President Biden and Secretary of State Blinken Avoid Addressing Israeli Killing of Palestinian-American Journalist
(Washington, D.C., May 11, 2023) – One year since the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh by Israeli troops in Jenin, the Biden Administration immediately should make public the recent report by the U.S. Security Coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and publicly acknowledge the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigation into her killing, said Democracy for the Arab World (DAWN).
"The Biden Administration's response to the extrajudicial killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, a U.S. citizen, has been nothing more than a series of punting and dodging to avoid calling out Israel for its despicable crime," said Adam Shapiro, Director of Advocacy, Israel/Palestine at DAWN. "Even when independent media, a United Nations and NGO investigations exposed Israel's lies and obfuscation about her murder, and forced Israel to admit one of its soldiers shot her, Biden and Blinken can't seem to find the courage to stand up and demand the perpetrators who executed an American be brought to justice, or even to release a government report about what happened."
In the last two weeks, the U.S. Security Coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Lt. Gen. Michael Fenzel, sent the State Department an updated summary report about the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh. In a May 1, 2023 letter, Senator Chris van Hollen requested the Administration release the report to Congress. However, a State Department official indicated that "before congressional release of the USSC Report is authorized, the Administration plans to make unspecified changes to its contents."
The public evidence surrounding Abu-Akleh's murder strongly suggests that Israeli military forces deliberately targeted and executed her. On May 11, 2022, Shireen Abu Akleh, a globally prominent Palestinian-American journalist with Al-Jazeera, went to Jenin refugee camp to report on that morning's raid of the camp by the Israeli army. She was wearing a bulletproof helmet and flak jacket emblazoned with the word "PRESS." An Israeli sniper shot her in the neck while she was surrounded by other journalists, and she was pronounced dead at the hospital. Israeli forces also shot and injured another journalist, Ali Sammoudi, in the same incident. The Israeli military and government initially blamed Palestinian gunmen, a story that was widely discredited, first by eyewitnesses and then by independent investigations, before Israeli officials confessed that their soldiers killed her.
"One year on, not one question about Shireen's murder has been addressed by the U.S. government. Congress has sent letters and asked for confidential hearings, while her family, media outlets and press freedom, journalists' and human rights organizations have worked to expose what really happened and who is responsible. Accountability is achievable, but requires the Biden Administration to fulfill its own responsibilities to protect American citizens' lives and bring the perpetrators to justice," said Shapiro.
A recent report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) documented that the Israeli military has taken no accountability for the killings of at least 20 journalists, 18 of whom were Palestinian, over the past 20 years. The report reveals a pattern of impunity that undermines press freedom, with the majority of the journalists killed being clearly identified as members of the media at the time of their death.
DAWN and other leading rights organizations demanded that the FBI investigate Abu-Akleh's murder, as they had investigated the murder of other Americans abroad. While news reports have disclosed that the FBI commenced an investigation into Abu-Akleh's killing, the U.S. government has not acknowledged the investigation. To date, the only public acknowledgment of an FBI investigation into the killing has come from then Israeli Minister of Defense Benny Gantz, [who stated that Israel would refuse to cooperate with the FBI], while the FBI, Department of Justice, State Department, and the White House have refused to comment publicly. This starkly contrasts with the public announcement the FBI made in the wake of the attack on four U.S. citizens in Mexico in March 2023 and the recently reported war crimes case the FBI is pursuing against two Syrian officials for the murder of U.S. aid worker Layla Shweikani in Syria.
Meanwhile, in the past two weeks, in a pattern of troubling omissions, President Biden and Secretary Blinken have left out Abu Akleh's name when making powerful public statements defending press freedom and calling for the protection for journalists. On April 29, 2023, President Biden spoke at the White House Correspondents' Association annual dinner about journalist safety, he failed to mention Abu Akleh's killing. A few days later, during a May 3, 2023, World Press Freedom Day event organized by the Washington Post, Secretary Blinken ignored a question about Abu Akleh and did not mention her, despite addressing attacks on other American journalists, such as Austin Tice and Evan Gerschkovich.
"The President and Secretary of State want to pretend that there was no American journalist named Shireen Abu Akleh whom Israeli soldiers murdered," said Raed Jarrar, Director of Advocacy at DAWN. "But their attempts at erasure only expose their double standards when it comes to Israel, something that is both unsustainable and damaging to American national interests."
On the anniversary of the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, DAWN called on Secretary Blinken and President Biden to:
*publicly acknowledge and give a status update of the FBI investigation into her murder;
* release to Congress an unamended copy of the report delivered by the U.S. Security Coordinator; and
* publicly affirm that there will be no political pressure or interference with the FBI investigation or any other inquiry into the killing.
DAWN also urges Attorney General Merrick Garland to commit publicly to pursuing charges against any Israeli soldier and officer determined to be responsible for the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, including the potential use of war crimes laws if determined to be applicable.
"Given the efforts by the Biden Administration to minimize, obfuscate and otherwise interfere with a straightforward pursuit of justice in this case, these steps would help assure that the U.S.-Israel relationship does not value impunity for murder," said Shapiro.