A US senator has dismissed an Israeli military report that claims a soldier accidentally killed Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh in the middle of a shooting, saying it is not supported by evidence.
Chris Van Hollen, a Democratic senator from Maryland, reiterated his call for an independent US investigation into the killing of Abu Aqleh in the West Bank in May, saying the United Nations and reconstructions by major news outlets have revealed that the Al Jazeera television reporter was not in close proximity to fighting with Palestinian militants and could not have been caught in the crossfire.
“The crux of ‘defense’ in this Tsahal [Israel Defence Forces] report is that a soldier was “retaliating ‘militants’ when Abu Aqleh was beaten, Van Hollen tweeted. “But investigations… found no such shots at the time. This underscores the need for an independent US investigation into the death of this American journalist.
On Monday, more than four months after her assassination, Israel finally admitted it was “highly probable” that an Israeli soldier shot Abu Aqleh while she was covering a military raid on the occupied West Bank city of Jenin.
The report says Abu Aqleh was probably shot by an Israeli soldier who was under fire from a group of Palestinian gunmen. He claimed the soldier was using a telescopic sight and misidentified her as one of his armed opponents. The military said no crime had been committed and no one would be prosecuted.
However, eyewitness accounts and videos of Abu Aqleh and the area around her at the time of her murder do not show a shooting. She also wore a bulletproof vest and helmet clearly labeled as “press”.
A United Nations investigation said Israeli soldiers fired “several isolated, apparently well-targeted bullets” at Abu Aqleh and other journalists.
Investigations by The New York Times, CNN, Washington Post and other outlets have challenged the official Israeli version of events. The New York Times said there were “no armed Palestinians near her when she was shot” and that her investigation “contradicts Israeli claims that if a soldier mistakenly killed her, it was because he shot a Palestinian gunman”.
The Committee to Protect Journalists called the Israeli report “late and incomplete.”
“They didn’t name Shireen Abu [Aqleh’s] killer and no information other than his own testimony that the murder was a mistake,” he said.
The White House pressured Israel to reveal its findings amid demands for an independent US investigation from some members of Congress and Abu Aqleh’s family who accused Joe Biden’s administration of covering up Israel. Critics noted that the report was released on the Labor Day holiday in the United States, when it was likely to receive less attention.
The journalist’s niece, Lina Abu Aqleh, said the family had no confidence in the Israeli report.
“We could never expect any type of accountability or legitimate investigation from the very entity responsible for shooting down an unarmed and clearly identifiable journalist,” she said.
The family said an independent US investigation was “the bare minimum the US government should do for any of its own citizens”. But he also called for an investigation by the International Criminal Court, calling Abu Aqleh’s killing a “war crime”.
Critics say the Israeli military has a long history of covering up and misrepresenting killings of civilians while waiting for attention to shift elsewhere. But the Abu Aqleh family was able to maintain interest in the case and pressure on the Biden White House because she was a US citizen.
Israel’s narrative has changed several times in the four months since the journalist was shot.
Immediately after the killing, then-Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said it “seems likely that armed Palestinians, who were shooting indiscriminately at the time, were responsible.”
The Israeli embassy in Washington posted a tweet purporting to show the Palestinian gunmen who killed Abu Aqleh, then deleted it. The Israeli government released footage that gave the impression that the journalist was in the middle of a major battle. The Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem, published his own video showing the government footage was filmed several blocks from where Abu Aqleh was shot.
As criticism grew, Bennett’s office condemned the “hasty accusations against Israel” and pro-Israel lobby groups attacked media investigations into the murder that challenged the official version.
Over the next few weeks, the Israeli army acknowledged that one of its soldiers may have been responsible, but claimed it was unable to carry out a proper investigation because the Palestinian Authority would not cooperate and would not deliver the bullet that killed the journalist.
The US state department said he welcomed “the review of this tragic incident”. But he was criticized for sidestepping demands for accountability from the soldier or soldiers responsible and instead calling for “policies and procedures to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future”.