US report on Abu Akleh killing must be made public, senator urges

Chris Van Hollen says though US did not conduct an independent investigation, the government report provides ‘important insights’.

Shireen memorial
Veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was celebrated across the Arab world [File: Majdi Mohammed/AP Photo]

Washington, DC – A United States senator has called on President Joe Biden’s administration to make public a government report on the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

Democrat Chris Van Hollen said on Monday that he had reviewed the report by the US Security Coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority (USSC) — weeks after he requested it from the State Department.

But Van Hollen said he now wants it declassified “in its entirety”.

“I strongly believe that its public release is vital to ensuring transparency and accountability in the shooting death of American citizen and journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and to avoiding future preventable and wrongful deaths — goals we should all support,” the senator said in a statement.

Abu Akleh, a veteran Palestinian-American correspondent, was killed on May 11, 2022, while covering an Israeli raid in Jenin, a city in the occupied West Bank.

At first, Israeli officials falsely accused Palestinian gunmen of fatally shooting Abu Akleh before acknowledging months later that she was likely killed by an Israeli soldier.

Still, Israel has dismissed the incident as unintentional and has not opened a criminal probe into the killing — prompting calls for the US, a staunch Israeli ally, to conduct its own investigation and seek accountability in the case.

Van Hollen said on Monday that the USSC, which oversees and encourages security coordination between Israeli and Palestinian officials, was not granted access to key witnesses and was “unable to conduct an independent investigation” into the killing.

Still, the senator said the report provides “very important insights” into the incident, including on the Israeli unit involved in the operation that led to Abu Akleh’s death, “as well as other [Israeli military] units operating in the West Bank”.

The report is described as a “summation” document on other investigations of the incident.

In July 2022, the State Department cited an initial USSC summary of the probes conducted by Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA), which said that Israeli gunfire was “likely responsible” for Abu Akleh’s death, though it found no reason to believe the shooting was intentional.

The assessment angered Palestinian rights supporters who noted that US authorities did not interview witnesses and ignored the PA’s conclusion that the shooting was deliberate.

The USSC report, which Van Hollen said on Monday he had reviewed, is believed to be a more thorough accounting of the US government’s findings. Specific details of the report, including when it was finalised and what it includes, remain unclear.

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Witnesses, video footage and investigations by numerous media outlets have concluded there was no fighting in the immediate vicinity of where Abu Akleh — who was in full press gear — was fatally shot.

In the months since, Van Hollen and other American legislators have called for a US probe into the incident.

Late last year, Israeli and US media outlets reported that the FBI was investigating the killing, but US authorities — including the Justice and State departments — have refused to confirm or deny the existence of the purported probe.

US officials initially called for accountability in the case, including prosecuting Abu Akleh’s killers to the “fullest extent” of the law.

Weeks after the shooting, Secretary of State Antony Blinken also said that Washington was looking for an “independent” investigation into the killing.

But Washington appeared to drop that demand last year. Instead, the State Department now says it is seeking accountability by calling on Israel to review its military rules of engagement — a demand Israeli leaders have openly rejected.

“In the aftermath of the death of Shireen Abu Akleh, Secretary Blinken has asked the Government of Israel to review the [military] rules of engagement in the West Bank, but he has been rebuffed — such a review remains necessary,” Van Hollen said in Monday’s statement.

Last month, on the first anniversary of Abu Akleh’s killing, the Al Jazeera journalist’s family met with lawmakers in Washington, DC to renew calls for justice.

“It’s not just that the Biden administration hasn’t done anything to achieve justice for Shireen; it’s that they actively are working to block any form of accountability,” Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib told reporters at the time.

“If the administration actually wanted to help, they would launch a full State Department … investigation into whether or not US weapons were used to commit this and other war crimes and human rights violations.”

Source: Al Jazeera