Palestinian-American Journalist’s Murder Provokes Demands for Independent Investigation & Accountability

Interview with Phyllis Bennis, director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, conducted by Scott Harris

Palestinian – American Shireen Abu Akleh, one of the best known journalists covering the Israeli – Palestinian conflict, was killed by a gunshot to the head on May 11 while covering an Israeli army raid in the city of Jenin in the occupied West Bank. At the time of the shooting, the Al Jazeera reporter was wearing a blue vest clearly labelled “PRESS” as well as a helmet.

Witnesses, including journalists who were with Abu Akleh when she was killed, claim that Israeli soldiers opened fire on them without warning, and that they believe that they were deliberately targeted as journalists. The Palestinian Authority, as well as Al Jazeera news also blamed Israel for the journalist’s death.

During Abu Akleh’s funeral in East Jerusalem on May 13, Israeli riot police attacked a group of mourners and pallbearers carrying the slain journalist’s coffin, almost causing them to drop it. The assault on the funeral was widely condemned, including a statement from President Biden’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken.  Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, who talks about the importance of Abu Akleh’s journalism and demands for accountability with an independent investigation into her death.

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Shireen Abu Akleh, Scott, was an extraordinary journalist. She had been with Al Jazeera for almost 20 years. And she was someone who was seen by Palestinian families across the Arab world, but particularly Palestinians. She was on the air almost every night. The parallel in this country would be in the 1960s and ’70s when Walter Cronkite was the voice of the news. Definitive. Human.

But the difference was Shireen was a woman in a male-dominated field and she was a Palestinian herself. So she was reporting the stories not only of the politics and the resistance and the struggles of the Palestinian movement, but she was reporting on the lives of people, including her own family, her friends herself. So she had an extraordinary level of of support and real love from the population.

Young journalists saw her as a role model, as a mentor. Shortly after she was killed — and we should say, Scott, that really, from people who were in a position to see it, there is no question that she was shot by Israeli soldiers. The automatic claim which the Israelis tend to do, that “Oh, well, maybe it was Palestinian shots gone wrong. You know, we didn’t do it.”

Now they’ve pulled back from that and they’re saying, “Well, it’s possible that maybe it was Israeli soldiers. Accidental, of course.” You know, the accident being that it hit her in exactly the one spot on her face.

So it’s really an enormous loss and then, of course, it was made worse on Friday at the beginning of her funeral when her family brought the casket out from St. Joseph’s Hospital.

And it was taken up by the the pallbearers into the procession as they wished. And the the procession was brutally attacked by Israeli police. It was on television all over the world, seeing it with their clubs, just beating people. And they beat the pallbearers themselves. So badly that one of them slipped. They almost dropped the casket. The casket at one point was turned almost vertical.

Just the humiliation and the desecration of the body of this extraordinary woman — treated with absolute disdain, reflecting the systemic issue of Israeli domination and the view that Palestinian lives are simply not worth saving. And this was one more example of that.

SCOTT HARRIS: Phyllis, the outstanding question really is whether or not the Israeli military targeted this journalist for assassination or not. There is a history of Israel targeting Palestinian journalists, as I’ve read it, since 2000, 46 Palestinian journalists have been killed. Put this in context for us, if you would.

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Ironically, just two weeks ago, the International Federation of Journalists and the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate presented a call to the International Criminal Court, which is already investigating — at least officially — the potential for Israeli war crimes, as well as Palestinian violations for sure, that had been committed starting in 2014 during the Israeli assault on Gaza. The former prosecutor of the International Criminal Court had said that in the period since 2014, she would include other investigations, other potential crimes by all sides.

So this certainly was appropriate to be added and it was just two weeks ago that these very reputable journalism organizations had gone to the ICC to raise the issue of Israeli targeting of its attacks on journalists, which included things like the bombing of the two high-rise buildings in Gaza that housed the Al-Jazeera offices and the Associated Press office last year in May of 2021, destroying those offices and these numbers of journalists who have themselves been attacked.

So this broader question of a pattern and practice — if you will — of attacking journalists is a long-standing issue. I think the challenge right now is even more complicated than that because it’s not only the question of who fired the shot, whose gun was it? It’s also and — this is what comes right back to the United States — Who paid for that bullet?

Who paid for that gun? The U.S. money pays for 20 percent of Israel’s entire military budget. So the chances are pretty good that our money paid for that gun, that our money paid for those bullets. It makes our government directly culpable. The Israeli government nor the U.S. government are going to seriously investigate themselves. But it gives an opportunity to our movements to make that demand for an independent and international investigation to be taken seriously and to include within it not just who pulled the trigger outside of Jenin, but who paid for those weapons, for that ammunition that may have been directly involved in the killing of Shireen Abu Akhela.

That’s what we have to be pushing for. And it’s going to take the work of our movements to make sure that that happens.

Listen to Scott Harris’ in-depth interview with Phyllis Bennis (18:33) and see more articles and opinion pieces in the Related Links section of this page.

For more information visit the Institute for Policy Studies at Follow Phyllis Bennis on Twitter @PhyllisBennis.

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