But in an interview with Israel’s Army Radio on Wednesday, a military spokesman said Abu Akleh and his colleagues were “filming and working for media in the midst of armed Palestinians.”
“They’re armed with cameras, if you’ll allow me to say so,” Brig said. General Ran Kochav.
For Palestinian journalists, the death of a colleague strikes close to home
At least 19 journalists have been killed in Israel and the Palestinian territories since 1992, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Sixteen of those killed were Palestinians, who disproportionately bear the brunt of Israeli military violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Many other reporters, photographers and videographers were injured by missile fire, live ammunition, rubber bullets, tear gas and physical altercations during their assignment.
Here are the stories of five of the journalists who were killed.
Shireen Abu Akleh, 51, was known across the Arab world for her fearless reporting from her base in the Palestinian city of Ramallah. But she was killed Wednesday morning in Jenin, shot by an Israeli sniper, according to Palestinian officials and eyewitness accounts.
The Israeli army initially suggested Palestinian militants were responsible for her death – but later changed to say he was investigating whether the bullet that killed her was fired by Israeli forces. Al Jazeera accused Israel of directly targeting her “in cold blood”.
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Witnesses told the Washington Post that there were no clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian gunmen when Abu Akleh was shot. Israeli troops have carried out repeated raids in Jenin in recent weeks following a wave of Palestinian attacks inside Israel.
Abu Akleh reported for more than two decades in the West Bank and East Jerusalem for Al Jazeera’s Arabic-language news channel. Her career inspired a generation of Palestinian women to pursue journalism, colleagues said. During the second Palestinian Intifada in the early 2000s, Abu Akleh remained in Jenin even after Israeli forces recaptured the city from Palestinian fighters and restricted press access.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said Wednesday that “those responsible must be held accountable.” The Foreign Press Association in Israel called for “full transparency” in the Israeli investigation into his death, “given the poor record of Israeli security forces in investigating violence against journalists.”
But human rights groups have also demanded an independent investigation. Al Haq, a Palestinian human rights organization based in Ramallah, has asked the International Criminal Court to include Abu Akleh’s case as part of its ongoing investigation into alleged Israeli war crimes.
Al-Haq accused Israel of acting “with complete impunity and without concrete measures to hold the Israeli authorities accountable”.
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Yasser Murtaja was a cameraman and photojournalist who co-founded a media production company in his native Gaza Strip. At 30, he had never traveled outside of the tiny coastal enclave, which is ruled by Hamas and subject to an Israeli-led blockade.
An Israeli sniper shot and killed Murtaja in April 2018 while covering large protests along the Gaza-Israel border. Like Abu Akleh, Murtaja was wearing a press vest when he was shot.
During the weekly protests, more than 200 Palestinians have been killed and more than 36,000 injured, according to the United Nations.
In an initial statement after Murtaja’s death, the Israeli military said it was not targeting journalists. Then-Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman then alleged that Murtaja was a member of Hamas’ military wing – a charge his colleagues denied.
Just a month before he was killed, the United States Agency for International Development gave a grant to Murtaja’s business and said his standard candidate screening process found no connection with militant activities. In 2015, Hamas authorities – who are also cracking down on the press – arrested and beat Murtaja for filming in an area without permission.
Simone Camilli, 35, was an Italian photojournalist for the Associated Press. He died in August 2014 while on assignment in the Gaza Strip.
He was photographing local police as they defused unexploded ordnance from the war between Israel and Hamas when one exploded unexpectedly. Camilli’s Palestinian interpreter also died in the blast, which seriously injured another PA photographer.
He is the only foreign journalist to have died as a result of this conflict, which lasted from the beginning of July to the end of August. More than 2,200 Palestinians, 73 Israelis and one Thai citizen were killed, according to the United Nations.
Camilli has spent nearly a decade covering major stories across Europe and the Middle East for the AP. He was particularly passionate about covering Gaza, according to his colleagues. The AP described him as “an accomplished storyteller – a passionate and talented journalist with an eye for detail and the ability to convey events with powerful video images that have touched people around the world.”
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Fadel Shaana, 23, was a Palestinian cameraman for Reuters. He was killed in Gaza in 2008 when an Israeli tank opened fire on him and his film crew.
The tank and its bursting shell were the last images he captured with his camera, which was mounted on a tripod. The attack killed eight other civilians.
Shaana wore a blue bulletproof vest that identified her as a journalist and traveled in a car marked “TV”. The Israeli military expressed “sorrow” over his killing, but told Reuters its forces faced “continued fighting against an armed, extreme and dangerous terrorist organization” in the area. Sixteen other Palestinians and three Israeli soldiers were killed in Gaza on the same day.
Four months later, an Israeli investigation exonerated his troops, concluding that they were “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”. .
Reuters rejected the findings and demanded an independent investigation. Israel “clearly breached its duty under international law to avoid harm to civilians,” the agency said in a rebuttal. “Reuters and media rights groups believe the military’s action and apparent policy limits media freedom by making it too dangerous to use a camera in the presence of Israeli troops.”
British freelance journalist James Miller, 35, was shot and killed while filming a documentary in Gaza in May 2003. Miller and his team were attempting to leave a subject’s home when, according to colleagues and eyewitnesses , an Israeli tank opened fire. Earlier in the day, Israel carried out house demolitions and operations in the area against alleged Hamas tunnels linking Gaza and Egypt.
Miller and his crew were dressed in protective gear and marked as reporters. Colleagues said they had signaled to Israeli forces their intention to leave when he was shot.
The Israeli military denied responsibility and said Miller was killed in the crossfire by a Palestinian bullet. A subsequent Israeli investigation exonerated the troops involved. Miller’s family rejected Israel’s findings and pushed for an independent investigation. In 2006, St Pancras Coroner’s Court in London ruled that Miller was deliberately killed based in part on the findings of a private detective hired by Miller’s family immediately after his death.
No one in Israel has been charged.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly claimed that the Israeli military immediately denied responsibility for the death of Shireen Abu Akleh. In its first statement to reporters on Wednesday, the military spokesperson’s office said the Israel Defense Forces were “investigating the event and examining the possibility that the journalists were hit by Palestinian gunmen.” The article has been corrected.