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U.S. Opens Investigation Into the Killing of Shireen Abu Akleh

posted on: Nov 16, 2022

By: Norah Soufraji/ Arab America Contributing Writer

Palestinian-American Journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was one of the most prominent journalists in the Middle East.

The Voice of Palestine

Shireen Abu Akleh was often referred to as the voice of Palestine. Throughout her twenty-five year career as a journalist for Al-Jazeera she dedicated her life and work to giving voice to the voiceless. A native of Jerusalem and an American citizen, over the years Abu Akleh reported on various major events affecting the Palestinian people. She spent most of her time on the ground close to her people. She was an icon in the Arab world and was an inspiration to Arab women in particular. 

On May 11, 2022 Abu Akleh was shot and killed while reporting on Israeli raids on the Jenin Refugee Camp in the West Bank. At the time, Abu Akleh was wearing a bright blue vest clearly marked “PRESS”. Various eyewitnesses have come forward and confirmed that Abu Akleh’s death was no accident but that she was murdered by Israeli Defense Forces. This has also been widely corroborated by the United Nations, The New York Times, CNN, The Washington Post, as well as many other outlets. Abu Akleh’s murderers have yet to be brought to justice despite widespread international outrage. 

After months of tireless work by the Abu Akleh family as well as other human rights organizations, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) has just announced this week that it will be opening an investigation into Abu Akleh’s murder. However, the fact that it has taken more than six months for a U.S. governmental response to the killing of one of its own citizens suggests a shirking of responsibility in protecting and defending American citizens of Palestinian descent. The Abu Akleh family deserve justice, clarity, and to know all the facts surrounding the death of their loved one.

IDF’s Culture of Impunity

Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz tweeted that DOJ Investigation is a “mistake”/ Source: Twitter

Despite plenty of opportunity for an exhaustive investigation, high level Israeli authorities have yet to open a criminal investigation. An internal “operational investigation” by the Israeli military determined it was “not possible to unequivocally determine the source of the gunfire which hit [her]” despite numerous witness reports which state otherwise. Internationally, this was overwhelmingly received as an attempt to sweep murder of an unarmed journalist under the rug.

The fact remains that killing of Palestinians continues with impunity in the Occupied West Bank. Abu Akleh, who was shot down during a violent IDF raid, is one of 130 Palestinians killed this year. Prominent Human Rights NGO Amnesty International has called for governments concerned with justice and human rights to pressure Israeli authorities to “dismantle the apartheid system” and bring the IDF’s crimes to justice. 

In a statement by Amnesty International’s Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Heba Morayef said:  

“Given the climate of impunity that prevails in Israel, we reiterate our call on all states, including the US, to support the International Criminal Court’s investigation into the situation in Palestine. We will continue to demand justice for Shireen Abu Akleh – and for all Palestinians who have been unlawfully killed by Israeli forces – for as long as it takes.”

In response to the announcement that the U.S. would finally conduct an independent investigation into the death of an American citizen, Israeli’s Defense Minister, Benny Gantz, said the DOJ’s decision was a “grave mistake”. He also said that Israel would not cooperate with the investigation.

For further information on the pattern of human rights abuses against Palestinians, Amnesty International’s February 2022 report entitled Israel’s Apartheid against Palestinians: Cruel System of Domination and Crime against Humanity, features extensive details.

Will the U.S. Finally Take Action?

A mural of Shireen Abu Akleh on a Bethlehem separation wall/ Source: AFP Via Middle East Eye

After six months of continuous pressure by the Abu Akleh family and human rights advocates, the family released a statement saying, “It is what the United States should do when a US citizen is killed abroad, especially when they were killed, like Shireen, by a foreign military.”

Additionally, members of congress have announced their support. Representative André Carson introduced a bill entitled “Justice for Shireen” which called for a U.S. led investigation into Abu Akleh’s killing, and in particular if U.S. weapons were used. The bill includes 18 co-sponsors including Representatives Rashida Tlaib, Cori Bush, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Cori Bush. 

In an interview with Al-Jazeera, constitutional lawyer and former Justice Department official Bruce Fein said that he believes the FBI has “credible evidence” in order to have initiated an investigation. He also asserted that there is evidence to suggest that the crime committed was an assassination. 

Israel has long been considered one of the United States’ most powerful allies in the region and receives nearly $4 billion a year in aid. However, the U.S. response to human rights violations against Palestinians has been limited to wrist slaps and easily forgotten podium speeches. 

As stated before, the human rights violations against the Palestinian people are numerous and have been consistently documented. Additionally there are numerous cases of human rights violations committed against American citizens of Palestinian and Arab origin. Namely, the discrimination and forced detainment of Palestinian-Americans with American passports at airports and points of entry into Israel and the West Bank come to mind. The question remains, will the investigation of Shireen Abu Akleh finally push U.S. officials to step in and protect and defend Palestinian-Americans? 

Shireen Abu Akleh was indeed a voice for the voiceless. Now we must use our voices to honor her memory and demand that a truly independent and thorough investigation is carried out. Journalism is not a crime. Being Palestinian is not a crime. 

#JusticeForShireen 

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