On Sept. 30, 2000, at the start of the Second Intifada, a Palestinian camera operator working for a French news outlet filmed what would become a notorious shooting incident in Gaza. During a protracted gun battle at Netzarim Junction, 12-year-old Muhammad al-Durrah and his father, Jamal, were caught in Israeli-Palestinian crossfire.
The camera operator, Talal Abu Rahma, filmed the pair taking shelter, and, after a few bursts of gunfire during which the filming is disrupted, the footage shows Muhammad collapsed in his father’s lap. Hit by a fatal shot to the abdomen, Muhammad succumbed to his wound shortly after.
The incident — often referred to as “the al-Durrah affair” — became ground zero for the hasbara term “Pallywood.” A portmanteau of “Palestinian” and “Hollywood,” it proposes that Palestinians stage dramatic scenes showing Israeli army shootings of civilians in order to serve as anti-Israel propaganda. The term was coined by Richard Landes, an American medievalist scholar, who made a short documentary in 2005 setting out his theory of what he calls “a bustling industry of alfresco cinema.”
The “Pallywood” charge is now a bustling industry in itself, having been liberally applied to incidents from Israeli airstrikes in Gaza to the fatal shooting of two Palestinian teenagers during Nakba Day protests in 2014. It has become a trope whose intention is to a priori cast doubt on any accusations of cruelty or use of excessive force by Israeli security forces, above all when they are caught on film. Indeed, according to the logic of the “Pallywood” slur, the very fact that violence has been documented on video is more reason to doubt its existence, not less.
Following in Landes’ footsteps, a legion of armchair forensic and behavioral psychology experts has sprung up to deconstruct videos of Israeli-on-Palestinian violence. The goal is to debunk what has been captured on film, and thus to undermine the entire Palestinian narrative of the occupation, one bullet at a time.