Israel Defense Minister: US Investigating Shireen Abu Akleh Death

On Monday, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced that the United States Department of Justice would be looking into the death of Palestinian-American Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Gantz called the investigation a “grave mistake” and vowed that Israel would not cooperate with the investigation.

A representative for the Department of Justice declined to comment, and no information was provided on when an investigation may begin, what it could include, or what effects it might have. However, an investigation by the FBI into Israeli acts is very unusual, if not unheard of.

Israel Defense Minister: Us Investigating Shireen Abu Akleh Death
Israel Defense Minister: Us Investigating Shireen Abu Akleh Death

After months of pressure from Abu Akleh’s family and U.S. lawmakers disappointed by the inconclusive findings of a previous State Department assessment and Israeli military investigation into the death of the prominent correspondent last May, the United States has decided to launch its own investigation. The 51-year-family old’s and friends have accused Israel of murder and have demanded an inquiry into the death be launched in Washington.

At a time when Israel is preparing for the formation of its most right-wing government in history and when progressive Democrats in the United States have called for a more skeptical stance toward one of Washington’s closest allies, an investigation risks straining the strong partnership between the two countries. This would put Israel’s assertions that it is holding its troops accountable for their acts in the occupied Palestinian areas under serious scrutiny.

On Twitter, Gantz slammed what he said was a decision to begin a U.S. Justice Department inquiry into Abu Akleh’s assassination, stating that Israel has made it plain to the U.S. that it “won’t participate with any foreign investigation.”

The Israeli government would not tolerate outside intervention in its internal affairs, he said. In his role as defense minister when Abu Akleh was assassinated, Gantz will be leaving his office after elections earlier this month brought Israel’s former prime leader Benjamin Netanyahu back to power.

Many Arabs in the Middle East knew the name Abu Akleh since he was a Palestinian from Jerusalem who covered Israeli actions in the occupied West Bank for 25 years. The international outcry that her death caused brought attention to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

A number of people, including Palestinian authorities, Abu Akleh’s family, and Al Jazeera, have accused Israel of murdering the experienced journalist. While documenting an Israeli military incursion in the Jenin refugee camp, she was shot while wearing a helmet and a safety vest marked with the word “press.”

Israel finally admitted in September that it was likely Israeli fire that killed Abu Akleh. The military, however, refused to take responsibility for her murder, vehemently disputing claims that a soldier had specifically targeted her and also declining to conduct a criminal investigation into the matter.

The State Department has previously concluded that the bullet that killed Abu Akleh was likely fired from an Israeli military position, but that the bullet was too damaged to confirm this with any degree of confidence.

The United Nations and other foreign media groups, including The Associated Press, conducted their own investigations and concluded that Israeli forces were likely responsible for firing the fatal gunshot.

Late Monday night, the U.S. investigation remained without reaction from Palestinian Foreign Ministry officials. Netanyahu, who is widely anticipated to return as prime minister in the coming weeks, and Lapid’s spokesman both refused to comment.

Tony Abu Akleh, Abu Akleh’s brother, told Al Jazeera that the family is hopeful about news of a U.S. probe, stating that it is “extremely vital to bring those guilty accountable and avoid similar atrocities.”

We hope this is a major turning point in the inquiry into Shireen’s death, he added.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations expressed satisfaction with the news, saying, “our country will finally hold Israel responsible for its brutality against American citizens, journalists, and other civilians.”

When an American citizen dies or is injured in a way that cannot be explained by natural causes outside of the United States, it is not uncommon for the FBI or other U.S. investigators to launch an inquiry. Such independent probes are very unusual, and even more so in a U.S. ally like Israel, whose legal system is widely regarded as reliable and independent by the White House.

 

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