The family of a Palestinian American journalist demands justice

The family of Shireen Abu Akleh on Thursday called on the United States to ensure a “thorough, independent and transparent investigation” into the murder of the Palestinian American journalist.

Abu Akleh, a veteran news correspondent for Al Jazeera Arabic, was shot dead on May 11 while covering an Israeli operation in Jenin, in the West Bank.

The journalist’s family, media rights groups and several US lawmakers have called on the US administration and Justice Department to ensure accountability for her murder.

At a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington on Thursday, Lina Abu Akleh noted that in the four months since her aunt’s murder, there has been “no accountability or action on the part of of the American administration”.

“That’s the role of the US administration – to take charge of this,” Lina Abu Akleh said, “We haven’t even had a chance to mourn as a family. We couldn’t mourn our dear aunt because we had to continually demand accountability, for justice.

National Press Club President Jen Judson noted that Abu Akleh was killed while wearing a vest marked PRESS.

“Until we can figure out why and how this happened in great detail, the safety of every journalist working in the area is at grave risk,” Judson said.

Statements from US lawmakers showing bipartisan support for an independent inquiry were shared at the event, including from Rep. Andre Carson, a Democrat from Indiana.

Carson announced a Justice for Shireen Act in July to compel the State Department and the FBI to produce a report on the journalist’s death in consultation with the Department of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence.

“It’s the bare minimum of what she deserves,” Carson said in a statement about the act.

An independent United Nations investigation found the fatal shot was fired by the Israel Defense Forces and “found no information to suggest there was activity by armed Palestinians” near where it was fired. Abu Akleh and other journalists were there.

A forensic analysis by the US Security Coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority, part of the State Department, found that “fire from IDF positions was likely responsible” but “no reason to believe that was intentional.”

The Israeli Embassy did not respond to VOA’s request for comment.

But Israel has previously denied that its forces targeted the journalist and says she may have been hit in a firefight with a militant, the Associated Press said.

During his trip to Israel in July, President Joe Biden said he would be willing to meet Abu Akleh’s family in Washington. The family have met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken but have so far not had a meeting with Biden.

The US State Department did not respond to VOA’s request for comment.

Media Safety

Lina Abu Akleh received the National Press Club President’s Award in honor of her aunt on Wednesday.

Judson, president of the Press Club and Defense News journalist, paid tribute to the veteran journalist in a statement and highlighted Abu Akleh’s experience in conflict zones.

“She traveled with the experience of working regularly and for many years in the West Bank. She knew where to stand and where not to stand. She knew how to behave to survive in this very dangerous environment. Her instincts were acute. She was careful. For years, her life depended on it,” Judson said in a statement.

Sherif Mansour, of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, told VOA that accountability is necessary to ensure justice in Abu Akleh’s case and to ensure the protection of other journalists working in the region.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has documented 19 cases of journalists killed since 1992 in connection with their work in Israel and the Palestinian territories. In almost all cases, the alleged source of the shots is Israeli military officials, according to CPJ data.

In these cases, there has been no accountability or credible investigations, Mansour told VOA. “That’s what we want to avoid this time,” he said.

CPJ urges for justice and accountability, but also for Israel to reconsider how it interacts with the media during unrest or clashes.

“The question is much more about internationally recognized standards [and] standards that have to do with distinguishing journalists as civilians worthy of protection, including in situations of active combat,” he said.

Through the case of Abu Akleh, CPJ hopes that independent investigations can shed light on similar incidents.