A memorial service for Shireen Abu Akleh in London this week provided yet another reminder that despite a large and growing body of evidence regarding Israel’s culpability for the Al Jazeera correspondent’s death, no one has yet been held accountable.
The service was held at the St Bride’s Church in Fleet Street. Due to its location, on a central London road traditionally home to the UK’s print media, the church has long been associated with journalists.
The service followed a separate memorial event in the occupied West Bank on 19 June, 40 days after her slaying.
In between, the United Nations became the latest body to conclude that Abu Akleh, a veteran Palestinian American journalist, was killed by Israeli gunfire.
On 24 June, the UN’s Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights announced that “all information we have gathered – including official information from the Israeli military and the Palestinian attorney-general – is consistent with the finding that the shots that killed Abu Akleh and injured her colleague Ali Samoudi came from Israeli security forces.”
That statement also described it as “deeply disturbing” that Israel had not yet conducted a criminal investigation into Abu Akleh’s killing.
In the US, 24 senators have called for the US to take an active role in that investigation, but so far, the US State Department has rejected such calls and maintains that Israel can conduct its own probe.
Israel’s flimsy narrative
Such faith in Israeli due process is puzzling.
On 20 May, Yesh Din, an Israeli rights group, published data it had collected on Israel’s military law enforcement system.
The findings were damning: Only 2 percent of complaints received in 2019-2020 resulted in prosecution.
Of the investigations opened, only 7.2 percent resulted in indictment in what the group said amounted to a system designed to “grant soldiers near total immunity from prosecution.”
Israel initially denied that any of its soldiers had fired the shot that killed Abu Akleh, blaming instead Palestinian fighters and “crossfire.”
But that story soon looked flimsy and has only gotten flimsier as a number of organizations began picking holes in Israel’s version of events.
At least seven separate media outlets, and investigative and rights groups, in addition to the Palestinian Authority and United Nations, have so far conducted investigations. All, without exception, point to Israeli guilt.
In chronological order:
On 11 May, the day Abu Akleh was killed, the Israeli rights group B’Tselem concluded that contrary to a video released by the Israeli military, claiming Palestinian gunfire in the vicinity, the group’s own investigation concluded that such gunfire could not have harmed Abu Akleh because of the location shown by the military’s own video.
On 12 May, the Palestinian organization Al-Haq followed with an initial field investigation that also laid the blame squarely at the door of the Israeli military.
On 14 May, Bellingcat, an investigative group based in the Netherlands that analyzes open source material, concluded that while both Israeli soldiers and Palestinian fighters were present at the time, the latter were too far away and the weight of evidence suggests Israeli troops were culpable.
On 24 May, The Associated Press conducted its own investigation, supporting assertions by the Palestinian Authority and Abu Akleh’s Al Jazeera colleagues who were present when she was shot, that “the bullet that cut her down came from an Israeli gun.”
On 26 May, CNN went a step further with its own investigation. This found that “new evidence” supported the accusation that Abu Akleh was killed not only by an Israeli soldier, but in a targeted attack.
Also on 26 May, the PA wound up its two-week probe, concluding that Abu Akleh was intentionally killed by Israeli sniper fire.
On 12 June, The Washington Post sent some of its reporters to investigate. They too came to the conclusion that it was an Israeli soldier that “likely shot and killed” Abu Akleh.
Finally, on 20 June, The New York Times chimed in with its own investigation, finding, with the others, that the bullet that killed Abu Akleh could be traced to an Israeli military convoy.
None of this has in any way impacted Israel yet. Indeed, while the European Union has called for an independent probe, the US and the UK have merely requested an investigation, despite Israel’s record of whitewashing its own military.
Although rights organizations are united, and media outlets clearly understand the reality, governments – especially, but not confined to, western governments – continue to protect Israel.
Thus it has been for nearly 75 years. Even though Israel has engaged in and is engaged in ethnic cleansing, assassinations, occupation, land grabs, war with its neighbors, population transfers, colonial settlement construction and apartheid – all well-documented – the country has yet to be held to account for any of it.
The signs are not promising that the slaying of a veteran journalist doing her job will change that situation.
If anybody is interested in changing Middle East dynamics, holding Israel accountable for its many and repeated crimes and transgressions of international law might be a useful place to start.