Why were we so surprised that the IDF concluded, after a lengthy and thorough investigation, that it did everything right, that it went by the book, when it fired shells from a tank and killed a Palestinian cameraman working for Reuters in Gaza.
At least one of the tank shells the IDF used were specifically anti-personnel weapons, filled with sharp arrows (flechettes) that shot out in all directions when the shells exploded in the air above its targets. These weapons differ from cluster bombs only in that the arrows do not explode, but merely cut up and slice through anything in their vicinity.
Reuters yesterday published this response — which it called a factbox — to the IDF investigation report:
“Reuters cameraman Fadel Shana was killed by Israeli troops four months ago, while filming in the Gaza Strip. An Israeli army investigation, which was concluded this week, found that the troops’ actions were justified.
Following are key facts established by Reuters:
— Fadel Shana, 24, was killed by several darts, known as flechettes, which burst from a shell fired by an Israeli tank on April 16 about 5:30 p.m. The tank firing and shell bursting were the final images on tape before Shana’s camera was destroyed.
— Eight other civilians aged between 12 and 20 were killed, six of them aged under 16. At least seven other bystanders aged from 10 to 18 were also hit. None was armed or was a militant. Reuters soundman Wafa Abu Mizyed, 25, was wounded in the wrist.
— Shana and Abu Mizyed were wearing blue body armour marked ‘PRESS‘ and stood next to a car bearing ‘TV‘ and ‘PRESS‘ signs in the middle of a country road some 100 metres southeast of Gaza’s main highway. Two Merkava-4 main battle tanks stood on a ridge about 1.5 km (a mile) to the southeast, facing northwest.
— In the preceding half hour, the Reuters crew had driven past a point 700 metres from the tanks, filmed the aftermath of an Israeli air strike that killed several children and returned by the same route. Shana stopped, set up his tripod and filmed a panorama of the area, including the tanks, for several minutes.
— Twenty or more children, some on bicycles, were present between Shana and the main Gaza highway 100 metres behind him.
— An Israeli observation drone was circling over the area.
— A tank fired a flechette shell, typically containing 5,000 1.5-inch (3.75-mm) metal darts. Their purpose is to kill over an area 300 metres wide. In 2003, Israel’s Supreme Court said that under IDF rules ‘use of the flechette is restricted to areas in which the danger to innocent civilians is not actual’.
— Soundman Abu Mizyed recalls being hit by flechettes from two separate shells and then heard a third shell destroy the Reuters car. Another witness also said he thought three shells were fired. Two ambulance drivers heard only two blasts. The Israeli army said it fired only one flechette shell followed by a shell of a different type that destroyed the Reuters car.
— Journalists who arrived filmed that explosion at 5:40 p.m. It set Shana’s car on fire and it later burnt out.
On August 12, Military Advocate General Brigadier-General Avihai Mendelblit wrote to Reuters saying the decision to kill Shana was ‘sound’ because it was reasonable for the tank crew and the superiors with whom they consulted by radio to assume Shana was hostile on the following grounds:
— Three Israeli soldiers had been killed in Gaza that day.
— An Israeli tank had been damaged by a rocket-propelled grenade in the Gaza Strip at 11:40 a.m. that day.
— Shana put a ‘black object’ on a tripod pointing at the tank
— Shana and Abu Mizyed were wearing body armour, which he said was a practice ‘common to Palestinian terrorists’.
— There were ‘intelligence warnings’, which he did not specify.
Mendelblit said: ‘The crew was unable to determine the nature of the object mounted on the tripod and positively identify it as an anti-tank missile, a mortar, or a television camera’.
Reuters believes the soldiers did not have reasonable grounds to use lethal force without warning. It believes the army, despite assertions to the contrary, was in clear breach of its duty under international law to avoid harm to civilians.
Reuters and media rights groups believe the army action and its apparent policy curbs media freedom by rendering it too dangerous to use a camera in the presence of Israeli troops.
Reuters is examining options for legal action and is seeking urgent consultations in Israel to address journalists safety.
A report conducted for Reuters by independent security advisers concluded: ‘(Shana) had a professional attitude to safety and had taken all reasonable precautions … He complied with Reuters’ own safety policy and his actions can not be interpreted as irresponsible or negligent in any way’.”
This Reuters Factbox can be found here .
The Committee to Protect Journalists and Amnesty International both called for an Israeli government investigation into the IDF investigation. Amnesty International said that it was “scandalous” for the Israeli Army to have said that firing at Fadel Shana was a “sound decision”: “The army’s so-called investigation lacked any semblance of impartiality and Amnesty International called for an independent and impartial investigation into the killing. The organization said that the army’s conclusion can only reinforce the culture of impunity that has led to so many reckless and disproportionate killings of children and other unarmed civilians by Israeli forces in Gaza … Independent investigations into killings of unarmed civilians by Israeli forces are virtually never carried out. Even in cases where international outcry forces the Military Advocate General’s office to look into the cases, the process is limited and lacks any independence and impartiality. In this case, as in virtually all such cases, witnesses were not interviewed. No proper investigation was carried out into the cases of the 13 other unarmed civilians, including eight children, killed that day after Palestinians had ambushed and killed three Israeli soldiers. The failure to investigate and to hold accountable those responsible for unlawful killings denies justice to victims and encourages further abuses. It ultimately also impedes prospects for a peaceful solution to the conflict, as it gives a message to Palestinians that there is no justice for them”.
The full Amnesty International statement can be read here .