Israeli Supreme Court 311.
(photo credit: REUTERS/FILE)
The Supreme Court acquitted Channel 2 investigative journalist Ilana Dayan of
libel Wednesday over a documentary report on the fatal shooting of 13-year-old
Iman Darweesh Hams by IDF troops in the Gaza Strip in 2004.
In a 2005
episode of the Uvda (“Fact”) news show, Dayan aired an audio recording of the
communications between IDF soldiers at the military post during the incident.
The documentary suggested an IDF commanding officer, identified only as Captain
R., “verified” Darweesh al-Hams’s killing.
A military court acquitted
Captain R. of all wrongdoing in November 2005.
In 2009, Captain R.
successfully sued Dayan and Telad, the former Channel 2 production company, for
libel in the Jerusalem District Court. In that trial, Judge Noam Sohlberg ruled
that Dayan and Telad had defamed Captain R., and awarded him NIS 300,000 in
Two months later, in February 2010, both Dayan and Telad
appealed against the ruling in the Supreme Court. Captain R. also appealed the
verdict, arguing that the damages the court awarded him were too low.
Wednesday’s ruling, Deputy Supreme Court President Eliezer Rivlin, Justice Uzi
Vogelman and Justice Isaac Amit unanimously accepted Dayan’s appeal, and
rejected Captain R.’s. The court also rejected Telad’s appeal, but ordered the
production company to compensate Captain R. with the lesser sum of NIS
The panel of justices said that Dayan had not violated the 1965
Defamation Act, because the Uvda documentary included statements that were
correct at the time of their broadcast. The court found that Dayan had based her
story on credible sources and had taken reasonable steps to verify the facts.
The journalist had also been of the belief that the facts were correct, the
Dayan’s documentary focused on an incident that took place in
the morning of October 5, 2004 in a military observation post near the
Philadelphi Route in the southern Gaza strip.
After 13-year-old Hams
approached the military post’s gate, an emergency alarm was activated and IDF
soldiers opened fire in her direction.
The Supreme Court verdict explains
that the 13-year-old girl was shot as she tried to run away.
the the post’s commander, Captain R., ran towards the gate to verify that the
intruder had been killed. However, at that time, the commanding officer was not
aware of a report stating that the intruder was “a young girl of around 10 years
old,” the court said.
In their ruling, the justices noted that the
shooting incident had received considerable media coverage, which included harsh
criticism of Captain R., who was later suspended and indicted in the military
Dayan’s documentary was aired on the same day as the the IDF
Military Advocate General served the indictment, which included charges of
obstructing justice, illegal use of firearms, exceeding authority and conduct
unbecoming an officer.
The Supreme Court said the documentary was
broadcast at a time when the military authorities believed Captain R. had
committed serious offenses.
“The story reflected the truth as the
journalist could reasonably understand it at that time, and facts that were
clarified only at a later stage could not influence the basic truth,” the
The court also found that such a protection – that the
facts are deemed correct at the time of publication – is an essential criterion
of the media’s work.
In a statement on Wednesday, Channel 2’s Uvda
producers said they welcomed the Supreme Court’s verdict, which they added was
“founded on the principles of freedom of speech.”
principles would have been a fatal blow to the vital role of Israeli
investigative journalism,” Uvda’s statement said.