Ramallah, Occupied West Bank – Israel has said there is a “high possibility” that slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was “accidentally hit” by Israeli army fire but added that it would not be launching a criminal investigation.
Israeli authorities released on Monday afternoon the results of their investigation into the killing. Witnesses, Al Jazeera, and numerous investigations by the United Nations, human rights groups, and media organisations have found that an Israeli soldier shot Abu Akleh.
The Israeli investigation said that its soldiers had come under fire from Palestinian fighters at the scene, a claim that has not been corroborated by footage of the incident.
“It is not possible to unequivocally determine the source of the gunfire which hit and killed Ms. Abu Akleh,” the report said, adding that it remains a “possibility” that she “was hit by bullets fired by armed Palestinian gunmen”.
“After a comprehensive examination of the incident, and based on all the findings, the Military Advocate General found that under the circumstances of the case, there is no suspicion of a criminal offense that justifies the opening of a Military Police investigation,” the report said.
In a background briefing for journalists prior to the release of the results, senior Israeli army officials said they had met the soldier, and that “if he did it, he did it by mistake”.
They also repeatedly said they were “very proud of the conduct of our soldiers” and that the soldiers “were briefed and acted according to procedure”.
Abu Akleh, a 51-year-old Palestinian American, was shot dead by Israeli forces on May 11, while she was covering an army raid on Jenin, in the northern occupied West Bank.
Multiple detailed investigations, including by the United Nations, the Palestinian Authority (PA), and several media outlets, including CNN and The Associated Press news agency, found that Abu Akleh was definitively shot by Israeli fire and that there were no Palestinian fighters at the scene when she was killed.
The journalists who were standing next to her and witnessed the killing also said no Palestinian fighters were present.
Palestinian witnesses told Al Jazeera’s The Take podcast that they were never contacted by Israel as part of the investigation.
Israel tried to ‘obscure the truth’
In a statement on Monday, Abu Akleh’s family said Israel tried to “obscure the truth and avoid responsibility for killing Shireen Abu Akleh”.
“As expected, Israel has refused to take responsibility for murdering Shireen. Our family is not surprised by this outcome since it’s obvious to anyone the Israeli war criminals cannot investigate their own crimes,” the statement read.
“We will continue to demand that the US government follow through with its stated commitments to accountability.”
In a statement following Israel’s announcement, the US State Department again stressed the need for “accountability”, describing Abu Akleh as a “fearless reporter” who had earned the respect of audiences around the world.
“We welcome Israel’s review of this tragic incident, and again underscore the importance of accountability in this case, such as policies and procedures to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future,” the statement said.
Al Jazeera has condemned the Israeli occupation forces’ (IOF) attempt to evade responsibility for Abu Akleh’s killing.
“Al Jazeera Media Network denounces the findings of this investigation and stresses that this elusive admission is nothing but an attempt from the IOF to evade the criminal responsibility for the killing of Shireen, which has been proven by numerous independent and international investigations,” the Qatar-based TV network said in a statement on Monday.
“The Network demands that an independent international body investigates the assassination of Shireen Abu Akleh to achieve justice for her, her family, and fellow journalists around the world.”
Abu Akleh was a veteran correspondent for Al Jazeera Arabic TV and a household name in the Arab world. She had worked with the network for more than 25 years covering Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.
Her killing caused global outrage and mass calls for an independent investigation, which Israel has refused, choosing instead to conduct its own probe.
Abu Akleh was wearing a clearly marked press vest and helmet, and was standing with other journalists, also in their press gear, when she was killed.
Another Al Jazeera journalist, Ali al-Samoudi, was shot in the back at the scene, but he later recovered.
Al Jazeera and Abu Akleh’s family have referred her killing to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Luis Moreno Ocampo, a prosecutor at the ICC from 2003 to 2012, told Al Jazeera that with Israel’s report, “it’s very important that Israel recognises, admits that probably, the bullet came from an Israeli soldier”.
“Now the next step is to understand why the Israeli soldiers shot. Even Israel saying, ‘No one was targeting her’ – OK – but why was someone shooting her? That requires that Israel explains what the soldiers were saying at that moment,” Ocampo said.
“In addition, I understand Forensic Architecture, a very well-recognised institution in London is conducting a technical report analysing the trajectory of the bullet; that’s another piece that we need to keep pushing for.”
Al Jazeera Media Network earlier described the killing in a statement as “blatant murder”, saying Abu Akleh was “assassinated in cold blood”.
“Al Jazeera holds the Israeli government and the occupation forces responsible for the killing of Shireen,” the network said. “It also calls on the international community to condemn and hold the Israeli occupation forces accountable for their intentional targeting and killing of Shireen.”
The United States initially urged for an independent investigation, but later said Israel had the “wherewithal and the capabilities to conduct a thorough, comprehensive investigation”.
On July 4, the US released a statement based on the findings of the Israeli investigation, saying Abu Akleh was probably killed by “unintentional” gunfire from Israeli positions. However, it said the origin of the bullet that struck her remained “inconclusive”, garnering anger from her family and those following the case.
At least 46 Palestinian journalists have been killed by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip since 2000, according to the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS).