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Raffaele Ciriello - A Journalist For Justice
Why was Raffaele Ciriello murdered by the Israeli state? On Tuesday the 12th of March the Italian cameraman was photographed, his arm linked with that of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat while both men clasped each other's hands. The following day as the Italian filmed the advance of an Israeli tank through Ramallah the occupants of the vehicle opened fire riddling his chest and stomach with bullets resulting in his death. The rape of Ramallah constitutes the biggest Israeli military incursion in the region since the invasion of Lebanon in 1982. It was always going to draw international attention. Ciriello had been filming for about 15 seconds, long enough for those who killed him to have seen clearly who he was. Maybe that was his misfortune. Recognised perhaps as he man who stood smiling at the side of Arafat a day before, his fate may have been sealed.
A colleague of the murdered journalist, Amedeo Ricurri said of those Israelis in the tank-cum-execution chamber, 'they clearly saw he had no Kalashnikov; they must have targeted him because all the shots hit him'. He dismissed any notion that Ciriello was an unfortunate victim of crossfire, as no Palestinians were firing at the time of his death. Few here need reminded that 'killed in crossfire' is a frequent excuse offered by state forces when they seek to cover up their murder of civilians.
Not all journalists show the bias towards Israel occupation of Palestinian territory that we have come to expect from BBC News Night or BBC Radio's Good Morning Ulster. The capturing on film of terrified children being murdered by Israeli soldiers while curled up for shelter in their father's arms was a brave, honest and damning indictment of the state of Israel. Was the murder of Raffaele Ciriello both punishment and warning aimed at keeping the spotlight away from totalitarianism and allowing it to function where it does best - in the dark? The International Press Institute claimed that the killing was 'part of a concerted strategy by the Israeli Army to control reports on the recent surge in armed hostilities in the region'. The Independent described it as adding to 'a fattening dossier of attacks on journalists trying to cover Israel's activities in the occupied territories.' Reporters Without Borders flagged up a litany of attacks on journalists contending that prior to the death of Ciriello - not the first to die in the conflict, two Palestinian journalists pre-deceased him - forty had been shot and injured since the onset of the Intifada, mostly the victims of Israeli gunfire. In all of these the Israeli Army accepted liability only once. Such 'Widgery' type investigative procedures have prompted the Independent to allege the existence of a whitewash culture.
While the events surrounding the death of Cireillo have prompted much concern and anger amongst Western journalists, John West, writing in Index on Censorship drew attention to the experience of Palestinian journalists for whom:
the latest incidents are no more than the facts of life. Routinely shot at by Israeli troops while wearing clear journalist identification, denied accreditation by the Israeli government, and unable to move through Israeli checkpoints, even covering events on their own doorstep can be an impossible mission.
Last November Oluf Stromberg, a Swedish cameraman working in Afghanistan became the eighth journalist to die in their line of work in a two-week period. He died in the town of Taloqan. At the time of his murder - said to have been carried out by teenage thieves on the prowl for computer equipment and money - by masked killers, the senior BBC producer in Northern Afghanistan approvingly said 'we are being told more than ever no story is worth dying for'.
An understandable sentiment, but one which if followed through would deprive a wider audience of the kind of knowledge that forces change. And the history of humanity is one in which change rarely comes unless there have been people willing to at least risk death in order to bring it about. Not every journalist takes the view that journalism is just a job in which the standard safety regulations take preference over everything else. If they did, would they not, as Maggie O'Kane once said, all rush off to the sports room rather than face the tanks in Ramallah? Ciriello's willingness to stand and be photographed with Arafat was a sober indication of whom he thought had right on their side in the Middle East conflict. And it is clear that he was determined to speak up for that right through his work. His murder denies journalism an invaluable advocate of exposure and leaves it considerably impoverished by his absence. But it will become morally destitute if others fail to stand on the shoulders of such a giant, opting instead to broadcast only that which is deemed safe by those who murdered him.
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