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"In the Gaza Strip, anyone with a camera is fair game. That's the inescapable conclusion from the Israeli army's investigation into why one of its tank crews fired at least two shells at a Reuters television journalist openly filming them from a mile away."

So blogged Robert Mahoney of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) after Israel announced on 13 August 2008 that it would not prosecute soldiers who shot and killed Reuters camera operator Fadel Shana and at least three unarmed Palestinians on 16 April. Mahoney's assessment was shared by numerous press freedom and human rights organisations.

The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) termed the decision a "green light for more killings and attacks on journalists." The Foreign Press Association in Jerusalem called the investigation "the latest in a long line of cases clearing soldiers of deadly negligence." Reuters said the ruling "would severely curtail the freedom of the media to cover the conflict by effectively giving soldiers a free hand to kill without being sure that they were not firing on journalists."

Shana and sound operator Wafa Abu Mizyed, who was injured, wore blue body armour marked "PRESS" while standing next to a car bearing "TV" and "PRESS" signs, Reuters says. But an Israeli tank fired a flechette shell that Reuters says typically contains 5,000 metal darts, intended to kill anyone in an area 300 metres wide.

In 2003, Reuters noted, Israel's Supreme Court ruled that "use of the flechette is restricted to areas in which the danger to innocent civilians is not actual." A score of children were within 100 metres of Shana, whose camera was on a tripod, and an Israeli observation drone was circling overhead. A second shell set the Reuters car on fire.

"The decision to authorise the shot was reasonable," an Israeli military statement said. It said the tank crew identified "suspicious figures" and mistook Shana's camera for a weapon. "No further legal action will be taken."

"This report lacks credibility," said the International News Safety Institute (INSI). "It is not acceptable for properly trained soldiers, equipped with highly sophisticated surveillance and spotting equipment, to confuse a camera with an anti-tank missile."

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemned Israel's investigation as "farcical," adding, "We have no confidence in an inquiry that has been used by the Israeli Army to avoid facing up to the consequences of its irresponsible actions."

According to CPJ, at least eight journalists have been killed in the West Bank and Gaza since 2001, seven of them by Israeli soldiers. In 2005, Israel disciplined but did not indict a soldier who had killed British cameraman James Miller, shot while holding a white flag, two years earlier.

In 2006, Shana himself and another cameraman were injured when an Israeli missile struck the bright red "Press" sign on the roof of their Reuters vehicle. After his death in April, thousands of Palestinians attended his funeral.

In other news, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned Israel's 11 August announcement that Ibrahim Hamad, a soundman for the Palestinian news agency Ramattan, will be detained for six months without charges or a court hearing. Israeli soldiers arrested Hamad on 15 July at his home near the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Visit these links:
- IFEX's April story on Shana's death:
- CPJ on Israel's decision:
- CPJ blog:
- Reuters "Factbox":
- IFJ:
- FPA:
- Menassat:
- RSF on Hamad:
(Photo of Shana's car after shelling courtesy of Getty Images)

(20 August 2008)

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