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Justice for Shireen

Shireen Abu Akleh was a Palestinian-American journalist who worked with Al Jazeera for 25 years. She was beloved by the Palestinian community and well known for reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the Arab world, Shireen Abu Akleh’s name was well known, even before her death. Shireen exhibited courage and thoughtful principled analysis in her reporting. Many thought her an inspiration for women interested in pursuing a career in journalism. From a Melkite Catholic family, she was born in Jerusalem and lived in the United States during her early life. Her mother’s family lived in New Jersey and when Shireen got older, she would spend summers in the United States. Otherwise, she lived and spent most of her time in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. 

Shireen graduated from Yarmouk University in Jordan with a degree in journalism and began working for Al Jazeera in 1997, one year after the network launched, as one of their first field correspondents. She was known for her coverage of wars in Gaza, Israeli detention of Palestinians, and home demolitions, among other aspects of the Israeli occupation.

The killing of Shireen Abu Akleh raised global concern and consternation.

On May 11, 2022, around 6:30 a.m. in the morning in the Palestinian West Bank village of Jenin, Abu Akleh was shot and killed while covering an Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) raid of Jenin Refugee Camp. She had been standing with a group of other journalists and was wearing a blue vest with the word PRESS printed across it (others in the group were also wearing these vests). Abu Akleh’s producer was shot in the back but survived. Shireen had expressed concern that the IDF and settlers had been targeting her prior to her 2022 death. You can see the Associated Press profile of her death describing the incident in detail. On the day of her death, Israeli police went into her home and took away Palestinian flags and prevented the singing of nationalist songs. 

The killing of Shireen Abu Akleh raised global concern and consternation. Al-Jazeera and the Palestinian Ministry of Health conducted immediate investigations and found that Abu Akleh was killed by IDF fire. The Israeli authorities made various claims in the days following the killing. They suggested that the gunfire that killed Abu Akleh came from Palestinians firing indiscriminately in the area. Later they acknowledged that the gunfire might have come from either Palestinians or the IDF. The following organizations also investigated: Associated Press, Bellingcat, CNN, B’Tselem, The United Nations, The New York Times, and the Washington Post. CNN suggested that the killing was intentional (indicating their belief that the IDF targeted Abu Akleh). They rely on analysis from a ballistics expert who pointed to the tight clustering of bullet marks in the area where Abu Akleh’s body fell. 

“The United States will continue to insist on a full and transparent accounting."

The US Security Coordinator (USSC) also coordinated a forensic investigation (which seems to have been conducted by an Israeli lab) and summarized the findings from Israeli and Palestinian investigations. The Palestinian authorities transferred the bullet to the Israelis under the coordinating observation of the USSC for analysis. The USSC results indicated that the origin of the bullet that killed Abu Akleh was inconclusive but that the gunfire that killed her likely came from IDF positions (from the direction of where IDF forces were positioned). It also added that there was no evidence that the killing was intentional, a statement contested by Palestinians, including Shireen Abu Akleh’s family.

American Christians might be interested to know the response of the United States government to this incident. Many members of Congress were outraged and 53 Congressional Representatives signed a letter addressed to the Secretary of State and the FBI, calling for an investigation into the Abu Akleh killing and whether any laws protecting American citizens were violated. Senators Ossof and Romney sent a letter to Secretary Blinken calling for an independent investigation. In addition, the family of Shireen Abu Akleh wrote an open letter to President Biden before his trip to the West Bank. They derided the Administration’s lack of action to date, characterizing them as enabling Israel’s extrajudicial killing. They called on the Administration to ensure full accountability for those involved.

He asked Israel to review its rules of engagement governing when live fire can be used in the West Bank.

During President Biden’s July 2022 trip to the region, he did not meet with the Abu Akleh family. He did, however, communicate during his trip that “The United States will continue to insist on a full and transparent accounting of her [Abu Akleh’s] death.” 

Back in Washington D.C., Senator Chris Van Hollen wrote a letter, co-signed by 23 Senate colleagues, addressed to the U.S. Sec. of State Anthony Blinken, stating that the U.S. review of the incident didn’t rise to the level of an independent and rigorous investigation. Secretary Blinken did meet with the family of Shireen Abu Akleh on July 26 to renew their demands that the US ensure accountability for Abu Akleh’s killing. They indicated that Secretary Blinken promised transparency to them about further action taken by the US government on the matter. Representative Van Hollen also met with the Abu Akleh family and made a statement about his meeting on July 27.

Over 30 journalists have been killed in the West Bank and Gaza since 2000

After Secretary Blinken met with the Abu Akleh family, he called Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz. He asked Israel to publish the full report of their investigation of the killing as soon as possible and he asked Israel to review its rules of engagement governing when live fire can be used in the West Bank. He reasoned that either the rules of engagement were infringed or that they should be changed if an Israeli soldier shot at a member of the press who was clearly marked as such. Representatives have indicated that the Administration plans to follow up with Israel about their rules of engagement.

Initiated by Representative André Carson on July 28, 2022, the Justice for Shireen Act, has not yet been introduced to the House. The Justice for Shireen Act requires the FBI and Secretary of State to coordinate with the Director of National Intelligence and Secretary of Defense to submit a public report to congress that identifies (1)  individuals and entities involved in the death of Shireen Abu Akleh and (2) any US resources that were implicated. The report is to be made available publicly simultaneously with this submission to Congress.

Now more than 100 Members of Congress have signed letters calling for a transparent and thorough investigation

Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) condemns the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh and calls on the United States government for an independent investigation and accountability. All the while, it is important to acknowledge that Shireen’s death is not an isolated incident. According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), over 30 journalists have been killed in the West Bank and Gaza since 2000, and 140 violations (shooting, beatings, killings) against Palestinian journalists have occurred since 2018. Israel killed 60 Palestinians in the first half of 2022, a significant increase from 2021, when 70 Palestinians were killed the whole year. This was a big increase from 19 killed in 2020 and 20 killed in 2019.

Pray for the family of Shireen Abu Akleh and all of her friends and loved ones grieving her death. Also, join CMEP and our church partners and denominations in TAKING ACTION, calling on Members of Congress to support the Justice for Shireen Act. Now more than 100 Members of Congress have signed letters calling for a transparent and thorough investigation that results in accountability for those found responsible for killing Shireen Abu Akleh. President Biden called for a “full and transparent accounting” of her death in the region. The Justice for Shireen Act will provide that accounting.

Al Jazeera Media Network, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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