Dr. Yehuda David is an “Israeli hero” who set out to determine the truth in the Mohammed al-Dura libel campaign, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday.
Netanyahu made his remarks following a meeting with David, a French-Israeli doctor who won his appeal last week at the French Supreme Court after a years-long struggle to clear his name in the politically charged case.
The doctor, who had been accused of defamation by the father of Mohammed al-Dura, the 12-year-old Palestinian boy who became a symbol of the Second Intifada, won his appeal and was cleared of all claims by the French court.
The case stemmed from the start of the Palestinian uprising in 2000, when a French television network broadcast a minute-long clip of the boy purportedly being shot in an exchange of fire between Israelis and Palestinians in central Gaza. The voiceover indicated that the boy was killed by Israeli soldiers, but an investigation later suggested that Palestinian fire had killed him. Many others claimed the entire event was staged and the boy was never shot at all.
In an effort to bolster his claim that Israelis had killed his son, Jamal al-Dura, the boy’s father, presented bullet scars on his body that he said were sustained during that same incident. But David refuted the claim, saying he had operated on al-Dura in 1992, eight years before the incident, and that al-Dura already had been scarred then (allegedly at the hands of Hamas, who attacked him due to suspicions he had cooperated with Israel). Al-Dura sued David for defamation in a French district court, which ruled against the doctor for having released private medical records. But David appealed, and won.
During Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu praised David, saying, “I would like to commend the personal example of one man, a Zionist and an Israeli patriot, a proud Jew, who took upon himself an extraordinary fight for truth. He won, and his victory is a victory for us all. I tip my hat to him.”
The prime minister added, “His is not only a personal victory, it is a victory for justice and for truth. It is Israel’s victory over Palestinian propaganda’s long tale of lies, which is spreading around the world and according to which Israel is guilty even if it is proven otherwise ... I congratulate Israel on this important victory in the public diplomacy war.”
Netanyahu also spoke of David’s immigration from France to Israel, his enlistment in the IDF, and how as a reservist he had received a citation for saving lives during the Second Lebanon War. The prime minister said the doctor lit one of the torches during the national Independence Day ceremony. “He also lit an even greater torch. Not only has he fought for Israel on the battlefield, he has also fought on the battlefield of public diplomacy in the great battle for the truth,” Netanyahu said.
The Prime Minister’s Office said on Sunday that the lesson Israeli public diplomacy should take away from the al-Dura affair was that the country must consider the influence media coverage of such events has on the greater public.
“This could be a picture that could determine the future battlefield, even if the event [being covered] has no connection to the truth,” a senior official from Netanyahu’s office said.
Netanyahu also underscored the effect of the al-Dura case, saying, “This mendacious story caused more damage to the state of Israel than any other account in recent years, more than any other libel, and Dr. David set out to puncture this lie with the truth. He fought for five years in a difficult legal campaign.”
Meanwhile, the Knesset’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday unanimously approved a bill that would have the government cover legal costs for Israelis (not civil servants) involved in court proceedings abroad. The bill would facilitate the financing of legal costs incurred in David’s libel trial at the Supreme Court in Paris.