Al Jazeera TV reporter Shireen Abu Akleh was fatally shot in the West Bank city of Jenin exactly one month ago. Although a proper investigation into her death has not been carried out, expert analyses suggest that the Israel Defence Forces probably fired the shot that killed her. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for an end to impunity.
When Abu Akleh was felled by a shot to the head on 11 May, journalists who were present said she seemed to have been killed by IDF fire. At first, the Israeli authorities denied any responsibility, releasing a video about the presence of “Palestinian terrorists, firing indiscriminately.” But they then said she was killed in an “intense exchange of fire.” And Israeli defence minister Benny Gantz said: “It can be Palestinians who shot her. Tragically, it may be on our side. We’re investigating.”
However, the IDF concluded in the findings of their “initial investigation,” published on 13 May, that “it is not possible to unequivocally determine the source of the gunfire which hit and killed Ms. Abu Akleh.”
This is disputed in the report published by the Palestinian chief prosecutor on 26 May, which says: “The type of projectile, the weapon, the distance, the fact that there were no obstructions to vision and that Shireen Abu Akleh was wearing a press vest (…) lead us to conclude that she was the target of a murder. The only source of fire was the Israeli occupying forces.”
However, there was no Israeli follow-up to their investigation after the Palestinian Authority refused to participate in a joint investigation. RSF, for its part, has been calling for an independent international investigation into Abu Akleh’s death.
Several organisations have meanwhile published their own expert analyses. The Israeli NGO B’Tselem released a video on 11 May which, it said, showed that the “documentation of Palestinian gunfire distributed by Israeli military cannot be the gunfire that killed journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.”
On 14 May, the investigative journalism consortium Bellingcat published the conclusions of an analysis of the open-source evidence led by researcher Giancarlo Fiorella. It pointed out that “the IDF position had a clear trajectory and was closer to the spot where she was shot.”
Finally, after interviewing witnesses, an audio forensic analyst and an explosive weapons expert, CNN concluded in a report published on 26 May that there was no active combat and no armed Palestinian militants near Abu Akleh in the moments leading up to her death and that she was probably the victim of “a targeted attack by Israeli forces.”
“We demanded an independent international investigation after this Palestinian journalist’s death, while the leaders of many countries called for a transparent investigation,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “And where are we a month later? No United Nations investigation and an Israeli investigation terminated almost as soon as it began.”
“Establishing the truth and punishing those responsible was obviously not the goal. The United States has initiated no proceedings although Shireen Abu Akleh had US nationality. The Palestinian prosecutor sent evidence to the International Criminal Court, where we can imagine how long it will remain in boxes. In short, yet another fiasco for justice for journalists. Everything must be done to ensure that this unacceptable and intolerable crime is not forgotten. We must not resign ourselves to seeing the investigation buried. Countries that called for an investigation must apply pressure and not be fobbed off with empty declarations that are only humiliating.”
In response to a question this week, US secretary of state Antony Blinken promised to hold those responsible for Abu Akleh’s death to account. “We are looking for an independent, credible investigation,” Blinken said. “When that investigation happens, we will follow the facts, wherever they lead. It’s as straightforward as that.”