Palestinian outrage after US says journalist killed by accident

JERUSALEM — Palestinians on Tuesday expressed disappointment and anger with the United States, after Washington said he had concluded t...


JERUSALEM — Palestinians on Tuesday expressed disappointment and anger with the United States, after Washington said he had concluded that Shireen Abu Akleh, an American-Palestinian journalist killed while reporting in the occupied West Bank, was likely shot unintentionally by a bullet fired from Israeli military lines.

The US conclusion renewed Palestinian claims that the United States is not acting as a fair broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, days before a visit to the region by President Biden, who has not reversed several Trump administration measures that the Palestinians have deemed harmful to their hopes for independence.

The State Department’s assessment, released on Monday, contradicts the official Israeli position that Ms. Abu Akleh, a former TV host shot dead in the city of Jenin on May 11, could have been hit by Palestinian or Israeli fire.

But by claiming it was shot by accident and the deadly bullet was too damaged to be associated with any specific rifle, the US also signaled that it did not expect Israel to pursue a lawsuit. criminal charges against a particular soldier.

The US findings “provided the occupying state with a sure way to evade responsibility for the murder of Abu Akleh, using flimsy and weak pretexts”, the PA Foreign Ministry said in a statement. communicated. statement tuesday.

The Biden administration has said it acted independently of Israel and did not exonerate Israel of any involvement.

For years, Palestinians have questioned Washington’s ability to neutrally mediate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, citing strong US support for Israel at the United Nations and the extent of US financial and military support for Israel, which has cumulative more american aid than any other country since World War II.

In this context, the Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the West Bank, including the city where the shooting took place, initially ignored weeks of US pressure to share the bullet that killed Ms Abu Akleh, 51, with Israeli investigators.

But the authority reversed its position on Saturday, handing over the bullet after US officials argued that a forensic examination could link the bullet to the gun that fired it.

The inconclusive results of the test that followed and the US assertion that the killing was accidental fueled a sense of betrayal among Palestinians, prompting accusations of pro-Israel bias to resurface in Washington.

The last direct peace talks on ending the conflict broke down in 2014, and deep divisions in Palestinian and Israeli societies have hampered efforts to revive them. But the Palestinians argue that Washington is doing too little to push Israel back to the negotiating table, or to preserve the feasibility of a Palestinian state.

Ned Price, a State Department spokesman, said Tuesday that US investigators favored neither Israelis nor Palestinians. He added that the US analysis of the bullet was based on tests carried out by independent foreign experts, not Israeli ballistics specialists.

“Our goal was not to please everyone,” Mr. Price said. “Our goal was not to please anyone.”

The US intervention came days before a visit by President Biden to Israel and the West Bank, his first as head of state, during which he is expected to avoid making major statements on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It also came amid growing Palestinian frustration that the Biden administration had not reversed several moves by President Trump that Palestinians felt were hurting efforts to establish a Palestinian state.

Despite the promise to reopen the American consulate in Jerusalem to Palestinians, closed under Mr. Trump, the Biden administration kept it closed following pressure from Israel. The Palestinian mission in Washington, also closed under Mr. Trump, remains closed. The Trump administration’s decision to reverse decades of American policy and recognize as legitimate Israeli settlements in the West Bank – considered illegal by most of the world – have not been officially cancelled.

Some Palestinians had nevertheless hoped that the Biden administration could at least push Israel to conduct a criminal investigation into Ms Abu Akleh’s death.

But this week, US officials suggested the US government was unlikely to press for prosecution by Israel. Monday’s State Department statement stressed that the United States had “no reason to believe” that Ms Abu Akleh’s killing was “intentional but rather the result of tragic circumstances”.

Mr Price, the State Department spokesman, said the United States wanted to see “some degree of accountability” for the killing, and that the Israeli military introduce additional safeguards for civilians in future raids. But pushed on the issue of a criminal prosecution, Mr Price said the Biden administration “will not be prescriptive” about exactly what form the Israeli investigation takes.

The absence of American pressure lessens the likelihood of criminal charges being brought against anyone in any forum.

IDF Advocate General Yifat Tomer-Yerushalmi did not rule out a military prosecution and said she would base her decision on the findings of the IDF’s internal investigation. But so far Major General Tomer-Yerushalmi said she was not yet convinced of the need for criminal charges.

“The opening of an investigation is justified when a criminal offense is suspected,” she said in a speech on May 23. “In intense combat activity like the activity in Jenin, the death of a person per se does not automatically raise such suspicions.”

The Palestinian Authority, which accused Israel of intentionally targeting Ms Abu Akleh, said it would refer the case to the International Criminal Court.

But such a process could take years and may never result in a prosecution. ICC prosecutors began a preliminary examination of the situation in the occupied territories in 2015, but did not open a formal investigation until 2021. Seven years after the investigation began, they have not opened any cases against Israelis or Palestinians in relation to crimes in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

If prosecutors bring a suspect accused of killing Ms Abu Akleh to trial, the case will likely center on who was targeted and what the shooter believed about the target.

Israeli claims that if a soldier killed her, it was a mistake made while shooting at a Palestinian gunman. But the evidence reviewed by The New York Times in a recent one month survey found no evidence of the existence of armed Palestinians near Ms. Abu Akleh when she was shot.

Under international law, combatants in an armed conflict can attack enemy combatants, said Luis Moreno Ocampo, former chief prosecutor at the ICC. “But it is forbidden to intentionally direct attacks against the civilian population,” said Mr. Moreno Ocampo.

“Shireen Abu Akleh was a civilian,” he added. “Did the shooter know that?” The investigation should clarify: Was it a mistake? An isolated military decision? An ordinance following a plan or policy adopted by high authorities?

Analysis of past investigations by the Israeli military prosecutor’s office suggests that few charges result in prosecution. Hundreds of complaints are filed against Israeli soldiers each year, but most are shelved without thorough investigation, and only a small fraction make it to court, let alone a conviction, according to data compiled by Yesh Dinan Israeli rights group that monitors the occupation of the West Bank.

In 2019 and 2020, the most recent years for which data is available, 2% of complaints filed by Palestinians for being injured by Israeli soldiers resulted in prosecutions, Yesh Din said. During that period, 49 Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces in the West Bank, according to data compiled by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The Israeli government says its military has a strong legal system, adheres to the highest standards and will continue to investigate Ms Abu Akleh’s murder.

“Professional and moral truth is inseparable from our national resilience,” Benny Gantz, Israel’s Defense Minister, said in a statement on Monday.

He added: “The defense establishment is committed to uncovering the truth.”

The report was provided by Myra Noveck and Hiba Yazbek of Jerusalem, and Lara Jacques from Washington.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Palestinian outrage after US says journalist killed by accident
Palestinian outrage after US says journalist killed by accident
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