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Opinion In U.S. journalist’s death, Israel leaves questions unanswered

Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Jerusalem in June 2021. (AFP/Getty Images)
3 min

Months after investigations by international news and human rights organizations found that an Israeli soldier probably fired the shot that killed a highly regarded Palestinian American journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, last spring, an Israeli military investigation has reached the same conclusion — but also ruled out any criminal investigation or charges against its troops. That judgment leaves critical questions unanswered.

First, the Israeli Defense Forces presented no evidence to support its contention that Abu Akleh’s killing was an accident or, as a senior Israeli official told journalists, a “misidentification.” Second, the IDF casts doubt on its own finding by asserting that the shot was aimed at Palestinian gunmen “during an exchange of fire in which life-risking, widespread and indiscriminate shots were fired toward IDF soldiers.” In fact, detailed probes by The Post, the New York Times and other independent groups — based on video, audio and eyewitness accounts — suggest no Palestinian gunmen were in Abu Akleh’s vicinity when she was shot in the back of the neck, nor had crossfire occurred there in the preceding minutes.

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It remains the case that no evidence has emerged to suggest, as the Palestinian Authority has said, that Israeli forces involved in the May 11 incident targeted noncombatants or specifically Abu Akleh, a household name in the Arab world based on her two decades of reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for Al Jazeera. But the absence of such evidence does not justify the Israeli military’s decision to close the case. To the contrary, it calls attention to the paucity of investigative details made public.

No recording or transcript of any interview with an Israeli soldier has been released, nor evidence of what any soldier saw, heard or believed when they opened fire toward a group of civilians, including the 51-year-old Abu Akleh, whose protective gear identified them as journalists. Nor has the Israeli military provided any video, if it exists, from drones or body cameras that might shed light on the incident, despite requests from The Post.

The Israeli military’s conclusion marks a nearly complete reversal from its initial insistence that Palestinian gunmen had likely killed Abu Akleh. It is in line with a similar finding reached two months ago by the U.S. State Department, which, coming from the Jewish state’s most important ally, relieved pressure for bringing criminal charges against an IDF soldier or soldiers.

Still, it should not be the last word on the incident in the West Bank city of Jenin, amid a military raid after weeks of Palestinian terrorist attacks cost the lives of 17 Israelis. A truly independent investigation is needed; Israel should invite the FBI to undertake one.

Combat correspondents routinely take risks in the course of their reporting. That is no justification for shrugging when one dies in unwarranted circumstances, as in Abu Akleh’s killing. Israeli and international human rights groups have long alleged instances in which Israel’s soldiers and police avoid accountability for misdeeds. In that regard, it is noteworthy that no Israeli officials have been seriously punished for the chaos at Abu Akleh’s funeral in Jerusalem on May 13, when police beat Palestinian pallbearers carrying her coffin, causing them nearly to drop it. That lapse, and the questions left unanswered by Israel’s conclusion about a respected journalist’s death, further underscore the need for an outside investigation.

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Editorials represent the views of The Post as an institution, as determined through debate among members of the Editorial Board, based in the Opinions section and separate from the newsroom.

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