AFP / Getty Images
A September 30, 2000, file combo of TV grabs from France 2 footage taken during Israeli-Palestinian clashes in Netzarim in the Gaza Strip shows Jamal al-Dura and his son Mohammed, 12, hiding behind a barrel from Israeli-Palestinian cross fire.
TEL AVIV, Israel — It is an extraordinary image that became a global symbol of Palestinian victimhood at the hands of the Israelis: A 12-year-old old boy cowering behind his father moments before he was killed during a gunbattle in Gaza.
But a new Israeli government report out on Sunday asserts that there is no evidence that the child, Mohammed al-Dura, was shot dead by Israeli soldiers 13 years ago and "numerous indications" that he and his father Jamal were not actually hit by any bullets.
Jamal al-Dura reportedly responded to the claim on Monday by offering to exhume the child’s body from a Gaza cemetery to allow a forensic examination.
"Are they willing to do an international investigation? Is Israel willing? I'm not saying the people of Israel, I mean the government, and IDF soldiers," Jamal told Army Radio, according to the Jerusalem Post.
Indeed, the question arises: If Israel is right and Mohammed was not killed, what actually happened to him and where is the 25-year-old today?
Photo by Newsmakers
The family of 12 year-old Palestinian boy Mohammed al-Dura, center, in blue shirt, poses in an undated family photo at their home in the Gaza Strip. Mohammed's apparent death captured the world's attention.
His apparent death in Sept. 30, 2000, was first reported by television station France 2. A video showed the young Mohammed hiding behind his father, who himself was sheltering behind a barrel, as Israeli soldiers and Palestinians fought it out on a Gaza Strip street corner.
The boy, who was allegedly killed in the fighting on the second day of the second Palestinian uprising against Israel, quickly became infamous across the globe.
However an Israeli investigatory committee found that “contrary to the [France 2] report's claim that the boy is killed, the committee's review of the raw footage showed that in the final scenes, which were not broadcast by France 2, the boy is seen to be alive,” according to a statement issued by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office. The review was begun last year at a request of the prime minister.
“The review revealed that there is no evidence that Jamal or the boy were wounded in the manner claimed in the report, and that the footage does not depict Jamal as having been badly injured. In contrast, there are numerous indications that the two were not struck by bullets at all,” the statement said.
“The review showed that it is highly-doubtful that bullet holes in the vicinity of the two could have had their source in fire from the Israeli position, as implied in the France 2 report,” it added. “The report was edited and narrated in such a way as to create the misleading impression that it substantiated the claims made therein.”
Israel initially admitted it had killed Mohammed, an admission that on further examination was withdrawn.
It has previously accused the Palestinian cameraman who filmed the alleged death of faking it, and France 2 correspondent of being either party to the faking or of being duped.
Media organizations in France and elsewhere have also cast doubt on the Palestinian’s narrative.
It is relevant today because Israel believes it is suffering from a campaign of "delegitimization" that ultimately is a strategic threat to its existence.
Netanyahu said in the statement that the incident had “slandered Israel's reputation.”
“This is a manifestation of the ongoing, mendacious campaign to delegitimize Israel,” he said. “There is only one way to counter lies, and that is through the truth. Only the truth can prevail over lies."
Israel’s Minister of International Affairs, Strategy and Intelligence Yuval Steinitz described the claims that Israeli troops had shot the child as “a modern-day blood libel against the State of Israel.”
The term “blood libel” is used to refer to historic allegations that certain Jewish sects murdered Christian children in order to use their blood in rituals.
In an appendix to the Israeli report, an orthopedic surgeon said injuries to Jamal al-Dura’s arm that the father claimed to be from the shootout were actually incurred years earlier when he was attacked by members of the Palestinian Hamas party.
But this reporter, who met al-Dura days after the shooting in an apartment in Amman, Jordan, was shown his bandaged arm and told that he was undergoing medical treatment in a hospital paid for by Jordan's King Hussein.
At the time, al-Dura explained that he ventured onto that street corner on the way to look at a used car, and he took his son for the fun of it. There was a shootout and in a lull in the firing they dashed across the street, only to get caught in the middle when it started again.
A day after his alleged death, this reporter also visited Mohammed’s Gaza classroom and found his desk a shrine, covered by flowers and notes and his classmates mourning him.
One reason Israel is so insistent that its case be accepted may be that a previous, iconic picture of Palestinian suffering turned out to be false.
In 1982 a photograph issued by the UPI agency showed a nurse holding a baby girl and carried a caption saying an Israeli bomb had blown off the child’s arms in South Lebanon.
The picture was reportedly placed on President Ronald Reagan’s desk as a symbol of the Palestinians plight. But Israel investigated and found that the supposedly armless baby girl was in fact a four-year-old boy with a broken arm. UPI apologized.
NBC News' Ian Johnston contributed to this report.