The Washington Post

Deserving of answers

In the fatal shooting of a journalist, Israel shrugs off accountabi­lity.

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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, this past 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.

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.

 ?? AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES ?? Journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Jerusalem in June 2021.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES Journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Jerusalem in June 2021.

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