Thursday, May 19, 2022

How Al Jazeera Journalist Shireen Abu Akleh Died - Hugh Fitzgerald


by Hugh Fitzgerald

The Palestinians insist that the case is closed. But is it?



This much is certain about the death of Shireen Abu Akleh, the Palestinian-American journalist who was killed in Jenin on May 11: one side, that of Israel, has been insistently calling for a joint investigation with the Palestinians, and possibly with American representatives, too, into her killing. Israel wants especially to study the bullet retrieved from her body and the helmet she was wearing at the time. The Palestinians, on the other hand, insist that the IDF soldiers killed Abu Akleh, but refuse to produce the bullet lodged in her skull for Israeli inspection, and refuse to join with Israel in any further investigation, claiming that the case is closed.

A report on the IDF’s latest release, which provides two possible scenarios for the killing of Shireen Al-Akleh, is here: “Initial IDF probe of reporter’s death proposes 2 scenarios for who fired fatal shot,” Times of Israel, May 13, 2022:

The military on Friday released interim findings from its probe into the death of prominent Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, killed Wednesday amid clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen in Jenin.

The Israel Defense Forces said it had not yet been able to determine who fired the fatal shot. But it said it had narrowed down the possibilities to two scenarios.

In the first, Abu Akleh was hit when armed Palestinians fired “dozens of bullets indiscriminately” toward military vehicles in the northern West Bank city. The IDF said the bullets were fired in the direction where Abu Akleh was standing, adding that it was “possible this is the source of the gunfire that hit here.”

Other reports suggest that not “dozens,” but “hundreds” of shots were fired indiscriminately by toward the IDF vehicles by the Palestinians.

The second scenario covered by the probe involved a soldier who the military said used a gun with a telescopic sight to fire back at a gunman through a slit in the armored vehicle he was riding in.

The gunman fired bursts toward the IDF soldier several times and there is a possibility that the reporter was struck by the soldier’s fire toward [him],” a statement from the IDF said.

Abu Akleh was about 200 meters from the vehicle at the time, according to the military.

The IDF said a “professional ballistics test” could be decisive in determining how Abu Akleh was shot but noted that the Palestinian Authority has so far rebuffed Israeli requests to hold a joint investigation and examine the bullet. It said the Palestinians also rejected offers to be present and take part in the inquiry alongside an American representative.…

It is important to realize that only one side, that of the Palestinians, is blocking a thorough investigation. If they are so certain that the Israelis are responsible for Abu Akleh’s death, why are they so reluctant to produce the evidence? And why do they continue to refuse giving Israelis access to the bullet that killed her? Why, even the Palestinians’ own forensics expert, Dr. Rayyan al-Ali, publicly admitted that at this point there was no way to be certain of who killed Abu Akleh.

Abu Akleh, who covered the Mideast conflict for more than 25 years, was killed by gunfire to her head while covering clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen during a military raid in Jenin. The death sparked international condemnation, though it is not yet clear who is responsible for it.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has accused Israel of “executing” her and rejected Israeli calls for a joint investigation to determine responsibility. Israeli officials meanwhile have declared that it is too soon to determine who fired the bullet that killed her. 

Mahmoud Abbas goes a step further in his accusation than others in the PA have done so far. He doesn’t just say that “an Israeli soldier killed Abu Akleh.” That may be true; at this point we cannot know, and won’t until the bullet is produced and subjected to tests. Abbas introduces a suggestion of murder, by saying that Israel “executed” her deliberately, which turns what was at most an accident into a war crime. Such a charge will lead, as Abbas knows, to more unhinged violence by Arabs against Jews in the West Bank, more denunciations and votes condemning Israel as guilty of war crimes at the U.N., more social media campaigns against the “Zionist killers” who are trying to prevent journalists from covering their “atrocities” in the “occupied West Bank” by murdering them.

Her casket was brought to Jerusalem from Ramallah Thursday, following what was described as a full state memorial at Abbas’s Ramallah compound, with officials, foreign diplomats and a long stream of mourners present.

Shireen Abu Akleh is being turned into a Palestinian martyr, a saint, a veritable Joan of Arc, beginning with the full state memorial service in Ramallah, with all sorts of high officials and foreign dignitaries present to pay homage to this victim of Israeli state terror. To make sure even greater crowds were mobilized, her casket was brought to Jerusalem, where many more thousands gathered, the international media were there to record the event, and Abu Akleh entered the pantheon of Palestinian martyrs.

An initial autopsy of Abu Akleh’s body by Palestinian coroners found that it was not possible to tell whether she was killed by Israeli or Palestinian gunfire.

That it was “not possible to tell whose gunfire killed her” was the one truthful admission from the Palestinian side. It came not from Mahmoud Abbas or any other P.A. official, but from the senior Palestinian coroner, Dr. Rayaan Al-Ali, who dared to speak the truth – “at this point we just can’t tell.” Whether he will be punished – possibly demoted — for admitting this remains to be seen.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Thursday that the PA was hindering efforts to investigate the incident.

The Qatari-owned Al Jazeera has accused Israel of deliberately killing her and vowed to take legal action. Reporters who were with her said there were no Palestinian gunmen in the area.…

There were “no Palestinian gunmen in the area,” just as there were no Israeli soldiers in the immediate area. Both the gunmen and the soldiers were trading gunfire some 200 meters distant from where Abu Akleh was standing. Abu Akleh was also about 200 meters from the Israeli armored vehicle at the time she was shot, according to the Israeli military.

Here’s how the U.S. can help to arrive at the truth, assuming the Bidenites care about that. Antony Blinken can call publicly for an investigation by forensics experts from three parties – Israel, the P.A. , and the United States – into the death of Shireen Abu Akleh. Blinken should insist that those experts “must be allowed to study, and subject to ballistics tests, the fatal bullet” that “I regret to say, so far the Palestinian Authority has refused to produce.” And “those experts must also be provided with the helmet the journalist was wearing when she was shot.

“There can be no certainty, and no resolution, until such an investigation is allowed. We earnestly call on the Palestinian Authority to release that bullet for study. So far the Palestinian Authority has rebuffed Israeli requests to hold a joint investigation and to examine the bullet, even with an American representative present. We trust that the P.A., in the interests of arriving at the truth, will reconsider their current refusal to engage in such an investigation.“

That should be enough pressure on the P.A. to decide to cooperate. After all, it doesn’t want to appear to be hiding something essential to the investigation – that bullet — nor does it want, at this point, to antagonize the Biden Administration, on which it is relying for desperately needed financial aid.


Hugh Fitzgerald


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