Washington, DC – On November 14, the US Justice Department informed Israeli authorities that the FBI would initiate an independent investigation into the killing of an American-Palestinian journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh. While such an investigation against Israel is highly unusual, the Israeli Defense Minister, Benny Gantz, called the investigation a “grave mistake” and said that Israel will not cooperate with the probe.
Gantz said, “The IDF conducted an independent and professional investigation. I have delivered the message to the US representatives that we stand by our IDF’s soldiers, we will not cooperate with an external investigation, and will not enable intervention to internal investigations.”
The Akleh family issued a statement saying they were encouraged by news that the United States opened a criminal investigation into the killing of Shireen. “It is what the United States should do when a US citizen is killed abroad, especially when they were killed, like Shireen, by a foreign military. We hope that the United States will use all of the investigative tools at its disposal to get answers about Shireen’s killing and hold those who are responsible for this atrocity accountable… This is an important step toward accountability and gets our family closer to justice for Shireen.”
Akleh was fatally shot by the Israeli forces while reporting on an Israeli military raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin in May 2022. On September 5, The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) concluded their investigation, stating that Akleh was accidentally hit by IDF gunfire. The US officials also did not intervene in the investigation and stressed that Israel can investigate its own soldiers.
The Biden administration has experienced heavy pressure from Congressional Democrats and the Akleh family to hold the authorities (Israeli forces) accountable following the killing. More than 20 Democratic senators signed a letter for an independent FBI investigation.
From their independent investigation, the United Nations Human Rights panel also concluded that the shots that killed Akleh came from the Israeli Security forces and not from indiscriminate firing by armed Palestinians as claimed by the Israelis.
The Spokesperson for the UN Human Rights body, Ravina Shamdasani, said, “We have found no information suggesting that there was activity by armed Palestinians in the immediate vicinity of the journalists.”
In a statement, National Press Club (NPC) President Jen Judson, and NPC Journalism Institute President Gil Klein, said that the FBI has taken the important step of opening an investigation into the killing of highly regarded journalist Shireen Abu Akleh who was shot and killed while wearing a vest marked PRESS and working with her camera crew in the West Bank near Jenin May 11. “Without this action by the FBI, the violence against Shireen was done with impunity which is a lethal threat to a free and independent press,” the statement said.
Bruce Fein, a constitutional lawyer and former Justice Department official, told Al-Jazeera that the decision to launch an FBI investigation into Abu Akleh’s killing means that the US authorities have “credible evidence” related to what occurred.
While it is unclear why Israeli authorities have an aggressive reaction to the investigation, the main reason for the refusal, as cited by Axios, can be an eventual request by the US to investigate soldiers who were involved in the military operation. The investigation can also lead to tension in the U.S.-Israel relationship.
The US has always prioritized responding to civilian harm during military operations, and the investigation by the FBI will ensure the protection of Freedom of the Press.