WA possible conflict between the United States and Israel is looming over the death of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Aklehs. The American Federal Police (FBI) wants according to Israeli media reports to launch an investigation into the circumstances of the death of the well-known journalist who was shot dead on May 11 in the occupied West Bank.
This would be a remarkable shift in the attitude of the Washington administration. She had declined for months to conduct her own investigation into the reporter’s violent death. FBI investigations into the deaths of American citizens abroad are not entirely uncommon, but they are remarkable, especially when they involve a close US ally.
Israel refuses to cooperate
The Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz immediately announced that Israel would refuse to cooperate with an external investigation. Gantz called the Justice Department’s decision a “grave mistake.”
He wrote on Twitter: “We will not allow interference in Israel’s internal affairs.” The Israeli army had conducted a “professional, independent investigation,” according to a statement from his office on Tuesday morning. Details of the case were made available to the Americans. Gantz said he sent the message to American officials “that we stand by the soldiers of the IDF (Israel Army, ed.)”.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry welcomed the American decision. It reflects the certainty of the American side that there are no serious Israeli investigations, according to a report by the Palestinian news agency “Wafa” in a statement by the ministry.
“With very high probability” shot dead by Israeli soldier
The Israeli army itself submitted a report in early September. It states that “with a high degree of probability” Abu Akleh was shot dead by one of their soldiers during a military operation in the city of Jenin; however, this would have happened inadvertently. However, it cannot be ruled out that the 51-year-old journalist was killed by an armed Palestinian. The army has not launched a military police investigation into the incident.
Independent experts, Abu Akleh’s relatives and the Palestinian side, however, question the army’s account that the killing, if at all, was an accidental one. According to forensic reconstructions, Shireen Abu Akleh was shot in the head about 200 meters away on the morning of May 11 in Jenin refugee camp. The bullet hit the veteran reporter in an exposed spot below the helmet she was wearing, in addition to a body armor that said PRESS.
Other circumstances also make the army’s portrayal appear less than credible. When presenting the report, a high-ranking officer said that at the time of the journalist’s death, the soldiers had been subjected to heavy fire from armed Palestinians. However, no shots can be heard on audio and video recordings from the vicinity of the crime scene, apart from those fired at Abu Akleh and other journalists. According to eyewitnesses, these shots were obviously aimed.
Abu Akleh worked for many years as a reporter for the Qatari television station “Al Jazeera‘ and was well known in the Arab world. Because of her American citizenship, her relatives tried to exert political pressure in the USA. Among other things, they met Foreign Minister Antony Blinken in July. To date, however, efforts have not met with immediate success. Lareen Abu Akleh, a niece of the slain journalist, said in a video message a few days ago that the family is continuing to “follow all possible avenues to seek accountability and we hope that one day we will see Shireen get justice”.
In early July, the US State Department, after examining the bullet that killed Abu Akleh, said it could not “definitely conclude” which side fired the shot. In addition, there is no reason to assume that the shelling was intentional. Some American politicians were also not satisfied with this.
More than a dozen members of Congress from the Democratic Party wrote to President Joe Biden in July demanding that the US conduct its own investigation. Also MPs who serve as traditional supporters of Israel apply were among the signatories. After the Israeli report in September, the pressure continued.
Senator Chris Van Hollen, one of the spokesmen for the campaign for an American inquiry, said Monday night the Justice Department’s decision was “an overdue but necessary step.” Abu Akleh’s brother Tony Abu Akleh told Al Jazeera of the announced investigation that the family hoped it would be a “watershed moment”. It is important to hold those responsible to account and to prevent similar crimes in the future.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz, however, wrote that Israeli officials believed the announcement was only a symbolic step. Without the approval of the US State Department and against Israeli resistance, it is unlikely that the FBI investigation will actually take place.