What’s known and unknown so far about the death of Al Jazeera journalist

The incident’s complexities can easily get lost in the online battle of narratives.

By Yaakov Lappin, JNS.org

The Israel Defense Forces’ investigation into the death of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh on Wednesday in Jenin is ongoing, and no final determination has yet been made over where the shot came from that struck Akleh.

While the identity of the shooter remains a question mark at this time, Israeli military sources did provide details about the counter-terrorism raid that soldiers took part in on Wednesday morning, as well as the broader context surrounding the nature of the Jenin Refugee Camp where the gun battles raged—and not for the first time in recent weeks.

An IDF spokesperson detailed the core, life-affirming and democratic values that are encoded into the Israeli military’s protocol when he described Akleh’s death as “a tragedy which should not have occurred.” The source also affirmed the IDF’s commitment to freedom of the press and the sanctity of human life.

The spokesperson declared that “the IDF will never deliberately target non-combatants. These are values reflected in the IDF protocol.”

As a result of those values, the IDF’s General Staff and the entire chain of command, including Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, are involved in the operational investigation into the incident.

The IDF’s request for the Palestinian Authority, whose Health Ministry received Akleh’s body, to hold a joint autopsy and share forensic data has been met with refusal so far, significantly impeding the investigation.

Israel’s counter-terror raid in Jenin cannot be seen as an isolated event, but rather, the result of a violent wave of Palestinian terrorism that has raged in Israeli cities in the past month, which has resulted in the murder of 19 people.

Many of the worst attacks, such as the March 28 Bnei Brak shooting spree targeting civilians, the April 7 attack by a terrorist gunman at a Tel Aviv bar and the deadly May 5 ax rampage through Elad by a two-man terror cell, were committed by people from the Jenin area.

In fact, more than 50 percent of the IDF’s intelligence alerts regarding terror plots in the midst of formation originate from the Jenin area.

‘There was continuous, indiscriminate fire’

With Jenin resuming its notorious role as a hornet’s nest of attackers (a dubious title the Palestinian city also held during the dark years of the Second Intifada), the IDF has stepped up its activities in the area, acting on intelligence to arrive at the terrorists’ homes before they infiltrate Israel again and arrive on the streets of Israel.

The raid on Jenin on Wednesday was part of that effort, and the objective was to arrest a Hamas member who was planning new attacks. A number of Palestinian Islamic Jihad operatives were also taken into custody.

Jenin is a stronghold of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad members, and its refugee camp has been a place that the P.A. itself struggles to enter.

Once inside the Jenin Refugee Camp, the Israeli units came under massive fire, as multiple videos—released by both the IDF and by Palestinians—clearly reflect.

Dozens of Palestinian gunmen fired at the soldiers without taking much care about their aim, endangering the entire environment. A number of Palestinians hurled explosives as well.

The IDF is aware of three direct exchanges of fire that morning. In the first, a Palestinian gunman on a rooftop fired on soldiers, and Israeli forces returned fire. In the second, a terrorist hurled explosives, and soldiers responded with live fire. In the third incident, a gunman armed with an M-16 assault rifle was seen approaching the Israeli force from the north, and soldiers fired at the armed man.

“There was continuous, indiscriminate fire at security forces and at the area,” said an IDF spokesperson.

The gun attacks did not prevent the IDF from apprehending the Hamas suspect and leaving the area before distressing reports of Akleh’s death emerged.

A special investigations team is being headed by the IDF’s head of Central Command, Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fox, and the Commander of the Commando Brigade, Col. Meni Liberty.

The IDF spokesperson was more cautious than other Israeli figures who stated that preliminary results from the investigation indicated that the fire did not come from Israel, saying instead that “until we have established the full facts, we are not drawing any conclusions. Hence, we are being very careful.”

He also reiterated that “freedom of the press is a core value of Israel,” telling international journalists: “I acknowledge the importance of your work and express my condolences to Akleh’s family.”

‘The journalist killed was in a combat zone’

The complexities of this operational environment can easily get lost in the online battle of narratives.

And yet, it is noteworthy that the P.A. not only rebuffed the IDF’s attempt to hold a joint investigation but also, at the time of this writing, did not respond positively to requests from Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who sent a message to P.A. head Mahmoud Abbas saying that “our responsibility as leaders is to maintain security, to conduct ourselves in a way that will prevent further violence and bloodshed and to uncover the truth.”

“We have also communicated with additional countries and officials, including Qatar, where Al Jazeera headquarters are based. We expressed that the findings at this time indicate that there is a reasonable chance that the journalist was shot by Palestinian armed terrorists. This being said, we will conduct an in-depth and comprehensive investigation and deliver our findings to them,” he told the Knesset on Wednesday.

Kochavi released his own statement during the day, stating that Jenin has “a high concentration of terrorists,” and that “during the night, as in many past incidents, Palestinians fired in a widespread manner at our forces—wild and indiscriminate shootings in every direction. Unlike the Palestinians, IDF soldiers open fire in a professional, selective manner. The journalist who was killed was in a combat zone. At this stage, we cannot determine where the fire came from, and we regret her death.”

He vowed to share the results of the investigation “as soon as possible.”

“The soldiers acted under fire, displaying courage and determination to defend the citizens of the country,” he said. “And this is how we will continue, anywhere that is required.”