‘NYT’ probe into killing of Shireen Abu Akleh is 6 weeks late – and not enough

The New York Times has finally cast a spotlight on the Palestinians' plight (AFP)

James North

Mondoweiss  /  June 20, 2022

The New York Times finally concludes that the bullet that killed Shireen Abu Akleh “was fired from the approximate position of an Israeli military vehicle.” Just like everyone else said!

Finally. The New York Times today was shamed into publishing an investigation into who killed the distinguished Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh — nearly 6 weeks after she died, and also after other news organizations, including the Associated Press, CNN, and The Washington Post, had reported on their own probes.

The belated Times article is an improvement after its weeks of silence, but is still inadequate. The paper did conclude that the bullet that killed Abu Akleh “was fired from the approximate position of an Israeli military vehicle.” But the Times did not sufficiently remind its readers how Israel had immediately muddied the story within hours by asserting, with no evidence, that “Palestinian gunmen” were responsible.

The article did include a revealing statement, buried down in paragraph 43, which reported that “Israeli officials. . . on Friday said that they had added a more senior investigator to their [Israel’s] own investigating team.” Let’s translate this into English: “Israeli officials, responding reluctantly to the Times’s request for comment a few days ago, said they would recognize the paper’s influence by pretending to strengthen their own (non-existent) investigation by claiming to ‘add a more senior’ person to it —  a step that had apparently slipped their minds over the past 6 weeks.”

Today’s Times report is only a starting point. Why didn’t its reporters use the sources (that they presumably have) inside Israel’s military to at least speculate about what really happened? How could such accurate shots have been an accident? Who might have ordered the shooting? Who is behind the ongoing cover-up?

There’s more. The Times says it “was unable to determine whether the shooter saw that she [Abu Akleh] and her colleagues were wearing protective vests emblazoned with the word Press.” The paper is being deliberately naive. Just after she was killed, Gregg Carlstrom, a Mideast reporter for the (conservative) Economisttweeted:

I’ve been to enough of these things [Israeli military operations in occupied Palestine] to say it’s rather hard to mistake a journalist — unarmed, in a blue vest and civilian clothes — for an armed soldier in olive drab. I’ve seen Shireen kitted out in a vest and helmet. Can’t imagine anyone mistaking her for a soldier.

The paper does say, briefly, that “[Israeli] soldiers accused of crimes against Palestinians in the West Bank are rarely convicted,” but this vague statement also cries out for more detail. 

Here’s a suggested followup angle for The Times. In 2004, Israeli soldiers, both serving and veterans, established an organization called Breaking the Silence, where they can tell the truth about human rights violations they witnessed in occupied Palestine. It may be unlikely that the paper will find anyone who was an eyewitness to the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh. But surely some Israeli soldiers can tell Times reporters, understandably anonymously, about the military culture that caused her death. The Times has written about Breaking the Silence, so it knows where to find them.

James North is a Mondoweiss Editor-at-Large