Israel admits ‘high possibility’ military killed Shireen Abu Akleh, but says no one will be charged

Gaza - Palestinian journalists hold posters during a protest against the killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh (Asharf Amra - APA Images)

Michael Arria

Mondoweis  /  September 6, 2022

The Abu Akleh family put out a statement condemning the Israeli report and reiterating their demand for the Biden administration to take meaningful action.

The Israeli military has finally released the results of its inquiry into the May 11 killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and it is now admitting that there’s a “high possibility” that the bullet came from an IDF soldier.

“[I]t appears that it is not possible to unequivocally determine the source of the gunfire which hit and killed Ms. Abu Akleh. However, there is a high possibility that Ms. Abu Akleh was accidentally hit by IDF gunfire fired toward suspects identified as armed Palestinian gunmen during an exchange of fire,” said the IDF in a statement.

Israel also said that they will not press criminal charges against the solider responsible. “After a comprehensive examination of the incident, and based on all the findings presented, the Military Advocate General determined that under the circumstances of the incident, despite the dire result. There was no suspicion of a criminal offense that warrants the opening of an MPCID investigation,” reads a separate statement from the IDF’s Military Advocate General’s Office.

The State Department issued a statement welcoming the Israeli report and accepting its conclusion that the killing was accidental. It urged “accountability” in the case in a very narrow manner: “such as policies and procedures to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.”

Shortly after the killing the Israeli government suggested that Abu Akleh had died amid dueling gunfire between the IDF and Palestinian militants until this was disproved by video footage, eyewitness testimony, and multiple media investigations. However, a senior IDF official who briefed journalists before the report was released continued to push this narrative.

“It is our estimate that there were militants in the vicinity of Ms. Abu Akleh. Maybe not one meter beside her but they were in that area​,” he said. He provided no support for this claim.

Abu Akleh’s family put out a statement condemning the Israeli report and reiterating their demand for the Biden administration to take meaningful action. “Our family is not surprised by this outcome since it’s obvious to anyone that Israeli war criminals cannot investigate their own crimes,” it reads. “However, we remain deeply hurt, frustrated, and disappointed.”

The Jerusalem-based human rights group B’Tselem also denounced the report. “It’s not an investigation, it’s whitewash; it was no mistake, it’s policy,” reads their statement. “Enormous public and international pressure was needed to make Israel spurt a faint confession that one of its soldiers had killed journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, while at the same time shaking off any responsibility for her death.”

“The killing of Abu Akleh is the predictable result of Israel’s outrageous open fire policy in the Occupied Territories,” it continues. “This policy claims more and more victims while the whitewash continues undisturbed.”

Palestinian Presidency spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeineh called the report, “another Israeli attempt to escape the responsibility for Shireen Abu Akleh’s killing.”

The Biden administration has faced growing pressure over its position on the killing. While it has repeatedly called for transparency and accountability, it has not wavered from its claim that Israel is able to conduct such a probe on its own.

Yesterday’s statement accepting Israel’s investigation suggests that the State Department thinks the matter is now done-and-dusted. It has rejected calls for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate Abu Akleh’s death. “We believe that the ICC should maintain its focus on its core mission, and that core mission is to serve as a court of last resort in punishing and deterring atrocity crimes,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price in May.

In June, 24 Democratic Senators sent Biden a letter demanding action. The move came shortly after 57 Democratic House members sent a similar letter. In July lawmakers from both both chambers held a press conference, alongside Abu Akleh’s family, outside the U.S. capitol.  “An American journalist was killed abroad by a foreign army, by a sniper,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) told attendees. “This situation demands a thorough and objective investigation.”

Axios recently reported that the Biden administration is pressuring Israel to review its “rules of engagement” during military operations in the illegally-occupied West Bank. “U.S. pressure for Israel to review the guidelines is unusual, but comes as the Biden administration faces pressure to do more to ensure accountability in Abu Akleh’s death,” wrote Barak Ravid.

Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss