Opinion by Lina Abu Akleh — July 27, 2022
Lina Abu Akleh is Shireen Abu Akleh’s niece. Earlier this year, I began planning a summer trip from Jerusalem to the United States with my aunt. I was excited for her to show me cities she knew well and loved, including Washington. I am now in Washington, but without my aunt, the renowned Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. All evidence indicates she was killed by an Israeli soldier in the occupied West Bank town of Jenin on May 11, just after she arrived to report on an Israeli military incursion. Instead of visiting monuments and museums with my aunt, I am in D.C. calling for justice and accountability for her death.
Since that horrible day when Shireen was shot in the space between her protective helmet and bulletproof vest clearly marked as PRESS, my family has called on the U.S. government to conduct an independent, thorough and transparent investigation into the killing.
It is a testament to Shireen’s impact and inspiration as an iconic and groundbreaking journalist that dozens of members of Congress have asked for the same. Yet until now, the Biden administration has refused. After meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday, we hope President Biden will reconsider and finally act.
There have been multiple investigations by the United Nations, human rights organizations and major international news organizations, all concluding that Shireen was almost certainly killed by an Israeli sniper, and that the entrance of the Jenin refugee camp was quiet when she was shot. Yet I read with bewilderment a statement that the Biden administration issued on July 4. Based on reviewing and summarizing the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority’s investigations, the United States concluded that Israel was likely responsible for my aunt’s killing, but that there was no reason to believe that it was intentional.
I was alarmed. Why was the Biden administration repeating Israel’s spin, given the lengths that the Israel military has gone to manipulate the events around Shireen’s killing? Israel initially blamed Palestinians, circulating a misleading video that human rights organizations quickly debunked. Then, an Israeli military spokesman went so far as to suggest that journalists such as Shireen are “armed” with cameras. The Israeli army eventually had to backtrack and conceded that it was possible that an Israeli sniper could have been responsible. Yet the Biden administration continues to stand by its July 4 statement, blindly accepting Israel’s incomplete version of events despite a long history of sweeping crimes by its soldiers under the rug.
We wanted to sit down with Biden to discuss this during his recent trip to Israel and the West Bank, and were disappointed when he did not meet with us. So instead, my family traveled to Washington and were encouraged when Blinken agreed to meet with us.
At the meeting, my family reiterated our demand that the United States conduct its own investigation into what happened to Shireen, retract its statement from July 4, and be more open and transparent with us. We also expressed how important it is for us to meet with Biden himself so he can demonstrate that Shireen’s case is a priority for his administration. Blinken acknowledged that the U.S. government has a duty to protect every American citizen and said he was committed to transparency with the family moving forward, but stopped short of committing to opening an investigation or agreeing to our meeting with Biden.
We are not naive; we know that the United States has failed to conduct its own investigations into previous killings of American citizens by Israeli soldiers and that the U.S. government has helped Israel avoid accountability for decades of grave, systematic human rights abuses and violations of international law.
There was no U.S. investigation when an Israeli soldier drove a bulldozer over American peace activist Rachel Corrie, crushing her to death in 2003, as she tried to protect a Palestinian family’s home in Gaza. Israel faced no consequences from the United States when Israeli soldiers raided a ship delivering humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, killing nine humanitarian activists, including 18-year-old Turkish American Furkan Dogan. There has been no accountability for Omar Assad, a 78-year-old Palestinian American who was dragged from his car in the bitter cold of a predawn morning earlier this year by Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint, bound, gagged and left in an exposed construction site, where he was later discovered dead.
We fully understand the U.S. government’s role in fueling the belief of Israeli leaders and soldiers that they enjoy impunity for their actions. Yet this is why it is all the more urgent for my family to impress this message upon the administration: Biden can stop this pattern. He can pledge to pursue meaningful accountability for my aunt, starting with a commitment to conduct an independent U.S. investigation in Shireen’s case.