Ya'acov "Koby" Mandell and Mohammed Al-Dura were both kids. One was an
Israeli, the other a Palestinian. But the deaths of 13-year-old Mandell and
12-year-old Al-Dura in the first year of what's been called the second Palestinian
intifada have come to symbolize the distorted coverage of that conflict by the
Al-Dura, who died during an exchange of fire between Palestinian gunmen and
Israeli soldiers, was lionized as a martyr whose slaying epitomized Israeli
brutality. Film footage of the incident from the French state-owned TV channel
France 2 portrayed the event as a straightforward Israeli slaughter of an
Only later did we learn that the footage had been selectively edited, and
that it misled viewers about what actually happened. Objective analyses of the
story by German television and The Atlantic magazine leave little doubt that
Al-Dura was likely killed by bullets fired by Palestinians.
DEATH OF A COLONIST
By contrast, Koby Mandell's death is little remembered. Just one of many
Israeli children who've perished in this senseless war, he and a classmate were
murdered in cold blood by Palestinian terrorists who stoned him to death and
then mutilated his body. When this crime was reported by the same French media
that had popularized the Al-Dura myth, they characterized Mandell as a
"colonist" that was killed by the Palestinian resistance.
The significance of this distinction was highlighted in a French-made
documentary "Decryptage" (defined as "deciphering"), which is making the rounds of
American Jewish film festivals this spring.
Made in 2002 at the height of the now-concluded intifada, the film is an
interesting counterpart to "Relentless," a less skillful, though useful,
English-language polemic about who was responsible for the collapse of the Oslo peace
Though a bit dated now that Yasser Arafat is dead and the terrorist war he
launched is over, French filmmakers Jacques Tarneo and Phillippe Bensoussan are
still able to cut to the heart of the question of why the French media's
coverage was so one-sided.
Their answer should interest us not so much for what it says about the French
as for what it tells us about a concept of the conflict that is
well-represented on American college campuses and among activists who've guided some church
groups to support punitive measures against Israel.
"Decrytage" offers Americans a look at the obsession that the chattering
classes of Paris and London have with their continent's legacy of imperialism.
For European intellectuals, especially those on the left, their nations'
original sin is colonialism. But in their haste to disown every vestige of that
era, many Europeans have falsely identified Zionism the national liberation
movement of the Jewish people as being indistinguishable from the impulse of
the British to own India or the French to claim Algeria.
Viewed through this prism, the Arabs were, and are, innocents oppressed by
alien Jewish settlers. That the Jews are the natives of the land known as Israel
or "Palestine," as the Arabs call it doesn't seem to have changed many
For the French, in particular, the savage war for Algerian independence, in
which atrocities on both sides scarred that country's politics for generations,
has been the most frequently cited analogy.
What is especially dangerous about this misleading notion is that when you
adopt that mindset, "colonists" like young Koby Mandell aren't really victims.
They are, in that view, complicit in a crime the existence of the State of
Israel and are legitimate targets, a rationale French journalists interviewed
in the film acknowledged.
The importance of this point cannot be overestimated. If you see Israel as a
colony, then it doesn't matter that the Palestinians are the ones who choose
war when Israel offered peace, or that Israel's military goes out of its way to
avoid civilian casualties while the Palestinians target innocents. All that
matters is that Israel has no right to exist and has no right to self-defense
no matter what the provocation.
Only when you grasp that the point of French bias isn't merely anti-Semitism
but delegitimization of Israel can you properly understand why Europe is up in
arms over Israel's security barrier, and opposes Israel's self-defense
measures even as it makes unilateral concessions, such as its planned withdrawal
A RATIONALE FOR DIVESTMENT
Though such views are far from mainstream in this country, the French
experience does give us a glimpse into the thinking of anti-Israel activists on
American campuses and among church groups, such as the Presbyterian Church USA and
other mainline liberal Protestant denominations.
Adopting the same sort of language popular in Europe, all these groups see
are Arab victims and Israeli oppressors. And in the name of this libel, they
promote economic warfare in the form of divestment and boycotts of Israeli
products and institutions.
Through this distorted lens, groups such as the International Solidarity
Movement, which opposes Israel's existence and aids terrorists in their resistance
to Israeli countermeasures, become "peace activists" while Jewish men, women
and children riding buses in Tel Aviv are legitimate, if unfortunate, targets
Once you comprehend that the point of these protesters isn't really issues
like the demolition of Palestinian buildings or "illegal settlements" but
Zionism's illegitimacy, then it's easy to see why they are impervious to reason.
As long as this is the way some view Israel, debates with them about the rights
and wrongs of things the country does will not persuade them. Neither will
the arguments put forward by some friends of Israel, which center on Israeli
Indeed, once you grasp that these foes are not interested in a smaller Israel
but in no Israel at all, you begin to understand why the last decade in which
the Jewish state has made so many sacrifices for peace has also been one in
which its international image has plummeted. And we shouldn't be surprised if
this trend continues when, as is likely, the next round of conflict begins.
That's a depressing realization, but one we must keep in mind even as we hold
on to hope that the latest peace feelers will succeed. It's a point that only
a fool or those blinded by the anti-imperialist myth that guides Israel's
foes would ignore.