A French judge has ordered the France 2 television network to screen in court previously withheld footage of the shooting of Muhammad al-Dura, the Palestinian boy shot dead in his father's arms in Netzarim in 2000 during a battle between Palestinian gunmen and IDF soldiers.
The army was blamed around the world for the boy's fatal shooting although an IDF investigation in January 2001 into the incident failed to find conclusive evidence as to whether it was an IDF or Palestinian bullet that killed the child.
The screening has been tentatively set for November 14, Ynetnews has learned, though it is not yet clear whether members of the public will be allowed to view the film.
Wednesday's landmark ruling is set to reignite the explosive debate surrounding the footage. After the images of the young boy's death were first aired seven years ago, the video ignited widespread rage across the Muslim world, and several failed suicide bombers cited the incident as their motivation to carry out a terrorist attack.
Since then, sources in Israel and a number of independent analysts have maintained that Palestinian forces were likely responsible for the killing, and a German documentary aired in 2002 suggested that a Palestinian bullet was the cause of al-Dura's death. Recently, the IDF submitted a formal request to have the footage made available for analysis.
Phillipe Karsenty, head of the French media watchdog Media Ratings, is behind the legal petition calling on France 2 to release the raw footage from that day.
'I hope that this will end smear campaign'
Speaking to Ynetnews, Karsenty said the ruling was "a first step towards a final victory which will lead French authorities to admit they broadcast a huge, anti-Semitic lie, used to justify the killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.
"This film has been seen all over the Arab world. Schools carry the name of al-Dura, and children are taught that Israelis kill for no reason. So while you cannot resurrect people who died because of this lie, you can avoid more people dying," Karesenty said.
The media analyst added, however, that "judges and myself will not change this story," and called on French President Nicholas Sarkozy to order a full-scale investigation into the footage.
"France 2 is owned by the French state, which is headed by Sarkozy. He has the power to ask for those images, and have them scrutinized by experts around the world. I now call on Sarkozy to ask for the footage... it's time for French president to tell the truth," Karsenty declared.
Charles Enderlin, Jerusalem bureau chief of France 2, provided rolling commentary on the footage back in 2000. "Here Jamal and his son Muhammad are the targets of gunshots that have come from the Israeli position.... A new burst of gunfire, Muhammad is dead and his father seriously wounded," he said during a broadcast of the footage.
Reacting to Wednesday's court ruling Enderlin told Ynetnews he welcomed the decision. "I am very happy about this decision. From the start, our position has been that we will not release raw footage except through a judicial process. We will not release the footage to militants or private individuals," he said.
"I'm very happy that it will be seen in court. I hope that this is the end of a smear campaign which has gone on for seven years, and which has been difficult for me and my family," he added.
"People have accused us of staging an event which is an absolute lie. I am very happy at last to have the possibility (to show it)," Enderlin said.
Raw footage 'contains clear hoaxes'
At the center of the court battle are several minutes of footage shot by Palestinian cameraman Talal Abu Rahma. During testimony before the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in 2000, Rahma said: "I spent about 27 minutes photographing the incident which took place for 45 minutes.... I can confirm that the child was intentionally and in cold blood shot dead, and his father injured, by the Israeli army."
According to Karsenty, however, the cameraman's sole purpose is to further Palestinian propaganda causes. "This guy told an American newspaper that he chose to be a journalist so to serve the Palestinian cause," Karsenty said.
According to Professor Richard Landes, who told Ynetnews he had seen the full raw footage, the film contains damning evidence of faked scenes staged for the purpose of making Israel look bad.
Landes has become heavily involved in the battle to make the film available, and produced a film, "Pallywood," based on the shooting.
He has expressed concern that France 2 will attempt to tamper with the original footage, and cut out embarrassing scenes, resulting in a screening of an edited version of the film.
"I saw the tapes three times with Enderlin in Jerusalem," Landes told Ynetnews.
"One scene in particular stands out, in which a guy grabs his leg as if he's been shot, but blood cannot be seen. He starts to limp really seriously. He is picked up by young kids and taken to an ambulance. He looks around and sees no one is looking, and then walks away without a limp," Landes said.
Describing the court ruling as "spectacular," Landes said he hoped it would draw attention to what he described as "an industry" of anti-Israel media propaganda.
"The western media, instead of saying this isn't journalism, says, what can I use?" Landes said. He added that another scene in the withheld footage shows a Palestinian child with makeup made to resemble a gunshot injury in the head running into a crowd of Palestinians, who proceed to rush the uninjured child into an ambulance.
"Yes, terrible damage has been done," Landes said, adding, however, that the world has become "much more receptive" to acknowledging hoaxes "like Kfar Qanna and Gaza beach."
"This can also potentially play a critical role in Muslim world, by providing a weapon to Muslims who realize that the global jihad is a catastrophe for them," Landes added. "If this image is proven fake, it will be a blow against the jihad," he said.