Charles Enderlin is the France 2 Jerusalem correspondent who broadcast the incendiary account of the death of 12-year-old Muhammad al-Dura at the hands of Israeli troops operating in the Gaza Strip in September 2000. Based on film footage provided by a Palestinian cameraman, Enderlin's report has become infamous among students of Arab propaganda both for its destructive effects and for its probable falsity. The al-Dura affair now bids to join the Dreyfus affair in the French hall of shame.
Flogging his new book on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (The Lost Years) at Harvard's Center for European Studies on January 17, Enderlin himself exposed a probable Palestinian media hoax in which he had no involvement. The story exposed by Enderlin involved widely circulated reports by the Associated Press, Reuters, and the BBC. As Joel Pollak recounted online at the site Guide to the Perplexed, Enderlin told his Harvard audience "that Yasser Arafat had faked his blood donation to the victims of the September 11th attacks. Enderlin said the event had been staged for the media to counteract the embarrassing television images of Palestinians celebrating in the streets after the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks."
The story of Arafat's blood donation was reported around the world in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, usually accompanied by photographs depicting Arafat in the apparent act of giving blood at the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. Enderlin elaborated on his contention that the scene depicted in the photographs was staged. According to Pollak's account of Enderlin's remarks, "Arafat didn't like needles, and so the doctor put a needle near his arm and agitated a bag of blood. The reporters took the requisite photographs."
Should we take his word for it? Enderlin is certainly an experienced and knowledgeable reporter on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But taking Enderlin's word for the hoax is a bit like trusting the paradoxical assertion of Epimenides, the Cretan philosopher who famously declared that all Cretans are liars. At the least, we should demand to see what Othello called "the ocular proof." Do the photographs conform to Enderlin's description of them? In short, the anwer is yes.
Two photographs of a reclining Arafat are credited to the AP's Adel Hana. Both photos ran with a caption that reads like a press release: "Arafat, along with hundreds of Palestinians, participated in a blood drive for the victims of the deadly airline hijackings in the United States, which he condemned as a 'horrible attack.' " We all know how much Arafat disliked horrible attacks by Arab terrorists.
In neither photo is a needle in evidence. In the first AP photo, Arafat is prostrate. His blood has not yet been drawn and no blood is in evidence. Rather, Arafat stares warily at the tourniquet placed around his bare arm. The donation is about to be made. A nurse with a head scarf is about to search for the chairman's vein, Arafat looking on at his arm.
In the other AP photo, Arafat has apparently given his blood. The nurse with the head scarf is nowhere to be seen. In her place, a kneeling male medical official with his back to the camera jointly holds a nearly bursting bag of blood together with a uniformed security officer. With Enderlin's gloss, the photo takes on a comic aspect. Heavy lifting is required; it takes two hands to hold all the blood donated by the chairman to the beloved American people!
Reuters photographer Ahmed Jadallah also took a widely disseminated photograph of Arafat giving blood on September 12. Jadallah's photograph provides a wider view of the scene depicted in Hana's second photograph, with the male medical official displaying Arafat's voluminous blood donation with the assistance of the uniformed security official. The Reuters caption also reads like a press release covering talking points: "Palestinians said they sympathized with the victims of the attack in the United States despite their criticism of U.S. support for Israel during the Palestinian uprising."
So Enderlin's description of the photos as staged comports with "the ocular proof." But what about the photographers? What does the record reveal about them?
Among the work of AP photographer Adel Hana is a 2006 photograph claiming to show a Palestinian girl killed by an Israeli airstrike against "Islamic militants" being carried into the Shifa Hospital by a grieving relative surrounded by armed men. It is a heartbreaking photograph. The AP subsequently updated the caption to indicate that "doctors said that the 5-year-old Palestinian girl initially believed to have been killed by an Israeli military strike Wednesday apparently died after sustaining head injuries during a fall from a swing in the same area before the strike."
Reuters's Ahmed Jadallah, for his part, is clearly on the team he's covering. Reuters itself helpfully advises visitors that Jadallah "shoots reportages of Palestinian funerals and Israeli violence" almost daily. Israeli authorities have barred him from going to Reuters's main office in Jerusalem. Reuters also ingenuously discloses: "He sees it as his mission to have the world see the despair of the Palestinian people." And, we can fairly assume, the benefactions of their late chairman.
So we can perhaps be grateful for Enderlin's retrospective, however tardy, on one of Yasser Arafat's trivial deceptions, foisted on readers all over the world by credulous news services. Nevertheless, it should be noted that sophisticated consumers of news from that part of the world didn't much need Enderlin's help to tumble to this particular Arafat hoax. At the time the photographs were published in 2001, Middle East Forum scholar Ronni Gordon Stillman observed in a column for National Review Online: "Can journalists really be fooled by these Kodak moments? It's difficult to imagine. And yet, Arafat's condolences to the American people were broadcast far and wide, with no mention that on that same day the Palestinian Authority's newspaper praised suicide bombers as 'the noble successors of their noble predecessors . . . the salt of the earth, the engines of history . . . the most honorable people among us.' "
Unfortunately, Saul Bellow's epigram looks like an eternal verity: "A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep."
Scott W. Johnson is a Minneapolis attorney and contributor to the blog Power Line.