Israelis find firing at journalist ‘reasonable’ and ‘sound’

Reuters cameraman Fadel Shana, age 24, filmed an Israeli tank in Gaza on April 16, recording the flash from its muzzle, around a mile away, of the shell that killed him and several civilian bystanders.  He had been working in Gaza for Reuters for three years and two years ago was wounded when an Israeli aircraft fired a missile at a marked press vehicle in which he was travelling.

IN his blog the Deputy Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, Robert Mahoney, reports that the Israel Defence Forces’ (IDF) confidential inquiry into the killing has concluded that the decision to fire a shell at an unarmed and clearly identified TV crew, acting in a perfectly normal manner for reporters was “reasonable” and “sound.”

It’s a decision that appears to fly in the face of the rules of war, which oblige soldiers to do everything feasible to verify that targets are military and makes the deliberate or reckless targeting of civilians – including the press – a war crime.

Human Rights Watch report that the shell was a flechette shell, which explodes before impact releasing hundreds of dart-like projectiles in the air with the intent to kill people in a wide area around its target. Human rights groups have repeatedly urged Israel not to use these weapons in Gaza because they indiscriminately kill civilians around the actual target – as was the case in this event.  (There is a yellow flash on the video which may be this explosion)

Eyewitnesses report that there was no fighting in the vicinity at the time of the incident and that the Reuters truck, clearly marked ‘TV’ and ‘Press’ had actually driven close to the tank twice earlier in the day. Those observing in the tank had clearly seen that something was being set up on a tripod, and Mohaney claims there were 4 soldiers – the tank commander and observer in both the firing and spotting tanks – with state of the art equipment that would have enabled them to view the scene clearly. They should thus have also been able to see the blue ‘press’ body armour and the clear ‘Press’ and ‘TV’ signs on the vehicle. It is hard to escape the conclusion that either they didn’t bother to  consider the possibility of innocent civilian activity (press or otherwise) before opening fire, or else deliberately targeted the press.

Reporters take great risks working in conflict zones, and far too many are killed or injured, even when they are not deliberately targeted. As you can read on the CPJ site, so far there are 24 confirmed journalist deaths in 2008, along with another 15 as yet unconfirmed  and one missing.

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