White House tells Israel it wasn’t behind FBI’s Abu Akleh probe, say reports

Mourners attend memorial for Shireen Abu Akleh to mark 40th day of killing of Al-Jazeera journalist, in West Bank city of Ramallah, on 19 June 2022 (AFP)

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  November 17, 2022

When senior Israeli officials asked US ambassador to Israel Tom Nides for information, he said he was not aware of the probe, according to report.

The Biden administration has informed Israel that it was not involved in the FBI’s decision to open a probe into the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, according to several news reports.

Israeli officials told Axios and the Times Of Israel that both the White House and the State Department told the Israeli government they were not behind the decision – messaging that appeared to be an attempt to soften Israeli backlash over the new investigation.

According to Axios, senior Israeli officials asked US ambassador to Israel Tom Nides for more information, but Nides said he was not aware of the investigation.

While the reports indicate that the decision to launch the probe was independently made by the FBI, the investigative arm of the Department of Justice, it is unclear whether the Biden administration was aware of the decision prior to its revelation.

Middle East Eye reached out to the State Department and White House for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

Israel confirmed on Monday that the US Department of Justice had started an investigation into the killing of the Al-Jazeera journalist.

In response, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said on Twitter that Israel “will not cooperate” with the US probe, calling it “a grave mistake”. 

Abu Akleh, who had worked for 25 years for Al-Jazeera Arabic, was shot dead by Israeli forces on 11 May while covering an Israeli raid in Jenin.

Israel had initially said Palestinian gunmen may have been responsible for the death but then backtracked on its statement.

An Israeli army investigation into the killing in September concluded that she was likely to have been unintentionally shot by an Israeli soldier, but not deliberately targeted. 

Since the killing, investigations by MEE, The Washington Post, The New York Times, as well as international bodies and the United Nations, concluded that Israeli forces had in fact killed Abu Akleh.

Rights groups slammed the Israeli probe, saying Israel has a poor record of investigating the conduct of its forces in relation to Palestinian deaths.

The news of the investigation also comes around the same time that US lawmakers renewed a push for Washington to launch its own investigation into the killing.

The Biden administration has come under pressure from many members of the Democratic Party to conduct a separate investigation.

For months, the administration had refrained from launching a probe, despite similar calls. Instead, it concluded in July that Abu Akleh was likely killed by unintentional Israeli fire, but a ballistics test of the bullet fragment removed from her body was “inconclusive”, Israel said.

On Monday, Congressman Andre Cardon introduced a bill that would require the FBI, director of national intelligence, and secretary of state to submit a report on the killing of Abu Akleh, including “an identification of any United States defense materials or services were implicated in the death”.

The bill had 18 co-sponsors as of Thursday.