Al-Jazeera / May 11, 2023
One year after Al-Jazeera journalist was killed, rights advocates say Biden administration is shielding Israeli abuses.
Washington, DC – United States President Joe Biden often says that “journalism is not a crime”, invoking a phrase popular among press freedom advocates to denounce the repression, jailing, and killing of journalists around the world.
But a year after Israeli forces killed Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in the occupied West Bank, rights activists say the Biden administration has done next to nothing to push for accountability in the case.
Abu Akleh, a veteran Al-Jazeera correspondent, was fatally shot by the Israeli military while covering a raid in the Palestinian city of Jenin on May 11, 2022.
Although multiple independent investigations by media outlets and eyewitnesses concluded that the slain reporter was not in the immediate vicinity of any fighting, the US administration has adopted the Israeli claim that Abu Akleh was shot “accidentally”.
Washington, which provides Israel with at least $3.8bn in military assistance every year, has also rejected efforts to seek accountability for Abu Akleh at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Here, Al-Jazeera speaks to Palestinian-American journalists and human rights and Palestine solidarity advocates about the US response to the killing.
Paul O’Brien, executive director of Amnesty International USA
O’Brien decried the Biden administration’s response to the killing of the Al Jazeera journalist and called for a “thorough and independent” investigation.
“Her killing in particular was a stark reminder of the crimes that we believe have been committed by Israeli authorities in order to maintain their system of apartheid over Palestinians,” O’Brien told Al-Jazeera.
“And it’s also symptomatic of the US government’s role in continuing to shield the Israeli government from accountability for their violations of human rights, of war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
He also slammed what he called “double standards” in the US approach to criticizing abuses by its allies, noting that Biden had pledged to promote human rights in his foreign policy.
“If the US is going to be able to centre its foreign policy on human rights, the world is going to watch when the United States is asked to pass judgement on the human rights records of its allies,” O’Brien said.
Tariq Kenney-Shawa, US policy fellow at Palestinian think tank Al-Shabaka
Kenney-Shawa called the US response to the killing of Abu Akleh “abhorrent but unsurprising”, saying that it represents the latest example of Washington’s “complicity in Israeli war crimes and human rights violations”.
“The current administration does a lot of lofty talking about its commitment to human rights and democratic values, but those values all seem to fade away when it comes to Israel’s actions. When it comes to Israel-Palestine, the US claims to be an honest peace broker, but it is anything but that,” Kenney-Shawa told Al Jazeera.
“Just as the US calls for peace and a two-state solution while simultaneously enabling Israeli expansion, it also calls for accountability for Shireen’s murder, while doing everything it can to ensure that her murderers won’t pay the price.”
Kenney-Shawa added that the Abu Akleh case demonstrated the “emptiness” of the Biden administration’s self-proclaimed commitment to press freedom.
Laura Albast, Palestinian-American organiser
Albast, who is based in the Washington, DC area, said the Biden administration has been trying to “pacify” calls for accountability for the killing of Abu Akleh.
“They don’t want to address this. They will never hold Israel accountable for any crime, let alone this one. They just want it to go away,” she told Al-Jazeera.
“They’re just waiting for the news cycle to fade, for the mobilization to slow down, for people to move on to the next big thing to the next issue.”
She added that despite the US government’s position, activists will continue to push for justice for the slain journalist.
“That does not mean that we’re going to stop asking for accountability, that we will stop protesting and mobilizing and calling these injustices out, and holding the US administration itself accountable for its complicity in the occupation of Palestine and the ethnic cleansing of Palestine and the murder of Shireen Abu Akleh,” Albast said.
“It is American tax money that’s paying for this murder machine.”
Nader Ihmoud, editor in chief of Palestine in America magazine
Ihmoud told Al-Jazeera that “it hurts” to see the US government being so careless about the lives of Palestinian Americans.
He said Abu Akleh was a role model and revered journalist, but that despite her status and US citizenship, Washington has failed to seek accountability for her killing.
“She was Palestinian, and she was American. And that’s kind of the bubble I fit into. As selfish as it sounds, when I go back home, and I visit, and maybe I’m acting as a journalist out there, would I be protected?” Ihmoud said.
“In the back of my head – because we really haven’t had a direct situation like this, where a prominent Palestinian-American journalist was killed like this in broad daylight – that was just confirmation: If something happened to me, nobody’s going to give a f**k.”
Ihmoud also hit out at what he called Biden’s “lie” of supporting press freedom: “It’s infuriating because, in everything that they say, the silent part is, ‘except Palestinians’,” he told Al-Jazeera.
James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute think tank
Zogby said the US handling of the killing of Abu Akleh echoes the way Washington has dealt with decades of rights violations against Palestinians.
“It falls into the same pattern … and that is: They do not see Palestinians as full human beings,” Zogby said. “And, therefore, do not treat them in the way they treat other human rights abuses around the world. What compounds this, of course, is that Shireen was an American citizen.”
Zogby added that there was an “element of racism” to the way the US overlooks abuses against its Arab citizens, citing the mistreatment of Arab Americans at Israeli airports and border crossings.
Abu Akleh was one of two US citizens killed by Israel last year. Omar Assad, an elderly Palestinian American died in January 2022 after being arbitrarily detained by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank.
“It’s not just that Israel sees two classes of American citizens, it is that the US treats us as separate classes of citizens [when] they do not give us equal protection … We’re all deserving of the same rights. We’re not children of a lesser God,” Zogby said.
Reem Farhat, Palestinian-American journalist
Farhat said the lack of a “clear and strong” response from the Biden administration to the killing of Abu Akleh should be alarming to all journalists in the US.
“Journalism is not a crime. An attack on journalists is an attack on accountability and truth. For a journalist to have been killed while clearly marked as a reporter should raise concern and anger across the board,” Farhat told Al-Jazeera in an email.
“And while Shireen’s killing shouldn’t only matter because she was a journalist, or a Palestinian American, the fact that her killing by Israeli soldiers hadn’t garnered a strong response from this administration despite those facts is disappointing.”
Ali Harb is a writer based in Washington, DC; he reports on US foreign policy, Arab-American issues, civil rights and politics