Abu Akleh killing: 100 days on, family still fighting for justice

People light candles during a vigil in memory of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot and killed by Israeli forces, outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, May 16 [Mussa Qawasma/Reuters]

Justice remains elusive for veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, shot and killed by Israeli forces 100 days ago, as her family continues to call on the United States government to step up and conduct an independent investigation.

Abu Akleh, a Palestinian American reporter who was well known across the Arab world for her 25-year coverage of the Israeli occupation, was fatally shot in the head by an Israeli sniper on May 11 while covering an Israeli raid on the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank.

The 51-year-old was with a group of other journalists, including Al Jazeera cameraman Majdi Bannoura, who filmed the immediate aftermath of the shooting. The journalists were all wearing press helmets and vests, clearly marking them as journalists.

Now, more than three months after Abu Akleh was killed, her family – who were snubbed by US President Joe Biden during his visit to the Middle East last month and again when they went to Washington – said that despite overwhelming evidence and several investigations finding Israel responsible, the US has failed to do the bare minimum in holding its ally accountable.

“The US needs to step up and conduct an investigation into the murder of their own citizen and journalist,” Abu Akleh’s niece Lina told Al Jazeera.

In addition to Al Jazeera’s reporting, witness accounts and investigations carried out by the Palestinian Authority, the United Nations and several US media outlets like the Washington Post and CNN, have all concluded that an Israeli sniper shot Abu Akleh, 51, but the US Department of State said last July that it found no reason to believe her death was intentional, but rather “the result of tragic circumstances”.

The US sends Israel nearly $4bn of military aid every year and, according to Lina, Washington’s decision to deflect and ignore the overwhelming evidence in her aunt’s killing is the result of its continued treatment of Israel with impunity.

“These [investigations] send a message to the US that the lack of accountability of past crimes committed by Israel towards American citizens has resulted in yet another murder,” she said.

“It shows that Israeli soldiers do not care if you are an American citizen,” she continued. “If you have ‘Palestinian’ preceding ‘American’, then you are a target.”

“The US has failed to do the bare minimum and hold the Israeli soldier [who fired the bullet], the chain of command, and the system accountable.”

‘Aim to kill’

The Palestinian Authority (PA) announced the result of its investigation on May 26 and said Israeli forces had deliberately shot the veteran reporter.

“The only source of firing was by the occupation forces with the aim to kill,” Palestinian Attorney General Akram al-Khatib said at the time.

The PA handed over the 5.56mm calibre bullet that killed Abu Akleh – which experts say was designed to pierce armour – to US officials on July 3, and has staunchly refused a joint probe with Israel.

Abu Akleh became the 12th Al Jazeera journalist to be killed while reporting from the field.

Known as the “Voice of Palestine”, Abu Akleh’s influence and presence as a household name across the Arab World was a testament to her bravery in covering protests, wars, elections and the stories of Palestinian prisoners.

Al Jazeera described Abu Akleh’s killing as a “cold-blooded assassination”, and assigned its legal team to refer her murder case file to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

The media network has organised solidarity vigils at its headquarters in Doha and its offices around the world to mark 100 days since the killing.

In a statement, Al Jazeera said it would “follow every path to achieve justice for Shireen [Abu Akleh], and ensure those responsible for her killing are brought to justice and held accountable in all international justice and legal platforms and courts”.

The PA also followed suit, with foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki calling on the ICC to facilitate an official investigation and hold Israel accountable.

Israel, for its part, has changed its story about the incident several times, ranging from denying the allegations to blaming the killing on stray fire from Palestinian fighters, to admitting that an Israeli soldier could have mistakenly shot Abu Akleh, and finally to ruling out an investigation into its own military.

Hope and concern

Last month, the Abu Akleh family travelled to Washington and met with various US representatives, as well as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Victor Abu Akleh, Lina’s brother, told reporters that his family are demanding accountability to spare other Palestinian dual citizens the pain and suffering they have endured.

“The reality, of course, is that in Palestine, our family’s grief is not unique,” he said. “Shireen wasn’t even the first US citizen killed by Israel this year.”

While Blinken stressed his commitment to accountability, Lina argued that the Biden administration should have jumped into action regarding the safety and wellbeing of US citizens abroad.

“The US talks about press freedom, human rights and democracy, but it doesn’t live up to that,” Lina said. “The same standards do not apply to Palestinian American citizens it seems.”

Nonetheless, the family is aware of the importance of their visit to the US capital, where they spoke directly to senators and congresspeople.

“We left [Washington] DC feeling hopeful, but at the same time concerned that the US administration will try to push this under the rug,” Lina said.

“However, with all the support we received from members of Congress and with their efforts in joining our call to an independent US investigation, I felt hopeful and encouraged to keep pursuing justice knowing we have allies on Capitol Hill.”



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