Israel claims troops acted properly in killing of Gaza journalist

Fadel Shana’a (MaanImages)

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) strongly condemns the official response of the Israeli military Advocate-General to the death of a Reuters cameraman and three other civilians, including two children, who were killed in Juhor al-Dik in the central Gaza Strip, on 16 April 2008. The cameraman, Fadel Shana’a, and the other civilians were killed by an Israeli tank crew, who, according to Israeli military advocate-general Brigadier General Avihai Mendelblit, acted properly and will therefore not face any legal action for killing these four unarmed civilians.

PCHR believes this response once again underlines the chronic failure of the state of Israel and its occupation forces to conduct proper investigations into the hundreds of crimes they have committed against Palestinian civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). This willful failure increases the urgent need to prosecute suspected perpetrators internationally, and reinforces the importance of PCHR’s efforts to utilize universal jurisdiction. PCHR notes with concern that since the beginning of the second intifada in September 2000, Israeli occupation forces (IOF) have killed nine journalists, including two international journalists, and in addition have injured at least 170 journalists and other media workers who were reporting on the OPT.

On Tuesday, 12 August, Reuters news agency received a letter from Brigadier General Avihai Mendelblit, in which he stated that the Israeli troops in Juhor al-Dik could not see whether Fadel Shana’a was operating a camera or brandishing a weapon. In his letter to Reuters, Mendelblit claimed that “The tank crew was unable to determine the nature of the object mounted on the tripod, and positively identify it as [either] an anti-tank missile, a mortar or a television camera.” Mendelblit also wrote that “In light of the reasonable conclusion reached by the tank crew and its superiors that the characters were hostile, and were carrying an object most likely to be a weapon, the decision to fire at the target … was sound …”

Investigations conducted by PCHR immediately after the 16 April attack in Juhor al-Dik strongly refute these claims, and proved beyond all reasonable doubt that IOF willfully killed Shana’a and the three other civilians who died alongside him. In addition, another nine unarmed civilians, including six children, died in Juhor al-Dik village in an IOF missile attack that was launched earlier the same day. A total of 13 unarmed Palestinian civilians, including eight children, were killed in the area of Juhor al-Dik on 16 April. In addition, 32 civilians, including 17 children, were injured.

The letter from Brigadier General Avihai Mendelblit to Reuters concerned the second attack in Juhor al-Dik, which killed Fadel Shan’a, two children and a second adult civilian. According to investigations conducted by PCHR, Fadel Shana’a and his colleague, Wafa Abu Mezyed, a Reuters soundman, arrived at Juhor al-Dik area at 5pm, an hour after an IOF missile attack in the village had killed nine Palestinian civilians, including six children. The two men were wearing bullet proof vests emblazoned with the word “PRESS.” In his eye-witness testimony to PCHR, Wafa Abu Mezyed stated:

When we arrived at Juhor al-Dik area at 5pm, the dead children had just been evacuated by ambulances … We filmed the site of the attack and then got back into our vehicle, which was [marked] with the word REUTERS, and drove out of the village. We could see two tanks and a bulldozer, and we deliberately parked more than one and a half kilometers away from them for our own safety. Fadel got out of the jeep in order to continue filming … A small crowd of children gathered around us wanting to know what we were filming, and Fadel asked me to get out of the jeep too and shoo them away. I started to move the children out of his way. Fadel and I were standing just three meters apart when I heard an explosion. I saw Fadel and two of the boys fall to the ground. I threw myself on the ground too. From where I lay, I could see that Fadel and the two boys were dead and bleeding.

Fadel Shana’a, 14-year-old Ahmed ‘Aaref Farajallah and 17-year-old Ghassan Khaled Abu ‘Otaiwi, were all killed by the shell fired by the IOF tank. Less than a minute later, the IOF tank fired a second shell that completely destroyed the Reuters vehicle. Wafa Abu Mezyed saw two children flung into the air by the force of the second explosion, which killed another civilian, 22-year-old Khalil Isma’il Dughmosh.

PCHR condemns the Israeli Advocate-General’s response:

1) However, PCHR was not surprised by this response, which further reflects the chronic failure of the state of Israel and its occupation forces to properly investigate hundreds of crimes they have committed against civilians in the OPT, including dozens of crimes against journalists.

2) PCHR reiterates its position that there is absolutely no trust in military investigations conducted by IOF, who themselves commit war crimes against the Palestinian people. The Centre stresses that an independent investigation commission must be established immediately.

3) PCHR reiterates its position that current investigations, which lack all minimum standards of transparency and impartiality, are a means to cover war crimes and provide legal protection and impunity to those suspected of perpetrating such crimes.

4) PCHR believes that this case further increases the need to prosecute Israeli war criminals using universal jurisdiction.

5) PCHR believes the response of the Israeli Advocate-General response renders local and international journalists easy and legitimate targets for IOF, especially whilst journalists are reporting on incursions and military operation in the OPT. This decision indicates that journalists can be fired on by IOF troops simply based on an apparent suspicion concerning the filming equipment they may be carrying.

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