Israeli Investigation Into Killing of Palestinian American Journalist Ends Before It Begins

Israel won’t investigate soldiers who fired in the direction of Shireen Abu Akleh, even though new evidence undermines their account of what happened.

JENIN, WEST BANK, PALESTINE - 2022/05/18: Palestinians lay flowers at the site where Al-Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh was killed in the city of Jenin in the occupied West Bank. Shireen Abu Akleh was shot dead by the Israeli army while covering the raid on the city. (Photo by Nasser Ishtayeh/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Palestinians paid their respects at the site where Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh was killed in the city of Jenin in the occupied West Bank last week. Photo: Nasser Ishtayeh/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Israel’s military police have reportedly decided not to open any criminal investigation into the fatal shooting of the Palestinian American reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, even though newly released video appears to contradict the Israeli army’s claim that the journalist was standing close to Palestinian militants when she was shot last week in the occupied West Bank.

Amos Harel, the senior military correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, reported on Thursday that the decision not to investigate the Israeli soldiers who might have fired the fatal shot came after an internal review by the commando unit of the Israel Defense Forces “found six instances of IDF gunfire at armed Palestinians who were near Abu Akleh” as she reported on an Israeli raid on a refugee camp in Jenin.

According to Harel, the criminal investigations division of the Israeli army simply accepted the accounts of the soldiers who opened fire but “testified that they did not see the journalist at all and aimed their fire at gunmen, who were indeed nearby.”

However, within hours of Harel’s report, video posted on Twitter by Rushdi Abualouf, a Palestinian journalist for the BBC, appeared to contradict the claim that Abu Akleh was near any Palestinian gunmen engaged in a firefight with Israeli troops. The clip shows that Abu Akleh and several other journalists, all wearing blue vests marked “Press,” were instead walking in the direction of the Israeli soldiers, as young men behind them stood around talking and joking, when shots suddenly rang out and Abu Akleh and a colleague were both hit.

As the writer and political analyst Yousef Munayyer explained on Twitter, “At the start of the video you can see the mood is relaxed, what they are saying isn’t really clear mostly because they are chuckling.” After multiple shots are heard and the young men scatter, a voice is heard saying, “Did anyone get hit?” and calling for an ambulance. Then, after more shots, someone shouts, “Shireen! Shireen!” and, amid frantic calls for an ambulance, the desperate warning: “Stay where you are, don’t move!”

Video posted on the day of the killing last week appeared to show that people who tried to reach the mortally wounded Abu Akleh were fired on as they approached her.

Harel also reported that there were no plans for a real criminal investigation of the Israeli soldiers because “such an investigation, which would necessitate questioning as potential criminal suspects soldiers for their actions during a military operation, would provoke opposition and controversy within the IDF and in Israeli society in general.”

This latest evidence of impunity for Israel’s army outraged critics of the ongoing Israeli occupation, which imposes military rule over millions of Palestinians living in territory seized during war in 1967. “Israel is actively calling the bluff of all the countries that demanded it conduct an investigation,” observed Edo Konrad, the editor of +972, an online, nonprofit magazine run by a group of Palestinian and Israeli journalists. “It knows no one will hold it accountable, that the money will keep flowing, while at the same time ensuring that no [sic] will ever ‘truly know’ who killed Shireen Abu Akleh,” Konrad added.

While commentators in the United States asked how the Biden administration would react to the news that Israel’s military was refusing to conduct the thorough investigation it had committed to just a week ago, senior American officials have gone out of their way in recent days to demonstrate what national security adviser Jake Sullivan called “ironclad support for Israel’s security.”

As Sullivan met with Israel’s defense minister, Benny Gantz, at the White House on Thursday, the Israeli army was celebrating a friendly visit to Israel by Lt. Gen. Michael Kurilla, the new commander of U.S. Central Command.

The killing of Abu Akleh might not have shaken Israel’s relations with the U.S., but it has destabilized the country’s fragile coalition government. On Thursday, a left wing lawmaker cited the Israeli police attack on mourners at the funeral of the beloved Palestinian-American correspondent in Jerusalem last week as one of the reasons that she was withdrawing her support for the government, which could force new elections.

Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi, a Palestinian citizen of Israel who represents the Meretz party, wrote in a letter explaining her decision that her hope that Arabs and Jews could work together to bring about “a new path of equality and respect” had been dashed by a series of “hawkish, hard-line and right-wing positions” taken by the coalition’s leaders. The sight of the police attacking mourners at Abu Akleh’s funeral, and nearly causing them to drop the coffin, prompted her to make what she called “a moral decision” to stop supporting the government.

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