared the way for worldwide acceptance of genocidal Jew hatred.
The fleeting video—less than one-minute--of the al Dura incident does not meet the minimum requirements for a news report. The visual contradicts the audio, the backup story is full of contradictions, the eyewitnesses are found to be liars, and Charles Enderlin, the France 2 journalist who lent credibility to the report filed by his Palestinian cameraman, has never provided a shred of corroborating evidence. On the contrary, voluminous evidence shows that the France 2 / Palestinian production was a crudely staged fake.
And yet the poster-style image of Mohamed al Dura crouching behind his father is indelibly engraved in the public mind. Among the innumerable uses of the al Dura image by jihadis, we will cite an Osama bin Laden recruiting video and the filmed beheading of WSJ journalist Daniel Pearl in which the al Dura scene is interspliced as justification. Weren’t we told that Guantanamo is a major recruiting tool? So, if bin Laden latched on to the al Dura incident to recruit for 9/11, he must have known Guantanamo was in the cards. This a posteori reasoning sounds ridiculous but, as I will explain, lethal narratives obliterate notions of chronology, cause and effect…the very logic that is essential to Western rationality. Charles Enderlin justified the hasty airing of the al Dura video by the fact that so many children were killed in the conflict. But the staged al Dura shooting preceded--and actually kicked off—the military onslaught launched by PA leader Yasser Arafat two months after the failed Camp David talks where he turned down the offer of that state without which, we are told, Palestinians cannot become peaceful.  Shahid operations-- misnamed suicide attacks—killed over a thousand Israeli civilians, maimed 5,000, and brought grief to tens of thousands of families.
Why was it so easy, 60 years after the Shoah, to commit atrocities against Jews and get away with it? The staged death of Mohamed al Dura, a twenty-first century international blood libel, justifies the real cold-blooded murder and planned annihilation of Jews. But, we are told, ten times more Palestinians than Israelis were killed. And we are asked to believe that tens of thousands of Muslims killed in Iraq are victims of America’s war, fomented by the despised George W. Bush. These lopsided body counts serve to justify Muslim attacks on our civilians.
The victims are not “collateral damage,” they are weapons used by cowards who do not fight soldier to soldier, who hide in bunkers and deliberately provoke civilian casualties to delegitimize our cause. Yes, the bloody bodies--preferably of children-- ostentatiously displayed are weapons in the hands of cowards.
BEYOND PROPAGANDA
We hear that the Palestinians are good at PR and propaganda. That Israel is losing the war of words and images. We are told we must use our smarts, improve hasbara (information), counter dis- and misinformation. And meanwhile, global jihad advances inexorably, widens its scope, conquers territory. And we cannot even convince people in the free world that we are—whether we like it or not--at war. The very opposite is happening. The United States of America, a great military power with a tradition of defending freedom and fighting to victory, is now governed by a president who lulled them with a “pretend we’re not at war” campaign. This unmitigated disaster is tragically underestimated in most quarters, even as the consequences befall us. With a purveyor of lethal narratives at the helm, the ship of state is sailing full speed into the arms of global jihad.
We are told that our magnificent armed forces cannot win an asymmetrical war against “insurgents, militants, guerilla fighters, national liberation warriors…” This is ridiculous. Poorly-armed ill-trained jihadis who brutalize the civilians that fall under their sway and are incapable of fighting soldier to soldier can win only if we tie our own hands behind our back. If we fight to win, they will lose. Meanwhile they soften us up with lethal narratives…while advancing their nuclear weapons programs.
Our enemy is united in the umma, submissive to sharia law, waging jihad by every means possible on every level of our societies and we react piecemeal to each incident, separate every theater of war, imagining every Iranian proxy as a distinct entity with specific grievances that should be addressed compassionately.
The Palestinians strike Israel, get battered, and run crying to international opinion. It always works. In July 2000, world media placed the blame squarely on Yasser Arafat for refusing the 2-state solution offered by then Prime Minister Ehud Barak with the blessings of President Clinton. Within a week, the lethal narrative kicked in. “Palestinian children are being killed…in cold blood, like Mohamed al Dura.” Ten times more Palestinian casualties than Israeli casualties… the new definition of unjust war. That cockeyed narrative explained away the most atrocious, extensive, inexcusable violence against Israeli civilians. When the Israeli army finally moved forcefully to put an end to that killing spree, we were served the Jenin massacre hoax. In June 2006 the Gaza Beach massacre hoax was staged to justify the subsequent cross-border attack in which several Israeli soldiers were killed and Gilad Shalit was abducted. Three years later Shalit is still held hostage under inhumane conditions. Where are the champions of the Geneva Convention? The Israeli soldier was not captured in action, he was kidnapped within undisputed Israeli territory. Where are the two-state solutioners? On July 12th, Hizbullah attacked from Lebanon. Rockets were fired into Israel all along the border. Several Israeli soldiers were murdered, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were abducted and later killed or left to die. Two days after the unprovoked Hizbullah attack, then French President Jacques Chirac declared a humanitarian crisis in Lebanon and demanded an immediate ceasefire.
Despite conclusive evidence of staged news--the famous “fauxtography”-- the narrative of Israel’s disproportionate response and wanton killing of Lebanese civilians prevailed. The dubious Qan’a massacre—provoked or fabricated—brought international opinion to a paroxysm of empathy with the Lebanese, Hizbullah included. French foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy danced Condoleeza Rice into UN Security Council Resolution 1701 that handed Hizbullah virtual control of Lebanon.
Accusations of deliberate killing of civilians arise wherever we act to defend ourselves. Recent reports that 140 Afghan villagers were killed in a raid by US forces were followed by a series of unconfirmed unverifiable details and the inevitable photos of hastily covered bodies. Investigators risked their lives to go into enemy-held territory rife with snipers in an effort to find out if the dead were 100% civilians, Taliban-sympathizers or, perhaps, unfortunate victims led into the area by the Taliban precisely to be targets of the provoked air strike. How can we prove that US military personnel are not ruthless murderers who deliberately aim at helpless villagers for the pleasure of killing women and children? Meanwhile the Taliban enforce sharia with savage methods and no one investigates.
Jihad fighters in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Gaza are transformed into hapless civilians when they die in battles that they provoked. When they are captured, as in the case of the Guantanamo prisoners, the lethal narrative strategy turns them into prisoners of war protected by the Geneva Convention, quasi-citizens deserving of due process, or oppressed minorities deprived of their civil rights. This is self-defeating: our moral integrity cannot be judged by the way we handle ruthless fighters who do not respect the laws of war.
They have their own laws. Fighters dress as civilians, attack civilians in their own and in the enemy camp, live among civilians, keep their women and children with them in the heat of battle, deliberately attack from residential areas to provoke counterattacks that will kill civilians, display bloodied mutilated corpses—civilian or military, who can tell—as weapons in the lethal narrative strategy. This month, Taliban in Pakistan shaved their beards, dressed in neutral clothes, and slipped in among the refugees fleeing their brutal rule and trying to escape the crossfire of hypothetical battles with regular Pakistani forces allegedly rooting them out.
Instead of comprehending the overall situation we are dealing case by case with endless examples and persistently attributing our own criteria to an enemy that is playing by utterly different rules. This not only jeopardizes our self-defense on the ground, it subverts the very rationality that defines our civilization and preserves our precious freedom. Logic is not an affectation for intellectuals. It is our light, our backbone, our invincible weapon.
FROM THE AL DURA BLOOD LIBEL TO THE SURRENDER OF AMERICAN POWER
The staged al Dura death scene has been analyzed, investigated, and exposed by, among others, Israeli physicist Nahum Shahaf, Israeli journalists Amnon Lord and Stephane Juffa, French author and psychoanalyst Gérard Huber, World Net Daily journalist Daniel Kupelian, German TV producer Esther Schapira, Boston University professor Richard Landes, and French media watchdog Philippe Karsenty. Shortly after the al Dura report was aired Tony and Alex Faigenbaum and Pierre Rehov tried to sue France 2 for false accusations but the French court refused to hear the case. Since winning his appeal in May 2008 Philippe Karsenty has been showing his convincing presentation of the al Dura hoax to influential people, small groups, and large audiences all over the world. I myself have written extensively about the al Dura affair in Commentary Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Jerusalem Post, Makor Rishon, National Post, and PJ Media.
My experience with irrational reactions to elucidation of the al Dura hoax led me to formulate the concept of lethal narratives. The al Dura "death scene" video has been dissected millimeter by millimeter. There is so much documentation that hardly anyone can absorb and assimilate it all. When an informed analyst presents an exposé of the al Dura myth—in person or in the media-- objections are inevitably raised by people who know close to nothing about the affair. Their memories of the original news broadcast are faulty and they have never even heard of the background stories that were put out at the time and then withdrawn piece by piece as their blatant falsehood was exposed. People feel free to defend the al Dura myth by repeating baseless assertions and flimsy arguments thoroughly demolished by meticulous investigators.
Invited to present the affair to a Paris bar association workshop, I thought that lawyers would be interested to know that the testimony of the sole witnesses to the alleged shooting—the Palestinian cameraman and the surviving victim, Jamal al Dura—is demonstrably unreliable. Isn’t that how lawyers try to get at the truth? The witnesses and the journalist who produced the news broadcast endlessly repeat an obviously concocted story that doesn’t hold water. Nothing they say is corroborated by the video evidence. Every detail of their account clashes with other elements of their story. As I spoke to the lawyers, the iconic al Dura image appeared on a screen--Jamal al Dura and the boy crouched behind a concrete culvert, their features twisted in a melodramatic grimace. I said, “There is nothing shocking about this image…” Before I could go on to explain how the voice-off commentary transformed a patently staged and static image into a heart-rending story, a gentleman called out from the audience. “Yes it is shocking! The death of a child is always shocking!”
Well, you’d rather have this lawyer defending your opponent than yourself in court. But then again, in a French court he might win.
Debunkers of the al Dura myth are attacked with ignorant, snide objections and aggressive ad hominem arguments. The sheer weight of the evidence is thrown in his face as proof of dubious credibility, and the fact that this affair has dragged out for nine years—because of the refusal of France 2 to cooperate—is held as proof that the debunkers are cantankerous fools who don’t know when to stop. Current France 2 news director Arlette Chabot, who found the al Dura affair on her desk when she took over in 2004 and has had the decency to partially re-examine the evidence, complained: “These people’ ask questions, we reply, and they ask more questions.”
That used to be called investigation!
Why not just drop the issue…after all this time? Isn’t it over and done with, too late to correct even if the news report was falsified? Far from over and done with, the al Dura hoax is still active and virulent. The falsified cold-blooded murder of the Palestinian youth is still injecting its poison into the bloodstream of potential shahids eager to use their bodies as weapons to kill Jews. The al Dura blood libel provoked and justified the murder of Israeli civilians and attacks on Jews worldwide. This massive contemporary injection vivifies and intensifies the eternal systemic Islamic Jew hatred. Genocidal Palestinian violence is not inspired by suffering and despair. It is not a reaction to Israeli “violation of international law.” It is not a forceful way of requesting a two-state solution. It is sheer unmitigated boundless hatred.
Vibrantly alive in the Arab-Muslim world, half-forgotten elsewhere, the al Dura blood libel is a factor in the passive tolerance of Ahmadinejad’s genocidal determination backed up by Iran’s looming nuclear capacity. Global jihad meets feeble resistance in societies softened by lethal narratives. The forces of evil get traction by attacking Israel and the Jews. As the target widens to include the full range of “infidels” the faulty reasoning that justified atrocities against Jews remains in place…as planned. And the second-level victims - society at large - find themselves defenseless, because the Jews were in fact their shield and not the cause of Muslim anger.
In the current controversy over alleged torture of US prisoners, the Bush administration has been compared to the Inquisition. The comparison is misplaced. We the people of the free world are in fact subject to a jihadist variation on the Inquisition. We are attacked militarily and then accused of misdeeds, crimes, and sins. Hostages from our camp are tortured, burned alive or beheaded, their humiliation and pain are exhibited in unbearable videos…and we are accused of illegal uncivilized behavior. Ill-conceived apologies from our side are pocketed with no benefits for the apologetics; and we are pressured for new, deeper, wider, more radical apologies. The screws are tightened. Our crimes fall into a bottomless pit. We are in a dither, running to answer for each accusation, getting further and further from the simple truth that would save us:
We are at war. Our enemy wishes to destroy us. We must fight back.
This is not an over-simplification. It is not a frivolous personal opinion. It is the conclusion that is reached when one gathers all relevant evidence and organizes it logically. Rational thinking leads to this conclusion. We cannot defend our freedom if we do not maintain our capacity to think rationally. Our overwhelming military advantage is undermined when we succumb to stories of our own sinfulness. As we see in the current debate, self-defense is no longer accepted as justification for the harsh interrogation methods that the situation imposes. And when we treat our jihadi prisoners with kid gloves and tender loving care, the hypocritical moralizers immediately find something else to condemn. Self-defense is not even a category. It doesn’t enter into the equation because this controversy is not taking place on the plane of reality but in a mythological domain created by lethal narratives in which there is no distinction between war and peace, friends and enemies, options and necessities…
Let us look once more at the al Dura myth and see how it operates. It begins with an emotional sting—the death of the Palestinian youth “targeted by gunfire from the Israeli position” (dixit Charles Enderlin). The video of this scene, which lasts less than one minute, is so patently false that it cannot stand up to the barest objective examination. Remove the voice-off, take away the emotional sting, lift the incident out of the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the broadcast would be the laughing stock of 21st century television. The scene is so obviously fabricated that many who defend the al Dura story admit as much and then go on to justify it as a faithful illustration of the “situation.” The situation being the death of Palestinian children caught in the conflict? No! The situation illustrated by the al Dura video is the cold-blooded murder of Palestinian children by heartless Israelis.
Compare this to waterboarding. The emotional sting=Americans are meting out torture. Torture is wrong. This wrong must not only be discontinued and punished, it must be rubbed like salt into the wound of our evil hearts and souls. That accusation is not substantiated by rational argument but by repetition. Instead of a rational debate on the ethical dilemmas raised in the context of a new kind of warfare waged by jihadis who explicitly reject our laws, including the laws of war, we are battered with this damning accusation. And we are told, from the highest of places, that our inexcusable mistreatment of prisoners jeopardizes the safety of our own military personnel that will be—what can you expect?-- mistreated in turn. How can such an outlandish statement be made in public? There is not a shred of evidence to substantiate it, there are tons of evidence that contradict it, but in the mythical world of lethal narratives, as we saw with the al Dura hoax, we do not look at the evidence. We do not verify statements. We do not make ethical clarifications. We dash from one emotional precipice to another. Look at how violently they attack us! Isn’t that proof of the wrong we have done?
Chronology is reversed, cause and effect are disconnected, details are tossed around like confetti instead of being rationally articulated. The broad picture is never outlined, we never get down to the essentials, there is no sense of priorities. The preposterous becomes accepted wisdom. Those who contradict it are slandered and marginalized. Take Jack Silverman’s snide, arrogant, ignorant, and baseless article in the Nashville Scene about this symposium. Set aside the fact that the people speaking here have investigated, analyzed, and studied more than Silverman could ever comprehend if he did knuckle down and make a serious effort. He doesn’t have to get serious. All he would have to do is wrest himself out of the grip of the lethal narratives he parrots. He doesn’t agree with us about Islam? Fine. But why can’t he debate the issues like an adult? Because the notion of blasphemy has crept into our society by every door and window. Normal critical faculties are stymied by sharia precepts that have been surreptitiously knitted into the fabric of our societies by a combination of seduction and intimidation. 
Preposterous accusations are pumped into the information stream and purified as they move from the jihad source to the relays—academics, opinion-makers, politicians, community organizers—who deliver them in the trappings of normalcy. The raucous blood-curdling shouts of pro-Hamas foot soldiers storming through European cities - during the Cast Lead operation in January - were hidden from view of the general public by media that deliberately refrained from reporting on them. Later, the “Death to the Jews, Death to Israel” theme reappears in deceivingly civilized newspaper articles about the moderate Mahmoud Abbas who has, we are told, courageously, against great odds, prepared his society for peaceful coexistence. But, the story goes, as long as Israel pursues the expansion of settlements that eat away at territory that should be “returned” to the Palestinians, chances are slim of finding a peaceful solution to a conflict that has endured for sixty years.
The notion of a Mideast conflict caused by Israeli usurpation of Palestinian lands is a lethal narrative concocted to disguise Islamic determination to eliminate the Jewish State and kill the Jews. Our enemies state their real aims and purposes in no uncertain terms. And there is no valid evidence of the imaginary desire for a state that supposedly explains away every evil committed by Arab-Muslim forces for the past sixty years. The “illegal war in Iraq” that has caused such deep misunderstanding between the U.S., our European allies, and the Arab-Muslim world is another lethal narrative that serves to deprive the free world of its military might and leave us vulnerable to conquest.
Time is running out! We are falling behind. We have lost so much ground that if this were a conventional war with soldiers on battlefields it would be obvious that our backs are to the wall. We will either wake up and fight our way out, miraculously, or resign ourselves to defeat.
Time is running out. The once proud once free United States of America is baring its breast to a ruthless enemy and whispering “take me!”
But…
Democracies are not suicidal. Healthy forces of self-defense will mobilize and prevail. Thinking straight is a prelude to victory.


[1] Who Will Protect Palestine’s Children? by Jumana Odeh, dateline Ramallah, West Bank International Herald Tribune 27 October 2000  [1]
Under cover of a heartfelt plea for protection for Palestinian children, Dr. Jumana Odeh adds one more stone to the concerted campaign to convince the world that Israelis are child killers. Indeed, who will protect Palestine’s children if their own people send them into battle and, as if that weren’t enough, kill them a second time by using their deaths as an incitement to murderous hatred!
Mohammed Durra was not killed “in cold blood,” he was caught in a cross-fire. And Sarrah “not yet two years old” was not “killed by an Israeli settler,” she was shot accidentally in a tragic domestic accident. By her own people.
No, Israelis are not child-killers. Jews do not rejoice in the death of children, even when those children are throwing stones at them, even when those stone-throwing children are fronting for heavily armed men.
It will be a long long time before any plea arising from Ramallah can speak “to all those who still believe in humanity.” When the propaganda smoke screen has dissipated the truth will stand, indelible: a heinous crime was committed against two Israeli men in Ramallah and the savagery unleashed there will turn against its perpetrators a hundredfold.
 
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