Shireen Abu Akleh: US still thinks Israel should lead probe

Washington says the International Criminal Court should not investigate killing of Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh (Mohammed Abed - AFP)

Ali Harb

Al-Jazeera  /  June 9, 2022

Antony Blinken had called for ‘independent’ investigation, but State Department says US position has not changed.

Washington, DC The administration of US President Joe Biden has said it still believes Israel should lead the investigation into the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

“There has been no change in our approach,” a State Department spokesperson told Al-Jazeera in a statement on Thursday, a day after Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for an “independent” probe of Abu Akleh’s killing.

“We continue to call for a thorough, credible investigation that culminates in accountability.”

Israeli forces fatally shot the veteran Al-Jazeera journalist on May 11 while she was reporting in Jenin in the occupied West Bank.

Calls for justice for Abu Akleh have grown louder as the one-month anniversary of the killing approaches – and as investigations by the Palestinian Authority, media outlets and rights groups have concluded that she was targeted by the Israeli military.

Washington has called for accountability while insisting that Israel should lead the investigation into the incident.

In a heated exchange with a journalist on Tuesday, Blinken stressed that the facts of what happened to Abu Akleh have not been established yet. Still, the top US diplomat for the first time called for an “independent” investigation.

“We are looking for an independent, credible investigation. When that investigation happens, we will follow the facts, wherever they lead. It’s as straightforward as that,” Blinken said.

Press freedom advocates, rights groups and dozens of US lawmakers have been calling for an independent body to conduct the probe.

But Washington had rejected a third-party-led probe early on after the killing.

On May 11, the same day that Abu Akleh was fatally shot, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Israel has the “wherewithal and the capabilities to conduct a thorough, comprehensive investigation”.

Khalil Jahshan, executive director of the Arab Center Washington DC, a think tank, accused the Biden administration of “playing with words”, saying that the US position – calling for a credible probe while saying that Israel should be the one to conduct it – is incoherent.

“The confusion is resulting from an inherently contradictory US policy with regards to the investigation,” Jahshan told Al-Jazeera.

He stressed that for a probe to be truly independent, Israeli and Palestinian authorities cannot take part in it.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a watchdog, last month called for an international investigation into the incident that should include representatives of the US and Qatari governments. Al-Jazeera Media Network is based in Qatar.

“The investigation into Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh’s killing should meet international legal standards, include US government and Qatari representatives, and focus on revealing and sharing evidence with the UN and other stakeholders,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour in a statement at the time.

“The most important outcome of this investigation is that accountability must follow. Forensic reports, findings, and evidence must be shared with international investigators and the public.”

The Palestinian Authority and Al-Jazeera have also referred the case to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

But this week, the Biden administration, which rejects the ICC push to probe possible Israeli war crimes, reiterated its opposition to the international court’s involvement in investigating the Abu Akleh case.

“The United States maintains its longstanding objection to the ICC’s investigation into the Palestinian situation,” a US State Department spokesperson told Al-Jazeera. “We call for a thorough investigation into this killing and full accountability, however the ICC is not the right venue.”

Jahshan said Washington cannot square its self-proclaimed status as the “leader of the democratic world” with turning a blind eye to Israeli abuses. That is why, he added, US officials sound increasingly “inconsistent” when they address Abu Akleh’s killing.

Israel, which has been accused of apartheid by Amnesty International and other rights groups, receives $3.8bn in US military aid annually.

Jahshan said amid pressure from press freedom advocates and rights groups, US officials “seem to be putting their foot in their mouth” every time they face questions about the killing of Abu Akleh.

“Israel has to investigate itself; the ICC cannot intervene because it’s Israel; and yet, under pressure, it has to be an independent and transparent investigation. Well, you cannot reconcile these three,” Jahshan said.

Ali Harb is a writer based in Washington, DC