Democrats push Biden to probe killing of Shireen Abu Akleh 

Eyewitnesses said Shireen Abu Akleh was killed by Israeli sniper fire as she and other journalists approached the main entrance to Jenin's refugee camp (MEE)

Maureen Clare Murphy

The Electronic Intifada  /  June 24, 2022

Two dozen US senators are calling on the administration of President Joe Biden to investigate the killing of Al-Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh.

The letter’s signatories represent half of the Democrats in the current US Senate.

“The US government has an obligation to ensure that a comprehensive, impartial and open investigation into her shooting death is conducted — one in which all parties can have full confidence in the ultimate findings,” the senators state in the letter.

“We believe the only way to achieve that goal is for the United States to be directly involved in investigating” Abu Akleh’s killing, the senators add.

The senators note in their letter that Abu Akleh and her colleagues were fired on while they were wearing helmets and protective vests identifying themselves as press.

They add that investigations by numerous reputable news organizations contradict Israel’s claims that Abu Akleh was killed last month during an exchange of fire between soldiers and Palestinian fighters.

Investigations by The Washington Post, CNN, AP and The New York Times all point to Israeli fire causing Abu Akleh’s death.

“Deeply disturbing”

On Friday, the UN Human Rights Office announced that it had concluded its independent probe into Abu Akleh’s killing.

That office also concluded that the shots fired at Abu Akleh and her colleagues, including her producer Ali Samoudi, who was shot in the shoulder and survived, came from Israeli forces “and not from indiscriminate firing by armed Palestinians, as initially claimed by Israeli authorities.”

“We have found no information suggesting that there was activity by armed Palestinians in the immediate vicinity of the journalists,” the human rights office added.

“It is deeply disturbing that Israeli authorities have not conducted a criminal investigation,” the UN office said.

Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights, called on Israel to launch a criminal probe into Abu Akleh’s death and “into all other killings and serious injuries by Israeli forces” in the West Bank and Gaza.

Bachelet announced recently that she will step down from her post when her term ends in August.

Her office noted that Israeli forces have killed nearly 60 Palestinians in the West Bank since the beginning of the year, including 13 children.

Last week, Al-Jazeera said that it had obtained an image of the bullet that killed Abu Akleh.

Al Jazeera’s analysis shows that it is a 5.56mm caliber armor-piercing bullet used in an M4 rifle, weapons and munitions used by the Israeli military.

The bullet that killed Abu Akleh “was designed and manufactured in the United States,” Al Jazeera reported.

The 1997 Leahy Law prohibits the US from providing military assistance to units of foreign militaries when there is credible information that those units violated human rights with impunity.

That law is named for Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who signed on to the letter to the Biden administration calling for a US investigation into Abu Akleh’s killing.

The call from the Senate for an investigation is opposed by the Israel lobby giant AIPAC.

Yet some of Israel’s supporters have distanced themselves from AIPAC’s extreme stance.

Dylan Williams, a vice president with J Street, another Israel lobby group, referring to AIPAC, said that “it’s unconscionable that an American organization would lobby against the US investigating the killing of its own citizen.”

Earlier this month, senior US senator Mitt Romney, a Republican, called on the Biden administration to “ensure a full and transparent investigation” into Abu Akleh’s death. That letter was co-signed by US senator Jon Ossoff, a Democrat.

So far the White House has refused to open an investigation into the killing of the iconic journalist, who held US citizenship, even after dozens of lawmakers urged the FBI and State Department to probe her death.

Discredited

Biden, who is due to visit Israel in three weeks, appears content for Abu Akleh’s death to fade out of memory.

On Tuesday, the State Department once again deferred to Israel’s self-investigation mechanisms, long discredited by human rights groups.

“Israel does have the wherewithal to conduct an investigation that is transparent, that is impartial, and that – importantly – culminates in accountability,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said.

Price once again pointed to Israel’s investigation into the 2020 police murder of Iyad Hallaq, a Palestinian with disabilities and autistic traits, even though Hallaq’s family characterized the probe as a cover-up.

Israel has already determined that it will not launch a criminal probe into the behavior of any of the soldiers involved in Abu Akleh’s death.

Israel’s defense minister and military chief have both rejected assertions that Abu Akleh was deliberately targeted.

A forensic investigation by CNN found, however, that Abu Akleh was “shot dead in a targeted attack by Israeli forces.”

Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada