Mondoweiss / June 28, 2022
Ten days ago, Daniel Estrin of NPR aired a report in which the family of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh demanded that the U.S. conduct an investigation of her killing on May 11, because Israel is incapable of investigating the matter honestly.
Estrin has now gone the next step in the Abu Akleh story, emphasizing in a report on June 26 that the Israeli government has lots of information about the Al-Jazeera broadcaster’s death that it has withheld from the public.
The army declined to answer NPR’s questions about what the suspected soldier told investigators, what orders soldiers were given, and what footage the army has of the incident.
This is an essential angle. Israel’s refusal to release information about the killing demonstrates its sense of utter impunity in the face of credible accusations of human rights violations.
Last week, the United Nations Human Rights Office said that all evidence points to an Israeli soldier killer — echoing eyewitnesses and investigations by several international news organizations — and said Israeli intransigence is “deeply disturbing”:
International human rights law requires prompt, thorough, transparent, independent and impartial investigation into all use of force resulting in death or serious injury.
The Human Rights Office noted that “Israeli Security Forces have killed 58 Palestinians in the West Bank, including 13 children,” just this year.
Human Rights Watch has said that Israel’s foot-dragging on the Abu Akleh killing makes it an urgent matter that the ICC push forward in its criminal investigation of “serious crimes in Palestine,” per the Doha News.
NPR’s latest report is trailblazing for an American news organization in documenting the pattern of Israeli impunity. Estrin cites Israel’s excuse about Abu Akleh– we can’t investigate without the bullet, and the Palestinian Authority has it. But he promptly quotes Avner Gvaryahu of the Israeli veterans’ group, Breaking the Silence, about Israel’s obfuscation game.
“This ambiguity is actually helpful for the military and for the Israeli government to not take more responsibility… There is still a lot that isn’t transparent in terms of what the army itself knows… What were his orders? What did the other soldiers here? I can’t even imagine a situation when we have a soldier alone in a vehicle, right? There’s a driver. There’s other soldiers. There’s commanders with them. Anyone who is seeking the truth should demand to make that information public.”
That is key. Those who seek the truth should be making demands on Israel now. But the State Department is a joke on this issue, accepting the Israeli lies, even as reporters shake their heads. Joe Biden doesn’t want Abu Akleh to come in between himself and Israel when he visits in July, or in the runups to the midterms. Just like he wants Jamal Khashoggi’s murder to go away.
Though now we have 24 Senators and 57 Congress-people demanding an American investigation of the killing of an American journalist. And the Committee to Protect Journalists has also called for an American investigation — and said Israel is doing just what it did in the killing of Palestinian journalist Yasser Murtaja in 2018, seeking to smear Murtaja’s reputation and sweep the case under the rug.
Israeli human rights group Yesh Din studied military data from 2019 and 2020 and found Israel prosecuted only 2% of cases where Palestinians reported harm by soldiers. It found soldiers killed more than 150 Palestinians during that time, but only 16 cases were investigated.
Estrin quotes Dan Owen, who led that study:
There’s a huge number of killings that go unpunished. The vast majority of killings do not reach indictment or even investigation.
Estrin then makes clear Israel’s dodge. An Israeli official says that Abu Akleh was “killed in an active combat zone.” And Israel refuses to criminally investigate soldiers when Palestinians are killed under those circumstances.
This is a great follow-up report. Let’s hope it emboldens other reporters, and adds to the pressure on the Biden administration to investigate the killing of an American journalist.
Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006