The Biden administration says it wants Shireen Abu Akleh’s killing investigated, but it’s hard to take that seriously

Michael Arria 

Mondoweiss  /  May 12, 2022

The Biden administration says it wants an investigation into Shireen Abu Akleh’s death, but it stonewalls independent investigations of Israel at every turn.

On Wednesday Israeli forces killed Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American journalist and veteran correspondent at Al-Jazeera. Another Palestinian journalist, Ali Samoudi, was shot in the back. He’s currently in stable condition.

Palestinian journalist, and Mondoweiss contributor Shatha Hanaysha was next to Abu Akleh when she died. Here’s how she described the terrible scene to Middle East Eye:

We made ourselves visible to the soldiers who were stationed hundreds of metres away from us. We remained still for around 10 minutes to make sure they knew we were there as journalists. 

 When no warning shots were fired at us, we moved uphill towards the camp. 

Out of nowhere, we heard the first gunshot.

 I turned around and saw my colleague Ali al-Samoudi on the floor. A bullet hit him in the back but his wound was not serious and he managed to move away from the fire.

 A scene of chaos followed. 

 My colleague Mujahed jumped over a small fence nearby to stay away from the bullets. 

 “Come over here,” he told me and Shireen, but we were on the other side of the street and couldn’t risk crossing. 

 “Al-Samoudi is hit,” Shireen shouted, standing right behind me, as we both stood with our backs to a wall to take cover. 

 Right then, another bullet pierced Shireen’s neck, and she fell to the ground right next to me. 

 I called her name but she didn’t move. When I tried to extend my arm to reach her, another bullet was fired, and I had to stay hiding behind a tree.

 That tree saved my life, as it was the only thing obstructing the soldiers’ view of me. 

According to Hanaysha, the attack was no accident. “What happened was a deliberate attempt to kill us,” she said. Whoever shot at us aimed to kill. And it was an Israeli sniper that shot at us. We were not caught up in crossfire with Palestinian fighters like the Israeli army claimed.”

A couple weeks ago President Biden addressed the importance of journalism during his remarks at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. “We honor journalists killed, missing, imprisoned, detained, and tortured; covering war, exposing corruption, and holding leaders accountable,” he told the crowd.

This is a great sentiment, but of course it can’t possibly be taken seriously. The United States government’s devotion to such ideals is contingent upon what countries are involved.

When the American filmmaker Brent Renaud was killed outside of Kyiv in March, the Biden team was quick to condemn Russia. “We are horrified that journalists and filmmakers—noncombatants—have been killed and injured in Ukraine by Kremlin forces,” tweeted State Department spokesman Ned Price. “We extend condolences to all those affected by this horrific violence. This is yet another gruesome example of the Kremlin’s indiscriminate actions.”

This was Price’s tweet after Abu Akleh was killed: “We are heartbroken by and strongly condemn the killing of American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in the West Bank. The investigation must be immediate and thorough and those responsible must be held accountable. Her death is an affront to media freedom everywhere.”

You’ll note that Renaud’s death pointed to something “gruesome” about the Russian government whereas Israel is not even mentioned in the second tweet. During yesterday’s State Department briefing Price said that “the Israelis have the wherewithal and the capabilities to conduct a thorough, comprehensive investigation,” but of course that almost never happens. The fact Abu Akleh was a U.S. citizen is unlikely to impact the aftermath, she’s certainly not the first American killed by Israel.

The AP’s Matt Lee asked Price about what an investigation would like and who would carry it out. Very basic questions considering the U.S. is asking for one. Here’s that exchange:

LEE: Yes. On this situation, when you call for “an immediate and thorough investigation,” who exactly do you want to do the investigating?

PRICE: We – it is important to us that those who are responsible for her death be held responsible, that full accountability be ensured in this case.

 LEE: Okay, but my question is not that. My question is who do you think can conduct a credible investigation into her death that would be accepted by all parties, including the United States?

PRICE: Well, in this case, I’m not going to prejudge where any investigation may go. We’ve seen, of course, that the Israeli Defense Forces have already announced that there is an investigation underway. We welcome that announcement. It is important to us, it is important to the world that that investigation be thorough, that it be comprehensive, that it be transparent, and importantly, that investigations end with full accountability and those responsible for her death being held responsible for their actions.

LEE: Okay. But I mean, do you want the Palestinians to be involved in the investigation?

PRICE: The IDF has announced an investigation.

QUESTION: Okay, that’s the IDF.

PRICE: Correct.

LEE: “I” standing for Israel.

PRICE: That is correct.

Price is dancing around something very obvious here. The United States wants Israel to investigate itself. They’re not interested in launching their own investigation. It doesn’t matter that Israel gets more than $3.8 billion in American taxpayer money every year and that they use some of it to kill people.

After the young U.S. activist Rachel Corrie was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer in 2003 Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised the Bush administration that they’d launch a “thorough, credible, and transparent investigation.” What they produced was a classified IDF report that concluded Corrie’s death was just a “tragic accident.” They distributed the report to U.S. congress members. Former Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) introduced a resolution calling for an independent U.S. investigation into Corrie’s death. It attracted a number of cosponsors, but was killed by House leadership and never made it out of committee. That’s how “thorough, credible, and transparent” goes in these situations.

What about a third party probe into the killing of a journalist? Well, the UN is currently investigating potential Israeli war crimes and human rights abuses from Israel’s attack on Gaza last year and the Biden administration publicly opposes the effort.

Let’s go back to Ned Price’s press conference for a second. He was also asked whether the United States government ever got a satisfactory response for Israel bombing the Associated Press’s Gaza office in 2021. Keep in mind this happened a year ago now.

QUESTION: Ned, sorry, just really briefly since you brought it up, the bombing of the AP and the Al Jazeera office in Gaza, did you guys ever get an explanation from the Israelis that was satisfactory?

PRICE: We were in contact with the Israelis. They shared with us some of the information regarding that strike.

QUESTION: And did you think that it was a legit target?

PRICE: Clearly, the fact that there were the offices of at least two independent media organizations made it highly concerning, highly troubling to us. But beyond that —

QUESTION: Well, is it still troubling, or were your concerns resolved after what they told you?

PRICE: It is —

QUESTION: I mean, it’s been almost – literally, that happened on May 15th of last year. It’s now, what, May 11th. Or is it the 12th?

PRICE: It is – that assessment has not changed. It is —

QUESTION: So you’re still troubled by it? In other words, the explanation that the Israelis gave to you is not – it did not allay your —

MR PRICE: We voiced our concern by the fact that journalists were put at risk, that their offices came under assault.

In short, the Biden administration won’t say whether Israel was justified when it launched an airstrike into a high-rise building that housed an Associated Press office. Keep in mind that Ned Price has also consistently stated that the Biden team is still looking over Israeli “evidence” that allegedly connects six Palestinian human rights groups to terrorist organizations. They want you to believe they’ve been analyzing this information for seven months.

So let’s recap. The Biden administration wants to hold leaders accountable when journalists are killed. They are shocked by Shireen Abu Akleh’s death and they condemn her killing. They want an investigation, but they’re not going to launch their own and they will presumably be skeptical of any outside human rights group that examines the situation. They have confidence in Israel to investigate itself, but it will take them months, possibly years, to develop a position on its findings.

A special relationship indeed.

Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss