Mondoweiss / November 15, 2022
The U.S. has informed Israel that the FBI will finally investigate the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh. The Israeli government has already declared it will not cooperate with the probe.
The U.S. Justice Department has informed the Israeli government that the FBI will investigate the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, the Palestinian American journalist who was shot during an Israeli raid in May. The announcement comes shortly after elections were held in the United States and Israel.
“Such an investigation is highly unusual and could lead to a U.S. request to investigate the soldiers who were involved in the operation — a request Israel would almost certainly reject,” wrote Barak Ravid, who first reported the story for Axios. “The investigation could also lead to tensions between the Biden administration and the Israeli government.”
On Twitter Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz has already declared that Israel will not cooperate with any outside probe.
The investigation has also begun to draw the ire of Republican lawmakers, with Texas Senator Ted Cruz calling for Attorney General Merrick Garland to be impeached.
Shortly after Abu Akleh was killed the Israeli government suggested that she had died amid dueling gunfire between the IDF and Palestinian militants. However, this was immediately disproved by video footage and eyewitness testimony. Multiple media investigations and a probe from the UN human rights body found that Abu Akleh was likely shot in the head by an Israeli soldier despite wearing a press vest and standing among other journalists.
In September Israel released the results of its own probe into Abu Akleh’s death. The country admitted that there was a “high possibility” that an Israeli soldier killed her, but stated it was an accident and that there would be no criminal investigation.
The findings were criticized by multiple human rights groups, including the Jerusalem-based organization B’Tselem.
“It’s not an investigation, it’s whitewash; it was no mistake, it’s policy,” read 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. This policy claims more and more victims while the whitewash continues undisturbed.”
Israel’s report was also condemned by members of Abu Akleh’s family. “Our family is not surprised by this outcome since it’s obvious to anyone that Israeli war criminals cannot investigate their own crimes,” they said in a statement. “However, we remain deeply hurt, frustrated, and disappointed.”
The Biden administration has consistently called for accountability and transparency in response to Abu Akleh’s killing, but up until this point it had been unclear exactly what that meant. The State Department never publicly raised a red flag about Israel investigating its own crime or indicated that the Biden administration had designs to launch an independent probe.
Biden has faced increased pressure over the issue from Democratic lawmakers, activists, and Abu Akleh’s family. In May 57 U.S. Democrats sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray and Secretary of State Antony Blinken calling for a probe. Twenty-four Senators made the same demand in June. In July Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN) announced that he would introduce legislation that would require an FBI report on the journalist’s death. That same month members of Abu Akleh’s family met with Blinken in Washington and reiterated their demand for an investigation.
A number of Democrats welcomed the news on Twitter. “This is an overdue but necessary and important step in the pursuit of justice and accountability in the shooting death of American citizen and journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh,” tweeted Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).
“The FBI opening an investigation is the first step towards real accountability for Shireen’s assassination and it is long overdue,” wrote Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI). “Unsurprisingly, the Israeli government is already refusing to cooperate.”
“To be clear—the Abu Akleh family should never have had to fight for justice or to get an investigation into her murder. I urge the FBI and the Justice Department to take every step possible to ensure that this investigation is conducted in a transparent, credible, and unbiased manner.”
Advocacy groups also praised the decision. “It is good that this first step has been taken, that the FBI is investigating the murder of an American journalist and citizen by foreign forces. Full accountability for those responsible, and for the system which allows for such violence, is the ultimate goal, and ADC will continue to push to achieve it,” said American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) DC Executive Director Abed Ayoub in a statement. “With at least two open FBI investigations into the murder of Palestinian-Americans for the audacity of simply being Palestinians, first Alex Odeh and now Shireen Abu Akleh, ADC remains ever vigilant.”
“While we applaud this critical step to investigate Shireen’s killing, justice will not be served until her killers are held accountable and face the consequences of their murderous actions,” said AJP Action Executive Director Osama Abuirshaid. “We hope that the Biden administration is committed to seeing this process all the way through. This is critical for Shireen’s family, but also for the sake of all journalists who are targeted by oppressive governments to know they won’t be allowed to get away with it.”
Abu Akleh’s family put out a statement saying they were “encouraged” by the Biden administration’s move. “We hope that this investigation by the United States will be truly independent, credible, and thorough, following the evidence where it leads, up and down the chain of command,” it reads.
Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss