Israelis justify killing of Shireen Abu Akleh — and Biden aides echo the talking points

A Gaza City protest (Omar Ashtawy - APA Images)

Philip Weiss

Mondoweiss  /  September 15, 2022

Israelis say the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh was the price of clamping down on “terrorism,” and the Biden administration is echoing the talking point.

Israel’s killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, a prominent Palestinian-American journalist, in the occupied West Bank on May 11 has turned out to be a momentous event.

It has rallied global support for Palestinians. It has caused actual strain between the United States and Israel, with progressive politicians and mainstream journalists calling for accountability, and the Biden administration trying to sweep the case under the rug and not succeeding.

The case has also shined a light on Israeli society: revealing Israel’s deep commitment to the occupation of the West Bank, and the justifications that Israelis offer for the inherent violence of that occupation.

Israelis are incapable of condemning Abu Akleh’s killing, let alone honoring her family’s call for justice. The Israeli government has rejected even the mild suggestion by the Biden administration that Israel change its “rules of engagement.”

That is because Abu Akleh was killed under a policy of aggressively suppressing all resistance to Israeli governance in the occupied territories. And Israeli politicians are incapable of even discussing a withdrawal from occupied lands, let alone a two-state solution. No, the creation of settlements is occurring at record pace, and Palestinians are resisting the confiscation of more of their land.

Israel has clamped down on Palestinian resistance, killing more than 100 Palestinians in the West Bank this year, including Abu Akleh.

Here are two justifications for that violence from Israeli Jews, addressing Americans.

“No Israeli I know wants that soldier prosecuted, and here’s why,” the author Daniel Gordis writes at Substack.

Gordis says that young Jews in the Israeli army are “terrified” of Palestinians for good reason–and the Israelis need to shoot first.

what we parents know is that too often, while our kids have someone in the crosshairs of their sights, someone else has our kids in their crosshairs. And when that happens, who will emerge alive will depend solely on who shoots best … and first…

Our kids have been sent into hell, Gordis explains:

they need to know that the country that sent them into the hell of those streets is a country that will believe them, that will trust them, that will have their back.

And they’ve been sent into hell for a reason; because Israel will always be at war with Palestinians:

Whatever hopes my wife and I had, when we moved here 25 years ago, that our kids’ kids would not go to war, have long since died. We’ve given up the hope that they won’t. 

Gordis says that accountability for Abu Akleh’s death could bring down the entire security structure of Israel, which is premised on protecting soldiers’ lives:

Prosecuting that soldier [who killed Abu Akleh], whoever he is, could bring that all toppling down. Prosecution would ruin his life, but what concerns Israelis even more is the possibility that fear of prosecution for a mistake, no matter how grievous, might lead soldiers on raids to hesitate at precisely the wrong second before they take the shot. Sometimes that will be a good thing. Sometimes it will be irrelevant. But sometimes it will mean that they will not get home for Shabbat—that they will never be home for Shabbat.

I would only observe that Gordis is a Jewish nationalist and is incapable of looking at this from the Palestinian side. Like what is happening to their children– who are dying at a far higher rate for resisting a hellish military occupation. Or what the Abu Akleh family wants…

Yossi Alpher at Americans for Peace Now ends up in the same place as Gordis, but by a different route, making points for a left-leaning American audience.

Alpher notes Palestinian grievances. The peace process is over. The occupation is stronger than ever. The Jewish colonization of the West Bank continues unabated, right along with Jewish prayer processions in the heart of Nablus and 111 house demolitions by the Israeli army in August alone.

But Alpher laments that Palestinian leaders have chosen to exploit this situation, and exploit Abu Akleh’s killing, despite Israeli goodwill gestures.

Israel is… offering West Bank Palestinians additional economic incentives. And it is trying to recruit Jordanian, Qatari and other Arab pressure on [Palestinian president Mahmoud] Abbas to tighten governance and security. He is resisting. Instead, he is falling back, not for the first time, on a default strategy of internationalization.

Abbas is exploiting the accidental shooting of popular TV journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, almost certainly by IDF forces operating around Jenin, to generate international criticism of Israel. He will soon be bringing the Palestinian issue once again to the United Nations General Assembly. He somehow believes that whipping up anti-Israel sentiment internationally can replace the stable leadership and governance strategy that he seems incapable of providing–or perhaps uninterested in providing.

So Abbas has not stopped the Palestinian violence, and Israel must suppress it– what Alpher calls “preemptive and preventive actions” in the northern West Bank to protect Tel Aviv.

[C]ommanders emphasize that their preventive and preemptive actions in Jenin and Nablus are in effect keeping lone-wolf attackers from entering and attacking Israel as they did last winter.

Some Israeli military commanders align themselves with the Jewish settlers on Palestinian land.

Some IDF commanders in the West Bank identify strongly with the West Bank settlers and settlements that are on the front line of the current violence. That this is the case constitutes a thought-provoking statement about increasing national-religious influence in IDF higher ranks.

Reminder: those settlements are illegal under international law, but the U.S. has never tried to stop them. And settlers regularly commit violence against Palestinians as soldiers stand by.

Alpher scolds Abbas, but there is no sense in his remarks that the destruction of the Oslo process by the Israeli government means that yet another generation of Palestinians is being told to forget about any dream of freedom– and young Palestinians are no more willing to accept apartheid than you or I would be. Alpher traces the resistance to Nablus and Jenin — “hotbeds of Palestinian nationalism going all the way back to the ‘Arab Revolt’”.

Isn’t this absurd? To say that young Palestinians are protesting out of a spirit of “nationalism” because people did it 80 years ago? When they are enduring apartheid in the moment? That term has now been adopted by leading international human rights organizations and even former liberal Zionists. And apartheid is a crime that the world must address.

Dana Mills, the interim executive director of Peace Now in Israel, was far more thoughtful when she spoke to Americans for Peace Now in July and said that the new Israeli government’s policies of dealing with the occupation have become “much, much worse on the ground,” than under Netanyahu, even though this government includes left-Zionist and Arab members. Mills spoke of “structural violence.”

Now I’m sure a lot of you watched with horror and shame, the funeral of Shireen Abu Akleh, really important figure both in international journalism for the Palestinian struggle. The violence that was executed in her funeral, let alone her actual killing that is now being disputed and discussed, was really shocking, regardless of any opinions around the occupation, etc.

Mills said that “ironically” a government that includes leftwing anti-occupation party Meretz “had escalated trends around settlement building,” among them more illegal outposts of Jewish settlement in the West Bank.

“Ten new outposts are being founded in broad daylight. Now imagine that new illegal outposts are being founded and no one is doing anything about it!”

And yesterday Peace Now documents the approval of “several skyscrapers” on Palestinian land adjoining South Jerusalem, a step even Netanyahu was not willing to take years ago.

But Mills says that the occupation simply can’t be discussed in Israeli politics:

Netanyahu did a lot of very bad things around Israeli society, but I think the worst thing that he did in terms of our joint agenda [left zionist] is to completely depoliticize the occupation. I mean, you can go through your daily life, you can read the papers, and you would hardly see anything to do with Palestinians, human rights, you will hardly see anything to do with settlements, bringing issues to the agenda, it’s really hard these days, whereas when he took office, that’s not the case. So talking about the occupation, in itself is becoming much, much harder. ..

So anyone with any perspective can grasp that Shireen Abu Akleh was killed when she was documenting Israeli apartheid policies in the West Bank.

But Israelis are incapable of accepting that reality. And leading Jewish voices — Alpher and Gordis –justify the violence to Americans. And the Biden administration echoes the justification.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price and US ambassador to Israel Tom Nides have echoed the Israeli line.

In his press briefing two days ago, Price said three times the killing was “tragic.” He echoed Gordis’s line that “it was a horrific tragedy, but not one that should be prosecuted.”

Price said: “[T]his was not an intentional, targeted killing. This was the tragic result of a gunfight in the context of an Israeli raid in the West Bank.” Though there is no evidence that there was a gunfight anywhere near where Abu Akleh was killed.

While Nides said on 9/11 that the U.S. and Israel face the “same characters” trying to kill us. “We have suffered as they have suffered and the same people who want to do damage to these guys and us here [in Israel] are the same characters who want to do damage to us [in the U.S.].”

So the talking points move from Israel to the Biden administration.

Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006