Evolution of an article (Muhammad al-Durrah incident)

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Summary[edit]

The Muhammad al-Durrah incident is a highly contentious issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Muhammad al-Durrah, aged 12, and his father, Jamal, were reported to have been shot, and the boy killed, by the Israel Defense Forces on September 30, 2000, after getting caught in crossfire in the Gaza Strip during a demonstration. The shooting was filmed by a freelance Palestinian cameraman working for France 2, a French public television network. The France 2 correspondent declared during the report that the boy and his father had been "the target of fire from the Israeli positions."

Israel initially accepted responsibility, but over the following months and years, various commentators expressed doubt that Israeli soldiers had fired the shots. Some concluded that it was impossible to know where the shots had come from (this seems to be the current France 2 position), while others said it appeared from the angle of the bullets that he had been shot from the Palestinian position. A small minority alleges that there was no shooting at all, and that the whole thing was staged as a propaganda exercise. The story has therefore become an explosive issue in the conflict, with both sides feeling they have been falsely accused. This tension spilled over onto Wikipedia, where editing disputes often mirror the conflict itself.

Creation (October 22, 2004; 03:37 UTC)[edit]

Muhammad al Durrah first edit marked.jpg

The article was created on October 22, 2004 by User:Alberuni, an account that was banned for a year just a few months later by the Arbitration Committee. The Committee ruled that he had been using multiple accounts ("sockpuppeting") and had violated several behavioral policies.

Alberuni was a supporter of the Palestinian perspective, and his lead reflected that, leaving the reader in no doubt that the boy had died and that it was the IDF who had killed him—"Muhammed al-Durrah was a twelve-year-old Palestinian boy killed by Israel Defense Force (IDF) gunfire ..." (emphasis added)— and using somewhat emotional language in the second sentence: "A French television crew ... filmed the terrified boy clutching his father as his father frantically tried to shield him from bullets." [1] He added the article to several categories, including "state terrorism," "Israeli terrorism," and "atrocities".

First change (17 minutes later, 03:54 UTC)[edit]

Muhammad al-Durrah second diff.jpg

Seventeen minutes later, an account sympathetic to Israel, User:Jayjg, arrived to add the first doubt about the death— "probably killed"—changing it again a few minutes later to "widely believed to be killed by Israel Defense Force (IDF) gunfire. [2] Jay removed the article from the categories Alberuni had added, and added it instead to a different category—"Propaganda." [3] And thus the stage was set for a dispute that was to last for five years.