Is­rael must ex­plain a Reuters man’s death

The IDF’s in­quiry into the death of a TV cam­era­man in Gaza must be open and thor­ough


IS­RAEL’S DEFENCE forces are again be­ing ac­cused by hu­man-rights groups of al­leged reck­less or de­lib­er­ate use of fire­power in Gaza. The death of Reuters TV cam­era­man Fadel Shana, 23, dur­ing the vi­o­lence which erupted on April 16 is rapidly be­com­ing a cause célèbre. The dan­ger for the IDF and Is­rael is that it will pro­voke the same kind of in­ter­na­tional out­cry which marked the death of Bri­tish stu­dent and ac­tivist Tom Hurn­dall in April 2003, fol­lowed by the death of Chan­nel 4 film­maker James Miller a month later. This week it emerged that Miller’s fam­ily are be­ing of­fered com­pen­sa­tion of up to £1.8m by Is­rael.

Fadel Shana was killed and his sound op­er­a­tor Abu Mizyed wounded when an un­ar­moured sports util­ity ve­hi­cle, bear­ing TV and press mark­ings, was shat­tered and set ablaze at around 5pm on a “back road” in Gaza in good light. Shana was film­ing at the time of his death and it is re­ported that two by­standers were also killed.

Film from Shana’s cam­era, posted on the Guardian’s web­site, shows an Is­raeli tank sev­eral hun­dred me­tres away open­ing fire. Some two sec­onds af­ter the shot raises dust around the main gun bar­rel, the film goes blank, ap­par­ently at the mo­ment Shana was hit. It will be ar­gued that the cam­era does not lie, al­though there is enough ev­i­dence of ma­nip­u­lated footage from the re­gion, most no­tably the Mo­hammed al-Dura shoot­ing from Septem­ber 2000, to de­mand scep­ti­cism.

The Shana case has at­tracted wide­spread at­ten­tion. As part of the 70strong team of Reuters jour­nal­ists in the re­gion, the Pales­tinian cam­era­man has the big­gest in­ter­na­tional news agency be­hind him. The agency’s ed­i­tor-in-chief, David Schlesinger, called for “an im­me­di­ate and com­plete in­ves­ti­ga­tion”. (The IDF said on Sun­day that it would con­duct an of­fi­cial in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the cir­cum­stances sur­round- ing the death.) Schlesinger was care­ful to note, how­ever, that “jour­nal­ism is a dan­ger­ous busi­ness … we rush into dan­ger when oth­ers rush away. We know of course that ac­ci­dents hap­pen.”

It also has been al­leged on AlJazeera. net that the IDF used a “con­tro­ver­sial weapon”. Metal darts known as flechettes were said to have been embed­ded in Shana’s legs, chest and flak jacket. The re­port sug­gested that ad­vo­cacy groups (un­named) have re­peat­edly sought to have flechettes banned be­cause “they kill in­dis­crim­i­nately”. quotes an IDF spokesman, Ma­jor Avi­tal Lei­bowitz, as ex­press­ing “sor­row” over the death and not­ing that the Reuters crew was op­er­at­ing in a war zone and when there is an ex­change of fire “and jour­nal­ists are hang­ing around th­ese places” they some­times “will be hit”.

The case has been seized upon by the New York-based mon­i­tor­ing group Hu­man Rights Watch, which is quoted by both Ha’aretz and the New York Times. Its own in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the in­ci­dent sug­gests the IDF tank crew fired “ei­ther reck­lessly or de­lib­er­ately at Shana and three oth­ers stand­ing near him”. Bat­tles be­tween Pales­tinian mil­i­tants and Is­rael forces were tak­ing place at the time but the cam­era­man “wasn’t close to the fight­ing”. Is­raeli hu­man-rights group B’Tse­lem sug­gests that the flechette shell was used. Both groups de­manded an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

This call was en­dorsed by In­ter­na­tional Press In­sti­tute, which mon­i­tors cases of jour­nal­ists sub­jected to hu­man-rights abuses. It re­quested the Is­rael mil­i­tary “con­duct an in­de­pen­dent, timely and trans­par­ent in­ves­ti­ga­tion”. It noted that Shana was in a ve­hi­cle dis­play­ing a flu­o­res­cent press sign.

Is­rael’s les­son from the re­cent past is that, in the wake of such in­ci­dents, a full and open in­quiry is best. Oth­er­wise Jerusalem risks hand­ing a pro­pa­ganda coup to those only too will­ing to see it as cul­pa­ble.

Alex Brum­mer is City Ed­i­tor of the Daily Mail

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