Shireen Abu Akleh family meets Blinken in Washington
From Washington, DC, slain Al Jazeera journalist’s relatives renew calls for accountability and independent US probe.
Family members of Shireen Abu Akleh have met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to renew their demands for justice for the Palestinian-American Al Jazeera journalist, who was fatally shot by Israeli forces in May.
Lina Abu Akleh, the journalist’s niece, said the family stressed at the meeting on Tuesday the need for a “US investigation that leads to real accountability”.
“Although he made some commitments on Shireen’s killing, we’re still waiting to see if this administration will meaningfully answer our calls for #JusticeForShireen,” Lina Abu Akleh wrote on Twitter after the talks with Blinken.
She also reiterated the family’s request for a meeting with President Joe Biden, which she said would show “Shireen’s case is a priority for this administration.”
Lina Abu Akleh said Blinken told the family that protecting US citizens is his duty. “Nothing short of a US investigation that leads to real accountability is acceptable, and we won’t stop until no other American or Palestinian family endures the same pain we have,” she wrote.
Abu Akleh’s relatives had called for a meeting with Biden when he visited Israel and the occupied West Bank earlier this month, but the US president did not grant their request.
“Since the President didn’t come to us in Jerusalem to hear first-hand our grief, outrage and concerns regarding his administration’s lack of response to Shireen’s extrajudicial killing, we decided to come to him,” the Abu Akleh family said in a statement first reported by Politico earlier on Tuesday.
Shortly before the family’s meeting with Blinken concluded, Department of State spokesperson Ned Price said the secretary would reiterate the US call for accountability in the case while also hearing the perspective of Abu Akleh’s relatives.
“Part of this meeting is providing the secretary an opportunity to convey messages to them – it will be a message of condolence, there will be a message of the priority we attach to accountability going forward,” Price said.
“But this offers also equally an opportunity for the secretary to hear from the family, to hear their important perspective, to have a dialogue back and forth.”
During a news briefing on Tuesday, Price repeatedly mentioned “accountability” but failed to provide details on what such accountability would look like. Instead, he stressed that Washington is engaging privately with its “Israeli and Palestinian partners” on this issue.
On July 4, the Department of State acknowledged that the fatal bullet that struck Abu Akleh likely came from an Israeli army position, but it framed the killing of the journalist as the unintentional “result of tragic circumstances”.
The US administration also said a “detailed forensic analysis” of the bullet concluded that it was too damaged to determine its source.
Although video footage, witness testimonies, and multiple investigations by independent media outlets have shown that there were no armed Palestinians in the area where Abu Akleh was killed, the US statement emphasised the context of the Israeli raid and shooting as a response to “a series of terrorist attacks in Israel”.
Later on Tuesday, Lina Abu Akleh told Al Jazeera that the family criticised the July 4 State Department statement in the meeting with Biden.
“It was not an investigation, and we expressed how damaging it was to the truth,” she said.
Asked whether the Biden administration was treating the issue seriously or merely trying to contain the public fallout from the killing, Lina Abu Akleh said: “We are hoping to see meaningful action and not just statements… We want to see accountability, so we can prevent this from happening to other American Palestinian citizens or Palestinians in general.”
At a joint news conference with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on July 15, Biden promised to “continue to insist on a full and transparent accounting” for the killing of the journalist.
But amid pledges of continued unconditional US support to Israel in meetings with Israeli leaders, where the killing of Abu Akleh was not brought up publicly, press freedom and Palestinian rights advocates cast doubt on the president’s statement.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) “cautiously” welcomed Biden’s pledge to ensure accountability for the killing earlier this month. But it said the group is “disappointed” that the president did not commit to a probe by the FBI or meet the slain journalist’s family during his visit.
“The Biden administration must understand that the campaign to bring real justice for Shireen is not going away and that any perception of indifference towards journalists would be a huge disservice to the human rights the US president claims to cherish,” Sherif Mansour, CPJ Middle East and North Africa programme coordinator, said in a statement at that time.
Meanwhile, the Abu Akleh family has been emphasising congressional efforts, including numerous letters to the Biden administration, calling for an independent probe into the incident.
“It’s worth noting that, to date, 24 U.S. senators and 57 members of the House of Representatives have called on the Biden administration to initiate a thorough, credible, independent, and transparent US investigation into Shireen’s killing, and we are grateful to every single one of them,” the family said in its statement on Tuesday.
“We will be meeting with some of these members this week, and we thank them for making time to discuss next steps around Shireen’s case.”