Blaming Israel, Democrats call for US involvement in probe of journalist’s death

Lawmakers’ letter “implies both Israeli culpability and inability to conduct an objective, thorough investigation” of Shireen Abu Akleh’s death.

By David Hellerman, World Israel News

A group of 24 Democratic U.S. Senators have called for the U.S. to become more directly involved in the investigation into the death of American-Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

The letter, sent to President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Attorney General Merrick Garland and Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray on Thursday was spearheaded by Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md).

The 24 senators signing it represented nearly half of the Senate’s Democrats. Signatories included Jewish Senators Bernie Sanders (D-Vt) and Brian Schatz (D-Haw.).

“We believe that, as a leader in the effort to protect the freedom of the press and the safety of journalists, and given the fact that Ms. Abu Akleh was an American citizen, the US government has an obligation to ensure that a comprehensive, impartial, and open investigation into her shooting death is conducted — one in which all parties can have full confidence in the ultimate findings.”

The veteran Al Jazeera correspondent was killed while covering a shootout in Jenin in May. Palestinians insist that the 51-year-old reporter was killed by Israeli fire, with some accusing the IDF of deliberately targeting Abu Akleh.

The Palestinian Authority has not allowed Israeli investigators to examine the bullet that killed the journalist and instead demands that Israel instead hand over to Ramallah the IDF guns used that day. The PA also rejected Israel’s offer to conduct a joint probe.

In a statement earlier in June, the IDF said its investigation concluded that Abu Akleh “was not intentionally shot by an IDF soldier” but that it was “not possible to determine whether she was killed by a Palestinian gunman shooting indiscriminately in her area or inadvertently by an IDF soldier.”

The senators’ letter treated Israel’s claims skeptically while giving credibility to Palestinian eyewitnesses and media reports by CNN, the Associated Press, New York Times and Washington Post which all accuse Israel killing Abu Akleh.

“Israeli authorities have said that Ms. Abu Akleh was killed in an exchange of fire between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants… but [the media outlet investigations] concluded that there was no Palestinian gunfire emanating from the location of the shooting at the time of Ms. Abu Akleh’s killing,” the letter said.

Haaretz reported that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) which is lobbying against a U.S. investigation, sought to block the letter by pointing out to the the Senators that the circumstances of Abu Akleh’s death remain unclear and that the letter “implies both Israeli culpability and inability to conduct an objective, thorough investigation of the incident.”

In May, 57 House Democrats called for the FBI to investigate after accusing the PA of refusing to cooperate with Israeli authorities.

President Joe Biden is scheduled to visit Jerusalem and Ramallah in mid-July. He has not personally indicated what he might tell Israeli and Palestinian officials about the stalemated investigation.