JERUSALEM — The Israeli army said Monday there was a “high possibility” that a soldier killed a well-known Al Jazeera journalist in the occupied West Bank last May, as it announced the results of its investigation into the killing.
A senior military officer said that a soldier fired after mistakingly identifying Shireen Ab Akleh, an militant, in a briefing. However, he did not present any evidence that would support the Israeli claim of Palestinian gunmen being in the vicinity and assured no one would face punishment. Video evidence that Abu Akleh had shot Abu Akleh in the vicinity was not mentioned by him.
This was the most Israel could come to taking accountability for the death of her. It followed an extensive series of US and media investigations that determined Israel fired the deadly shot or had likely fired it. They were not able to resolve the issue.
“He misidentified her,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity under military briefing guidelines. “His reports in real time…absolutely point to a misidentification.”
Abu Akleh was covered in helmets and vests that identify her as press, when she was attacked by Israeli soldiers in the occupied West Bank.
The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem accused the army of carrying out a whitewash.
“It was no mistake. It’s policy,” the group said.
Learn More Shireen Abu Akleh, Niece of Slain Al Jazeera Journalist on Justice for Her Family
Al Jazeera’s local bureau chief, Walid Al-Omari, accused the army of trying to escape responsibility. “This is clearly an attempt to circumvent the opening of a criminal investigation,” he told The Associated Press.
A 51-year-old Palestinian American, the journalist had lived in West Bank since two decades. He was well-known throughout the Arab World. The Palestinians, and Abu Akleh’s family, have accused Israel of intentionally killing her, and her death remains a major point of contention between the sides.
Official said that the military was unable to determine from where the fire originated, and speculated there might have been Palestinian soldiers in the area. But he said the soldier shot the journalist “with very high likelihood” and did so by mistake.
Official did not provide any explanations as to why video and witness accounts showed no militant activity, nor gunfire within the immediate vicinity up until Abu Akleh’s barrage which killed another reporter.
The official did not explain why it took four months to investigate, but he stated that the Israeli military chief requested more information following an initial investigation. The official said the investigation had been shared with the military’s independent prosecutor, who had decided not to launch a criminal probe. The shooting will not be prosecuted.
Abu Akleh’s family criticized the investigation, saying the army “tried to obscure the truth and avoid responsibility” for the killing.
“Our family is not surprised by this outcome since it’s obvious to anyone that Israeli war criminals cannot investigate their own crimes. However, we remain deeply hurt, frustrated and disappointed,” they said in a statement. Family members also reiterated their call for an independent U.S. probe and an investigation by the International Criminal Court.
According to rights groups, Israeli investigations into the killing of Palestinians are often slow and ineffective. Soldiers are seldom held responsible.
Israel claimed that the woman was killed in complex fighting with Palestinian militants. A forensic analysis could only confirm that it was fired from an Israeli soldier. A U.S.-led investigation of the bullet’s bullet from July last year was not conclusive. Investigators claimed that it had suffered severe damage.
A reconstruction by the Associated Press of her murder supports witness accounts that she was murdered by Israeli forces. CNN, New York Times, and Washington Post investigations of her death led to similar conclusions. Monitoring by the U.N. Human Rights Chief also reached similar conclusions.
Continue reading: The Problems With Israel’s Version of the Killing of Reporter Shireen Abu Akleh
Abu Akleh gained fame in the aftermath of the second Palestinian uprising against Israeli colonial rule. She documented the harsh realities of life under Israeli military rule—now well into its sixth decade with no end in sight—for viewers across the Arab world.
International criticism was widespread of Israeli police for beating mourners and pallbearers during her Jerusalem funeral on May 14. Israeli newspapers reported that some officers were found guilty of wrongdoing but those in charge will not face any serious consequences.
Jenin is a stronghold for Palestinian militants. Young men have carried out several deadly Israeli attacks. Israel regularly carries out military raids on Jenin. It claims that these are intended to arrest militants and prevent more attacks.
Nearly 500,000 Israelis now live in settlements built by Israel, which was occupied the West Bank during the 1967 Mideast War. Palestinians desire the West Bank to be the principal part of any future state.
Goldenberg was based in Tel Aviv, Israel.
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