On May 11, an Israeli soldier killed Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Jenin, and months later the perpetrator of this outrageous crime is still no closer to being brought to justice.
The need to hold the shooter accountable is clear. A new investigation by the Palestinian human rights organization Al Haq confirmed the findings of multiple reports from the UN, human rights groups, and media outlets earlier in the year, and their investigation shows that Abu Akleh was targeted and killed while clearly wearing a vest identifying her as a member of the press.
The report also confirmed that no other shots were fired in the area on that morning except for the bullets coming from the position of Israeli forces, so there was no fighting in the vicinity and no possibility that the shooting occurred in a crossfire. Shireen Abu Akleh was shot at with such precision that there can be no doubt that she was deliberately targeted.
After initially denying responsibility and attempting to shift the blame to non-existent Palestinian gunmen, the Israeli government conceded that it was “highly probable” that one of their soldiers was responsible for her death, but they still claimed it was an accident and will not take any further action.
The Biden administration has gone along with this weak cover story, and it has played its part in trying to whitewash the shooting. By all accounts, the administration has made no serious effort to seek accountability for Abu Akleh’s murder, and their overall response to the Israeli government’s handling of the killing has been abysmal. Nearly five months since the shooting, there has been no U.S. investigation, and there is no evidence of any diplomatic pressure being brought to bear on the Israeli government by the administration. The State Department has paid lip service to the idea of accountability, but neither Secretary of State Antony Blinken nor President Biden has shown any interest in taking any actions that might lead to justice.
We will not know the full story without a thorough investigation by our government, but, given what we already know, it is impossible to believe that the killing was accidental. As the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem has said, the killing of Abu Akleh was not an accident, but the “predictable result” of an open-fire policy in the occupied Palestinian territories that has claimed the lives of many other innocent Palestinians.
If the Biden administration were serious about its desire to prevent anything like this from happening again, they would be taking a very different, much more combative approach to the entrenchment of the Israeli occupation that has been going on for decades with U.S. backing.
The lack of action on th-is case has prompted members of Congress from both parties to call for an FBI investigation to no avail, but now some of them have begun threatening to use U.S. leverage to get a full accounting of what happened. As The Guardian reported earlier this week, “The longest-serving member of the US Senate, Pat-rick Leahy, recently upped the ante by warning that Is-rael’s failure to fully expl-ain the Al-Jazeera repor-ter’s killing could jeopardize America’s huge military aid to the Jewish state und-er a law he sponsored 25 years ago cutting weapons supplies to countries that abuse human rights.”
Raising the possibility of suspending military aid to a client government is an unusual step for a senior senator to take, and it is practically unheard of for a leading member of Con-gress to suggest this option for Israel. It is a measure of how egregious the crime is and how frustrated many lawmakers are with Israeli stonewalling and administration inaction. It remains to be seen if others will support using military aid as leverage to obtain Israeli cooperation, but the fact that it has even been suggested is significant.
The killing and the Biden administration’s dilatory reaction to it call attention to several serious flaws in the U.S.-Israel relationship: it is one-sided and overly indulgent; it enables abuses; and it strengthens a culture of impunity. In this case, there has been an excessive deference to the Israeli government’s claims and an unw-illingness to apply pressure to get to the bottom of the matter. The administration has given the Israeli government the benefit of the doubt at every turn and accepted their explanations at face value. When confronted with a fatal attack on an American citizen by an armed agent of a foreign government, the administr-ation has dodged its responsibility to seek justice for t-he victim and it has aband-oned its obligations to stand up for a slain journalist.
Biden’s team refuses to apply the same standard to Israel that it would apply to virtually any other foreign government in the same situation. The Israeli government is held to a different, lower standard that ensures that there will be no rebukes or repercussions from Washington. Because the U.S. provides substantial aid to the Israeli government, our government is implicated in crimes and abuses committed by their forces, and that in turn creates an incentive for our government to help sweep those abuses under the rug — even when they are committed against Americans.
In almost any other part of the world, the U.S. would likely respond to a crime like this against an American citizen with public condemnation and the imposition of sanctions on the individuals responsible for it.
The State Department would “name and shame” the people responsible for the crime, and the president would demand that the other government cooperate fully with U.S. investigators. Members of Congress would be tripping over one another demanding the extradition of the guilty party.
In this case, however, we see the State Department running interference for the government engaged in the coverup, and most of Washington seems content to forget all about it. It is unacceptable for our government to remain so passive in the face of a gross injustice committed against one of our citizens.
There must be serious consequences for the murder of Shireen Abu Akleh. Those consequences ought to include downgrading the relationship with Israel and reducing the extent of U.S. support for the Israeli military.
Failing to impose costs in this case will signal to the world that our government views the killing of one of its citizens with indifference, and that could put American citizens in many client states at greater risk.
At the very least, the U.S. should demand that the guilty party be identified and charged. If the Israeli government won’t do that, the U.S. should suspend military aid. If the Biden administration will not act on its own, Congress and the public must shame them into acting.
Courtesy: Responsible Statecraft.