Shireen Abu Akleh: Lawyers call on ICC to investigate journalist’s killing

Lubna Masarwa & Dania Akkad

Middle East Eye  / September 20, 2022

While numerous investigations have concluded that an Israeli soldier killed Abu Akleh, the court’s investigation is needed to hold Israel accountable, says her brother.

Lawyers representing the family of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh have asked the International Criminal Court to open a new investigation into her killing.

Abu Akleh, 51, a veteran journalist for Al-Jazeera Arabic and a household name across the Arab world, was shot dead on 11 May while covering an Israeli military raid in the Palestinian city of Jenin in the occupied West Bank.

Her death sparked widespread condemnation followed by multiple investigations, including one by the UN, which concluded that Israeli forces likely killed her.

An Israeli army investigation into Abu Akleh’s killing earlier this month concluded that she was likely to have been unintentionally shot by an Israeli soldier but was not deliberately targeted.

The Israeli Military Advocate General’s Office said it would not open an investigation into any soldiers involved in the incident as “there is no suspicion that a criminal offence was committed”.

Speaking in front of the ICC in The Hague on Tuesday, Abu Akleh’s brother Anton said the family has spent four months pursuing justice and accountability for her killing, and expressed disappointment that the US has failed to launch an investigation.

“That is the bare minimum a government as powerful and influential as that of the United States should strive for on behalf of their own citizen,” he said. 

He said despite numerous investigations that have concluded that his sister was killed by an Israeli soldier, US and ICC investigations are needed “to hold Israel accountable”.

“Shireen was also a proud Palestinian who was killed in cold blood by an Israel soldier. It seems that the reason her case has not been a priority for the US government is because of who she was and who she was killed by.”

The complaint filed on Tuesday is also being brought on behalf of Ali al-Samoudi, another journalist and Al-Jazeera Arabic colleague of Abu Akleh’s who was shot in the same incident.

An investigation by the Ramallah-based human rights organization Al-Haq and Forensic Architecture, released on Tuesday, found that Abu Akleh and her colleagues were explicitly targeted despite being identifiable as members of the press.

The source of the gunfire which killed Abu Akleh, according to their investigation, was an Israeli army marksman who was positioned in an armoured vehicle. 

Contrary to Israeli statements which said Abu Akleh was killed during a battle between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli soldiers, the organizations also found that there were no shots fired from Palestinian gunmen and no armed Palestinians present in the area in the moments leading up to her killing.

Once she was shot, the investigators found, the Israeli marksman continued to shoot at those trying to help Abu Akleh, deliberately denying her from receiving medical care.

‘This is our right’

Tuesday’s complaint follows an earlier case filed with the ICC in April on behalf of a group of Palestinian journalists whose lawyers say they were systematically targeted by Israeli forces in occupied Palestinian territories.

Shatha Hanaysha, a Palestinian journalist and MEE contributor who was with Abu Akleh and Samoudi on 11 May when they were shot, said she feels optimistic about the case being filed even if she’s not sure whether it will provide the outcome that those involved seek.

“This is our right and Shireen’s right too and we must fight to get our rights,” Hanaysha told MEE.

“This is an important step in keeping her case alive and in the media, as well as in international press and legal circles.”

She said Abu Akleh’s case is only one example of the crimes Israel is committing against Palestinians as a consequence of the occupation.

“It was not only Shireen that was killed in cold blood. There are lots of cases similar to her,” said Hanaysha.

“Shireen, through all of her work in the media, always tried to expose the truth, which is our duty as journalists. I only hope that the truth is revealed and that this does justice for Shireen.”

In February 2021, the ICC ruled that it had jurisdiction to investigate allegations of crimes that have occurred in the occupied territories, and opened an investigation a month later into alleged war crimes committed by Israeli and Palestinian forces there since 13 June 2014. 

Lawyers bringing the claims to the ICC say that last year’s decision presents an opening for the court to lead a formal investigation into the targeting of Palestinian journalists and bring potential prosecutions.

“This is not just a question of accountability for war crimes. The targeting of journalists is a war crime. It is also about press freedom,” said Jennifer Robinson a barrister with Doughty Street Chambers, one of the law firms involved.

“The killing of journalists is an attempt to cover up and prevent their work in documenting human rights abuses and fosters impunity for the justices they are seeking to cover.”

Lubna Masarwa is a journalist and Middle East Eye’s Palestine and Israel bureau chief, based in Jerusalem

Dania Akkad is a senior investigations editor, focused on human rights, energy and technology