Salam Daher

Salam Daher

Salam Daher (born 1967/6), nicknamed the "Green Helmet Guy" or "Green Helmet" by various bloggers, is a Lebanese civil defense worker who became the focus of controversy concerning his role in the aftermath of the Israeli airstrike on Qana on July 30, 2006. He was accused by some bloggers as well as the television news magazine Zapp of the German NDR station and Fox News Channel of "parading" the bodies of the victims for photojournalists, as well as supposedly doing the same in photographs of the 1996 shelling of Qana. A British conservative writer accused him of being a propagandist for the militant Islamist group Hezbollah. Daher has strongly denied the latter allegation, but said he indeed held up victims for photographers because "I wanted people to see who was dying. They said they were killing fighters. They killed children."

Background

Daher was reportedly born in 1967 in the predominately Christian south Lebanese town of Marjayoun and began working as a civil defense volunteer at the age of 12. In 1986, during the 1982-2000 South Lebanon conflict and Lebanese civil war of 1975-1990, he joined the civil defense service of the Lebanese interior ministry as an apprentice and worked his way up the ranks. His home town was at the centre of the 1982-2000 conflict, being the headquarters of the pro-Israeli South Lebanon Army militia, and was repeatedly attacked by Palestinian militias during the civil war and subsequently by the Hezbollah militia during Israel's occupation of southern Lebanon. He moved to the coastal city of Tyre in 1996, where the influence of Hezbollah is far weaker (the city is run by Hezbollah's secular rival Amal). By the time of the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict, he was working as the head of civil defense operations for Tyre and the surrounding region, including Qana.

He has described himself as a first responder, "often the one who takes the phone call alerting the civil defense to an emergency, and he is often part of the first team to reach the site." According to the Associated Press, "when bombs strike, he races his ambulance along narrow country roads, digs through rubble and tries to save the living from flattened buildings".

Daher was mentioned by the media on a number of occasions prior to the July 30, 2006 airstrike on Qana. The Al Jazeera network, the Lebanese Daily Star newspaper and several other media organisations cited his casualty figures for earlier incidents in the Israeli campaign.

Qana controversy

On July 30, 2006, Daher was present at the scene of the Qana bombing, which occurred only about 12 km from his office at Tyre, and was photographed there by the international media. The pictures depicted him carrying dead children away from the site of the bombing, while wearing the green helmet that led to his nickname. He issued widely-quoted casualty figures for the bombing at Qana. He cited 51 fatalities including 22 children, though later reports revised this to a lower figure of 28, including 16 children.

He has previously been seen in widely-distributed photographs of the 1996 shelling of Qana in which 106 people were killed and 116 injured in an Israeli attack. On that occasion, he was photographed carrying the mutilated body of a child killed in the attack. However, he was not named in the 1996 or 2006 photographs and was described in captions only as a "rescuer" or a "civil defense worker", leading to some mystery about his identity.

Daher was also seen on video footage shown on Al Jazeera and the German television station NDR. In the NDR footage, shown on July 30, 2006 in the news programme ZAPP, Daher is seen giving orders to a camera operator and moves other people out of the way as a dead child's body is removed from an ambulance and dropped onto a gurney. Daher then uncovers the body and poses it for the camera. The footage was also aired on Fox News Channel on August 15 in a segment titled "Green Helmet Man" accused of staging pix.

The 2006 photographs and footage led to controversy (see 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict photographs controversies). In a July 31, 2006 blog post, British conservative writer Richard A. E. North reproduced a number of photographs of Daher at Qana in 2006 and 1996, asking "Is he a senior ranking Hezbollah official? If not, who is he? The "Green Helmet mystery" was quickly picked up by other blogs who echoed North's suggestion that "Green Helmet" was a Hezbollah operative or suggested an alternative explanation that he was a mortician. North later admitted to Jefferson Morley of the Washington Post that he had no evidence that Daher was connected to Hezbollah and, as he put it, "All I have to go on is gut instinct.

For their part, the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse news agencies, whose photographers had taken the "Green Helmet" pictures, all strongly denied that the pictures from Qana had been staged. The Washington Post photographer Michael Robinson-Chavez similarly rejected the claims of staging.

The Associated Press was eventually able to identify "Green Helmet" as Daher and interviewed him for an August 11, 2006 article. He strongly denied having anything to do with Hezbollah, stating that the blog allegations were not true and that he was not affiliated with any party. He told the agency: "I am just a civil defense worker. I have done this job all my life." Of his activities at Qana, he said: "I did hold the baby up, but I was saying 'look at who the Israelis are killing. They are children. These are not fighters. They have no guns. They are children, civilians they are killing.'" He told the Associated Press that he had no regrets or apologies: "I wanted people to see who was dying. They said they were killing fighters. They killed children."

On August 13, 2006, Daher was reported to have been lightly injured in an Israeli attack near a hospital in Tyre shortly before a United Nations-brokered ceasefire in the conflict came into effect.

Naming confusion

The question of "Green Helmet's" definitive name produced much debate during the controversy, with confusion over whether his name was Salam Daher, Abu Shadi Jradi or Abdel Qader, all three names were used by media sources in relation to rescue worker(s) at Qana.

  • Salam Daher is the best established name; Associated Press has used it unequivocally in two articles along with his photograph and a description of him as a civil defense worker. Other sources described him in the same terms, though without photographs, prior to the Qana bombing as well as afterwards. This identification came well before he was identified as "Green Helmet".
  • Abu Shadi Jradi is used by a single Associated Press report filed from Qana, which describes him as a "veteran civil defense worker".
  • Abdel Qader was used in a single Al Jazeera report filmed at Qana in which Daher was interviewed on camera.

References

See also

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