The family of British videojournalist James Miller is preparing a civil action against Israel for his murder five years ago, as Reuters called for an investigation into the death of its cameraman Fadel Shana who was killed in Gaza last week.
A week on from Shana’s death on 16 April, Reuters has sent a letter to the Israeli defence minister asking him to prioritise the results of an Israeli military field investigation into the attack which killed the 23-year-old Palestinian cameraman. A shell killed him after he got out of his car to film an Israeli tank 1.5 kilometers away. Five other Palestinians were killed in the incident.
The video from Shana’s camera showed the tank opening fire and went blank seconds later. Reuters soundman Wafa Abu Mizyed was also wounded. They were travelling in an unarmoured sport utility vehicle marked ‘TV’and ‘Press”.
Miller was also clearly identifiable as a journalist when he was shot by the Israeli Defence Forces while filming a documentary in Gaza for Channel 4 in 2003. He was waving a white flag and wearing a vest with ‘TV’markings.
His family will begin civil proceedings against Israel on 13 May after a Israeli Military Police investigation failed to indict the soldier suspected of firing the shot that killed him. In 2006, a London coroner concluded that Miller had been murdered.
In a statement, the family said: ‘Based on our experience with the Israeli authorities over the past five years and the fact that the action will take place in an Israeli court – albeit a civil one – we do not have a great deal of confidence in a fair or just outcome.”
Responding to a report in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which reported that Israel was considering offering £2m compensation, the family said: ‘Having had an exhausting and expensive five-year fight, the possibility of an out of court settlement might be considered, although no agreement has been reached.”
In the immediate aftermath of the attack that killed Shana, an Israeli military spokesperson told Reuters: ‘The presence of media, photographers and other uninvolved individuals in areas of warfare is extremely dangerous and poses a threat to their lives.”
Sean Maguire, global political editor, Reuters news, said the organisation would be pushing for a clearer explanation. ‘We have been quite clear that Fadel was very visible, very clearly identified as a member of the press,’he said. ‘His vehicle was clearly identified as a press vehicle. He was wearing body armour and a blue helmet, which is not how militants identify themselves.”
‘They have said it’s a warzone. In that case, the whole of Gaza is a warzone and nobody should be in Gaza – but that’s patently ridiculous. Obviously, we need to cover what’s happening in Gaza. We await with interest their considered view.”
Asked if Reuters believed Shana was a military target, Maguire said: ‘We’re at a loss to understand his death. He was clearly identified as a member of the press. He was filming quite openly.
‘There were other people nearby. There were six individuals killed in the strike and our soundmen told us there were teenagers around Fadel as he worked. So that doesn’t indicate that either Fadel or the people who were there felt they were in the middle of active combat.”
Maguire said that until Reuters heard from the Israeli authorities it could not make decisions about its staffing in the region. ‘This is why it is so urgent we hear from the Israelis,’he said.
Shortly after Shana’s death, Reuters editor-in-chief David Schlesinger called for greater efforts to make reporting safer.
In an email to staff, he said: ‘I believe sincerely and absolutely that all of us – news organisations, governments and the military – have an obligation to make reporting safer and to take the utmost care when professional journalists are doing their jobs.”
Shana had been wounded in August 2006 when an Israeli aircraft fired a missile at his vehicle.
A Reuters photographer was shot in the leg in Gaza last October by an Israeli soldier and two Reuters journalists were wounded by an Israeli tank shell in the enclave in 2003.