February 29, 2012
In 2000, as the second intifada raged, a 12-year-old Palestinian boy, Mohammed Al Dura, was one of many children killed by the Israeli Defense Forces. Mohammed was shot as he and his father attempted to find cover and he died moments later in his father's lap. A Palestinian cameraman caught the incident on film, causing shock around the world.
But not even that evidence was enough for some to condemn Israel's actions; 12 years later, there is still a debate in France about the authenticity of the report.
On Tuesday, France's highest court overturned the acquittal of a commentator who had accused France 2 channel journalists of fabricating the story. Philippe Karsenty will now have to stand trial again for defamation, which should be an important vindication of the French and Palestinian journalists who produced the report.
The satisfaction will be muted for Mohammed's family, however, and for most Palestinians. This case was widely deplored, but it is just one of many involving the killing of innocents - as many as 500 Palestinian children in the second intifada alone - that Israel has systematically rationalised as self-defence.
The sophisticated Israeli propaganda machine is always in overdrive on these types of issues. It has to be. Except for fanatics, most Israelis would baulk at the senseless killing of children unless those acts were sanitised: rewritten as legitimate defence, or as the product of Palestinian deception or even, as our columnist Ali Khaled wrote last week in these pages, as a pre-emptive strike against "terrorists-to-be".
Only by pretending that children are terrorists can the Israelis justify an occupation that murders them. And if Israelis have to lie to themselves, the rest of the world takes even more convincing. A perpetual state of self-deception is essential to justify the brutality that takes place on a daily basis in the Occupied Territory.
Through this prism of unaccountability, Israel permits itself to make the most unjustified of claims in the name of national security. This is not some chance misunderstanding. Israel's hasbara, or propaganda, ministry produces regular advertisements, some surprisingly clumsy: last year, one bizarre video clip compared Israel to an abused young woman.
But Israel's propaganda does shape the debate in too many cases. As the powerful Israeli-American lobby Aipac meets next week, with US President Barack Obama in attendance, it is another reminder that Israel's version of events is often believed. That version, however, is too-frequently wrong, as this video clip of one young boy's death so clearly shows.