Investigation Finding Abu Akleh Was Likely Killed by Israeli Fire Doesn’t Quell Criticism
The Israeli military’s report says the shooting of the Palestinian American journalist was unintentional, as family, Al Jazeera call for independent probe
An Israel Defense Forces investigation into the killing of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh during a military operation in the West Bank found that the Palestinian American journalist likely was killed by one of its soldiers, but that it was “unintentional,” according to the report released on Monday.
While the investigation concedes that an Israeli soldier likely shot the Palestinian American journalist, there was no admission of culpability.
“There is a high possibility that Ms. Abu Akleh was accidentally hit by IDF gunfire that was fired toward suspects identified as armed Palestinian gunmen,” said the army’s final investigation report into her May 11 death.
A United Nations investigation concluded in June that there was “no evidence of activity by armed Palestinians close by” when Abu Akleh was shot.
Abu Akleh was wearing a bulletproof vest marked “Press” and a helmet when she was shot in the head during an Israeli army operation in the northern West Bank.
The Abu Akleh family rejected the findings saying that Israel had “refused to take responsibility for the murder” of the journalist, in a press statement issued in the aftermath of the army’s report.
“We remain deeply hurt, frustrated and disappointed,” the family said, calling for a “credible” US investigation.
“All evidence, facts, and investigations that have been conducted proved that Israel was the perpetrator and that it had killed Shireen, and it should bear responsibility for its crime,” said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Al Jazeera news channel condemned the outcome of the Israeli investigation and demanded an inquiry by an “independent international body.”
“Al Jazeera condemns the Israeli occupation forces’ reluctance to explicitly admit their crime and attempts to evade the prosecution of the perpetrators,” the Doha-based news outlet said in a statement.
It was clear that there was a high possibility that an Israeli soldier had mistakenly killed Shireen Abu Akleh. What is new is that Israel officially announced it.
Mustafa Barghouti, secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative, a political party, told The Media Line: “You cannot expect the criminal to investigate himself.”
He describes the Israeli military’s report as “misleading, and it’s trying to free Israel from its responsibility of committing the crime of killing Shireen Abu Akleh.”
Barghouti disputes the Israeli military’s findings, adding that its use of words is “manipulative.”
“They say maybe, or it’s possible, so they are trying to create doubt about the fact that was confirmed by several investigations including the Washington Post, New York Times, CNN, Amnesty International, even B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization.”
Yoni Ben-Menachem, a senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, told The Media Line that “nothing new came out of the investigation.”
“It was clear that there was a high possibility that an Israeli soldier had mistakenly killed Shireen Abu Akleh,” Ben-Menachem said.
“What is new is that Israel officially announced it,” he said.
The United States urged accountability from Israel Monday after the army admitted one of its soldiers had likely shot the Palestinian American reporter. The State Department in July said Abu Akleh was likely shot by Israeli fire but that there was no proof her killing was intentional and that the bullet was too damaged for a conclusive result.
“We welcome Israel’s review of this tragic incident, and again underscore the importance of accountability in this case, such as policies and procedures to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said Monday in a statement.
The US call for accountability did not satisfy Abu Akleh’s family, the Palestinians, or international human rights organizations.
“Unfortunately, the American position is similar to the Israeli one, they claim that she possibly could have been killed by an Israeli sniper but not intentionally,” said Barghouti.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) was critical of the Israeli military’s report, saying in a statement that the findings by the IDF were “late and incomplete” and “does not provide the answers – by any measure of transparency or accountability – that her family and colleagues deserve,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator.
Israeli rights group B’Tselem condemned the IDF’s report as a “whitewash.” The killing was “no mistake, it’s policy,” according to the group.
Ben-Menachem says that Israel was pressured by the United States to finally release its full investigation, and he accused Prime Minister Yair Lapid of “surrender” to the Biden Administration.
“Lapid surrendered to the Biden Administration because he does not want any issues with the United States while dealing with the Iranian nuclear agreement. He simply gave up,” Ben-Menachem said.
Barbara Leaf, the State Department’s most senior diplomat for the Middle East, and Hady Amr, the State Department’s point person on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, met in recent weeks with both Israeli and Palestinian officials, and Ben-Menachem says Leaf told Israeli officials that the US president wants “an official announcement on the matter and that Israel recognize its responsibility for the killing of Abu Akleh.”
Despite Israel’s release of the results of the investigation, Ben-Menachem says this issue is not going away.
“As for Israel, yes, but the Palestinian Authority will continue its efforts and demand an independent international investigation,” he said. “President Abbas is going to New York to attend the (United Nations) General Assembly meetings his month, and he will demand this in his speech.”
Lapid surrendered to the Biden Administration, because he does not want any issues with the United States while dealing with the Iranian nuclear agreement
Barghouti argues that the Palestinians should seek different means to hold Israel accountable and that Abu Akleh’s file should not be shelved.
“No, it should not be closed, it has to be taken to other judicial structures. There’s a need for an international independent commission, and it’s important to take the case to the International Criminal Court. The ICC continues to procrastinate despite the mountain-high evidence.”
Moien Odeh, who specializes in human rights and international law, told The Media Line that the findings may satisfy Washington and that they absolve Israel of its legal responsibility.
What Israeli accomplished with this report, Odeh explains, is to “protect itself from prosecution and legal accountability to some extent.”
Odeh says the International Criminal Court has been reluctant to act, adding that Israel’s description of Abu Akleh’s killing makes the crime seem less serious.
“Since Karim Khan assumed his duties as prosecutor of the ICC, he has not shown enthusiasm about starting serious steps for an investigation. He didn’t move at all. Not a single centimeter. It is not clear if he genuinely intends to advance on this matter,” Odeh said.