Washington, DC – Journalists in the United States have renewed calls for justice in the shooting death of Palestinian-American reporter Shireen Abu Akleh by Israeli forces, stressing the need for an independent investigation one year after her killing.
More than two dozen journalists gathered for a moment of silence to honour the veteran Al Jazeera correspondent in Washington, DC, on the first anniversary of her killing on Thursday.
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“Saying the shot came from the direction of the Israeli [military] or that there was no intent is not justice,” Eileen O’Reilly, president of the National Press Club (NPC), said later at a briefing, urging an impartial probe into the incident.
“We do not want to live in a world where a journalist like Shireen, who devoted her career to public good, is killed without any accounting or explanation.”
Abu Akleh, who was fatally shot by Israeli forces while covering an Israeli raid on the occupied West Bank city of Jenin on May 11, 2022, posthumously received the NPC President’s Award last year.
At first, Israel falsely suggested that Palestinian gunmen killed the journalist before eventually concluding that an Israeli soldier likely shot Abu Akleh and dismissing the incident as accidental.
The administration of US President Joe Biden has repeatedly praised Abu Akleh and condemned her killing. But despite calls for accountability, Washington has not officially carried out its own investigation into the incident and has adopted the Israeli position that the shooting was unintentional.
US officials have said they are pushing for accountability in Abu Akleh’s killing by urging Israel to review its military rules of engagement to ensure that similar shootings do not occur in the future — a demand that has been openly rejected by Israeli leaders.
Asked whether pressing Israel on rules of engagement amounts to accountability, NPC Executive Director Bill McCarren said, “It’s not enough, but for there to be nothing — which is where we are now — that is unacceptable.”
Still, he added that addressing the military’s rules of engagement is important to protect journalists covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “We want more … We want full accounting; we must know the truth,” McCarren told reporters on Thursday.
Abderrahim Foukara, Al Jazeera’s Washington bureau chief, said pushing Israel to change its rules of engagement would be good if it happens, but he added that the US position appeared to hinge on “ambiguity”.
“Saying that you will force the Israeli military to change its rules of engagement does not absolve you of the responsibility to seek justice for the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh or any other journalist,” Foukara said.
Today marks 1 yr. since US citizen & journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, was shot & killed while reporting in the West Bank, wearing her full press regalia. Her family, other journalists & the US haven't seen an independent investigation & accountability. We must not rest until we do. pic.twitter.com/SwzvsTx2co
— Senator Chris Van Hollen (@ChrisVanHollen) May 11, 2023
Washington has rejected efforts to seek accountability for the killing of Abu Akleh at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Israel, which rights groups have accused of imposing a system of apartheid on Palestinians, receives at least $3.8bn in US security assistance annually.
Press freedom organisations, as well as dozens of US lawmakers, have called on the Biden administration over the past year to open its own probe into the killing of Abu Akleh.
Last November, Israeli and American media outlets reported that the FBI launched an investigation into the incident. But US officials have refused to confirm the probe or share any information about it.
On Thursday, Senator Chris Van Hollen reiterated the need for an “independent, official” investigation. “We must get the whole truth, and we must insist on accountability,” Van Hollen said in a video message.
The senator cited the numerous media investigations concluding that Abu Akleh was killed by Israeli forces and that there was no fighting in the immediate vicinity of where she was shot, saying that the probes show “inconsistencies” in the Israeli account of what happened.
“While I was pleased to hear that the FBI is investigating her death, we don’t know where that investigation stands,” Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, said.
In a TV interview with Al Jazeera on Thursday, Van Hollen pointed to outstanding questions about the circumstances surrounding Abu Akleh’s death that might aid in the search for accountability.
“What we can look at is the particular unit that was involved in the shooting death of Shireen Abu Akleh and make a determination whether any US-supplied weapons were provided or used,” he said.
The senator recently called on the Department of State to release a new report on the incident from the US Security Coordinator (USSC) for Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
In Thursday’s video statement, he also stressed that the USSC assessment is not an independent investigation, but that he is nonetheless pressing for the report’s release in full and “unedited”.
“One year after her death, journalists have a duty to continue to pursue the truth and the facts,” Van Hollen said. “Many people would like us to stop asking questions, but we cannot and will not let the shooting death of Shireen be swept under the rug.”
Abu Akleh’s family also urged members of the US Congress, journalists and “people of conscience around the world” to join in demanding justice for the slain journalist.
“From the beginning, we’ve called on the US government to act in the same way it would if any other American citizen was killed abroad,” the family said in a statement.