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THE IMPACT OF AL DURAH ON THE ARAB WORLD

For the documentary based in part on this essay, see Al Durah: Icon of Hatred

Introduction

The impact of the pictures of al-Dura on the Arab world were instantaneous, explosive, and enduring. As soon as the footage ran - on Israeli TV - Israeli Arabs began to riot in a number of places, including Nazareth and Jaffa. This had not occurred among Israeli Arabs since the foundation of the state. It seemed as if a massive uprising (intifada) had begun. And the role of Muhamed's picture is confirmed by every discussion of the issue, including the Ohr Commission's report. As Dr. Sabikh, an Israeli Arab explained to Stephan Juffa of the Metula News Agency:

"You understand, Steph, when we saw these pictures [of Mohamed al-Dura], we said that there was a radical change in the way Jews considered us. We had never seen or imagined Israeli soldiers shooting a child to kill him, and for forty minutes. In the towns and villages, at Sakhnin, Nazareth, Rameh, we thought that if you had no pity for Arab children, you were going to massacre us all! So it was urgent to go out into the streets and show you that we were not about to give up and it would cost you dearly."

The Israeli response to the rioting - some of it, like the earlierattack on Tuvya Grossman in Jerusalem, murderous - drew police fire, killing 13 Israeli Arabs, and further inflaming hatreds. Not only did the West Bank become hostile territory, but areas within Israel as well.

On the West Bank, rioting that had broken out in response to Sharon's visit and subsequent crackdowns became widespread and far more deadly. The staggeringly violent affect it had can best be gauged by the fate of two army reserve soldiers who took the wrong turn and fell into the hands of the Palestinian police in Ramallah (seat of government of the PA, some dozen km from Jerusalem), some of whom, along with an enraged mob literally tore the policemen apart with their bare hands and dragged their body parts through the city. The savagery stunned journalists who witnessed it, who report hearing repeatedly "Revenge for the blood of Muhammed!"

Palestinian culture immediately seized upon this image of Muhammed al Durah and made it the icon of the Intifada - far more potent than any picture of Sharon on the Haram al Sharif. Palestinian TV inserted a picture from the riots in Nazereth into the footage, clearing up any ambiguity that might remain from Talal's work, clearly indicating the Israeli soldier who killed Muhammed in cold blood. Muhammed became the call to a ferocious uprising that would devour everyone. Certainly the educators in Palestinian territories were ready to send every last child to their deaths for revenge. The paroxysm of violence it had inspired in Ramallah became a rite of passage, with kindergarten children taught to dip their hands in red paint and show them, the way one of the killers at Ramallah did from the window of the station, crying: "In the name of the Shahid (martyr) Mohammed al-Dura and the Shahida, the infant Iman al-Haju, we promise to continue with the Jihad, the resistance and the Intifada". It was the very emblem of an unquenchable hatred, and fueled the Intifada long after Sharon's visit became a Palestinian trope for blaming the violence on Israel.

This hatred fed a genocidal rhetoric that fueled the Intifada's attack on Israelis on either side of the green line. Sermon after sermon, rerun on Palestinian TV, had imams calling for killing the Jews wherever they are in the world. The apocalyptic hadith about how at the end of time, the Muslims will slaughter the Jews and the Jews will take refuge, and even the rocks and the trees will call out, "Oh Muslim, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come kill him," became a staple of Palestinian rhetoric.

Before al-Durah, suicide terrorism came from an apocalyptic fringe of Jihadi Islamism, if not denounced, certainly not supported by a majority of Muslim clerics, even Palestinian ones. After that terrible footage had played day and night over and over on PATV, even the "secular" Fatah factions had to come up with suicide terrorists, just to keep up. Eventually they came up with their own innovation to get ahead in the race to madness - female suicide terrorists. National Geographic has made a documentary about them, titled "Female Suicide bombers: Women who are dying to kill."

Beyond the Palestinian authority, the image had a powerful galvanizing affect on public opinion in the Arab and Muslim world. This picture was not alone in changing matters, but one notes that the Intifada marks the beginning of a whole new phase of anti-Semitic discourse in the Arab (and Muslim) world. It was as if the floodgates opened and the media was inundated with material that had always been there, but now reached new levels of intensity: Newspapers, movies, TV serials, tapes, books, all served up lurid depictions of the blood libels and conspiracy theories, especially the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Cartoons, editorials, sermons in mosques replayed on TV spoke with an intensity of hatred and a will to violence, even genocide, that rivaled the Nazi propaganda machine of the 1930s. Finally, and most ominously, the picture made a deep impact on Jihadi circles both in the Arab world and beyond.

THE ROLE OF AL-JAZEERA

• In "Al-Jazeera: The Inside Story of the Arab News Channel That is Challenging The West," (2005) Hugh Miles describes the role of Al-Jazeera in making Muhammad al-Dura the poster boy of the intifada:

"Al-Jazeera ran repeatedly the clip of the boy being shot, and for several days the picture of his dying became the network's emblem of the intifada. This had a deeply galvanizing effect on the wider Arab public. Arabs everywhere became desperate for bulletins from the Occupied Territories, but state-run Arab news providers were slow to give good coverage … from the very start Al-Jazeera's live coverage from the front line far outstripped any other network's coverage." (pp. 73/74)

Fouad Ajami, director of the program in Middle East Studies at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, piece on Al-Jazeera television ("What the Muslim World is Watching,") New York Times Magazine, November 18, 2001 described the "incendiary" manner in which the network covered the al-Dura episode:

"The station played and replayed the heart-rending footage of 12-year-old Muhammed al-Durra, who was shot in Gaza and died in his father's arms. The images' ceaseless repetition signaled the arrival of a new, sensational breed of Arab journalism. Even some Palestinians questioned the opportunistic way Al-Jazeera handled the tragic incident. But the channel savored the publicity and the controversy all the same."

AL-DURA IN THE ARAB PRESS

• The image of al-Dura constitutes a symbol of all the oppression suffered by the Palestinians at the hands of the Israelis. It is a permanent symbol of Palestinian suffering.

• The "martyrdom" of al-Dura serves as a justification for suicide operations against Israel. In the words of Egyptian Journalist Fahmi Huweidi, "Likewise, I know that Israel has no mercy on any Palestinian and does not distinguish between a fighter and a woman, a child or an elderly [person]. The child Muhammad Al-Dura was not known as a member of the "Islamic Jihad" or the "Al-Qassam Brigades," he was killed simply for being Palestinian. Why is this so? Why do we not regret Palestinian blood but are shocked by blood when it is Israeli? Why do we shed a tear over the innocent victims who sat in the pizza restaurant on Thursday? It should be known that these citizens, like every Israeli man and woman, are accomplices in the crime of the robbery of Palestine [have we forgotten?] not to mention that they are reservists who turn into fighters and killers at the drop of a dime." (August 2001)

• Palestinian Authority and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat sees the "martyrdom" of al-Dura as an example to be followed: "No one can rule that nation of giants [i.e., the Palestinian people]. One-hundred and four years passed since the first [Zionist] convention in Basle [Switzerland, 1897] where it was claimed that our land is 'a land without a people for a people without a homeland [i.e., the Jews].' When Golda Meir was asked about the Palestinian people she said 'there are no Palestinians.' Today, the martyr Muhammad al-Dura and all our martyrs in paradise tell them: 'We are a nation of giants, we shall defend the frontline land.'" (December 2001)

• Al- Qaddafi (Libia) associates the helpless image of the death of al-Dura with a general Arab malaise of cowardice. Expressing his anger at the current Arab condition he said that the Arabs have nothing "but to cry the same they did for Muhammad al-Durra."

• An Arab News columnist calls the al-Dura death "a lasting image of the war against the Palestinian people and how Israel has conducted it … It recorded reality in a visual way that will be etched in our consciousness for generations to come." (September 2005)

Three thousand Palestinian children took part in a massive demonstration staged by the Islamic Jihad movement on the fifth anniversary of Al-Aqsa Intifada and the commemoration of Mohammad Al-Dura's killing. (October 2005)

Al-DURA AS A SHAHEED (MARTYR)

In "The Other War: Israelis, Palestinians and the Struggle for media Supremacy" (2005) Stephanie Gutmann describes the cult of Mohammed al-Dura:

"Meanwhile, Mohammed al-Dura lives on. Reporters who have gone to his house in El Bureish say it's like visiting a shrine. It is said that pictures of him begin to appear on the sides of buildings blocks away and proliferate until one reaches his home, which is covered with paintings and a graffito (identical to the one seen fleetingly in the famous France 2 video on the wall behind Mohammed and Jamal) reading, "What is taken by violence can only be taken back by violence."
Though he is now found in Palestinian Authority textbooks and in paintings by children on school walls, Mohammed's greatest presence is on television and computer screens. He has become the poster boy in what Martin Fletcher of NBC called "commercials" for the recruitment of child shaheeds. The Palestinian Ministry of Information broadcasts many of these during the day, and they come in a range of styles, some obviously aimed at young children: "Choose Death, the Life Will Follow" is the title of one. Some are obviously targeting teens. Some - with handsome adult males as hosts and serious, well-spoken little girls espousing the importance of shahada - apparently target preteen girls. Some, addressed to parents, feature mothers talking about their pride at having given birth to a shaheed …
In the special video they made to commemorate the martyrdom of little Mohammed, though, the Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Information appears to have spared no expense, using every trick in the video-maker's playbook to end up with a presentation that looks like Metallica video circa 1990 boosted with twenty first century digital imaging. The production starts with an actor playing Mohammed wandering in "paradise" - a dreamy shot of a field filled with children his age. Then a barrage of images: A beautiful palace, like the Taj mahal, surrounded by a fountain and palm trees. The sky behind the palace is purple and filled with storm clouds that race across the sky in time-lapse. A rose, filmed in extreme close-up and in time-lapse, bursts into full bloom. The camera cuts away at the apex of the explosion of its petals. Fields of wheat ripple in the wind; waves crash on a shore. ' How beautiful is the breeze of the martyr, how beautiful is the scent of the land, which is fed from the waterfall of blood, springing from an angry body," intones a deep masculine voice in the background.
One of the last images in the video is a peaceful beach on a sunny day. At the water's edge, a ghostly, half-transparent young boy is running with joyful, free, loping steps that make him seem to hover above the ground. We watch him run away from us toward the horizon and then the shadowy figure turns his head and gives us a jaunty wave. It is an echo of the opening shot of the movie: a black screen with words in white Arabic calligraphy reading, "I am waving to you not in farewell, but to beckon you to follow me. Mohammed al-Dura." (pp. 81-83)

The image of al-Dura as a shaheed is promoted by his family.

Mohammed al-Dura is invoked in the videotape of the execution of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. In the words of Stephanie Gutmann:

"Within the montage, shots of Mohammed and Jamal are given a sort of starring role: After Pearl makes his final statement in the confession portion - 'my father is a Jew; my mother is a Jew; I am a Jew" - there is a cut to Mohammed and father huddling together. Seconds before Pearl is laid on the ground and hands begin to saw at his throat with long knives, a still shot of Jamal al-Dura clasping his dying son flashes on the screen. After Pearl's detached head is exhibited, hanging from something that allows it to twist slowly in the air, there is a long crawl over a black screen informing the viewer that 'scenes like this will be repeated' unless the United States stops supporting Israel and its 'massacres of children.'" (p.42)

• Columnist Mona Charen, in an article about Mohammed al-Dura titled "Contrived Image" also refers to the video of Daniel Pearl's death.

• Mohammed al-Dura became an icon for the Arab and Muslim world and he is celebrated in different ways.


Egyptian stamp


Tunisian stamp


Artists celebrate al-Durah
Oil on Canvas, Intifada Collection, By: Hicham Takache, 2001

• Festivals in honor of the Shaheed Mohammad al-Dura. For example, the Al Quds Festival.

• Several poems (read here and here) and songs dedicated to Mohammad al-Dura in the Arab and Muslim media. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Crown Prince of Dubai composed a poem in honor of al-Dura.

GAZA STRIP




IRAN


• Music video broadcasted since December 2000 in Palestinian Television, showing al-Dura calling children to follow him to paradise: "I am waving to you, not in parting, but to say, follow me...- Muhammad al-Dura"

Saudi Fashion Designer Al-Bishri designed a dress featuring bloodstains, an Israeli tank and a picture of Muhammad Al-Durra. Al-Bishri said that he had dedicated the dress to the children of the intifada.



• Streets named after al-Dura in Iran, Iraq, Morocco, Egypt re-named the street in front of the Israeli embassy "Muhammad al Durra Street" and Iraq named a main thoroughfare in Baghdad "Martyr Mohammed al-Dura Street."

• The Iranian Ministry of Education developed a website commemorating al-Dura.

JEWS AS NAZIS COMPARISON

The Al Durah incident opened the gate wide for comparisons of the Israelis with the Nazis. Below are a few selections (from the torrent) of Arab uses of the comparison. The more disturbing phenomenon concerns the spread of this grotesque comparison in the West.

• The Saudi ambassador to England said that the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank was "far more severe than anything the Germans did when they occupied Europe in World War Two" (July 2002)

• Reporting of "atrocities" committed by Israelis is presented as "proof" that "Jews act like Nazis."

• Dr. 'Abd Al-'Aziz Al-Rantisi, a top Hamas activist in the Gaza Strip, writes that "Comparing Zionism and Nazism Insults the Nazis." (August 2003)


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