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A camera is not a weapon

June 16, 2008

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.


Fadel Shana was killed because he was where Hamas was, and Hamas was where the rockets were being launced against Israeli civilians. What sort of precautions is Hamas making for avoiding civilian casualties when it sends Qasam rockets into Israeli towns? Are only Gazan civilian photgraphers important? Are you pounding on the doors of Hamas officials to find out why civilians are SPECIFICALLY targeted by Hamas’ rockets? Where’s your outrage when Israelis are killed because they are simply going about their daily business, maybe even taking photographs? Has anyone in your organization questioned Hamas about their rockets and their targets?

Posted by Rebecca Hall | Report as abusive

This is an unfortunate accident. The photographer was in a war zone. Innocent people get hurt when placing themselves voluntarily in war zones.

Posted by John Patriot | Report as abusive

The IDF has a history of intentionally targeting journalists and civilians with illegal weapons, and blaming the victims for their deaths. The case of Fadel Shana is no different. Both his flak jacket and vehicle clearly identified him as Press. The Israelis have at their disposal equipment which can identify whether a person is holding a camera or a weapon. The reason why the IDF has failed to provide Reuters with any satisfactory answers surrounding his death is simple: they don’t want to admit he was killed simply because he was a Palestinian.

Posted by Nu'man El-Bakri | Report as abusive

Like stated above, he was in a war zone. Every time a Palestinian dies in the conflict, it must have been on purpose, is that what you are saying, Nu’man? Reuters has tried to villify Israel since this happend. Conflicting interests prevent them from being very fair in this issue, or in fact covering properly the recently revealed cruelty Palestinians show towards each other. Quit firing rockets wantonly at civilian areas. Olmert is out, and Netanyahou will be back in power. He is not someone that I would provoke. If so, the Palestinians may never see an independent state.
But from the reports coming from Human Rights Watch, it doesn’t sound like they could humanely govern themselves anyway, no matter which political party (Fatah or Hamas) has the power.

Posted by Ptrizzle | Report as abusive

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