If a deaf man innocently standing on his balcony was shot dead by soldiers, it would be a lamentable example of collateral damage to a civilian population during war time. Or worse, it might indicate sloppy, if not negligent, behavior by the troops.
On the other hand, if the man killed was serving as a lookout for enemy fighters, or if he was armed and charging toward the soldiers, the meaning of the episode would be dramatically different.
On October 3, a Palestinian man reported to be deaf and mute was killed. One source claimed the man was wearing a bulletproof vest and seemed to be monitoring the movements of Israeli soldiers as a lookout for Palestinian fighters; another report says the man was armed and charging towards soldiers. Palestinian sources asserted he was simply looking out his window. Others said he was standing on his balcony.
Clearly, the circumstances surrounding the man's death are uncertain. The media, then, has a responsibility to reflect this uncertainty when covering the story; but the record is mixed. While much of the media balanced the claims of one side against those of the other side, the Boston Globe, CNN.com, and Agence France Presse presented readers only with Palestinian accounts.
(The Boston Globe's information came from the Palestinian Health Information Center, misleadingly described as "a Gaza-based humanitarian group." In fact, the Center is part of the infamously untrustworthy Palestinian Ministry of Health, which has falsely accused Israel of using depleted uranium shells and poison gas against Palestinians.)
The Chicago Tribune's Joel Greenberg gave a complete and concise account of the death with information gathered from both Palestinian and Israeli sources:
A deaf man was shot and killed on the balcony of his home in Jabaliya, Palestinian witnesses said. The army said troops shot at the man after they suspected him of being a spotter for militants. He had appeared daily on the balcony and was seen wearing a bulletproof vest, according to a military spokeswoman ("Sharon says Israel will widen Gaza incursion," 10/4).
The L.A. Times' Ken Ellingwood gave a similar account:
Palestinian hospital officials said Israeli forces fatally shot a 36-year-old deaf and mute Palestinian man as he looked out the window of his home. Israeli military sources said soldiers shot at a "suspicious figure" who appeared to have been monitoring their movements ("Israeli forces surround three communities in Gaza Strip," 10/4).
Josef Federman of the Associated Press also presented comments by both sides in the conflict:
In Jebaliya, Israeli soldiers shot and killed Raed Abu Wadi, 36, a deaf and mute man, as he stood on his balcony, hospital officials and witnesses said. The army said the man was armed and had run at soldiers ("Sharon vows to escalate Gaza offensive," 10/3).
The Philadelphia Inquirer gave the story similar treatment:
Also killed [was] a deaf man who the army said was armed as he ran toward soldiers, but Palestinian witnesses said was just standing on a balcony (Michael Matza, "Israel wants inquiry into U.N. agency," 10/4).
The New York Times ran a Greg Myre story which was less forthright. It gave accounts from both sides, but the Palestinian version of a non-combatant victim preceded by many paragraphs the Israeli version :
At least eight Palestinians were killed in the area in renewed fighting. Five were militants and the others included two boys, ages 13 and 14, and a man who was deaf and mute, according to Palestinian hospital workers and witnesses.
( . . . )
[nine paragraphs later. . .] The Israeli military said that troops shot a suspicious figure who spent hours on a rooftop observing soldiers in the Jabaliya camp. But Palestinian witnesses said the man, Raed Abu Wadi, 36, who was deaf and mute, was fatally shot when he looked out his window.
''He wanted to see what was happening outside,'' said Sameh al-Shamali, a neighbor. ''The moment he looked from the window, he got a bullet in the head.''
As mentioned, the Boston Globe only presented a Palestinian account. Journalist Dan Ephron stated:
But the Palestinian Health Information Center, a Gaza-based humanitarian group, said at least 23 civilians had also been killed in the fighting, including Raed Abu Weadi, a 36-year-old deaf and mute man apparently shot dead by Israeli troops while standing on his balcony in Jebaliya yesterday ("Israel widens offensive in Gaza Strip," 10/4).
CNN.com also suggested there was only one version of the story . . .
In describing the other deaths at the Jabaliya refugee camp, Palestinian medical sources said three of the Palestinians killed were members of Islamic Jihad. Two more -- one a 36-year-old deaf mute shot while standing on his balcony -- were killed in later fighting at the camp ( "Israel continues Gaza operation," 10/4)
. . . as did Agence France Presse:
Most of those killed since Israel unleashed its military might on the area have been gunmen fighting for Palestinian militant groups but the dead also include a Palestinian deaf-mute man and several teenagers ("Three more killed in Gaza as Israel warns raid could last weeks," 10/4).