Imad Abu Zahra, a 34-year-old Palestinian freelance photographer who also worked as a fixer and interpreter for foreign journalists, died on July 12, 2002, after being hit by Israel Defense Forces gunfire in the West Bank town of Jenin the previous day.
According to sources in Jenin, residents had gone into the city center on July 11 after Israeli forces lifted a curfew that had been in effect since June 21. Abu Zahra’s colleague Said Dahla, a photographer for the official Palestinian news agency WAFA, told CPJ that at around 2 p.m., the sound of tanks coming toward the area led residents to flee or take cover inside nearby businesses or residences.
Together, Dahla and Abu Zahra went into the middle of Faisal Street to photograph an Israeli armored personnel carrier (APC) that had slammed into an electricity pole there. Dahla said that he and Abu Zahra were alone in the street at this point facing two Israeli tanks (near the APC), which he estimated to be about 40 meters (45 yards) in front of them.
Both men were holding cameras, according to Dahla, and Dahla wore a flak jacket clearly marked “Press.” Dahla said that Abu Zahra also wore a cloth vest that identified him as a member of the press.
According to Dahla, moments after the two began taking photographs, gunfire erupted from the tanks. Dahla, who was hit in the leg with bullet shrapnel, said that he looked over and saw that Abu Zahra had been injured in his thigh and was bleeding profusely.
Dahla said that as they tried to take shelter in a nearby building, the tanks continued to fire on them. Dahla told CPJ that the two journalists remained in the building entrance, unable to get to a hospital. He estimated that more than 25 minutes passed before Abu Zahra was helped into a taxi and taken to Jenin Hospital, where he died on July 12.
According to an Israeli army spokesperson, after the APC hit the electricity pole on the afternoon of July 11, a mob attacked the personnel carrier with Molotov cocktails and rocks, and people in the crowd fired on the tanks. The spokesperson said the soldiers in the tanks responded by firing back at the source of the gunfire.
However, witnesses who were at the city center at the time told CPJ that residents did not attack the tanks until after the two journalists had been shot. Photos of the stranded APC taken by Dahla before the shooting show no signs of clashes or hostile action near the carrier. Moreover, there were no other reports of people injured by gunfire in Jenin that day.
Abu Zahra’s family filed a tort claim in a Tel Aviv magistrate court for compensation in the death, according to The Seventh Eye, an Israeli news site that covers media news.
According to court documents reviewed by CPJ, Abu Zahra’s colleague testified that Palestinians threw fruits and vegetables at the Israeli soldiers before they fired on the journalist. But the judge accepted the state’s version of events and said that the soldiers were forced to “open fire in view of the danger posed to their lives and safety” after a crowd hurled stones, Molotov cocktails, and used small firearms against them. The judge rejected the family’s claim and in 2011 ordered the family to pay 20,000 shekels (about US$5,800 at the time) in court fees.
CPJ asked the IDF about Abu Zahra and other cases of IDF killings of journalists in an April 2023 email. The IDF did not respond to the query about Abu Zahra’s case but said “it sees great importance in preserving the freedom of the press and the professional work of journalists.”
This report was updated on April 25, 2023.