One of the answers often used by the army when its soldiers kill someone who clearly had nothing to do with the fighting or even stone-throwing (which nobody questions is a crime punishable by death), is that the situation is dangerous, there’s combat going on, and the risks about being in the area are known. That’s what was said Sunday when Palestinian cameraman Nazeh Darwazeh, 45, a father of five – the youngest, four months old – was killed.
Anyone who lives, works or learns in the territories knows very well it is dangerous. Every foreign correspondent or solidarity activist who has chosen to be there is well aware of the dangers; so are quite a few Israelis who, despite the ban, choose to meet with Palestinians in their besieged communities – for example, the Ta’ayush activists who were attacked.
Most Palestinians choose to stay away from dangerous places, because in any case, they live in constant danger. But it was Darwazeh’s choice, like other cameramen and reporters, Palestinian and foreign, to run around documenting slices of life in hours of danger. Thus, Darwazeh, as a Palestinian and a journalist, lived with a double jeopardy.
For civilians, and not only reporters, there is always the danger of becoming a dead or wounded casualty from a piece of shrapnel fired from a rocket aimed at a Fatah or Hamas activist or a Palestinian Authority building or from a stray bullet fired by a careless Palestinian gunman or a bullet fired by frightened, angry or careless soldiers at a checkpoint. That’s why the shepherds are afraid to move between the hills and stay in the fields closest to their homes. It is dangerous to be alone in a field, because a soldier can always claim he suspected you were a terrorist. There’s constant danger lurking for Palestinian civilians and their visitors in Gaza’s refugee camps, since every IDF raid there is accompanied by deadly fire.
Nonetheless, the civilians who do take the risk figure that being close to the focal point of the danger provides a measure of protection: it enables certain identification of the reporter, medic, doctor, International Solidarity activist, and schoolgirl in uniform. The IDF is supposed to be able to distinguish them from armed men or stone-throwers from a distance. The army’s spokesmen, after all, take pride in their sophisticated equipment, which can spot armed men at night from a distance. If the equipment is so advanced, why can’t it identify a woman at a window during a curfew or reporters and cameramen or medical evacuation crews? The fact that these people have been wounded and killed doesn’t prove that the army doesn’t have the vision enhancement equipment, but that it doesn’t always bother to use it.
That’s why the professionals who move in the dangerous areas always wear flak jackets plastered with day-glo writing with various identifications. It presumably helps the soldier using the sophisticated equipment to spot them. Darwazeh was very close to the soldiers who were stuck Saturday in a tank at the western entrance to the old city of Nablus’ Yasmina neighborhood, near the girls’ schools Abed Nasser and Fatima just as the girls were on their way to class. True, Darwazeh went there. People say that in the last two-and-a-half years, he showed courage as someone who would be among the first to reach dangerous places.
In other words, he had “battle” experience. As a freelancer, he naturally learned the rules of safety and how to get around. Like his colleagues, he learned to stay away from armed Palestinians, even from children throwing rocks. Grab a distant corner, be enough in the open not to be mistaken by the soldiers for an armed man, and stay put in one place, that’s better for documentation (and safer) than running like the gunmen who are constantly on the move from cover to cover in the alleyways and on the roofs.
The soldiers stuck in a tank that didn’t want to move had every reason in the world to panic in the middle of a neighborhood that is known as a terrorists’ den. Less than a week earlier, a soldier was killed there. Perhaps he was a friend of theirs. Was it panic motivating the shooting soldier, who was documented by another camera firing one shot, which apparently was the one that hit Darwazeh? Was it panic that made him shoot straight at a man who was standing 15-50 meters away from him? Maybe it was the flash of sunlight that made him think the camera was a weapon? In other words, a regrettable human error, as the IDF inquiry will say.
In any case, it wasn’t panicky fire in every direction. That happened elsewhere that day, wounding 18 people, mostly schoolgirls, some distance from the cameramen.
The shot that killed Darwazeh was intentional, precise, on target. One shot that was aimed at the upper torso. Israeli soldiers have been heard saying what the Palestinians have felt: a shot to the upper torso is meant to kill. The difference between shooting an armed man and shooting a cameraman is that the former is hiding while the latter is the coin you find under the streetlamp.
Did the soldier decide on his own – or with his buddies and commander – that a direct hit of one man will scatter the crowd, make them concentrate on the wounded person, and enable a quicker escape for the stuck tank? The Palestinians were quick to deduce that the shooting of the cameraman was deliberate; so nobody would document the tank’s failure, the children running under whistling bullets, and the panic of the soldiers from the strongest army in the Middle East (except the Americans) in the face of some poorly trained armed men and schoolgirls.