US senator rejects Israeli army report on killing of Palestinian American reporter
US senator rejects Israeli army report on killing of Palestinian American reporter Chris Van Hollen calls for independent US inquiry, saying IDF claim Shireen Abu Aqleh died amid gun battle unsupported by evidence Shireen Abu Aqleh was reporting on an Israeli military action in the occupied Palestinian city of Jenin when she was shot dead.
Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
Chris McGreal in New York
Wed 7 Sep 2022 15.00 AEST
A US senator has dismissed an Israeli army report that claims a soldier
accidentally killed the Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh
in the midst of a gun battle, saying it is unsupported by the evidence.
Chris Van Hollen, a Democratic senator for Maryland, repeated his call for
an independent US investigation into Abu Aqleh’s killing in the West Bank
in May, saying that the United Nations and reconstructions by major news
outlets found that the Al Jazeera television journalist was not in the
immediate vicinity of fighting with Palestinian militants and could not have
been caught in the crossfire.
“The crux of the ‘defense’ in this IDF [Israel Defence Forces] report is that a
soldier was ‘returning fire’ from militants” when Abu Aqleh was struck, Van
Hollen tweeted. “But investigations … found no such firing at the time. This
underscores need for independent US inquiry into this American
On Monday, more than four months after her killing, Israel finally admitted
it was “highly probable” that an Israeli soldier shot Abu Aqleh while she
was reporting on a military raid on the occupied West Bank city of Jenin.
The report said Abu Aqleh was probably shot by an Israeli soldier who was
under fire from a group of Palestinian gunmen. It claimed the soldier was
using a telescopic sight and misidentified her as one from his armed
opponents. The army said no crime was committed so no one will be
However, eyewitness accounts and videos of Abu Aqleh and the area
around her at the time of her killing do not show a gun battle. She was also
wearing body armour and a helmet clearly labelled as “press”.
A United Nations investigation said that Israeli soldiers fired “several
single, seemingly well-aimed bullets” at Abu Aqleh and other journalists.
Investigations by the New York Times, CNN, the Washington Post and
other media questioned the official Israeli version of events. The New York
Times said there were “no armed Palestinians near her when she was shot”
and that its investigation “contradicted Israeli claims that, if a soldier had
mistakenly killed her, it was because he had been shooting at a Palestinian
The Committee to Protect Journalists called the Israeli report “late and
“They provided no name for Shireen Abu [Aqleh’s] killer and no other
information than his or her own testimony that the killing was a mistake,” it
The White House pressured Israel to reveal its findings amid demands for
an independent US investigation from some members of Congress and Abu
Aqleh’s family which accused Joe Biden’s administration of covering for
Israel. Critics noted that the report was released on the Labor Day public
holiday in the US when it was likely to receive less attention.
The journalist’s niece, Lina Abu Aqleh, said the family had no confidence in
the Israeli report.
“We could never expect any type of accountability or legitimate
investigation from the very entity responsible for gunning down an
unarmed and clearly identifiable journalist,” she said.
The family said an independent American investigation was “the bare
minimum the US government should do for one of their own citizens”. But
it also called for an international criminal court investigation, calling Abu
Aqleh’s killing a “war crime”.
Critics say the Israeli military has a long history of dissembling and making
false claims over the killings of civilians while waiting for attention to move
elsewhere. But the Abu Aqleh family was able to maintain interest in the
case, and pressure on the Biden White House, because she was a US citizen.
Israel’s account shifted several times over the four months since the
journalist was shot.
Immediately after the killing, the Israeli prime minister at the time, Naftali
Bennett, said it “appears likely that armed Palestinians, who were firing
indiscriminately at the time, were responsible”.
The Israeli embassy in Washington posted a tweet purportedly showing the
Palestinian gunmen who killed Abu Aqleh and then deleted it. The Israeli
government released footage that created the impression the journalist was
in the midst of a major battle. The Israeli human rights group,
B’Tselem, released its own video showing that the government’s footage
was filmed several blocks from where Abu Aqleh was shot.
As criticism grew, Bennett’s office condemned “hasty accusations against
Israel”, and pro-Israel pressure groups attacked media investigations of the
killing which challenged the official version.
During the following weeks, the Israeli army admitted that one of its
soldiers may have been responsible but claimed it was not able to carry out
a proper investigation because the Palestinian Authority would not
cooperate and hand over the bullet that killed the journalist.
The US state department said it welcomed the “review of this tragic
incident”. But it faced criticism for sidestepping demands that the soldier or
soldiers responsible be held to account and for instead calling for “policies
and procedures to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future”.
Article source: The Guardian, 7/9/2022