Israel refuses to probe soldiers who killed Shireen Abu Akleh

Palestinians in Gaza City hold a vigil in the memory of Shireen Abu Akleh on 11 May.

Mohammed Zaanoun ActiveStills

Israel announced that it was not going to launch a criminal investigation into the death of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, despite all but admitting that a soldier shot and killed her.

On Thursday, the Israeli military said it had “identified a soldier’s rifle that may have killed” the iconic Al Jazeera correspondent last week “but said it cannot be certain unless the Palestinians turn over the bullet for analysis,” according to the AP news agency.

The Tel Aviv daily Haaretz reported that the military declined to order a probe because “there is no suspicion of a criminal act.”

In other words, the Israeli military came to a conclusion without bothering to investigate – despite the international attention and outrage over the high-profile journalist’s killing.

Haaretz, parroting the Israeli military spin, stated that “the soldiers testified that they did not see the journalist at all and aimed their fire at gunmen, who were indeed nearby.”

The paper added that questioning soldiers as suspects “would provoke opposition and controversy within the IDF [Israeli military] and Israeli society in general.”

Yesh Din, an Israeli organization that has published data showing that Israel’s self-investigations are merely a whitewash mechanism, said that the refusal to probe soldiers shows that military authorities “no longer even bother to give the appearance of investigating.”

So far Israel has provided no credible evidence that anyone besides a soldier could be responsible for Abu Akleh’s death while she was wearing a protective vest and helmet identifying her as press.

Deliberately targeted

The media workers who survived the attack say they were deliberately targeted.

Shatha Hanaysha, who was next to Abu Akleh when she was shot, said that the soldier who fired at her colleague “intended to kill her because he shot the bullet at an area of her body that was not protected.”

Ali Samoudi, who was shot in the back and moderately wounded during the attack, said “we were going to film the Israeli army raid, and suddenly they shot us without asking us to leave or stop filming.”

“There was no Palestinian military resistance at all at the scene,” Samoudi added.

The International Federation of Journalists has referred Abu Akleh’s killing to the International Criminal Court, calling it a “deliberate and systematic targeting of a journalist.”

The ICC opened an investigation into suspected war crimes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip last year but appears to be prioritizing spending its strained resources on the situation in Ukraine, further heaping doubt on its credibility.

Israel’s failure to launch a criminal investigation into Abu Akleh’s killing provides further evidence – if any was needed – that Palestinians cannot access justice within the Israeli system.

Under the principle of complementarity, the ICC in The Hague only pursues cases where justice cannot be served in local courts.

In the handful of cases where a soldier has been prosecuted by Israeli over the killing of a Palestinian, the sentence has typically been a slap on the wrist.

The Israeli generals and politicians that shape the policy that has resulted in thousands of Palestinian fatalities over recent years are never held responsible.

An ICC investigation, should one move forward, would most likely focus on high-ranking civilian and military officials.

Shireen Abu Akleh’s final moments

Abu Akleh and other media workers were covering a military raid in Jenin refugee camp when they came under fire from the direction of Israeli soldiers.

An unnamed Israeli military official told AP that “we have narrowed down the IDF [Israeli military] weapon that might be involved in the fire exchange near Shireen.”

The journalists who were with Abu Akleh when she was killed have said that there was no exchange of fire at the time and the shooting came from only one direction – that of the Israeli soldiers in the camp.

Video emerged on Thursday showing Abu Akleh’s final moments:

The clip shows a group of people including the crew marked as press standing in a street and joking, clearly not feeling any sense of danger or urgency as they would have had there been an exchange of fire at the time.

The people in the video run for cover as several shots are fired, all apparently from the same direction. After a few seconds, several more shots are fired, seemingly from the same direction as the first round of fire.

After the second round, a man heard but not seen in the video shouts “Shireen, Shireen” and repeatedly calls for an ambulance in Arabic.

The Israeli military, despite not investigating Abu Akleh’s killing as a criminal matter, is demanding that the Palestinian Authority turn over the bullet fragment recovered from Abu Akleh, claiming it is needed to decisively determine whether she was killed by the soldier’s gun.

Israel has not made public the full body camera footage recorded by the soldiers involved in Abu Akleh’s killing or their GPS locations or other information that may help definitively establish responsibility for the reporter’s death.

The soldiers who were operating in Jenin the morning Abu Akleh was killed were wearing body cameras and the Israeli military published a heavily edited montage of their footage:
Bellingcat, a research group largely funded by Western intelligence contractors, analyzed open source information including videos of the incident shared on social media.

The researchers determined that the available evidence supports eyewitness testimonies that “place the blame on IDF [Israeli] soldiers” for Abu Akleh’s death.

Al Jazeera, Abu Akleh’s employer for 25 years, reported on Thursday that the broadcaster, along with the Palestinian Authority, Qatar and the slain journalist’s family, were formulating a plan to seek justice for her killing.

Israel has treated Abu Akleh’s killing as a public relations crisis and nothing more.

Abu Akleh’s family told Al Jazeera on Thursday that “we were expecting this from the Israeli side. That’s why we didn’t want them to participate in the investigation.”

The family added that “we urge the United States in particular – since she is a US citizen – and the international community to open a just and transparent investigation and to put an end to the killings.”

The administration of US President Joe Biden in Washington had previously said that “it is important to us that those who are responsible for [Abu Akleh’s] death be held responsible” and that the Israeli military “have the wherewithal to conduct a thorough, comprehensive investigation.”

Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security advisor, tweeted on Wednesday that he had “discussed ironclad support for Israel’s security” with Benny Gantz, Israel’s defense minister, during a meeting at the White House that day.
When asked by an Al Jazeera reporter whether Abu Akleh’s killing was discussed during the meeting, John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said during a press conference that Sullivan “welcomed” the Israeli government’s investigation of Abu Akleh’s killing, even though it was reported that day that there would be no criminal probe.

The Al Jazeera reporter, Jamal Elshayyal, noted that Abu Akleh may have been killed by a weapon provided to Israel by the US.

In addition to the killing of Abu Akleh, Israel has come under international pressure over its shocking attack on her funeral last Friday.

Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said on Saturday that the assault, “​​which was being filmed and broadcast live, appeared to be unnecessary and must be promptly and transparently investigated.”

“This culture of impunity must end now,” she added.

Even Tedros Ghebreyesus, the director of the World Health Organization, condemned Israel’s attacks on healthcare, including the police assault on pallbearers outside the Jerusalem hospital where Abu Akleh’s body was being kept ahead of her burial.

Another Jerusalem funeral attacked

On Monday, Israeli police attacked the funeral of Walid al-Sharif, a Palestinian Jerusalemite who died on Saturday from injuries sustained when he was shot by a sponge-tipped bullet fired by police during an assault on Ramadan worshippers at al-Aqsa mosque in April.

A Palestine Red Crescent Society ambulance was hit by live fire and rubber-coated bullets fired by Israeli police during Monday’s attack.

More than a dozen people were hospitalized, two with eye injuries, as police fired tear gas canisters and used batons against mourners.

A relative of the deceased, Nader al-Sharif, was seriously injured by a sponge-tipped bullet near the graveyard and, the following morning, was placed under arrest and cuffed to his bed at the hospital where he was being treated.

Israeli police assaulted the man’s brothers and cousin inside the hospital.

Also on Monday, Israeli police arrested 34-year-old Amro Abu Khudeir, one of the pallbearers beaten by officers during Shireen Abu Akleh’s funeral.

He was interrogated about his participation in the funeral, his lawyer, Khaldoun Najm, told media.

Even though images of Israeli brutality have been shown around the world recently, a delegation from its police force was given a warm welcome in Britain this week.

Some Israeli police officers even went on patrol in the Hackney area of London.

This story has been updated since initial publication.


Maureen Clare Murphy

Maureen Clare Murphy's picture

Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.