Israeli ‘Justice’ for Cameraman James Miller

180px-james_miller_bbcThe family of James Miller, a UK journalist murdered by the IDF, have accepted damages of £1.5 million saying it was as close to an admission of guilt from Israel as they were ever likely to get.  The military said the officer involved would be disciplined for breaking the rules of engagement and also for changing his account of the incident but he was exonerated.

Another British family had a similarly unpleasant experience of Israeli “justice” when their son, Tom Hurndall,  was murdered by the IDF in Gaza.   Mr Hurndall’s father described a “culture of impunity” saying “they just lied continuously … it was a case of them shooting civilians and then making up a story. And they were not used to being challenged.”

It is within this culture of impunity that an Israel officer murdered in cold blood a Palestinian girl, Iman al-Hams, aged 13, shooting her 17 times, and afterwards commented that he was right to kill her and would have killed her even if she was three years old. A military investigation by the officer responsible for the Gaza strip subsequently concluded that the captain had “not acted unethically”.

After complaints of a cover up, the military police did get involved and the killer was  charged with illegal use of his weapon, conduct unbecoming an officer and other relatively minor infractions.  He was later found not guilty.

Needless to say Iman’s family and other Palestinian families like them will never see justice or £1.5 million in compensation.

Israel has paid £1.5m in damages to the family of James Miller, the British cameraman shot by an Israeli soldier while filming a documentary in Gaza in 2003.

Miller’s family accepted the payment – reportedly the highest damages settlement paid out by Israel’s military to a foreign citizen – saying it was as close to an admission of guilt from Israel as they were ever likely to get. The statement did not give the amount, but an Israeli official confirmed a local media report that it was in the region of £1.5m. The Israeli government offered a £1.8m out-of-court settlement in April 2008, but the family dismissed the offer as “a ruse” to delay the start of their civil case last May.

The Israeli defence force said its soldiers had fired in self-defence after coming under anti-tank fire while searching for tunnels in Rafah, on Gaza’s southern border with Egypt. Israeli officials said the 34-year-old could have been shot in the back by a Palestinian gunman, but ballistic tests ordered by the family showed he was killed by an Israeli army issue bullet, fired from less than 200 metres away. Audio recordings showed there was no Palestinian fire and that all the shots fired came from an Israeli armoured car.

Independent reports showed there was calm in the area at the time.

“The family of James Miller confirm that they have agreed to accept a settlement from the Israeli government in connection with the death of their son,” a statement issued on the family’s behalf said. “They say that after five-and-a-half years they accept that this is probably the closest they will get to an admission of guilt on the part of the Israelis.”

In a video of the incident, Miller is seen leaving the home of a Palestinian family in the Rafah refugee camp at night, waving a white flag. There is a shot and his colleague shouts: “We’re British journalists.” A second shot can then be heard, hitting Miller in the neck.

Israel closed its investigation of the case in March 2005, concluding there was insufficient evidence to press criminal charges. The lieutenant in charge of the IDF unit, the Bedouin desert reconnaissance battalion, was found to have “fired his weapon in breach of IDF rules of engagement”. However, the military police investigation said it was impossible to link the lieutenant’s shot with Miller’s death. The military authorities said the officer would be disciplined for breaking the rules of engagement and also for changing his account of the incident, but he was exonerated.

In 2006, an inquest by St Pancras coroners court delivered a verdict of unlawful killing and found that Miller had been murdered. A year later, the attorney-general at the time, Lord Goldsmith, called for Israeli legal proceedings to begin within six weeks. The Israeli government first said it would not be bound by a British timetable, but then requested more information before the deadline expired.

Miller was filming a documentary for the US cable channel, HBO, when he died. The film, Death in Gaza, won three US Emmy awards and a Bafta in 2005.

Miller was killed a month after Tom Hurndall, a 22-year-old student activist from London, was shot in Rafah by an Israeli soldier from the same unit as he was shepherding Palestinian children to safety. He died in London after spending nine months in a coma. The soldier responsible was found guilty of manslaughter by an Israeli military court.

James Miller’s final documentary Death in Gaza, including his tragic last moments, can be viewed in two parts: one and two.

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