‘Repeat shooting directly at unarmed civilians’ destroys U.S. claim that Abu Akleh killing was unintentional — B’Tselem

Philip Weiss 

Mondoweiss  /  July 25, 2022   

Israel is whitewashing the Abu Akleh killing, like 100s of cases before it, B’Tselem says.

There have been countless reports on the killing of the Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh on May 11 at Jenin Camp in the Occupied Palestinian territories that all say the same thing: an Israeli soldier in a convoy about 650 feet away shot her with a rifle. Many of these findings have relied on forensic ballistic data.

A July 21 report from B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization, only confirms what all the others have said, but this time emphasizing the eyewitness testimony of three Palestinians who were on the scene, including the brave man who tried to save Abu Akleh’s life by running out amid the gun fire and dragging her behind a tree, also acting to save the life of the journalist Shatha Hanaysha.

Let the name Sharif al-‘Azab be known far and wide! Who can read his story without marveling at his nobility and heroism. B’Tselem says the Israelis continued to fire at al-‘Azab as he tried to save lives.

From al-‘Azab’s stunning testimony to B’Tselem:

A journalist was by the wall, hiding behind a carob tree, and someone was lying face down on the ground next to her. I climbed over the wall and got off, despite the continuous shooting at us. I tried to lift the woman who was lying on the ground. When I took off her helmet, I realized it was the famous journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Her head and hair were covered in blood, and she wasn’t moving. I decided to help the journalist, who was clinging to the tree trunk in a panic, and get her away from there. I led her to the edge of the wall so she could climb over it and get out of the range of fire.

I went back to pick up Shireen Abu Akleh. I managed to carry her a few meters, so the trunk of the carob tree was between us and the soldiers’ gunfire. Other young men who were there helped me carry her to a private car that took her to Ibn Sina Hospital.

Israel has of course refused to take any responsibility in the matter, but repeatedly tried to obfuscate the case; though it knows just what happened. The B’Tselem report on the killing emphasizes Israel’s changing narrative and its history of impunity in such cases.

The B’Tselem report also blows up the American cover-up for the killing: a cursory U.S. investigation found that it was a tragic case and there was no intention to kill Abu Akleh. These findings are “detached from reality,” B’Tselem says:

[A]ttributing the death of Abu Akleh and the wounding of [her Al Jazeera colleague Ali] Samudi to “tragic circumstances” is detached from reality and contradicted by the footage. The gunfire heard in the footage consisted of two targeted volleys. A bullet from the first volley of six shots hit Samudi, at which point the journalists fled. A bullet from the second volley of seven shots hit Abu Akleh as she was trying to take cover. Three more shots were then fired at a young man who tried to remove her as she lay injured on the ground. Repeat shooting directly at unarmed civilians, most of them conspicuously marked as journalists, cannot be considered “tragic circumstances.”

Third, while the US statement noted that the shooting at Abu Akleh was likely carried out by a soldier, it added that the killing was not “intentional.” Whether Abu Akleh was killed intentionally or not is not the only question, as lack of intent does not grant an exemption from liability. A pertinent question is whether any real effort was made to prevent civilian casualties during a pre-planned Israeli military operation, carried out in broad daylight by heavily protected military forces. Israel, on its part, certainly made no such effort. For years, it has been implementing an unlawful open-fire policy in the West Bank that permits use of live fire in non-life-threatening circumstances. When Palestinians are killed as a result, Israel refrains from taking action against the persons involved, thereby allowing such cases to recur. Although all the officials who sign off on the policy – including senior military officers and prosecutors – are well aware of the outcome, it remains unchanged.

B’Tselem then blows up the Israeli determination that “the facts of the case would remain unknown.” Yes, Israeli has whitewashed hundreds of cases like this before.

Hundreds of failed investigations led by the military law enforcement system over the years indicate that Israel has no desire to uncover the truth – in this case, as in others. Citing difficulties to investigate is disingenuous, and the chief of staff’s promise to continue investigating “with a commitment to transparency and revealing the truth of the incident, using all tools available to the IDF” is divorced from reality. Israel’s investigation system is geared towards whitewashing. All that can be expected is that Israel will complete the whitewashing process it began as it sees fit. There never was, or will be, transparency. The inquiry and the investigation (if launched) will serve to cover up the incident, and acts of violence against Palestinians will continue unimpeded.

Bear in mind that Joe Biden on his trip to Israel ten days ago accommodated the Israeli cover-up by not raising the killing of an American journalist with the Israelis — even as he supposedly confronted the Saudi Crown Prince over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. No, Biden only brought up Abu Akleh at his press conference with Mahmoud Abbas, and mangled her name, and issued some platitudes. The American behavior in this case is devastating.

The case won’t go away. On Friday a sophomore at Medill School of Journalism in Illinois was awarded an essay prize of $4000 last week for his essay criticizing the U.S. media coverage of the Abu Akleh killing. “I found the reporting on her to be sub-par and riddled with half-truths and bias,” Joshua Gregory said in accepting the prize. He wrote in part:

“As a person fulfilling a degree in journalism, the prospect of one of my colleagues being killed by a government in pursuit of the truth is troublesome… But the idea of their death being subject to the biases of other journalists is a horrific slap in the face.”

Americans care about the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh. The case will not disappear until these demands for accountability are answered. And yes, that could take a long time. The Intercept ran a fine piece showing the pattern, that our government secretly sympathized with the family of Rachel Corrie too, the courageous martyr of Rafah in 2003, and couldn’t lift a finger publicly.

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