When an Israeli bullet took the life of a charismatic, 20-year-old medic, she became an instant international symbol of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In Gaza, where her face quickly adorned walls and posters, Rouzan al-Najjar was an innocent martyr and a national hero. In Israel, she was portrayed as part of a violent protest aimed at destroying the country.
Who was Ms. Najjar and what really happened on the evening of June 1?
Her death happened in a finger-snap blur on a chaotic protest field. But our five-month investigation combined dogged shoe-leather reporting and cutting-edge technology in visual forensic journalism to freeze that moment, dissect it and find its truth.
Over multiple trips to Gaza we interviewed over 60 people, including witnesses, family members, friends and Israeli military officers. We collected more than 1,000 photos and videos shot by journalists, protesters, medics and bystanders taking selfies. We saved files directly from their devices, preserving file metadata that was crucial to accurately reconstruct the day.
We flew high-definition drones over the protest area to create a 3-D model of it. By precisely incorporating the photos and cellphone images, we located where every protester, soldier, medic, sand berm, army jeep and camera stood at every instant leading to the critical moment.
The 3-D reconstruction was not just a fancy illustration to show our audience what we found. It was a key part of the reporting that helped understand and analyze what happened. Ultimately, we retraced the bullet’s deadly path. The fatal shot — reckless at best, and possibly a war crime — should never have been fired.
We rewatched the videos with witnesses, interviewed doctors, studied autopsy records, reviewed ballistics evidence with former snipers and crime scene investigators, visited Israeli sniper positions and spoke with experts in international law.
Our on and off-the-record interviews with the Israel Defense Forces revealed, for the first time, that Ms. Najjar, was one of up to 70 Palestinians who had been accidentally killed by Israeli snipers in 2018. The Israeli military did not accept full responsibility for the killing until confronted with our findings, and only then began a criminal inquiry.
The results were clearly laid out in a 5,000-word narrative that is a model of long-form investigative journalism, and a 17-minute documentary video built around a reconstruction of that day.
We also told the compelling story of Ms. Najjar — a natural leader who was cut down in her prime, full of life yet haunted by the fear of her own death — and what led her to that moment.
We detailed our forensic methods in a Times Insider story that received high social traffic and visualized the story in Twitter threads.
In response to our investigation, the new I.D.F. commander in Gaza warned his soldiers to take additional precautions when firing at targets.
Who was Ms. Najjar and what happened that day? The record stands.