James Miller, Subject of ‘Death in Gaza’ Murdered by IDF, May Yet See Justice
James Miller, the award-winning British documentarian who was shooting a film in Gaza about children caught in the crossfire of war, was himself shot and killed by an Israeli patrol in 2003. Though the IDF said the incident was regrettable it claimed there was shooting in the area and that Miller was in the wrong place at the wrong place. The Miller family and eyewitnesses claim there were no hostilities at the time of Miller’s killing and that he was deliberately killed. This is how the Independent described the incident:
Death in Gaza shows the two journalists leaving the home of a Palestinian family in the turbulent Rafah refugee camp at night, carrying a white flag. They were accompanied by a local crew from Associated Press Television News (APTN).
In an investigative report in October 2003, the journalist John Sweeney wrote: “They had walked about 20 metres from the veranda when the first shot rang out. The team froze. For 13 seconds, there is silence broken only by Saira’s cry: ‘We are British journalists.’ Then comes the second shot, which killed James. He was shot in the front of his neck. The bullet was Israeli issue, fired, according to a forensic expert, from less than 200 metres away. Immediately after the shooting, the IDF said that James had been shot in the back during crossfire. It later retracted the assertion about where in his body he was shot, but until today it has maintained that he was shot during crossfire. There was no crossfire on the APTN tape.”
The IDF investigated the death and exonerated the commanding officer, Captain Hib al-Heib, who was subsequently promoted to company commander. The attorney general refused to press charges. If this had been a Palestinian civilian then this would be where it would be left. Justice would never be done and the IDF could continue to act with impunity.
However, James Miller was British and his family was not willing to let the matter rest. Nor was his documentary partner, who produced Death in Gaza, the triple Emmy-winning indictment of Miller’s killers, which exerted pressure on the British government to act. The family sued Israel. They pressed the British authorities for an inquest which found that Miller had been murdered. Key to this verdict was the film footage which documented his murder. This forced the British attorney general to take action, notifying the Israeli AG that if Israel did not take action against the soldiers involved that it would do so by demanding their extradition to face charges in Britain:
Britain has told Israel that it should prosecute one of its army officers for the killing of a British documentary maker after new evidence allegedly proved that the soldier fired the fatal shot.
UK officials have given Israel a deadline of Tuesday to respond, after which the authorities in this country will consider prosecuting Captain Hib al-Heib in the UK for the murder of James Miller, who was 34 when he was shot dead four years ago.
The warning follows new evidence from an inquiry commissioned by Scotland Yard which has shown that the bullet that killed Miller came from al-Heib’s armoured personnel carrier (APC).
This got Israel’s attention, though it doesn’t appear to have roiled the ever-serene Captain al-Heib, who professes to have not a care in the world regarding the case. If all he had to worry about was Israeli justice, his equanimity would be justified.
Akiva Eldar reports that al-Heib should be worried:
Israel and Britain have an extradition treaty, and a refusal to extradite military personnel may result in a crisis between the two countries.
Eldar also notes an even more serious charge against the IDF of tampering with the evidence:
In [Lord Peter] Goldsmith’s letter, received by Haaretz, the British attorney general writes that the ballistic tests carried out in Israel “could only show that the bullet that killed James did not come from the rifle barrels of the weapons that were examined.” In essence, the senior British official is charging Israeli authorities with tampering with evidence, there having “been a significant opportunity for the rifle barrels to have been changed.”
Israel has offered compensation equal to two years of Miller’s income, a figure which insults the family considering he left a widow and two young children.
Haaretz reports that Israeli attorney general Mazuz has promised to reexamine the case and reply to the British demand. In the case of Tom Hurndall, such pressure resulted in a court martial and jail time for his IDF killer. Perhaps Mazuz will see the wisdom of bringing Captain al-Heib if only to avoid creating an international incident between Israel and Britain. Though of course, he should be prosecuted in the interests of strict justice as well.
While I hope that justice will be done in this case whether in Israel or Britain, it should be noted that both Miller and Tom Hurndall, another British filmmaker killed under similar circumstances in a different incident, had much going for them that most IDF victims do not have. They were foreigners with a government willing to press Israel on their behalf. They had a worldwide reputation which guaranteed interest on the part of the world press in the lives & deaths. They had families willing to battle valiantly for justice. And they(or at least Miller) had filmed footage that proved the culpability of their killers. I wish other victims had similar weapons at their disposal to pursue justice against their killers.
One of my Israeli readers who enjoys attempting to poke holes in my posts about the the Israeli-Palestinian conflict criticized my claim that Tom Hurndall’s killer had been “exonerated.” I now realize that I was confusing the Hurndall case with the Miller case since they were both British filmmakers murdered by the IDF. Though even in the former, the killer was not prosecuted till Britain turned up the heat. Or as the Independent notes:
The army’s first instinct, as shown in both cases, is to protect its soldiers.
An understatement if ever there was one.
14 thoughts on “James Miller, Subject of ‘Death in Gaza’ Murdered by IDF, May Yet See Justice – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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The Captain was exonerated twice. He is innocent. The Brits have no basis for asking for his extradition and there is obviously a political motivation here. The fact that his rifle barrel doesn’t match the deadly bullet IS not proof that the barrels were switched. The Brits have to provide proof that the barrels were switched. It’s ironic that the Limeys are so clever that they know that Captain al-Heib killed James Miller, but they still haven’t figured out whose responsible for the wrongful killing of Jean-Charles de-Menezes. Hypocrites.
you sir are a idiot
Bravo for blogging this important issue .
The Brits may not have pushed for this case , if it was not the Family of the victim who pushed and Demanded Justice . Usually they close the lid on many cases of abuses and crimes when it suited them . 3 britons who had been tortured in saudi were refused to sue the saudi family full stop . that s not right but Blair somehow believes he does not want to waste the dollars Saudi spends on arms and in hotels and at Rolls Royce .
But hopefully , the responsibles of the deaths of Hunderell , Miller , Corrie , , ian hook , Raffaele Ciriello , Imad Abu zahra , and many many more . will be punished , but i wont hold my breath . peace to you great site
Exonerated twice by an IDF that hardly ever investigates its mistakes let alone prosecutes anyone for them. I trust British justice on this far more than Israeli.
Amir is known for making such sweeping unwarranted judgments & interestingly always in defense of Israeli interests when they conflict with Palestinian ones. You’ll never hear him criticize Israeli interests, at least not here. How can you justify such statements? Do you have the evidence before you? Are you a military prosecutor or government official involved in the case? Have you explored the physical evidence?
Unlike IDF officials or intelligence operatives who make similar statements, when the British attorney general, esp. one who is Jewish, says he has evidence that the physical evidence was tampered with, I take such statements extremely seriously. If the evidence wasn’t tampered with then the IDF should be able to prove a physical chain of custody that would’ve prevented the evidence fr. being tampered with. Let’s examine the logs. I’m pretty sure the Brits have strong evidence of tampering otherwise they would not have made such a potentially incendiary charge.
his ip is in israel
So why don’t the Brits make their evidence public, like you are demanding with the evidence against Bishara?
They’ve presented their evidence to Mazuz because they want him to prosecute. If either Mazuz or the Brits do prosecute the evidence will all come out in due time.
As for Bishara, the Shin Bet had an opportunity to prosecute him & present whatever actual (as opposed to trumped up made-for-media) evidence they have in a court of law (which is what the Brits want to happen in the MIller case), if they’d really wanted to do so–by refusing to allow him to leave the country. They chose to let him go.
I would welcome a full trial of Bishara & believe he should’ve returned & dared the Israelis to try him. But I’m not him. I fully understand though what it must be like to be an eternal target of persecution & prosecution by the Israeli security services. It’s not a life I’d relish.
Here in the U.S. we had many supposedly traitorous figures in the U.S. in the 1960s & 70s who were similarly hounded, many of them either to jail or early graves by our FBI & CIA including Martin Luther King, Malcom X, Stokely Carmichael, Angela Davis, Daniel Ellsberg, virtually all the Black Panther leaders, the Chicago 7, the list goes on and on.
Richard – Can you speak to the issue of Miller’s accused killer being an Arab-Israeli. I’m not sure if that has made a difference, but I’m interesting in hearing from you and your readers on it.
I am not sure of the precise ethnic identity of the soldier. He clearly is Arab. But as to whether he is Druze, Bedouin or Israeli Arab these distinctions make a difference. Most Israeli Arabs refuse to serve in the IDF, while Druze and Bedouin serve readily and often with distinction. The officer convicted of killing Tom Hurndall was a Bedouin.
I think it an especial tragedy when an Arab (whether Bedouin, Druze or otherwise) kills someone like James Miller who is protesting the Occupation, which inflicts such tremendous suffering on the former’s Palestinian cousins. It creates a great, ironic ring of tragedy.
Since the question came up, the captain is a bedouin.
Yesterday’s Haaretz (Hebrew print edition) had an article, almost a page long on the case, by Akiva Eldar. It was a the start of the second intifada. Twenty minutes befroe the incident the force of 9 soldiers were shot at from the direction of where the film crew was later. It was a very dark night. The investigation found that the bullet which was removed from Miller’s neck was not shot from the barrel of any of the nine soldiers. Since the weapons were collected several days after incident, it was possible for them to change the barrels. The investigation took this into acount. The nine soldiers were interrogated including with a polygraph test. One of soldiers was imprisoned with an undercover informer. None of these tests were able to confirm that the soldiers switched barrels or that any of the soldiers knew that the others switched barrels. How likely is it that nine different people can fool a polygraph test? The investigation took the film footage (which can be seen at youtube) and peformed ballistic and forensic tets at the site of the incident and concluded that the force most probably could not see the white flag or hear the calls made by the film crew that they were journalists, from where they were stationed. They concluded that the first two gunshots were fired from a different direction and the rest were fired by the Captain. According to Mazuz the evidence exonerating the captain is weighty and forcefull (my translation). The British investigative team concluded that all the gunshots came from the same direction, but did they perform ballistic tests at the site of the incident?
I would say you are pretty careless with the term “murder.”
But there was no shooting at all at the precise time the patrol confronted the film crew. Plus, 13 seconds before Miller was murdered one of his crew screamed out that they were filmmakers thus clearly notifying the soldiers of their identity.
You mean the “IDF investigation,” don’t you. The highly dubious, clearly self-interested IDF investigation which almost never finds fault w. any action by the IDF (see the recent exoneration of the Border Police in the murder of Abir Aramin). You phrase yourself in quite an oblique way so as to say that none of the guns examined fired the killing shot, while you admit that the barrels might’ve been switched. Which means that tampering, as the British AG has claimed was entirely possible. Which would turn this case into a conspiracy to subvert justice–a very serious charge.
Yes, this is the same AG who claimed essentially that Moshe Katsav was a rapist & then did a flip flop explainging the evidence wasn’t so strong after all & that all he could justify was slapping the fellow’s wrist. How trustworthy is such a legal figure? And if the evidence is so forceful why did Mazuz respond to the British AG with an offer to reexamine the case?
There are so very many cases in which Israeli soldiers have deliberately shot & killed journalists, filmmakers & unarmed civilians that calling this a murder is by no means a stretch.
Having now reviewed the Akiva Eldar column you reference above, I find it unconscionable that you imply the article supports the case against charging Al-Heib. You neglect the following interesting material from Eldar regarding the testimony of the nine soliders in the IDF APC which killed Miller:
I would like to point out to Amir that a British investigation was carried out at the scene within 36 hours of the incident, commissioned by channel 4. No Israeli forensics were taken at the scene which was bulldozed by IDF forces 48 hours later. The Paskal (surveillance) tape for that area, for that night went “missing”. Lt Heib was the most senior of all those interrrogated and his polygraph was inconclusive. He said in his testimony “I could have hit the Brit, but there was no match found between the bullet and my gun…” We have all heard that the rifles were not impounded for two weeks allowing ample time for tampering.
Also noteworthy is the fact that the investigation process in such circumstances has been changed by General Mandelblitt (Israeli Judge Advocate General) in response to the obvious flaws in the original investigation that made the gathering of sufficient evidence more difficult. If he had had faith in the original investigation would he have done this? Don’t feel too confident that Heib has been “exonerated” until you have a better idea of what happens in the process to “exonerate” him – and that is the purpose of the process – not a lot!
Amir, your writing indicates you don’t give a hoot about any truth which might implicate Israel in a negative fashion. Unfortunately much conform the current political climate in Israel. What is remarkable that people like you find it even worthwhile the effort to keep up appearances to the contrary.
i’ve read several cases like this, and none of this solved yet. because of some factors :
1. the investigation is invalid or too subjective
2. the evidence is not enough or maybe invalid if its taken by the way that violate the court’s rule of evidence
3. there is no response from the army since they said that its a part of their military objective
i just wanna know, is there actually one case that is solved with the army compensate the victim family or being arrested by the order of the court?
i know there are cases where they actually do compensate the family without actually make a thorough investigation by the court.