On November 14, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it would be opening an investigation into the May 11 killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American Al Jazeera journalist, who was shot and killed while covering an Israeli military raid in the West Bank, reports. According to The New York Times, Israel’s defense minister, Benny Gantz, confirmed the investigation and claims that Israel does not intend to cooperate, calling the investigation an “interference in Israel’s internal affairs.”
The Israeli Defense Forces originally claimed that Palestinian gunmen were responsible for the death of Abu Akleh, but an investigation by The New York Times concluded that the bullet that killed Abu Akleh was fired by a soldier whose location matched that of an Israeli military convoy. A later investigation by the IDF found that Abu Akleh was shot by an Israeli soldier who, they say, believed Abu Akleh to be a Palestinian militant. The U.S. State Department came to a similar conclusion and called on Israel to hold the shooter accountable, The Wall Street Journal adds. Although Israel claims that soldiers were unaware that Abu Akleh was a reporter, she was wearing a bulletproof vest reading “PRESS” at the time of the killing, Axios explains.
According to CNN, Israel did not immediately launch an investigation because their military policy states that a criminal investigation is not automatically launched if someone is killed in the “midst of a combat zone.” Video evidence, however, depicts that at the time of the shooting, there was no active combat or Palestinian militants where Abu Akleh and a group of journalists were standing near the entrance to Jenin Refugee Camp.
After the U.S. Security Coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority stated that there was “no reason to believe that [the death] was intentional,” strong pushback from Abu Akleh’s family gained support from dozens of members of the U.S. Congress, all demanding the Biden Administration to open an independent Federal Bureau of Investigation probe into the killing, BBC News writes. The campaign by Abu Akleh’s family included meetings with U.S. government officials, a complaint at the International Criminal Court, and a meeting with Pope Francis. Al Jazeera comments on the implications of Abu Akleh’s death, explaining that she was one of the highest-profile journalists in the Middle East. As a Palestinian from Jerusalem, Abu Akleh focused on reporting Israeli operations in the West Bank for twenty-five years. Her reporting, and later her death, garnered international attention to the treatment of Palestinians by Israeli forces, writes The Associated Press.
The decision to begin an investigation is a striking move from Democratic members of Congress as they push the Biden administration to hold Israel accountable for Abu Akleh’s killing, Haaretz reports. The shift from the Biden Administration’s original refusal to call for Israel to open a criminal investigation follows Palestinian outrage at Washington’s hesitance to open an investigation, The New York Times states.
If Israel fails to comply with the American investigation, friction between Tel Aviv and Washington will increase and potentially reinforce claims of an Israeli cover-up of the killing, according to The Guardian. Relations between the U.S. and Israel may worsen further in the wake of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s return to power and the far-right direction of Israel’s new government, Haaretz adds. Additionally, the U.S. government claims to approach both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict equally, so the investigation into Israel’s military is seen as biased, Lawfare claims. Abu Akleh’s killing serves as a reminder of the dangers Palestinians face living under Israeli occupation and the dangers journalists face worldwide.
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