In his Death, a Truth was Told

By Joharah Baker

One week ago, in yet another Israeli offensive into the Gaza Strip which claimed 21 Palestinians in a day, Reuters photographer Fadel Shana lost his life. According to media reports, the 23-year old cameraman was filming invading Israeli tanks in Gaza City when he stepped out of his van, clearly marked with the word “press”, and was hit by the same tank’s fire. Later photos showed Shana’s blood-soaked flack jacket and his burning van as fellow Palestinians hovered over the young man’s lifeless body.

Given that Shana worked with an international media organization, it is no surprise that Reuters has demanded an investigation into the death. Reuters Editor-in-chief David Schlesinger fell short of explicitly chiding Israel but got his message across all the same. “This tragic incident shows the risks journalists take every day to report news,” he said. “All governments and organizations have the responsibility to take the utmost care to protect professionals trying to do their jobs.” Later, he continued, “The markings on Fadel Shana’s vehicle showed clearly and unambiguously that he was a professional journalist doing his duty.”

The fact is, this is hardly the first journalist to be killed by Israeli fire while covering events in the occupied Palestinian territories. At least 10 journalists have been killed since the start of the Intifada in September, 2000, including two Europeans. According to a December 2006 report by Reporters Without Borders, the Israeli army attacked or threatened 16 journalists in that year alone along with destroying three news media offices. Since the Intifada, journalists have been harassed, beaten, denied entry and killed or wounded by the Israeli army without any so-called investigation resulting in holding the army accountable for the death. When confronted with this fact by Reporters Without Borders, head of the foreign press section of the Israeli army Avital Leibovich replied, “The investigations have not resulted in charges because the evidence proved insufficient for prosecuting any particular officer.”

This is even true when the journalist is not Palestinian. In May 2003, British journalist James Miller was killed in the Gaza Strip by Israeli gunfire. While a British court concluded that Miller was “deliberately” shot and killed by an Israeli soldier given that he was wearing a vest marked TV, the Israeli army brushed aside the case, saying the bullet retrieved from the journalist’s body was too damaged to irrefutably determine that it was shot from the gun of the Israeli soldier in question, who was freed of all charges.

This will more than likely be the outcome of any bogus investigation the Israeli army claims it will open in the case of Fadel Shana. Following his death, an Israeli army spokesperson churned out the empty rhetoric all too familiar in such cases. “We wish to express sorrow for the death of the Palestinian cameraman…It should be emphasized that the area in which the cameraman was hurt is an area in which ongoing fighting against armed, extreme and dangerous terrorist organizations occurs on a daily basis.” The spokesperson did not even bother to mention his name or the fact that Shana and his crew were in the center of a residential area in Gaza City when they were fired at.

Neither has the Israeli army shown any remorse for the fact that, in the autopsy, flechettes were found in Shana’s body, a weapon not strictly prohibited by international law but one that is highly controversial given its lethalness. Flechettes are designed to hit as many enemy targets as possible in one shell shot, which releases thousands of the conical shaped darts. Given this fact, their use in the Gaza Strip, which has a limited area and dense civilian population, has been deemed illegal by many international and even Israeli human rights organizations. Several flechettes were found in Shana’s body.

While the worst possible outcome for journalists anywhere is obviously death, Palestinian journalists face less noxious but extremely hindering hassles imposed by the Israeli army on a daily basis. Palestinian journalists working for local media are often banned from moving from one place to another due to the numerous checkpoints and the separation wall, which divides Palestinians into separate cantons according to their ID cards. Freedom of movement, which is restricted to Palestinians across the board does not exclude journalists, even if this means that as a result of these restrictions, they are unable to perform their duties properly.

The death of Fadel Shana, like those before him, brings to the fore a perilous premise on which Israel basis its entire attitude towards the Palestinians, government, civil population and journalists alike. This premise is cemented in a sense of superiority and racism. Palestinians, whether they are so-called “terrorists”, journalists, students or negotiators, are never on equal moral standing with Israelis. In a nutshell, the value of Palestinian life is less than an Israeli one. And for this reason, when a Palestinian civilian is killed –journalist or not – Israel is willing to feign minimal regret, especially when the killing is particularly heinous, like that of a child, but not enough that it may result in even a minor erosion of this façade.

Israelis aren’t even coy in their sentiments either. When Israel killed 21 Palestinians in the course of one day in Gaza, Defense Minister Ehud Barak minced no words. “We see the suffering of the Gazans…but the suffering of Israeli citizens is more important to us.”

Hence, no high hopes should be pinned on this “investigation” Israel says it has opened into Shana’s death. This is nothing more than a face-saving tactic with a western organization. If Shana worked for the Palestinian media rather than with Reuters, we wouldn’t even have gotten this far.

And since we cannot count on the Israeli army to protect the lives of those who wish to reveal the story on the ground, it is up to the Palestinians to raise their voices elsewhere. Israel has gone on long enough believing – and for good reason – that it can act with impunity where the Palestinians are concerned. When innocent children die because Israel drops a bomb on an apartment building, the world suffices with Israel’s feeble apology for the death of civilians. And when a cameraman trying to bring the reality of Gaza to the world is cut down for this very reason, Israel turns the blame on him. He knew it was dangerous, there were “terrorists” operating in the area. He should not have been there.

Perhaps it is for this very reason that Shana made the ultimate sacrifice. Israel carries out daily atrocities in the Palestinian territories, the Gaza Strip in particular, which often border on war crimes. When there is no one there to document it, Israel can spin the story as it wishes. It has sold its propaganda for years to the world in exactly this fashion. So, when a pesky journalist – Palestinian or otherwise – comes along and ruins this intricate plan, they must be stopped in their tracks, even if that means Israel’s spokespeople will have to do a little more explaining.

For Fadel Shana, this goal of getting the real story out was epitomized in his death. As the curtain fell on his own life, it was ironically lifted on the truth, which all good journalists hope to achieve.

-Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Programme at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at mip@miftah.org. (This article was originally published in MIFTAH – www.miftah.org – and is republished in PalestineChronicle.com with permission)

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