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Article on The Guardian: US senators refuse to let killing of Shireen Abu Akleh drop with Israel
The Honorable Joseph R. Biden
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Biden:
June 23, 2022
It has now been over a month since American citizen and journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot to death while reporting on an Israeli military operation in the West Bank city of Jenin. Since that time, there has been no significant progress toward the establishment of an independent, thorough, and transparent investigation into her killing. We believe that, as a leader in the effort to protect the freedom of the press and the safety of journalists, and given the fact that Ms. Abu Akleh was an American citizen, the U.S. government has an obligation to ensure that a comprehensive, impartial, and open investigation into her shooting death is conducted — one in which all parties can have full confidence in the ultimate findings.
It is clear that neither of the parties on the ground trust the other to conduct a credible and independent investigation. Therefore, at this point, we believe the only way to achieve that goal is for the United States to be directly involved in investigating Ms. Abu Akleh’s death. Last month, 57 members of the House of Representatives requested that the State Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) launch an independent investigation under U.S auspices to determine the truth. We join in that request, which has been made even more urgent by the new information that has emerged in recent weeks.
Video footage confirms that Ms. Abu Akleh and her journalist colleagues were wearing helmets and protective blue vests identifying themselves as members of the press at the time of the shooting. According to one of her colleagues, the group stood in front of the Israeli military convoy to ensure the soldiers knew they were members of the news media before moving toward the entrance of Jenin refugee camp.1 Minutes later, Ms. Abu Akleh was fatally shot in the head, and another journalist, Ali al-Samoudi, was wounded by a shot in the back.
Israeli authorities have said that Ms. Abu Akleh was killed in an exchange of fire between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants.2 However, since Ms. Abu Akleh's death, a number of respected independent news organizations have reached a different conclusion. These organizations, including The Washington Post,3 CNN4 and the Associated Press5, reviewed video feed, photos and geospatial images of the scene; interviewed individuals present; and consulted with outside experts. They have concluded that there was no Palestinian gunfire emanating from the location of the shooting at the time of Ms. Abu Akleh’s killing.
Israeli military authorities have stated that it is vital to their investigation that the Palestinian Authority provide them with the bullet removed from Ms. Abu Akleh’s head. The Palestinian Authority has refused this request, stating that it will only provide the bullet to an outside third party or UN investigation.6 On May 26, the Palestinian Authority’s investigation concluded that an Israeli soldier deliberately shot Ms. Abu Akleh in the head with an armor piercing bullet. Israeli Minister of Defense Gantz responded that, “Any claim that the IDF intentionally harms journalists or uninvolved civilians, is a blatant lie.”7 This impasse further underscores the need for the U.S to be directly involved in any investigation.
On the day Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed, an Israeli military spokesperson, Ran Kochav, stated that Ms. Abu Akleh and her film crew “were armed with cameras, if you’ll permit me to say so.”8 We know you agree that journalists must be able to perform their jobs without fear of attack. As you stated just weeks ago on World Press Freedom Day: “The free press is not the enemy of the people. Quite the opposite...the free press is the guardian of truth.”9 In order to protect freedom of the press, a thorough and transparent investigation under U.S. auspices must be conducted to get to the truth and provide accountability for the killing of this American citizen and journalist.
Thank you for your timely consideration of this matter. We respectfully look forward to your response.
Chris Van Hollen, United States Senator
Tammy Baldwin, United States Senator
Sherrod Brown, United States Senator
Tammy Duckworth, United States Senator
Martin Heinrich, United States Senator
Angus S. King, Jr., United States Senator
Patrick Leahy, United States Senator
Thomas R. Carper, United States Senator
Richard J. Durbin, United States Senator
Tim Kaine, United States Senator
Amy Klobuchar, United States Senator
Ben Ray Luján, United States Senator
Edward J. Markey, United States Senator
Christopher S. Murphy, United States Senator
Jack Reed, United States Senator
Brian Schatz, United States Senator
Tina Smith, United States Senator
Jeffrey A. Merkley, United States Senator
Patty Murray, United States Senator
Bernard Sanders, United States Senator
Jeanne Shaheen, United States Senator
Raphael G. Warnock, United States Senator
Elizabeth Warren, United States Senator
Sheldon Whitehouse, United States Senator
Secretary of State, Antony Blinken
Attorney General, Merrick Garland
Federal Bureau of Investigation Director, Christopher Wray
1 https://www.cnn.com/2022/05/24/middleeast/shireen-abu-akleh-jenin-killing-investigation-cmd-intl/index.html 2 https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/2022-05-11/ty-article/.premium/initial-idf-probe-not-clear-if-reporter-was- killed-by-israeli-or-palestinian-fire/00000180-d633-d572-aba5-debf984c0000
4 https://www.cnn.com/2022/05/24/middleeast/shireen-abu-akleh-jenin-killing-investigation-cmd-intl/index.html 5 https://apnews.com/article/politics-west-bank-middle-east-israel-8df6c999627efcef2fe0ca2b401e7a2c
- . 6 https://www.jpost.com/arab-israeli-conflict/article-706666
- 7 https://www.timesofisrael.com/pa-probe-claims-idf-deliberately-shot-journalist-as-she-fled-israel-a-blatant-lie/
- 8 https://www.timesofisrael.com/veteran-al-jazeera-journalist-shot-dead-during-israeli-raid-in-jenin/
- 9 https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/05/03/statement-by-president-joe-biden-on-the-occasion-of-world-press-freedom-day-2022/