Thursday, January 22, 2009

PCHR condemns Israeli response to death of Reuters cameraman by an IOF missile

GAZA, (PIC)-- The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), in a statement on Thursday, condemned the official response of the Israeli military Advocate-General to the death of a Reuters cameraman and three other civilians, including two children, who were killed in Juhor al-Dik in the central Gaza Strip.

The cameraman, Fadel Shana’a, and the other civilians were killed by an Israeli tank crew, who, according to Israeli military advocate-general, Brigadier General Avihai Mendelblit, acted properly and will therefore not face any legal action for killing these four unarmed civilians.

PCHR pointed out that "this response once again underlines the chronic failure of the State of Israel and its Occupation Forces to conducts proper investigations into the hundreds of crimes they have committed against Palestinian civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT)."

The statement also said that the IOF killed 9 journalists and injured at least 170 journalists since the start of the second intifada in September 2000.

On Tuesday, 12 August, Reuters news agency received a letter from Brigadier General Avihai Mendelblit, in which he stated that the Israeli troops in Juhor Al-Dik could not see whether Fadel Shana’a was operating a camera or brandishing a weapon. In his letter to Reuters, Mendelblit claimed that “The tank crew was unable to determine the nature of the object mounted on the tripod, and positively identify it as [either] an anti-tank missile, a mortar or a television camera.” Mendelblit also wrote that “In light of the reasonable conclusion reached by the tank crew and its superiors that the characters were hostile, and were carrying an object most likely to be a weapon, the decision to fire at the target… was sound…”

PCHR pointed out that its own investigations at the time of the incident proved beyond all reasonable doubt that Israeli Occupation Forces willfully killed journalist Shana’a and the three other civilians who died alongside him.

The letter from Brigadier General Avihai Mendelblit to Reuters concerned the second attack in Juhor al-Dik, which killed Fadel Shan’a, two children and a second adult civilian. According to investigations conducted by PCHR, Fadel Shana’a and his colleague, Wafa Abu Mezyed, a Reuters soundman, arrived at Juhor al-Dik area at 17:00, an hour after an IOF missile attack in the village had killed 9 Palestinian civilians, including 6 children. The two men were wearing bullet proof vests emblazoned with the word “PRESS.” In his eye-witness testimony to PCHR, Wafa Abu Mezyed stated:"

“When we arrived at Juhor al-Dik area at 5pm, the dead children had just been evacuated by ambulances… We filmed the site of the attack and then got back into our vehicle, which was daubed with the word REUTERS, and drove out of the village. We could see two tanks and a bulldozer, and we deliberately parked more than one and a half kilometers away from them for our own safety. Fadel got out of the jeep in order to continue filming… A small crowd of children gathered around us wanting to know what we were filming, and Fadel asked me to get out of the jeep too and shoo them away. I started to move the children out of his way. Fadel and I were standing just three meters apart when I heard an explosion. I saw Fadel and two of the boys fall to the ground. I threw myself on the ground too. From where I lay, I could see that Fadel and the two boys were dead and bleeding.”

Fadel Shana’a, 14-year-old Ahmed ‘Aaref Farajallah and 17-year-old Ghassan Khaled Abu ‘Otaiwi, were all killed by the shell fired by the IOF tank. Less than a minute later, the IOF tank fired a second shell that completely destroyed the REUTERS vehicle. Wafa Abu Mezyed saw two children flung into the air by the force of the second explosion, which killed another civilian, 22-year-old Khalil Isma’il Dughmosh.

PCHR condemned, in its statement, the Israeli Advocate-General’s response, but said it was not surprised as this reflected "the chronic failure of the State of Israel and its occupation forces to properly investigate hundreds of crimes they have committed against civilians in the OPT, including dozens of crimes against journalists."

In view of this and other failures, the centre called for the setting up of an Independent Investigation Commission as the IOF cannot be trusted to investigate the war crimes its troops commit against the Palestinian people, adding that the current investigations "are a means to cover war crimes and provide legal protection and impunity to those suspected of perpetrating such crimes," stressing the need to prosecute Israeli war criminals.

Finally PCHR expressed its concern that the response of the the Israeli Advocate-General in this case makes journalists easy and legitimate targets for IOF troops, especially when they are covering IOF incursions.

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