Saturday, May 2, 2009

R.I.P James Miller

James Miller had been a journalist for only a few years in 2003, but he had already distinguished himself, first as a freelance cameraman and later as a filmmaker and reporter. He worked for CNN and British media reporting from troublespots around the world before releasing his first film in 1999. Perhaps encouraged by the awards and acclaim for this first film, detailing a massacre in Kosovo, Miller traveled around the world to document other troubled regions. After travelling to Chechnya, Afghanistan, and Korea Miller arrived in Gaza to produce a documentary on the experiences of Israeli and Palestinian children growing up in a war zone.

The film opens in Palestine chronicling the daily struggles of two young boys, Ahmed and Mohammad. As the story progresses it becomes clear that the boys cope with the violence around them by embracing death as victory. In a religious society helplessly engulfed by the ubiquitous violence of an occupying arming whose soldiers kill with impunity death has become an escape. As the film shows the funeral of a young Palestinian killed in a confrontation with soldiers the two boys dream of the day when their parents may also celebrate their sauces at becoming martyrs.

Miller never had the opportunity to reflect on the experiences of Israeli children when death becomes the central them of his documentary. While filming the nighttime movements of Israeli soldiers near the boys' home he meets his own. 20 meters from the house and bearing a white flag Miller's group heard a shot from the soldiers. A second shot breaks thirteen seconds of silence, penetrated only by the plea not to shoot British journalists, and strikes Miller in the neck, killing him.

Although the film was never able to capture the viewpoint of Israeli children Miller's death offered the Israeli government the chance to showcase their views on the topic of civilians deaths at the hands of its occupying army in Palestine. Initially the IDF claimed Miller was hit in the back during crossfire, spokesman Captain Jacpn Dallal claimed "Our forces found a tunnel at the house in question, when an anti-tank missile was fired at them. They shot back at the source of the attack" before blaming Miller for his death, but when this story was contradicted by witnesses and the tape from Miller's camera the military retracted this story, but continued to insist that Miller was at fault for his death. In 2005 the IDF declined to issue an indictment for the incident saying the Israeli issued bullet found in Miller's neck could not be linked to one of its soldiers. When Miller's family finally accepted £1.5 million in blood money from the Israeli government in February it stated that the payment was "probably the closest (we) will get to an admission of guilt on the part of the Israelis," who continue to insist their army is without fault.

James Miller is only one of thousands of innocent people to be killed by a military that typically blames its victims for their suffering, but unlike other victims of the IDF he came to Gaza voluntarily to document for the world the human suffering caused by the conflict. The strength of journalists who report what they see in spite of the personal costs provides the link between the oppressed and the often unwitting oppressor that enables social change. While reflecting on Miller's death it is important to remember his work is not complete, it is only through the eyes of courageous reporters that others can come to understand the situation in the rest of the world.

No comments: