Shireen Abu Akleh’s blood is on the hands of Israel’s ‘friends’

A journalist holds a poster of Shireen Abu Akleh during a protest against the reporter's killing, in Gaza City (Ashraf Amra - APA Images)

Maureen Clare Murphy

The Electronic Intifada  /  May 11, 2022

Israel’s international friends bear responsibility for each Palestinian fatality in the context of the occupation, even when they purport to oppose the deadly violence.

European, North American and UN officials condemned the killing of Al- Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh while she was covering an Israeli military raid in Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday.

Those supposed condemnations variably included vague calls for an investigation and accountability without specifically naming Israel as the party all but certainly responsible for Abu Akleh’s death.

Such calls for an investigation ring hollow when coming from parties that have failed to support the International Criminal Court’s war crimes probe in Palestine.

The UK, US and Canada have actively tried to undermine that investigation while the UN secretary general’s Middle East envoys have refused to endorse it or any other international accountability measure against Israel.

A preliminary investigation by Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights group, based on an autopsy result and eyewitness testimony, concluded that Abu Akleh was killed by a bullet fired by Israeli soldiers.

Soldiers had surrounded a home in the camp on the pretext of searching for wanted persons, according to Al-Haq, and were met with armed resistance.

Abu Akleh was hit in the head by a bullet fired from the direction of the Israeli soldiers, who had full view of the Al Jazeera crew, and not the resistance fighters, whose fire would not have been able to reach the journalists.

Another journalist, Ali Samoudi, was shot in the back during the same incident and was reportedly in stable condition.

Moreover, the type of projectile found in Abu Akleh’s brain is a bullet issued to Israeli soldiers.

Al-Haq said that Abu Akleh’s killing may amount to “premeditated murder.”

Immediately after her killing, and before any preliminary examination was possible, Israel launched a public relations campaign distancing itself from responsibility for Abu Akleh’s death.

The Tel Aviv daily Haaretz reported that “even though the military has yet to conclude its investigation, Israel is pushing the message that there are indications that Abu Akleh was killed by Palestinian fire.”

Israel released video footage claiming to show Palestinian gunfire in the area where Abu Akleh was killed, though it was quickly debunked by B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, and ridiculed online.

The ambiguity introduced by Israel’s public relations blitz was enough to stick, however. The effort was a success, with news outlets privileging the Israeli government line over the testimony of Abu Akleh’s colleagues who survived the attack and said that they came under Israeli fire.

An unnamed Israeli official told Haaretz that the spin campaign had “already influenced leading news organizations including the Associated Press, Sky News, the BBC and AFP.”

“The official said that these agencies – which initially reported that Abu Akleh had been killed by Israeli fire were now reporting that the circumstances of her death are under investigation,” Haaretz added.

Yet there will be no credible Israeli investigation into Abu Akleh’s death, as Israel’s self-investigation mechanism only exists to shield the state and its personnel from international accountability.

It is possible that a low-ranking soldier will be slapped on the wrist, as has happened in a handful of other cases concerning the death of a Palestinian at the hands of the Israeli military.

But there will be no true reckoning for the authors of Israel’s open-fire policy, which is exercised liberally against Palestinians living under its military rule, guaranteeing that the bloodshed will continue.

Calls for an “investigation” by parties in a position to put actual pressure on Israel are all the more insulting given that less than a week ago, Israel’s highest court approved the forced expulsion of Palestinians living in the Masafer Yatta area of the southern West Bank.

With the stroke of a pen, a trio of Israeli judges, one of them a settler from the UK who lives in a West Bank colony, signed off on the violent displacement of more than 1,000 Palestinians from the land where they’ve lived for generations.

In other words, they approved a war crime.

This, too, the European Union condemned, as they condemned the killing of Abu Akleh.

It is rare for the EU – which usually only expresses its “concern” – to “condemn” any violation of Palestinian rights, let alone twice in one week.

But without imposing any actual consequences on Israel, such condemnation is an empty gesture.

EU condemnation hasn’t stopped Israel from carrying out the forced expulsion of Masafer Yatta, where it demolished Palestinian homes and other property on Wednesday, displacing Palestinian residents.

Such condemnation is a mere performance intended to give the appearance of objection but taking meaningful action.

Hollow condemnation

Shireen Abu Akleh was a US citizen, as was Omar Assad, an older Palestinian man who was left to die on the ground after having a heart attack while being arbitrarily detained by soldiers who raided his West Bank village earlier this year.

Israel initially lied about the circumstances of his death, claiming that he had resisted a check by soldiers and was released alive.

The US pressed Israel for an investigation but didn’t put any conditions on military aid, meaning that Israel had nothing to lose by failing to meaningfully investigate Assad’s death.

Any condemnation that doesn’t come with consequences is actually a permission slip for Israel to continue to kill Palestinians, destroy their communities and deny their freedom.

It is a green light to Israel to keep murdering Palestinians with full impunity.

Yet most deaths of Palestinians at the hands of Israel’s military don’t receive any condemnation from Israel’s powerful friends, however hollow that condemnation may be.

There were no condemnations from Brussels or Washington over the killing of 16-year-old Thaer Maslat in the West Bank on Wednesday – the 10th Palestinian child fatality at the hands of Israel so far this year.

Israel claimed that soldiers fired rubber-coated bullets at Palestinians who threw stones at soldiers who had raided Al-Bireh, a town near Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority.

That claim will be good enough for the diplomats and foreign press corps who are all too happy to take Israel at its word, as worthless as it may be, and have allowed Israel’s regime of occupation, apartheid and colonization to go on year after year, decade after decade.

Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada