On anniversary of Shireen Abu Akleh’s death, new report details Israel’s history of killing reporters with impunity

Michael Arria

Mondoweiss  /  May 9, 2023

A new report from the Committee to Protect Journalists shows the Israeli military has killed 20 journalists since 2001 and not one soldier has been put on trial.

Ahead of the one-year anniversary of Shireen Abu Akleh’s death, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has released a new report detailing Israel’s recent history of killing journalists with impunity.

The report, “Deadly Pattern”, documents 20 examples of the IDF killing journalists since 2001. Eighteen were Palestinians, and Israel has never put a soldier on trial for killing a journalist. 

“The killing of Shireen Abu Akleh and the failure of the army’s investigative process to hold anyone responsible is not a one-off event. It is part of a pattern of response that seems designed to evade responsibility” – Robert Mahoney

“The killing of Shireen Abu Akleh and the failure of the army’s investigative process to hold anyone responsible is not a one-off event,” said CPJ’s director of special projects Robert Mahoney in a statement. “It is part of a pattern of response that seems designed to evade responsibility. Not one member of the IDF has been held accountable in the deaths of 20 journalists from Israeli military fire over the last 22 years.”

Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American reporter for Al Jazeera, was shot dead by Israeli forces while reporting on a raid in occupied Jenin. The Israeli military initially suggested that Abu Akleh had died as a result of dueling gunfire between the IDF and Palestinian militants, but this narrative was quickly disproved by eyewitness testimony and media investigations. Israel launched its own probe into the event, but concluded that the killing was accidental and refrained from conducting a criminal investigation.

“It’s not an investigation, it’s whitewash; it was no mistake, it’s policy,” read a statement from the Jerusalem-based human rights group B’Tselem at the time. “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.”

In November 2022, the United State Justice Department informed the Israeli government that the FBI had opened an inquiry into the killing, and Israel immediately declared that it would not cooperate.

The CPJ report notes that the Abu Akleh case can be viewed as a case study for these situations. Evidence proving Israel’s responsibility is generally discounted or called into question, and soldiers are cleared before internal investigations are even officially concluded. Similar to Abu Akleh at least 13 of the slain journalists were wearing clear press insignia when they were killed.

These incidents have naturally created a more hazardous environment for journalists working in the region.  “Many reporters covering similar raids and tensions — which have risen markedly since Shireen’s killing — are afraid of being shot,” the Foreign Press Association Guillaume Lavallée told CPJ. “If a reporter with an American passport can be killed without legal consequence, journalists fear a similar fate could easily await them in the future. That feeling of vulnerability is particularly strong among our Palestinian colleagues. Some of them fear that they might even be targeted.”

The report contains a number of recommendations. In addition to calling for a criminal investigation into the killing of Abu Akleh, the group is demanding criminal investigations for Yasser Murtaja and Ahmed Abu Hussein, two reporters who were killed during the Great March of Return in 2018. The group also wants a public update on the status of the FBI’s investigation into Abu Akleh’s killing.

The IDF refused to speak to CPJ on the record. “The IDF regularly checks and investigates its actions through independent and in-depth inspection and investigation mechanisms,” an IDF official told Haaretz .”In cases where an allegation of unlawful harm to civilians, including journalists, is raised, an investigation procedure is held to clarify the allegation, after which the military attorney’s office decides on the continuation of the case in accordance with the materials collected, independently and based on professional considerations only.”

Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss