By Bryan Masters
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Shooting the Truth

This article is over 18 years, 7 months old
Bryan Masters pays tribute to cameraman James Miller who was killed in Gaza last month.
Issue 275

The killing of the award-winning cameraman James Miller is profoundly upsetting for anyone who met him – but it is also a significant blow for anyone who believes in justice and peace.

Travelling to Baghdad with the human shield peace mission to Iraq before the war, I had the good fortune to meet James and gain a little insight into his work, and the strength of character and determination which drove him. Everyone on the coach on the long and treacherous road from Amman in Jordan to the Iraqi capital had deep trepidation about how we would be treated once we had placed our lives in the hands of an unscrupulous enemy. And so it is a bitter irony that James was able to continue with his work and leave the country apparently unhindered by the Iraqi minders and secret police – only to be shot and killed by the Israeli Defence Force weeks later.

The Israeli government has tried to dismiss the circumstances of James’s death as an unfortunate accident. The cameraman was working in the Palestinian Gaza Strip and was well aware that this is one of the most dangerous places on earth. But the tragic case of the British peace protester and photographer Tom Hurndall suggests that the fate of James Miller was the result of a deliberate and murderous act, and was no accident.

Both men travelled on the same coach for the 16-hour journey into Baghdad. They shared the intention of recording and documenting the human shield mission and meeting the ordinary people of the city. A few weeks later both men were in the same Israeli hospital after being shot by the same military force. And both times the Israeli army tried to claim that the men were caught in crossfire.

The time I spent with James has left an indelible imprint on my mind. Aged 34, and with a wife and two young children, he had already won a string of awards for his uncompromising coverage of war. His most famous work was ‘Beneath the Veil’, a valuable insight into the life of women under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The film, shown by ‘Dispatches’ for Channel 4, won an Emmy, a Bafta, and RTS programme of the year. He went on to make a second piece in Afghanistan, titled ‘Unholy War’, which would win James his first Emmy as a director. This followed work unearthing forensic evidence of massacres in Kosovo, and films about Chechnya and Korea. At the time of his death, on 2 May, he was working for the US television network HBO on his most ambitious, and most personal, project – documenting the effect war has on children .

It is for the conversation about his own two children, Alexander, aged two, and five-month-old Charlotte, that I will remember him most. It was halfway through our all-night journey through the dusty wastelands of Iraq when the human shields, and the journalists travelling with them, started to share anecdotes and ask questions of each other. James had a loud, raucous laugh and a terrific sense of humour. At the same time he lacked the pompousness and standoffish attitude which is the way of some foreign correspondents. He engaged fully with the peace protesters around him, and in doing so gained the kind of insights that were the hallmark of his films.

At the time of the shooting James was recording the demolition of the home of a Palestinian family in Rafah. He was himself being filmed, and can clearly be seen waving a white flag and wearing a helmet and bullet-proof vest bearing the letters ‘TV’. An autopsy reveals James was shot in the front of the neck. The Frostbite company he was working for as a freelance cameraman has claimed that he was hit by a single bullet fired from an Israeli armoured personnel carrier.

James is the eighth journalist to die working in Israel in the last two years. Many others have been shot and injured. The belief held by the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) activists protesting against the house demolitions, who filmed the killing, is that James was murdered in a coordinated attempt to prevent the press recording the human rights abuses of the Israeli military. The accusation of a deliberate targeting was also made following the shooting of Tom Hurndall on 11 April. I spent my last night in Baghdad with Tom and other protesters. The 21-year-old Manchester Metropolitan University photography student was helping two Palestinian children flee Israeli fire when he was shot in the side of the head by a sniper, according to his fellow ISM protesters. As we go to press Tom is still in a coma.

So is it merely a coincidence that two men travelling to Baghdad should survive this journey only to be shot in Israel? To some extent, yes. But to fully answer this question one has to understand the underlying truths behind the politics of the Middle East. Under the shock and awe of US firepower the Iraqi people were the victims of an aggressor force. And like the victims of injustice everywhere, they wanted the world to see their plight. They welcomed the journalists who arrived in their beleaguered country to tell their story. Conversely, in the Palestinian territories the Israeli government and its well armed military are the aggressors. They demolish homes, assassinate political opponents with overwhelming force, and impose on the native population a system not unlike apartheid. And like the perpetrators of injustice everywhere they do not want the world to see their actions. They do not welcome journalists.

It is for this reason that the death of James Miller and the shooting of Tom Hurndall are not just personal tragedies but also a political outrage. These atrocities must also raise the question of why the British and US governments were so keen to enforce regime change in Iraq under the guise of a UN resolution while continuing to support Israel, with its history of human rights abuses and UN resolution violations. In tribute to both James and Tom, we must all make sure any attempt to silence reporting and debate of injustice is fiercely resisted.

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