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Synopsis of "In the Line of Fire"

When Journalists Become Targets

Charting Worldwide Risks

Hazards for Reporters Working in the West Bank and Gaza

Interview with Committee to Protect Journalists

Danny Seaman and Gideon Levy

Press freedom, slain journalists, background




More Fire -- and More Fallen
By Sheraz Sadiq

Since FRONTLINE/World reporter Patricia Naylor left the Middle East after gathering information in summer 2002 for "In the Line of Fire," four more journalists have been shot and killed while covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What follows are biographical sketches of the slain journalists, with details about the circumstances surrounding their deaths, drawn from press reports, eyewitness accounts, and bulletins from organizations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Imad Abu Zahra

Imad Abu Zahra, critically wounded by IDF gunfire in Jenin, July 12, 2002. Photo courtesy Said Shawqi Dahlah.
Imad Abu Zahra

Imad Abu Zahra, a 34-year-old Palestinian freelance writer and photographer, was shot by the Israeli military on July 12, 2002, while taking photos in his West Bank hometown of Jenin. He sustained massive blood loss from his gunshot wound and died within hours after the shooting.

Abu Zahra was a well-known figure in Jenin. He began publishing the city's first independent weekly newspaper in 1996. He was known as a maverick, and his independence landed him in trouble with the Palestinian Authority (PA). He served a brief jail sentence after criticizing the mayor of Jenin, and the PA shut down his newspaper in early 1997.

On the day Abu Zahra died, two Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) armored vehicles were moving through the downtown section of Jenin. One of the vehicles hit an electricity pole and got stuck. Abu Zahra and colleague Said Shawqi Dahlah, of WAFA-Palestine News Agency, spotted the stalled tank and rushed to the scene to take photos.

In a Jerusalem Post article published two days after Abu Zahra was shot, the Israeli army claimed that the tanks were struck by stones and fruit thrown by Palestinians and that they came under attack by "a firebomb-throwing mob." The IDF said the soldiers fired back in self-defense.

Eyewitnesses refute this account. Dahlah says that at least one of the tanks was firing randomly, without provocation, as it moved through downtown Jenin. People fled as gunfire erupted, Dahlah claims, but he and Abu Zahra stayed behind to photograph the stalled tank.

Dahlah maintains that he and Abu Zahra were the only two journalists left in the street when they were fired upon. Just seconds after he took his first photo, Dahlah says, the soldiers in the tank opened fire upon him and Imad Abu Zahra. Both journalists were wearing jackets that identified them as members of the press (Dahlah's read "Press"; Abu Zahra's read "TV" and "Press"). "They didn't even warn us. They just started shooting us," Dahlah says.

Shrapnel struck Dahlah's leg and a bullet ripped through Abu Zahra's right thigh. Abu Zahra fell to the ground but managed to crawl into an alleyway. Dahlah wasn't able to reach him right away because of continued firing in their direction. He also says that it was only then, after coming across the wounded journalists, that a crowd gathered around the tank and began to throw stones.

There's further dispute over what happened next. The Red Crescent (an organization in Muslim nations that is akin to the Red Cross) in Jenin claims that the Israeli military blocked an ambulance from reaching Abu Zahra. Israeli officials deny it.

An IDF official confirmed that Abu Zahra had been killed in Jenin, but suggested that he couldn't be distinguished from the mob that had allegedly attacked the IDF tank.

Dahlah, who first met Abu Zahra 15 years ago, remembers him "not only as a journalist, but also as my friend. He was like a brother to me. Every day, I think of him and miss him."

Dahlah says that Abu Zahra had planned to get married, and that he'd begun to organize an archive of photo images of the current intifada. He'd also been granted a fellowship to pursue journalism opportunities in England, where he'd hoped to work as an Arabic-English translator for the BBC. He was preparing to leave for England in August 2002 -- one month after he was killed.

Dahlah says: "Jenin (has) lost one of its great journalists."

Issam Hamza Tillawi

Issam Hamza Tillawi, undated. Photo courtesy WAFA - Palestine News Agency.
Issam Hamza Tillawi

Thiry-two-year-old Issam Hamza Tillawi, also Palestinian, was a program host and reporter for Voice of Palestine (the Ramallah-based official radio station of the Palestinian Authority). Tillawi died from a gunshot wound on September 22, 2002, his fatal attack sustained while attending, and covering, a Palestinian demonstration to protest the Israeli military occupation in Ramallah and the siege of Yasser Arafat's compound.

Tillawi was at the scene with his editor, who claims that the reporter was wearing a jacket that clearly identified him as a member of the press. And further, he says, Tillawi was outfitted with recording equipment because he was going to interview protesters at the demonstration. The Israeli military fired tear gas to disperse the crowd. Eyewitnesses state that as Tillawi ran to take cover, he was shot in the back of the head by an Israeli sniper perched atop a building.

According to the Associated Press, the Israeli military refused to take responsibility for Tillawi's death, acknowledging only that Tillawi was among a group of protesters at the demonstration in Ramallah when fighting broke out between the two sides.

Three days after Tillawi's death, Robert Ménard, the secretary general of the French organization Reporters Without Borders, wrote a letter of protest to Israeli defense minister Benyamin Ben-Eliezer. In the letter, Ménard criticized the Israeli military for behaving as if it had "almost total immunity" in Ramallah and elsewhere and reminded Ben-Eliezer of the government's responsibility under the "Geneva Conventions to protect civilians, which include journalists." Ménard recounted 46 cases of journalists being fired upon and wounded since the start of the current intifada in September 2000, nearly all of those attacks attributed to the Israeli Defense Forces.

Tillawi was married, without children. He joined the Voice of Palestine in 1997 and hosted two weekly news programs, International Affairs and Nahar Jadid ("New Day").

Nazeh Darwazeh

APTN cameraman Nazeh Darwazeh, March 2003. Photo courtesy Said Shawqi Dahlah.
Nazeh Darwazeh

Nazeh Darwazeh, a 43-year-old cameraman for Associated Press Television News (APTN), was shot in the head on April 19, 2003, while on assignment. Eyewitness reports and footage of the attack suggest that the Palestinian cameraman was shot by an Israeli sniper.

Darwazeh had been hired as a cameraman for Palestine TV (an official media outlet of the Palestinian Authority, based in Gaza and Ramallah) after apprenticing for four years at a family-owned photo studio. He joined APTN shortly after the outbreak of the current intifada in September 2000 and had been working for the internationally renowned news agency for roughly two years when he was killedf.

While still in his teens, Darwazeh's political activism as well as his PLO affiliations already had landed him in trouble with Israeli and Jordanian authorities. The Jordanian government arrested and sentenced him to serve more than seven years in a Jordanian prison for his left-leaning political activities.

On the day he died, Darwazeh was filming a violent confrontation between Palestinians and the Israeli military in the West Bank town of Nablus. Published reports indicate that dozens of Palestinian militants began throwing stones and firebombs. The reports claim that Palestinians also opened fire at Israeli armored personnel carriers and soldiers.

Several Palestinian cameramen and photographers, including Darwazeh, had been filming an armored personnel carrier stuck at the top of a flight of stairs in a narrow alleyway. The armored vehicle was under stone-throwing attack when further trouble broke out. Footage from Hassan Titi, a cameraman from Reuters, shows an Israeli soldier crouching by the stranded armored personnel carrier, taking aim with his rifle and firing in the direction of Titi and Darwazeh. Moments later Darwazeh lay dead.

Major Sharon Feingold, spokesperson for the IDF, said that Darwazeh and other members of the media had entered a crowd of Palestinian militants who were, in turn, wielding explosives and firing guns.

Journalists filming alongside Darwazeh in the alley say that they were wearing bullet-proof vests marked "Press." Sami al-Assi, a local Nablus cameraman who also covered the clashes, told the Associated Press, "The Israelis shot him [Dawarzeh] and aimed specifically at us."

According to the Associated Press, 4,000 people turned out for Darwazeh's funeral procession through Nablus. Nigel Baker, director of content for APTN, described Darwazeh as "a courageous cameraman who worked fearlessly to ensure that events in Nablus were reported internationally." Baker appealed to the Israelis for a "full and speedy inquiry ... to ensure that the cause of this needless death is established."

Nazeh Darwazeh leaves behind his wife of 12 years, Naela, and their five children, ranging in age from 4 months to 11 years.

James Miller

Photo of James Miller (left), Cassian Harrison and Saira Shah, taken December 2000 in Afghanistan during the filming of Beneath the Veil. Photo courtesy Saira Shah.
James Miller

James Miller, a 34-year-old British cameraman and documentary filmmaker, was fatally shot by the Israeli Defense Forces in Rafah, a town in the Gaza Strip, on May 2, 2003. Miller and his crew had been working there on a documentary for HBO about the impact of terrorism upon children.

Miller was perhaps best known for his work on the 2001 documentary Beneath the Veil, for which he teamed up with reporter Saira Shah and producer Cassian Harrison. The film portrayed life in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. It won many awards, including an Emmy, a BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) award and two Royal Television Society awards, for Program of the Year and Outstanding Photography. He never shied away from filming difficult subjects in regions scarred by strife and war, such as Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Chechnya and Afghanistan.

On the day he died, Miller and his crew had been filming the demolition of a Palestinian home. The IDF had been demolishing homes that they claimed contained tunnels used to smuggle weapons from Egypt into the Gaza Strip. After they'd finished filming the demolition of a home late that evening, the Miller crew attempted to leave the area.

APTN footage shows Miller and his crew emerging from the Palestinian home in which they'd been filming and approaching an armored Israeli bulldozer. They could be seen waving a white flag and could be heard identifying themselves, in English and Arabic, as journalists. In addition, Miller and his crew were wearing clothing that identified them as members of the press. Eyewitnesses claim Miller and his crew were fired upon, without warning, as they approached the armored bulldozer while attempting to identify themselves as journalists. Moments later, Miller lay on the ground. APTN footage of the incident backs up the eyewitness accounts. James Miller died from a gunshot wound to the neck.

Israeli army spokesperson Captain Jacob Dallal told the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz: "Our forces (had) found a tunnel at the house in question when an antitank missile was fired at them. They shot back at the source of the attack. ... James Miller was apparently hit during that exchange. The Israeli military expresses sorrow at a civilian death, but it must be stressed that a cameraman who knowingly enters a combat zone, especially at night, endangers himself."

Daniel Seaman, the director of the Government Press Office in Israel, told the Associated Press, "It's a split-second judgment, whether or not to shoot. I prefer that in situations like that, they shoot, because I prefer that there will not be a dead soldier."

On May 9, 2003, the IDF announced that all foreign nationals, including journalists and humanitarian workers, would have to sign waivers before entering Gaza. The waivers absolve the Israeli military from any responsibility should foreign nationals in Gaza be killed or wounded by the military. British foreign secretary Jack Straw condemned the introduction of the waiver, calling it "unacceptable."

Miller's death raised bitter protest from his colleagues. Cassian Harrison wrote in the U.K. paper The Guardian that Miller "was a man of talent, intelligence and integrity" who ranked as "one of the finest cameramen of his generation." Harrison called for a thorough investigation. David Henshaw, another colleague, wrote, "Miller was brave in the field, but he was also highly responsible. (He) was no psyched-up bullet-chaser, but (rather) someone who knew the risks and was sensible in evaluating danger."

James Miller is survived by his parents, his wife, Sophie, and their children, 2-year-old Alexander and 5-month-old Charlotte.

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Sheraz Sadiq is the FRONTLINE/World associate producer.

Editor's note: This page was slightly modified on June 4, 2003.