Israel justifies Shireen Abu Akleh’s killing, refuses to act against responsible personnel

Akleh’s family members and human rights groups called the report of the Israeli “investigation” an attempt to whitewash a war crime. They reiterated their demand for an independent enquiry and full accountability in her killing

September 06, 2022 by Abdul Rahman
Shireen Abu Akleh’s killing
(Photo: B’Tselem/Twitter)

A report presented by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) on Monday September 5 on the killing of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh claims that after a series of investigations, “it is not possible to unequivocally determine the source of the gunfire that hit Abu Akleh.” It further says, “however, there is a high possibility that Ms. Abu Akleh was accidentally hit by IDF gunfire that was fired towards suspects identified as armed Palestinian gunmen, during an exchange of fire.” [Emphasis added.]

On Monday, September 5, family members of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and various human rights groups rejected the report, calling it an attempt to whitewash a war crime. 

Akleh’s family issued a statement rejecting the Israeli investigation. It said that the investigation was an attempt to “obscure the truth and avoid responsibility” for the killing. It stated, “Israeli war criminals cannot investigate their own crimes,” and demanded an independent investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) and a trial.  

Akleh, a senior Al Jazeera journalist, was killed by an Israeli sniper on May 11 when she along with other journalists was covering an Israeli army raid on a Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin in the occupied West Bank. Her colleague Ali al-Samoudi was also wounded in the firing but later recovered. 

Israeli security forces also disrupted Akleh’s funeral procession in occupied East Jerusalem, leading to global condemnation. 

Repeating lies

Monday’s report reiterated the claims made by the Israeli security forces and several Israeli officials, including then Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, following Akleh’s killing despite independent investigations contesting these claims. 

Following Akleh’s killing, Bennett had shared a video claiming that she was killed by shots fired by Palestinian fighters. Eyewitnesses had however reported that she was shot by Israeli snipers. 

Israeli human rights group B’Tselem carried out an examination and within hours proved that the video footage shared by Bennett and other Israeli officials in support of the claim of a gunfight was of some other incident and location. 

Following the backlash, Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi in a statement later claimed that Akleh was killed in crossfire, modifying the IDF’s earlier claims that she was killed by a Palestinian’s bullet. After widespread criticism and the BTselem investigation, Kochavi said that “at this stage, it is not possible to determine whose gunfire she was hit by and we are sorry for her death.”  

Several investigations carried out independently by the Palestinian Authority (PA) and media groups like CNN conclusively established that at the time of her killing, there was no gunfight and no Palestinian armed groups were present at the location. 

Despite these reports and investigations, on July 4, the US State Department issued a statement confirming the Israeli claims of a gunfight. However, it arrived at the conclusion that gunfire from the IDF was “likely responsible” for the killing of Akleh. It nevertheless absolved the responsibility of Israeli forces, saying that the death was “not intentional but rather a result of tragic circumstances.”  

The report of the Israeli investigation released on Monday reiterates the US State Department’s conclusions. It attempts justifying the killing of Akleh by saying that she was not identified during the gunfight. This is despite the fact that the video footage of the incident shows Akleh wearing full gear identifying her as press.   

Attempted whitewash 

B’Tselem issued a statement on Monday rejecting the investigation report, saying, “it’s not an investigation, it’s whitewash, it was no mistake, its policy.”

Akleh’s niece in an interview with Al-Jazeera repeated her family’s position and demanded an international investigation. She said that Israel’s attempt to justify the killing was expected.  

Monday’s report is being viewed as an attempt by Israel to respond to growing pressure by Akleh’s family and human rights groups for accountability, especially given the fact that Akleh was a US citizen. During Biden’s visit to Israel in July, her family had attempted to meet him to present their demand for an investigation. However, Biden refused to meet them. Later, the family met Secretary of State Antony Blinken in the US. 

Israel had initially offered a “joint investigation” in the incident, which was rejected by the PA and Akleh’s family. B’Tselem’s director Hagai El-Ad asserted that “Israel does not investigates, it whitewashes.” Israel later reversed its position and denied any investigation in the matter. Haaretz quoted some Israeli officials claiming that such investigations may demoralize the Israeli army and create controversy in Israeli society. 

The UN and several other groups have also supported the call for an independent investigation into Akleh’s killing. The PA has already referred the incident to the ICC for investigation.