If the production called “the death of Muhammad al-Dura” is the Gone With the Wind of Pallywood,* then the recent extravaganza starring Shireen abu Akleh is on its way to becoming its Star Wars. Both of these affairs have been huge wins for the Palestinians in the world-wide arena of information warfare.
The image of the frightened 12-year old al-Dura, allegedly under fire by Israeli soldiers, became the inspiration for the violence of the Second Intifada. In the words of journalist Nidra Poller, it
…instantly ignited anti-Israel and anti-Jewish passions all over the world, provoking a wave of violence from the lynching of two Israeli reservists in Ramallah to synagogue burnings in France. In the ensuing years, the story of Muhammad al-Dura has attained near-mythic stature in the Arab and Muslim world. …
That the death of Muhammad al-Dura was the real emotional pretext for the ensuing avalanche of Palestinian violence—and a far more potent trigger than Sharon’s “provocative” visit to the Temple Mount—is attested by the immediate and widespread dissemination of his story and of the pietà-like image of his body lying at his father’s feet. Streets, squares, and schools have since been named for the young Islamic shahid. His death scene has been replicated on murals, posters, and postage stamps, even making an iconic appearance in the video of Daniel Pearl’s beheading.
European TV stations and Aljazeera showed the video of al-Dura – made by Palestinian cameraman Talal Abu Rahmeh – over and over, and the respected French commentator, France 2’s (Jewish) Jerusalem bureau chief, Charles Enderlin, vouched for its authenticity – and provided a heart-rending voice-over.
IDF and Israeli government officials, blindsided, at first stuttered incoherently and even apologized for killing al-Dura, although it shortly became clear that it was impossible that IDF fire could have hit al-Dura and his father. Either Palestinians shot al-Dura or he was not shot at all. The evidence – Poller’s article includes a good summary of it – indicates that the entire scene was faked.
Despite that, neither the Palestinians nor Enderlin ever admitted that the truth was anything other than that brutal IDF soldiers had deliberately and painfully assassinated a Palestinian child, just because they could. And why should they admit anything? Virtually everyone was prepared to believe their lies, except for Israelis and a handful of Zionist bloggers and journalists.
The al-Dura story supported one aspect of Palestinian propaganda that has always been prominent – the accusation that the IDF deliberately targets Palestinian children. This is despite the fact that the truth is precisely the opposite: the IDF tries to avoid harming civilians, especially children; while the Palestinians have carried out numerous attacks whose victims included numerous children: the Bus of Blood (Coastal Road Massacre), the Ma’alot massacre, the attack on Misgav Am, the Dolphinarium and Sbarro Pizza bombings, and more.
Whether it is simply projection – accusing your enemy of the crimes that you commit – or whether the technique was suggested to them by psychological warfare experts, the Palestinian libels of the IDF have been effective. Perhaps this is because the historical blood libels, in which Jews are accused of kidnapping, torturing, and killing non-Jewish children, still live in in the dark corners of modern minds.
The story of the killing of Shireen abu Akleh is different in one way from Muhammad al-Dura’s: the al-Dura libel required some work to set up, while the gift of abu Akleh just fell into Palestinian hands. The Aljazeera reporter was embedded with terrorists associated with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Jenin, where she was caught in a firefight between them and IDF soldiers. The Palestinians immediately announced that abu Akleh had been deliberately shot – “executed” – by IDF snipers. This was echoed immediately in anti-Israel media, and especially in social media, where self-appointed experts like Susan Sarandon, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib explained that she had been “murdered” in cold blood by Israel.
Abu Akleh was very popular and well-liked in the Arabic-speaking world, and especially among Palestinians. It’s understandable that they are upset and mourning her death. But it would be wrong to accept their verdict of murder against the IDF. At this point it is not known whether the bullet that killed her came from an Israeli or Palestinian gun. Even if the former turns out to be true – and the Palestinians have refused to cooperate in an investigation – assassinating popular journalists would be extremely counterproductive for Israel. If it were an IDF bullet, it was certainly not deliberately aimed at abu Akleh.
In any event, the source of the bullet is entirely irrelevant to the responsibility for her death. The firefight happened because terrorists have murdered 19 Israelis in the past several weeks – and here there is no question of intent! More murders have only been prevented by the actions of security forces, such as the operation in Jenin. Jenin has been the epicenter of terror attacks, and the IDF was there in order to arrest terrorists who were planning additional attacks. Shireen abu Akleh’s blood is on the hands of the terrorists, along with that of the Israelis they murdered.
None of this matters to the entire Arab and Muslim world, to most of Europe, and to many circles in the US and Canada as well, where Palestinian claims are accepted without question. Palestinians and their supporters have long since decided that “the occupation” – that is, the presence of a Jewish state of any size anywhere between the river and the sea – is the root cause of everything bad that happens there. In their view, Jewish victims of terrorism are “settlers,” whose killing is not unjust; the terrorists who murder them, with knives, axes, and guns, are heroes, not criminals; and Israel’s army and police are oppressors who must be resisted by any means possible. Arguments about bullets, therefore, are not to the point.
Palestinian leaders understand their audience, and they know that strong emotions, such as those evoked by the death of a popular personality like abu Akleh, can be turned against Israel. The more emotional the situation, the more useful it will be to inspire acts of violence against Israelis. The objective is a wave of “lone wolf” terrorism that cannot be directly tied to the organizations inciting it. Social media even makes it possible for the PLO and Hamas to outsource not only their terrorism, but the incitement as well.
So the Palestinians have pulled out all the stops, with a funeral perhaps larger than any since that of Yasser Arafat. They have unleashed their friendly media, which parrots their accusations of a deliberate execution, and every anti-Israel voice on social media as well. There will be schools and streets and summer camps named after the “martyr,” and little girls will model themselves after her. She will become a symbol of “resistance.”
There is no doubt that, as happened with al-Dura, we will soon hear terrorists claiming that they were inspired to do their bloody work in memory of Shireen abu Akleh.
* The term “Pallywood” was coined by Richard Landes to describe fake news videos created by Palestinians. See his video, “Pallywood, ‘According to Palestinian Sources…’.