A report by the Israeli military has concluded that the tank crew who killed a Reuters cameraman and eight young bystanders in the Gaza Strip four months ago acted properly.
Israel’s senior military advocate-general has told Reuters that troops could not see whether Fadel Shana was operating a camera or a weapon, but were nonetheless justified in firing a shell packed with darts that killed him and eight other Palestinians aged between 12 and 20.
Reuters said it is deeply disturbed by a conclusion that it said “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”.
Reuters editor-in-chief David Schlesinger said: “I’m extremely disappointed that this report condones a disproportionate use of deadly force in a situation the army itself admitted had not been analysed clearly.
“They would appear to take the view that any raising of a camera into position could garner a deadly response.”
Joel Campagna of the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists said: “These findings mean that a journalist with a camera is at risk of coming under fire and there’s not that much that can be done. That’s unacceptable. It’s difficult to believe … that the IDF took the necessary precautions to avoid causing harm to civilians – as it is obliged to do under international law.”
Shana, 24, filmed two tanks positioned about 1.5 km (one mile) from where he was standing for several minutes before his footage showed shell being fired from one of the distant tanks and his camera going blank two seconds later.
In his letter to Reuters, Israeli army chief Brigadier General Avihai Mendelblit said: “The tank 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.”
He cited an attack that killed three Israeli soldiers in another part of Gaza earlier in the day, an earlier grenade attack on a tank and the fact that Shana and his soundman, who was wounded, were wearing body armour – “common to Palestinian terrorists” – among reasons for suspicion.
The blue flak jackets worn by the Reuters journalists, like the car they were in, were marked “PRESS”.