Disinformation and Lawfare: the Al-Dura Cases
by Aaron Eitan Meyer • Feb 16, 2012 at 9:59 am
Wars have rarely been won by using a single tactic, and this holds true for current non-military campaigns, including those waged by the use of legal warfare, or lawfare. When the goal of a campaign is to widely disseminate disinformation, legal intimidation is often an effective means of silencing inconvenient facts that would disrupt the disinformation campaign, especially through defamation lawsuits. The enduring myths surrounding the "Al-Dura Incident" provide a case in point.
On February 15th 2012, the Jerusalem Post reported that a French appellate court has overturned a libel judgment against an Israeli doctor, Yehuda David. The suit had been brought by Jamal al-Dura, who was caught in apparent cross-fire between Palestinian terrorists and Israeli forces in September 30, 2000, during which his son Muhammad was purportedly killed. The incident quickly became a way to demonize Israel, and a widely used image from the footage has been said to possess "the iconic power of a battle flag," and was included as one of 18 "Images of the Intifada" on Al Jazeera's website in 2003.
The Palestinian Permanent Observer at the United Nations claimed that Israel's public expression of sympathy over the death was predicated by the 'fact' that "the camera on channel 2 of Canal France had captured the act." However, when questions began to be raised over the authenticity of the footage, France 2 "responded with defensive lies and threats of lawsuit," as media watchdog CAMERA well put it, including threats to the Israeli government three times.
French journalist Philippe Karsenty accused France 2 of perpetrating fraud with its broadcast, and was promptly sued for defamation. France 2's libel suit against him – initially successful – was somewhat surprisingly overturned in 2008, given plaintiff-friendly French libel law, in what has been termed "the first major European breach of the blanket of silence that has greeted any effort of critics to call into question France2′s presentation of the Al Dura footage as actual news."
Meanwhile, the director of Israel's Government Press Office pointed out in 2008 that the issue highlighted the need for Israeli government officials "to familiarize themselves with the phenomenon of widespread media-manipulation prevalent in the Palestinian territories," though he stopped short of directly addressing the role lawfare has played.
Despite the eventual legal victories won by Mr. Karsenty and Dr. David, the "incident" has continued to loom large. The fact that the footage was protected from justified scrutiny and challenge by legal threats early on, followed by lawsuits, allowed for the disinformation to firmly take root in the global consciousness, and extremely difficult to dislodge.
Aaron Eitan Meyer is a consultant, analyst and researcher. He is legal correspondent for the Terror Finance Blog, an advisory board member for the digital advocacy group Act for Israel and a member of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers' Noncommercial Users Constituency. He has served as research director of The Lawfare Project, director of research for the Children's Rights Institute, and assistant director of the Legal Project at the Middle East Forum. He received his B.A. from New School University, and his J.D. from Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center. He coauthored Lawfare: The War Against Free Speech: A First Amendment Guide for Reporting in an Age of Islamist Lawfare, as well as numerous articles dealing with lawfare, terrorism/terror finance, and other emerging concepts in non-traditional warfare.
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