Press Freedom

Blame game over journalist Shireen Abu Akleh's death

Published : May 14, 2022 17:11 IST

Shireen Abu Akleh was one of the best known women reporters covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Photo: Anas Alkharboutli/dpa/picture alliance

Who is responsible for Shireen Abu Akleh’s death? Israelis and Palestinians are bitterly divided.

Shireen Abu Akleh only lived to the age of 51. The experienced reporter for international television network Al Jazeera was shot dead on the morning of May 11 in Jenin in the West Bank, a city that is considered a stronghold of militant Palestinians. Abu Akleh was there to report on a raid by the Israeli military. She was wearing a helmet and protective vest that clearly identified her as a member of the press.

Both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority agree that her death is a tragedy. But that's where their common position ends. In recent days, Palestinian authorities as well as Qatar-based Al Jazeera have leveled strong accusations against the Israeli government. At a funeral service in Ramallah on May 12, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said: "We hold the Israeli occupation authorities fully responsible for the murder, and it will not be possible to hide the truth in this crime."

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had already rejected accusations the day before. "Based on preliminary information that we have, there is a significant possibility that the journalist was shot by the armed Palestinians. However, to uncover the truth, there must be a real investigation,” Bennett said in a statement on May 11.

No joint investigation

The Palestinian Authority, however, rejects a joint investigation with Israeli authorities because of a "lack of trust," saying it wants to turn to the International Criminal Court instead. Nor does the Palestinian Authority want to hand over the bullet that killed Abu Akleh to Israel for forensic examination. According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Abu Akleh was apparently struck by a 5.56-millimetre bullet, probably fired from an M16 rifle. The newspaper further writes that such weapons are used by both the Israeli army and Palestinian militants.

Abu Akleh had been accompanied by several journalists. Another fellow Palestinian journalist, Ali Al-Samoudi also suffered gunshot wounds. He has made serious accusations against the Israeli army, saying there were no Palestinian fighters nearby when the journalists were shot at. Al-Samoudi told Al Jazeera: "We were going to film the Israeli army operation and suddenly they shot at us without asking us to leave or stop filming.”

Contradictory versions

The Israeli military has contradicted the account. The operation in Jenin was an anti-terrorist operation, and the soldiers came under heavy fire from armed Palestinians, it said in a statement published on Twitter. It added: "The Israel Defence Forces will never deliberately target non-combatants. We are committed to the freedom of the press and the sanctity of human lives.”

On May 11, just hours after Abu Akleh's death, the Israeli Foreign Ministry had released a video excerpt suggesting that Palestinians fired the fatal shot. On Twitter, the ministry wrote: “This morning in Jenin, terrorists heard saying: 'They've hit one, they've hit a soldier, he's laying on the ground.' But no IDF soldier was injured in Jenin. Palestinian terrorists, firing indiscriminately, are likely to have hit Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.” Several Israeli embassies, including the one in the U.S. and in Germany, translated the tweet and published it.

No answers yet

The Israeli non-governmental organization, B'Tselem which is critical of the government, has examined the video released by the Israeli Foreign Ministry. It claims that it shows a scene unfolding far away from the place where Abu Akleh was shot. Speaking to DW, Dror Sadot of B'Tselem said the organization, through their researcher in Jenin, had pinpointed the exact GPS data of the armed man as well the place where Abu Akleh was shot: “We went and got this video footage of these two locations, and we just showed how it can't be the same incident.”

However, that does not explain who shot Shirin Abu Akleh. It is not yet possible to clarify this conclusively, the Israeli military said in a statement released on the afternoon of May 13. It said there are two possibilities: either armed Palestinians accidentally shot Abu Akleh while firing at Israeli soldiers. Or the Israeli military accidentally hit her while firing at a gunman near them.