Letters to the Editor


Who Shot Mohammed al-Dura?

I appreciated the thoughtful examination of a horrific event in "Who Shot Mohammed al-Dura?" by James Fallows (June Atlantic), but I detect a discrepancy between the diagram indicating the positions of the al-Dura son and father (a primary example of the exculpatory evidence for the Israel Defense Forces cited here) and the photos on the succeeding page.

I have not seen the video from which these stills are taken, nor have I been exposed to the breadth of material made available to Fallows in his investigation. Nevertheless, I'm a photographer as well as a journalist, and like anyone who works with cameras, I tend to look at photos with some care. The two frames reproduced in your pages appear to have been shot with approximately a 400mm telephoto lens from an angle not perpendicular to the wall but roughly 30 degrees behind the subjects (Talal Abu-Rahma, the cameraman, could perhaps confirm or refute this impression).

What first struck me about the photos is that, even allowing for the skewing effect of the camera angle and the flattening effect of the long lens, both son and father appear far more vulnerable to gunfire from the position attributed to the IDF than is indicated in the diagram, in which they seem completely shielded by the concrete cylinder. In the top photo, for example, the shadow between the cylinder and the father's legs suggests that his knees and lower legs would have been exposed to at least some fire from that direction, which means that the boy crouching behind him—whose legs are outside of his father's—would have been in similar if not greater peril.

The second frame reinforces this impression. After he is hit, the father's knees clearly fall outside of the barrel, which would have been impossible were he positioned as in the diagram. In the same way, the boy's prone position on the father's feet—again, outside the knees that are outside the barrel—suggests that the barrel could not have completely shielded him from gunfire coming from the IDF's position. The disturbing conclusion is that the diagram (even accepting its rosy assumption of neatly parallel and contained lines of fire from the Israelis) is inaccurate. It seems bizarre to discuss an emotional event in such clinical terms, but in such a context careful interpretation of visual evidence is essential. If this diagram resulted from the investigations and re-enactments Fallows cites, they are of dubious value, and the reluctance of the Israeli authorities to make much of them acquires additional meaning.

Cary Groner
Junction City, Calif.

James Fallows has raised some extraordinary claims with the flimsiest of evidence. Without interviewing a single person present at the scene—not the victim's father, not the Israeli soldiers, not the Palestinian security forces, not even the cameraman who shot the film—he has all but concluded that the al-Dura shooting was an elaborate hoax concocted by the Palestinians. He relies on a woefully misleading diagram suggesting that a concrete barrel was so large as to block the Israelis' line of fire, but the photograph on the following page clearly shows that the barrel was not big enough to provide cover for Mohammed and his father. Amazingly, he advances this theory despite its rejection by the party that would have the most to gain from its acceptance: the Israeli army.

Steven Freedman
Philadelphia, Pa.

James Fallows writes, "The footage of the shooting ... illustrates the way in which television transforms reality" and, notably, "France 2 or its cameraman may have footage that it or he has chosen not to release." We do not transform reality. But since some parts of the scene are unbearable, France 2 cut a few seconds from the scene, in accordance with our ethical charter.

Charles Enderlin
Bureau Chief, France 2
Jerusalem, Israel

I am referred to in James Fallows's "Who Shot Mohammed al-Dura?" but, unfortunately, the author never spoke to me. I am referring to the following quotes:

"Amnon Lord, writing for the magazine Makor Rishon, referred to a German documentary directed by Esther Schapira that was 'based on Shahaf's own decisive conclusion' and that determined 'that Muhammad Al-Dura was not killed by IDF gunfire at Netzarim junction.'"

"Schapira had collaborated with him for the German documentary and then produced a film advancing the 'minimum' version of his case, showing that the shots did not, could not have, come from the IDF outpost. She disappointed him by not embracing the maximum version—the all-encompassing hoax—and counseled him not to talk about a staged event unless he could produce a living boy or a cooperative eyewitness. Shahaf said that he still thought well of her, and that he was not discouraged."

Please note that my film is not based on Shahaf's "decisive conclusion" and that I did not collaborate with him for the documentary.

I did talk to Nahum Shahaf, the same way I talked to everybody involved in the story. He presented his findings to me as well as his conclusion that the whole thing was a setup and the boy was still alive. Until this day I have seen no proof for that conclusion, and I believe I am familiar with the video footage you mention as well as with the rest of the material. In the end I decided to leave Shahaf out of my film completely.

In my documentary you will find a number of serious questions and interesting details that I have asked and presented for the first time, including the contradiction between Charles Enderlin and his cameraman, Talal Abu-Rahma, concerning the length of the filmed material: Enderlin claims he has published everything he has—fifty-two seconds; his cameraman says he filmed six minutes of the scene.

My film does not conclude that I know the answer to the question "Who shot Mohammed al-Dura?" I've always said that I see more significant hints (but no proof) that he was shot by Palestinians. The film doesn't present a final conclusion. It presents the findings of my own research and no speculations.

Esther Schapira
Frankfurt am Main, Germany

Iwant to thank James Fallows for confirming what my eyeballs told me from about the third time I saw the tape. I don't believe anyone ever panned over to the Israeli position. It was just described as being some number of yards to the right. I am not a terribly experienced combat hand, but enough of one to know that bullets don't go around corners. My instincts and experience informed me that the fire had to be coming from within a very few degrees of the location of the camera. I wonder what would happen if some combat vets watched the tape several times and were then asked where the shots came from. It also seems to me that the cameraman is a liar if he denies knowing that the fire came from near his location. The azimuth was limited both by the barrel and by the position of the father's body. The range was limited by "the Pita." I took a lot of ribbing from my friends over this, and now I have some authoritative arguments to muster on my side.

Bob Vitray
Austin, Texas

James Fallows's statements that "the Israeli policy of promoting settlements in occupied territory, and the Palestinian policy of terror, are deeper obstacles" and that "there would never have been a showdown at the Netzarim crossroads, or any images of Mohammed al-Dura's shooting to be parsed in different ways, if there were no settlement nearby for IDF soldiers to protect ..." need to go down to a deeper layer. If the Palestinians had accepted the deal offered in 2000 at Camp David, there wouldn't have been any need for protection of the settlement, because the war of terrorism that Yasir Arafat is now waging wouldn't have started at all.

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