Three and a half years ago, during the invasion of Iraq, I was not there but in Israel, reporting for this story in the Atlantic. It concerned whether al-Durah, the famous Palestinian child martyr of the Second Intifada, had in fact been killed by Israeli forces, or indeed whether he had been killed at all. (More, and update, below.)

A year or so later I met Richard Landes, an academic who has pursued the possibility that the event was staged from beginning to end. He has published a new summary of his views. He correctly reports that I have not accepted his "complete fabrication" hypothesis, but this is a good way to grasp his side's argument.

Update: On his site, Landes asks which "side" I myself take in the al-Durah case. He lays out five possibilities:

  1. That Israeli soldiers killed the boy on purpose;

  2. That Israelis killed him by accident;

  3. That Palestinians killed him by accident;

  4. That Palestinians killed him on purpose;

  5. That nobody killed him and the whole "death" was staged.

My article was devoted to proving what I called the "minimum" case -- that explanations 1 and 2 could not be true. As a matter of physics and forensics, the Israeli soldiers know to have been on the scene that day could not have shot the boy.

I was then, and remain now, agnostic on what I called the "maximum" case, scenarios 3 through 5. To me this case has analogies to a criminal trial. In presenting a defense, the accused doesn't have to prove who actually did commit the crime; it is sufficient to show that he himself could not have done so -- though of course it helps, legally and dramatically, if he can finger another culprit. Since the Israeli soldiers had essentially been convicted in world opinion of killing the boy, there seemed to me value in establishing that they themselves were in all probability innocent -- whoever else might have been guilty of whatever the crime in this case turned out to be.

I have listened for hours to explanations of why the event "had" to have been staged; many of them are reproduced in Landes's various postings. Those could be true. I myself am not yet convinced that they must be true. (For instance: there is a staged event involving many hundreds of people, and not one of them has broken discipline to brag or confess about what happened?) My position is genuinely agnostic -- and reflects my experience that there are many episodes whose underlying truth we never come to know.

On this point I wrote three years in my article, "The truth about this case will probably never be determined. Or, to put it more precisely, no version of truth that is considered believable by all sides will ever emerge." That last sentence has become more obviously true with the passing years. The first still reflects my views.

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