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.