By Andrew Lapin
The United Nations Human Rights Office concluded that a Palestinian-American journalist was killed by Israeli security forces last month, and said Israel’s failure to conduct a criminal investigation into her death was “deeply disturbing.”
In response, the Israel Defense Forces called the UN probe “biased” and reiterated its call for the Palestinian Authority to hand over the bullet that killed Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh in early May.
The UN issued its determination Friday after inspecting photos, video and audio from the scene of the Jenin refugee camp where Abu Akleh was killed (including material from the Israeli military), interviewing eyewitnesses and consulting experts. The office also reconstructed what it said was a timeline of the shooting.
“We find that the shots that killed Abu Akleh came from Israeli security forces,” spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said. She added that no evidence could corroborate Israel’s claim that armed Palestinian militants had also been firing at the scene and could be responsible for her death.
The New York Times, Washington Post and Associated Press also conducted separate investigations and determined she was likely killed by Israeli military.
Going a step further than those media outlets, the UN also believed the shots were “seemingly well-aimed bullets” — a significant claim, as Abu Akleh was wearing clothing clearly identifying her as a journalist at the time she was shot. The P.A., Al Jazeera and CNN have all claimed that Abu Akleh was intentionally targeted by Israeli forces.
The UN’s determination came only a day after 24 Senate Democrats urged President Biden to involve the U.S. in an independent investigation of Abu Akleh’s killing, citing global press freedom concerns and the journalist’s status as an American citizen among their reasoning. Abu Akleh’s brother has also called for the U.S. to be involved in an investigation.
The Senate letter, and several previous letters from U.S. legislators also calling for some form of an investigation, reflected a growing international pressure on Israel to address Abu Akleh’s death, which has ignited further tensions in the region and beyond.
The IDF has so far resisted calls to open a criminal investigation into the matter, and Israel has maintained it cannot conclude its own investigation until the P.A. hands over the bullet. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Benny Gantz have previously rejected out of hand any suggestion that Israeli forces could have intentionally targeted a journalist.
Israel has long claimed that it receives biased treatment at the hands of the UN Human Rights Council, and out of solidarity to Israel the U.S. had resisted joining the council for years until the Obama administration (it then left the council under the Trump administration citing anti-Israel bias).