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A camera is not a weapon
The Biblical image of alchemy is powerful:They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Yet, once again, the alchemy went the wrong way: a soldier mistook a camera for a weapon, fired his real weapon, and a journalist was killed.
Fadel Shana, 24, filming an Israeli tank in the Gaza Strip was killed by that very tank on April 16.
Two months later, there are still no satisfactory answers.
What about his camera could have been confused for a weapon?
What about his “Press”-emblazoned car or flak jacket was ambiguous?
What about his peaceful actions filming a news story could possibly have seemed aggressive?
What motivated the tank commander to fire thousands of flechettes, sharp and deadly steel darts, before positively identifying his target and without warning?
Answers to these questions are important. They are important for Fadel Shana’s family and colleagues; they are important for justice; they are important to save the lives of journalists in the future; they are important for all of us who rely upon journalists in places, near and far, safe and unsafe, to bring us the stories that let us know what is really happening in the world.
A television camera is not a weapon; it is a potent tool for truth. A pen is not a sword; its blade separates truth and fiction and empowers readers to judge their world. A journalist is not a combatant; a journalist is an agent for exposing the facts and giving the world needed transparency.
These truths hold in the corridors of Congress; these truths hold in the banking halls of London’s City; these truths must hold on the battlefields from Baghdad to Gaza as well.
The world needs to know. The world’s citizens need to know. And if journalists are killed while doing their job or for doing their job, the world loses a bit of its brightness and transparency, and the truth will be hidden.
The Israel Defense Forces issued a welcome statement immediately after Fadel Shana was killed, saying: “The IDF wishes to emphasize that unlike terrorist organizations not only does not it deliberately target uninvolved civilians; it also uses means to avoid such incidents.”
The best way to ensure these ideals to be realized would be for the IDF and other military to work intimately with news organizations so tragedies like that of Fadel Shana’s death won’t happen again.
A military that has sophisticated intelligence and identification methods can learn to tell a camera from a gun. A military that works hard to prevent deaths of its own by friendly fire can learn to investigate vehicles and garments clearly marked as “Press”. A military that seeks to save “uninvolved civilians” can use restraint with the firing of shells filled with indiscriminate, deadly darts.
And governments and military that understand the role of the press in serving society’s need for truth must learn better to respect the lives of journalists working for that purpose.