The Israel Defense Forces have admitted for the first time that there is a ‘strong possibility’ of an American-Palestinian journalist from Al Jazeera Shireen Abu Akleh was shot dead by Israeli fire while covering an Israeli military operation in Jenin in May, the IDF said Monday.
“[I]It seems impossible to unequivocally determine the source of the shots that hit and killed Ms. Abu Akleh. However, there is a strong possibility that Ms. Abu Akleh was accidentally hit by IDF fire at suspects identified as Palestinian gunmen during an exchange of fire,” the IDF said in a statement.
But the IDF has no intention of bringing criminal charges or prosecutions against any of the soldiers involved, the IDF’s Military Advocate General’s Office said in a separate statement Monday.
“After a thorough review of the incident and based on all findings presented, the Military Advocate General has determined that in the circumstances of the incident, despite the disastrous outcome – the death of Ms. Abu Akleh and the injury of Mr. Samudi – there had been no suspicion of a criminal offense warranting the initiation of an investigation by the MPCID,” the statement said. Abu Akleh’s producer, Ali al-Samoudi, was injured in the incident.
“The decision was based on the findings of the review, which determined that IDF soldiers only fired at those identified as armed terrorists during the incident. As such, there was no suspicion that a bullet was deliberately fired at anyone identified as a civilian and in particular at anyone identified as a journalist,” the statement read.
A senior IDF official who briefed journalists on the army’s investigation findings before their release said the IDF soldiers did not know they were shooting at the press, and said Abu’s back Akleh “probably” turned towards the soldiers was a contributing factor. In footage from the shooting scene, Abu Akleh is wearing a protective vest that reads “PRESS” on the front and back.
“When they fired in that direction, the soldiers didn’t know they were shooting at journalists. They thought they were shooting at militants who were shooting at them,” the IDF official said.
A CNN investigation in May unearthed evidence – including two videos of the shooting scene – that there was no active fighting, nor Palestinian militants, near Abu Akleh in the moments before his death. Footage obtained by CNN, corroborated by testimony from eight eyewitnesses, an audio forensic analyst and an explosive weapons expert, suggests Israeli forces intentionally targeted Abu Akleh.
Al Jazeera, Abu Akleh’s employer, has consistently claimed that the Israeli army was responsible for his death. The network condemned the IDF’s investigation, saying the delay of more than 100 days since the shooting “is intended to evade the criminal responsibility it bears for the murder of Shireen Abu Akleh”.
“Al Jazeera denounces the lack of frank acknowledgment of its crime by the Israeli occupation army. The network calls for an independent international party to investigate the crime of the assassination of Shireen Abu Akleh, in order to bring justice to Shireen, her family and her fellow journalists around the world,” the network said in a statement.
Asked about investigations, including CNN’s, which found no militants near Abu Akleh when she was shot, the IDF official said: “We believe there were militants near Mrs. Abu Abkleh. Maybe not a meter away from her, but they were in that area,” but the official did not provide any evidence to support this claim.
“When the soldier made that decision, it was just a blink of an eye,” the official said. “The soldier had no intention of hurting an Al Jazeera reporter or [journalist] from any other network.
“The soldier is sorry and I am sorry. It wasn’t supposed to happen and it shouldn’t happen. He didn’t do it on purpose,” the official said. He did not name the soldier.
During Monday’s briefing with reporters, the senior IDF official said the bullet that killed Abu Akleh was too damaged to identify the weapon that fired it, the same conclusion reached by a forensic investigation by the United States has arrived.
However, the IDF concluded that the soldier who likely fired the fatal shot was south of Abu Akleh in an armored military vehicle with limited line of sight, did not identify Abu Akleh as a journalist, and believed he was shooting at activists.
The official said soldiers in the area had been under fire “for an hour and fifteen minutes” before Abu Akleh was killed.
When asked why the gunfire seemed to continue even after Abu Akleh fell, the official said they counted no more than seven bullets fired after she was shot. Israeli drones filmed during the operation, the official said, but not with high enough resolution to see the fatal shot.
In the aftermath of Abu Akleh’s death, Israeli officials initially postulated that it was likely indiscriminate fire from Palestinian militants that had killed her, before acknowledging that it was possible that Israeli fire was responsible for the his death.
In their Monday report, the IDF left open the possibility that Abu Akleh “was hit by bullets fired by Palestinian gunmen towards the area she was in.”
According to the Palestinian autopsy, Abu Akleh was killed with a single bullet to the back of the neck.
Shireen Abu Akleh’s family criticized the IDF investigation, saying Israel had “refused to take responsibility for Shireen’s murder”, and called for an independent US investigation.
The report “attempted to obscure the truth and avoid responsibility for the murder of Shireen Abu Akleh, our aunt, sister, best friend, journalist and Palestinian American,” the family said in a statement sent to CNN.
“We have known for over 4 months now that an Israeli soldier shot and killed Shireen as countless investigations by CNN, The Associated Press, The New York Times, Al Jazeera, Al-Haq, B’tselem, the United Nations and others have all concluded,” the statement said.
“And yet, as expected, Israel has refused to take responsibility for Shireen’s murder. Our family is not surprised by this result because it is obvious to anyone that Israeli war criminals cannot investigate their own crimes. However, we remain deeply hurt, frustrated and disappointed.
“Since Shireen was killed, our family has called for a thorough, independent, and credible American investigation that leads to accountability, which is the bare minimum the American government should do for any of its own citizens. We will continue to demand that the US government meet its stated accountability commitments. Accountability requires action.
In a statement Monday, State Department spokesman Ned Price welcomed the IDF review and noted “the importance of accountability in this matter, such as policies and procedures to prevent that similar incidents do not happen again in the future”.
“Our hearts go out to the Abu Akleh family as they mourn this tremendous loss – and to the many others around the world who have brought Shireen and her reporting home for over two decades,” Price said. “Not only was Shireen an American citizen, but she was a fearless journalist whose journalism and pursuit of truth earned her the respect of audiences around the world.”
In July the United States found IDF fire was ‘probably responsible’ for killing Abu Akleh, though a US-supervised examination of the bullet ‘could not reach a definitive conclusion’ about its origin in due to the condition of the ball.
The US security coordinator – who leads an inter-agency team that coordinates with the Israeli government and the PA – “found no reason to believe it was intentional but rather the result of tragic circumstances during a IDF-led military operation against Palestinian factions”. Islamic Jihad on May 11, 2022 in Jenin, which followed a series of terrorist attacks in Israel,” according to a statement from the State Department at the time.
The IDF has carried out regular raids in the West Bank, particularly in the Jenin area, targeting what it says are militants and arms caches. The Jenin raid in which Abu Akleh was killed came shortly after a spate of Palestinian attacks that lasted for months and left 19 Israelis and foreigners dead. Some of the alleged assailants in these attacks were from Jenin, according to the Israeli army.