A pair of congressional Democrats are circulating a letter demanding an FBI investigation into the killing of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, according to three sources with knowledge of the letter and a draft copy of the letter obtained by The Intercept.
“[G]iven the tenuous situation in the region and the conflicting reports surrounding the death of Ms. Abu Akleh, we request the State Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) launch an investigation.”
Reps. André Carson, D-Ind., and Lou Correa, D-Calif., are in the process of gathering signatures to the letter, according to the three sources, who asked for anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the letter before it was complete. After publication of this story, Copeland Tucker, a Carson spokesperson, confirmed the letter and the Indiana Democrat’s involvement. A spokesperson for Correa did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Addressed to FBI Director Christopher Wray and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the draft letter requests both an FBI investigation as well as a determination by the State Department about whether the killing of the American journalist in Israeli-occupied territory violated any U.S. laws.
“We welcome the actions and statements taken so far by the U.S. Department of State supporting a thorough investigation by the Israeli government,” a draft copy of the letter states, referencing U.S. statements of concern and calls for an investigation. “However, given the tenuous situation in the region and the conflicting reports surrounding the death of Ms. Abu Akleh, we request the State Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) launch an investigation into Ms. Abu Akleh’s death. We also request the U.S. Department of State determines whether any U.S. laws protecting Ms. Abu Akleh, an American citizen, were violated.”
Abu Akleh, a prominent Al Jazeera journalist, had been reporting on an Israeli military raid on a home in the city of Jenin, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, when she was shot and killed on Wednesday. Witnesses said she was killed by the Israeli military, which initially blamed the killing on Palestinian militants, citing footage of an armed gunman — who was later shown to not be responsible — before conceding that an Israeli soldier might have been responsible.
On Friday, during Abu Akleh’s funeral procession, Israeli police beat mourners, including the pallbearers, causing them to momentarily drop the casket and sparking international outrage. Israeli police justified the attack saying that mourners had been chanting nationalist slogans and waving Palestinian flags. (An official Twitter account for the Israeli police posted drone footage selectively edited to make it appear as though a funeral attendee waving his arms in frustration had thrown a rock.)
Israel, which has occupied the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for more than half a century, has a history of attacking journalists. A year ago, during an assault on the blockaded Gaza Strip, Israeli airstrikes destroyed a tower that housed international press agencies, including the Associated Press. The Israeli government claimed the Palestinian group Hamas used the tower as an intelligence outpost — a claim the militant group vociferously denied.
Palestinian journalists without international passports or backing often fare worse under Israeli occupation. Little notice was taken when Israel destroyed the offices of Palestinian outlets during the same assault on Gaza. During the same period of unrest in Jerusalem, Palestinian journalists described being beaten and fired upon with rubber bullets by Israeli authorities. Under Israeli occupation, Palestinian journalists are frequently detained and charged with crimes for doing their reporting work.
Despite the letter’s praise of remarks out of the State Department, not everyone in Washington foreign policy circles was pleased. When Blinken issued a statement criticizing Israeli police for “intruding” into Abu Akleh’s funeral procession, Matt Duss, a senior foreign policy adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., took issue with the language. “‘Intruding’?” Duss tweeted. “They attacked them. They beat them. The Secretary of State should be able to say this clearly.”
“As an American, Ms. Abu Akleh was entitled to the full protections afforded to U.S. citizens living abroad,” the letter closes. “We, the undersigned Members of Congress, urge you to uphold the values that our nation was founded on, including human rights, equality for all, and freedom of speech. We have a duty to protect Americans reporting abroad. We look forward to your timely response.”
Update: May 16, 2022, 5:42 p.m. ET
This story has been updated to include confirmation from Carson’s office of the letter.