The United States has voiced opposition to Al Jazeera’s push to ensure accountability at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for the killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank earlier this year.
Hours after the network submitted a request to the Hague-based court on Tuesday to investigate and prosecute those responsible for killing the Palestinian-American journalist, the US State Department said it rejects the move.
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“We oppose it in this case,” State Department Spokesperson Ned Price told reporters.
Washington has long stood against Palestinian-led efforts to take up Israeli abuses with international bodies, including at the United Nations and the ICC.
“We maintain our longstanding objections to the ICC’s investigation into the Palestinian situation,” Price said on Tuesday when asked about Al Jazeera’s request to the court.
“The ICC should focus on its core mission. And that core mission is of serving as a court of last resort in punishing and deterring atrocity crimes.”
Abu Akleh was fatally shot by Israeli forces during a raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin on May 11. Her killing spurred worldwide condemnation and demands for justice.
Israel, which rights groups accuse of imposing a system of apartheid on Palestinians, receives $3.8bn in US security assistance annually.
On Tuesday, Price reiterated a US call for “accountability” in the case.
“We’ve said consistently that this needs to be investigated, and that ultimately it needs to culminate in accountability,” he said. “We continue to have conversations with our Israeli counterparts about the importance of accountability.”
But when pressed about opposition to the ICC’s involvement — given that Israeli authorities have ruled out a criminal investigation into the killing of the US citizen — Price said “accountability in this context” relates to general “procedures” by the Israeli military to ensure protections for non-combatants.
Al Jazeera has presented the findings of a 6-month investigation to the ICC, saying journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was clearly targeted and deliberately killed by Israeli forces ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/Xx4cWZSm9W
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) December 6, 2022
In September, after the Israeli military admitted that one of its soldiers likely killed Abu Akleh, Washington scaled back its call for accountability, urging instead an Israeli review of its military’s rules of engagement to mitigate civilian harm — a demand that was explicitly rejected by Israeli leaders.
Despite Price’s insistence that the US position has been consistent, he had offered a different definition of accountability back in May. “Those responsible for Shireen’s killing should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” he told reporters after Abu Akleh was killed.
Last month, Israeli officials said that the FBI had opened an investigation into the killing, promising not to cooperate with a US probe.
But the US Justice Department has not confirmed the Israeli accounts, and the State Department distanced itself from the possible investigation, saying that the move would be outside its purview.
Previously, the Biden administration had rejected calls for an independent investigation, insisting that Israel is able to investigate allegations of misconduct by its troops. Numerous US legislators, including some staunch Israel supporters, had called on Washington to launch its own probe into the case.
Palestinian rights advocates stress that Israel cannot be left to investigate its own abuses, pointing to a long history of impunity for Israeli atrocities against Palestinians.