‘Not on justice’: Supporters slam US line on Abu Akleh murder

Washington D.C.- The Biden administration’s handling of the murder of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh has infuriated Palestinian rights advocates who say Washington continues to ensure impunity for Israeli abuses even when targeting journalists and American citizens.

The US State Department announced on Monday that firing from Israeli positions “was likely responsible for the death of Shireen Abu Akleh”, but it dismissed the incident as the “unintended result of tragic circumstances”.

The statement adds that the killing of the Palestinian-American journalist came as Israeli forces were carrying out a “military operation against Palestinian Islamic Jihad factions on May 11, 2022 in Jenin, which followed a series of terrorist attacks in Israel.” .

“The State Department statement was an effort to divide the difference between the two sides,” said Yousef Munayyer, a Palestinian-American analyst and senior fellow at the Arab Center Washington DC. “And instead of siding with the truth, they rallied to the side of equivocation. They really had a chance to take a stand and do the right thing, but they clearly didn’t.

Lawyers took issue with the timing, wording and structure of Monday’s statement. For example, the ad was released on July 4, US Independence Day, a major national holiday when many people spend time with family and don’t focus on current affairs.

The statement began by claiming that the origin of the bullet that killed Abu Akleh was inconclusive.

“After extremely detailed forensic analysis, independent third-party reviewers, through a process overseen by the United States Security Coordinator (USSC), were unable to reach a definitive conclusion regarding the origin of the bullet that killed Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh,” the State Department said.

“Ballistics experts determined that the bullet was severely damaged, precluding a clear conclusion.”

“Analytical” conclusion

State Department spokesman Ned Price pointed out Tuesday that the USSC, an office run by the State Department that oversees international security assistance and coordination with the Palestinian Authority (PA) , had not conducted its own investigation, but that its conclusion was a “summary” of investigations by the Palestinian Authority and Israel.

Last week, the Biden administration offered to examine the bullet that killed Abu Akleh after the Palestinian Authority refused to hand it over to Israel.

Emphasizing how the bureau was able to determine intent — or lack of intent — when it did not conduct its own investigation or interview the shooter, Price said, “The USSC got the access to the Israeli army. [Israeli military] investigation, just as the team had access to the AP investigation. So this summary of investigations… led the USSC team to this conclusion that the bullet likely came from an IDF position and that the tragic killing of Shireen Abu Akleh was in fact unintentional.

He added that the conclusion was “analytical” and not “scientific”.

Press freedom and rights groups as well as lawmakers in Washington have called for a full, independent or U.S.-led investigation into the killing.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a US-based watchdog, reiterated those calls and called for accountability for Abu Akleh’s killing on Tuesday.

“The United States should either take the lead in investigating Abu Akleh’s death in a fully credible and transparent manner, or support international efforts to seek justice on behalf of him and his family,” Sherif Mansour , CPJ Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. , said in a statement.

Washington has already rejected the involvement of the International Criminal Court in the case.

Independent investigations blame Israel

Eyewitnesses and multiple investigations by US media, including CNN, The Washington Post, The Associated Press and The New York Times, have previously concluded that Israeli forces shot Abu Akleh.

An investigation by the Palestinian Authority also revealed that Abu Akleh was deliberately shot dead by Israeli troops. After the incident, Al Jazeera Media Network accused Israeli forces of murdering the journalist “in cold blood”.

Investigations and video evidence show that there were no armed Palestinians in the area where Abu Akleh was killed, and that she and other journalists wore identifiable press attire.

Israeli forces continued to fire towards the area where Abu Akleh was standing after first wounding his colleague Ali al-Samoudi, even though no fire was returned. Israeli bullets continued to fly after Abu Akleh was killed as colleagues and bystanders attempted to retrieve his body.

Still, the US statement stressed that the Israeli raid targeted Palestinian Islamic Jihad fighters in response to past attacks by Palestinian assailants.

“Mentioning the militants was a way to reinforce the preferred Israeli narrative that they were acting in self-defense,” Munayyer, of the Arab Center in Washington DC, told Al Jazeera. “But shooting a journalist in the head is by no means an act of self-defense, regardless of the other circumstances involved.”

He added that the administration was approaching Abu Akleh’s murder as a political issue – “not a matter of justice”.

Munayyer said Washington wanted to sweep the incident under the rug “as quickly and as cleanly as possible” ahead of a visit by President Joe Biden to Israel and Saudi Arabia later this month.

“With their statement, they really missed the mark. And this problem is not going away as much as the Israelis would like it to go away,” he said of the Abu Akleh murder.

“Systematic” mistreatment of Palestinians

Maya Berry, executive director of the Arab American Institute (AAI), a Washington-based think tank, noted that Abu Akleh is the second US citizen to be killed by Israel this year. Omar Assad, an elderly Palestinian-American, died after being arbitrarily detained by Israeli troops in the West Bank in January.

Echoing Munayyer’s comment, Berry said the US administration appears to have wanted to “work out the details” before Biden travels to Israel next week.

“But the murder of Shireen Abu Akleh is not an end in suspense; Omar’s murder is not an end in suspense. These are systemic problems with how Israel treats Palestinians, whether American or not,” Berry told Al Jazeera.

“So we have a very real problem before us – and this is an administration that doesn’t seem to be engaging enough on this issue. Therefore, the status quo is allowed to continue.

“The situation is deteriorating on the ground every day for the Palestinians. And then on top of that we have these cases of individual Americans who were killed,” she said.

Berry expressed his “utter disappointment” with the administration’s response to Abu Akleh’s killing “from day one.” She stressed that the United States is not an impartial player in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; instead, Washington is enabling Israeli abuses with “unequivocally indiscriminate support, both financial and political,” she said.

Israel receives $3.8 billion in US military support each year.

President Joe Biden is scheduled to visit Israel and Saudi Arabia July 13-16 [File: Evan Vucci/AP Photo]

Berry called for increased civic engagement and intensified calls for an investigation into Abu Akleh’s murder.

Other Arab-American advocates are already warning Democrats that Biden’s policy on Israel-Palestine could affect how the community votes in the crucial US midterm elections in November.

Hatem Abudayyeh, national chairman of the US Palestinian Community Network (USPCN), an advocacy group, said most Arab Americans don’t live in a “fantasy world” thinking that Biden’s Democratic Party can bring justice to Palestinians, noting that most Democratic politicians “won’t even defend and hold to account American citizens like Omar Assad and Shireen Abu Akleh”.

“Immigrants, blacks, Arabs and other oppressed communities of color voted for Democrats in the last national election, yes, but those were votes against [former President Donald] Trump more than they were votes for Biden or the Democrats,” Abudayyeh said. “Neither choice is very good for us these days.”

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