A year has passed since senior journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed by the Israeli security forces, but the fight for justice continues as no one has been held accountable for the crime yet. Justice in Akleh’s case is significant both for freedom of the press in the occupied Palestinian territories and for ending Israeli impunity in crimes against Palestinians.
Shireen and her colleagues were covering a raid by the occupying Israeli forces on a refugee camp in Jenin in the northern occupied West Bank when they were attacked. Akleh was shot in the head and her colleague Ali al-Samoudi was injured in the attack but later recovered.
Both were fired upon despite wearing press vests, clearly identifying them as journalists.
Immediately after she was killed, Israeli officials claimed that she was killed by Palestinian fighters during crossfire with Israeli forces. However, Israel was quickly forced to retract the claim after Israeli human rights group B’Tselem published an investigative video debunking it. On May 20, 2022 they announced that Israeli military police criminal investigation division would not investigate the killing of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, reportedly over fears that the investigation may demoralize the Israeli army which operates “under caution” and create controversy in Israeli society.
In September 2022, Israel finally admitted that she may have died in accidental fire caused by an Israeli soldier, but refused to hold anyone accountable.
Meanwhile numerous independent investigations by international and Palestinian human rights organizations were carried out which established that Akleh was unequivocally targeted by the Israeli forces and that her killing was intentional.
During her funeral procession in the occupied West Bank held days after her murder, Israeli forces attacked mourners and charged at people who were carrying her coffin, almost making it fall to the ground. No one has been charged for this attack either.
Akleh’s family, her colleagues, and the world community are still hoping that Israel will be held accountable for these crimes. On Sunday, May 7, her niece Lina Abu Akleh told Al-Jazeera during a memorial mass that they are “still fighting for justice.”
Fight against Israeli impunity
Justice for Akleh can open the doors to end Israeli impunity and establish freedom of the press in the occupied territories, where at least 20 journalists have been killed by Israeli forces in the last two decades, and at least 16 others have been jailed.
Despite Akleh being a US citizen, the US government has been reluctant to intervene in any meaningful way to seek justice in her case. It initially almost gave a clean chit to Israel by blindly relying on its version of Akleh’s death being accidental. Her family responded by saying that the US was “insulting” her memory.
Only after pressure from Akleh’s family, her colleagues, and others, the Biden administration in the US was forced to constitute an FBI inquiry in November, almost seven months after her killing. That investigation is also dragging, with no public information of any progress made so far.
Israel has already refused to cooperate with the inquiry. Then-Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz had called the US decision to constitute an FBI inquiry “a grave mistake” constituting external intervention in Israel’s domestic affairs.
In fact, Israel has never held its security forces accountable for killing journalists in the occupied territories. Even if an investigation was carried out, there was no guarantee that anyone would ever be punished.
As Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said, “no one should expect that they [Israel] will deliver justice to Palestinians.” The group also stated that instead of carrying out a meaningful investigation, Israel only whitewashes the crimes of its armed forces.
In a report issued just before the anniversary of Akleh’s killing, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) confirmed the claims made by B’Tselem. According to its report, Israeli armed forces have killed at least 20 journalists inside the occupied Palestinian territories since 2001, including Akleh, but till date no investigation has held a single Israeli responsible for any of those killings.
Akleh’s family, the Palestinian Authority, Al-Jazeera, and others have formally requested for or backed an International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation into her killing.