Cameras and rockets: Equally dangerous weapons in Gaza

It has been more than two months since an Israeli tank shell killed Reuters' Gaza cameraman, Fadel Shana'a. Despite strong international condemnation an Israeli investigation has yet to release its findings. MENASSAT's correspondent in Gaza, Ola al-Madhoun, has this update.
fadel investigation
Fadel Shana'a surveying Gaza before his untimely death by an Israeli tank shell on April 16, 2008. R.R.

GAZA CITY, June 23, 2008 (MENASSAT) – On the ground in the Gaza Strip, people have gotten used to Israeli commissions finding no wrongdoing in the deaths of Palestinians living there.

Still, the death of Reuters cameraman, Fadel Shana'a, over two months ago was a shock to the world of journalism.

Israel is still investigating the incident in which a tank fired on Shana'a's vehicle, killing the 24-year old Palestinian and 8 other bystanders, aged 12 to 20.

No information has been released, despite considerable international pressure. A June 15 statement by Reuters has demanded an immediate accounting of the events that took place; the London-based agency has launched an independent investigation into the incident.

When MENASSAT asked Israeli army spokesperson Avihay Adre'y why the investigation was taking so long, he said it was "because the situation in Gaza is complicated and very difficult, and we are living in a dangerous and complicated state."
Reuters denies any such claims

"We sent Reuters pictures showing that Israeli soldiers standing 100 meters away from Shana'a could not tell whether he was holding a camera or a missile. The two look the same," Adre'y told MENASSAT.

Adre'y refused to specify a date for ending the Israeli investigation saying that it is in its last stages and is very thorough so as to prevent such mistakes, arguing that Israel "always carries out investigations and releases the results in any incident that leads to the death of journalists in the field – especially if Israel was being blamed."

"The IDF has had plenty of time to conduct a thorough investigation into the killing of Shana'a," Reuters Middle East Managing Editor, Mark Thompson wrote in early June.

Israel claims that its soldiers are given special instructions on how to deal with Palestinian journalists operating in combat zones.

"Our soldiers know that the journalist is sacred and is never part of the conflict," Adre'y said. But he added that journalists must also share the blame when "putting themselves and their lives in danger."

Israeli journalist Roni Shaked from the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot strongly refuted Adre'y's statements.

In a phone call with MENASSAT, he said that all journalists have the right to be on the ground to be a witness and transmit what is happening without the fear of being targeted.

"Palestinian and Israeli journalists are often in dangerous situations," he said, adding that Gaza journalists like Shana'a are simply reporting with their only weapon for transmitting the truth – the pen and the camera, "and they shouldn’t be stopped, killed or targeted."

"If in Israel I would do the same…"

Shaked said he and other Israeli reporters held Israel directly responsible for the incident.

"It would be a real scandal if the investigation turns up no element of Israeli misconduct, setting a precedent that would make other journalists fearful of telling the truth in other combat situations," and particularly in Palestinian territories, Shaked told MENASSAT.

"If the situation [in Israel] was similar to that in Gaza, I would definitely be present to cover the events and no-one could stop me," he said.

The manager of the Reuters office for Israel and the Palestinian territories, Alistair McDonald, told MENASSAT he is now "afraid of sending his staff and journalists to the front lines which makes us fail in covering the news in Gaza."

Khalil Abu Shamala, head of Damir (conscience) Association in Gaza, however, thinks that Reuters has a good chance at getting Israel to expedite the investigation. He has put pressure on Reuters to organize a huge media campaign, which is something he says Israel fears.

"This could put much larger pressure on Israel to end the targeted assassinations and incursions for fear of killing dozens of journalists working in Gaza," Shamala told MENASSAT.

On June 16, two months to the day after Shana'a was killed, Palestinian and international journalists marched in Gaza in denunciation of "the international silence" concerning the killing of the Reuters cameramen.

Shana'a and eight other bystanders were killed by small metallic "fléchettes" or darts, which exploded from a tank shell in mid-air while he was filming Israeli tank fire 1.5 km away.