Murdering The Messengers: IPI Renews Call To Israeli Government For Justice In Killing Of Journalist Shireen Abu Akleh

By IFEX

Photos: Wikimedia Commons

Two years since veteran Palestinian-American journalist and IPI-IMS World Press Freedom Hero Shireen Abu Akleh was killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank, there has still been no accountability for this crime. 

The IPI global network today reiterates its demand for justice. We once again call on Israel to conduct a credible, independent investigation and hold those responsible accountable. We continue to call on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open an investigation into the circumstances of Abu Akleh’s killing to determine if this incident amounts to a war crime under the Rome Statute of the ICC. The FBI must also provide an immediate update on the status of their investigation and ensure that their investigation leads to accountability for the killing of a U.S. citizen.

Abu Akleh was shot dead while reporting on an Israeli military raid on the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank on May 11, 2022. The journalist was standing with a group of other reporters and wearing a vest clearly marked PRESS. Her colleague, Al Jazeera producer Ali al-Samoudi, was also shot and survived his injuries.

Across more than two decades as a reporter and correspondent for Al Jazeera, Abu Akleh reported extensively on numerous major events in Palestine. For her accuracy and professionalism, as well as her distinct sign offs, Abu Akleh became a household name across the Arab world. She dedicated her career to uncovering injustice and the dire situation of Palestinians under Israeli occupation, and inspired many Palestinian and Arab women to pursue careers in journalism.

Israel’s failure to investigate and ensure justice

Multiple independent investigations, including those conducted by The Associated PressThe New York Times, The Washington Post, and Bellingcat, have concluded that Abu Akleh was killed by a bullet which was fired by a member of the Israel Defense Forces. Investigations by CNN and London-based Forensic Architecture have further concluded that Abu Akleh was intentionally targeted.

While initially denying responsibility, the IDF in September 2022 admitted there was a “high possibility” that Abu Akleh died by accidental IDF gun fire, but said it would not pursue criminal charges or prosecutions of the soldiers involved. On the one year anniversary of her killing in May 2023, the IDF issued an apology for her death.

States have a duty to investigate attacks on journalists promptly, thoroughly, and independently, and to prosecute those responsible. This obligation does not disappear in a conflict zone. On the contrary, authorities are legally bound under international law and international humanitarian law to ensure the safety of journalists and media workers in situations of conflict. Moreover, a deliberate attack on a journalist during a situation of armed conflict may constitute a war crime.

In light of Israel’s refusal to investigate, IPI joined the slain journalist’s family and many other press freedom groups in calling for a U.S.-led investigation into the killing of Abu Akleh, who was a U.S. citizen. The FBI in November 2022 opened an investigation after mounting pressure, including from dozens of members of Congress. The FBI has since provided no further information about this investigation.

In December 2022, Al Jazeera Network submitted a formal request to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate Abu Akleh’s killing as a potential war crime. To date, the ICC has not disclosed whether it has opened an investigation.

“It’s been two years since the killing of our beloved aunt and sister Shireen Abu Akleh by an Israeli sniper and until this day no one has been held accountable”, Lina Abu Akleh, niece of the slain journalist, told IPI. “The past two years have been very painful for our family. We shouldn’t have to wait another year without justice.”

Rampant impunity for crimes against Palestinian journalists

As one of the Arab world’s most beloved and respected journalists, Abu Akleh’s killing sent shockwaves through the international media and press freedom communities, and put a spotlight on a wider pattern of violence against journalists in Palestine by the Israeli military. At the time of her killing in May 2022, more than 20 Palestinian journalists had been killed by the IDF over the previous two decades, and no one ever has ever been charged or held accountable for these deaths, according to research by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

This pattern of deadly violence against journalists in Palestine by the IDF has escalated to unprecedented levels since the outbreak of the war in Gaza in October 2023. At least 97 journalists have been killed in the hostilities, a vast majority of which — an estimated 92 — were Palestinian journalists killed by IDF airstrikes or bombardments.

“The IDF must be held accountable for their brazen killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, who was an inspiration to so many for her fearless and professional reporting on events inside Palestine”, IPI Executive Director Frane Maroević said. “We also call on the international community, and particularly the U.S. government and other key allies of Israel to prioritize justice for Shireen. They must send a message that journalists in Palestine — and anywhere around the world — cannot and must not be killed with impunity.”

He added: “We continue to demand that Israel conduct a credible, independent investigation. We also continue to call on the ICC to open an immediate investigation into this case, as a potential war crime. The FBI should conclude its investigation, or at the very least, provide an update on the status of their investigation. The appalling lack of accountability for the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh also highlights the alarming failure not only of Israel but of many other states around the world to live up to their obligations under international law to protect journalists in and outside of conflict zones, and prosecute those responsible for attacks on the press.”

Meanwhile, Abu Akleh’s family awaits justice. “We continue to hope that those responsible for Shireen’s killing, from the soldier who pulled the trigger all the way up the chain of command, are held accountable,” Lina Abu Akleh said.

“Journalism is not a crime — but targeting journalists is”, she added. “And the impunity that Israel enjoys has resulted in the killing and targeting of even more journalists in Gaza.”

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