Al Durrah footage
Israel has reacted furiously after a group of foreign correspondents and human rights lawyers used a secret Facebook forum to pour scorn on a government report that cleared Israeli armed forces of blame in the killing of a Palestinian boy.
Footage of the incident captured by TV network France 2 showed Palestinian Jamal al-Durrah attempting to shield his 12-year-old son Muhammad from crossfire in Gaza City in September 2000.
Seconds later, the boy is seen to slump across his father's legs after gunfire from a nearby Israel Defence Force position. It was to become a defining image of the second intifada.
Israel had previously admitted that the bullets had "apparently" come from their forces and apologised. But a recent official report reversed that position, finding "no basis" for claims that the Israeli Defence Forces was to blame.
"The France 2 report's central claims and accusations had no basis in the material which the station had in its possession at the time," the Israeli report concluded. "There is no evidence that the IDF was in any way responsible for causing any of the alleged injuries to Jamal or the boy."
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, welcomed the report.
"It is important to focus on this incident which has slandered Israel's reputation. This is a manifestation of the ongoing, mendacious campaign to delegitimise Israel," he said. "There is only one way to counter lies, and that is through the truth."
But journalists and human rights activists linked to the Facebook group the "Vulture Club" derided his claims. Jerome Delay, a photojournalist with the American press agency Associated Press wrote: "The IDF thinks the earth is flat, btw."
Another member of the forum, Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch, called the report "typical IDF lies".
"As usual, it takes them a long time to really build up the falsehood," he wrote of its authors.
Bouckaert also criticised the New York Times for its coverage of the Israeli report. "It really isn't good journalism to write this up as if these are credible allegations when it is a pack of lies," he wrote.
Javier Espinosa, a reporter from the Spanish newspaper El Mundo, accused the pro-Israel lobby in the US of leaning on the press to influence reports in its favour.
"The lobby uses all its strength and is able to push anything in major English newspapers or in the NYT," wrote Espinosa.
Lack of media credibility
"Israeli embassies call their contacts in all those newspapers and they agree to publish that information. That reinforces lack of media credibility and conspiracy theories as we are being used as mouthpieces for propaganda."
Andrew Ford Lyons of the International Solidarity Movement, called the Israeli report "a feeble attempt at historical revision, at best".
The correspondents voiced broad support for Charles Enderlin, the France 2 Jerusalem bureau chief behind the story, and criticised Philippe Karsenty, a French media analyst who is being sued by France 2 for accusing the network of staging the footage.
"It's not true that 'Everyone in France knows the footage is a hoax,' as Karsenty says," wrote Marc Bastian, a reporter for Agence-France Presse. "Everyone here knows that Enderlin is an honest man and Karsenty is an extremist."
Israel reacted with outrage, accusing the members of the group of bias. "These journalists live in a parallel world," said Amir Ofek, a spokesman for the Israeli embassy in London.
"This is a shallow discussion by people who behave as if they are impartial, but are actually taking sides. It is childish and hypocritical, and not supported by the facts.
"The report by the government of Israel raises question marks about the incident, which cast a dark cloud over the reporting by France 2."
He accused the network of deliberately editing out footage showing the boy move at the end of its report. "Footage showing the kid seemingly alive was cut from the end of the report," claimed Ofek.
The father of the boy called for an international investigation.
"Are they willing to do an international investigation? Is Israel willing?" he asked. "The Palestinian Authority has Israeli bullets [from the scene]. Why did Israel bulldoze all he walls there? They're trying to erase everything. He died on the spot. He died next to me."
He said he was willing to have his son's body exhumed so that a post-mortem examination could be carried out.
Israel rejected his offer and insisted that its report was impartial.
Human Rights Watch founder Robert Bernstein, a former member of the Vulture club, publicly broke with the group in 2009, accusing it of anti-Israel bias.
The club is believed to have about 3,500 members.
Neither Human Rights Watch nor the Associated Press would comment.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights said it strongly disputed Israel's report.
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