In a rare move, the FBI is investigating the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), seven months after a Palestinian-American journalist was killed in the West Bank.
The investigation, confirmed publicly by Israeli authorities, follows a separate investigation over the summer by the IDF and U.S. Security Coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
While the specific origin, or ballistics, of the bullet that killed Shireen Abu Akleh is inconclusive, the agencies determined that it likely came from an IDF position during a firefight between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants.
Abu Akleh was covering a raid in the West Bank town of Jenin when she was shot and killed on May 11. In July, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price released the following statement:
‘After an extremely detailed forensic analysis, independent, third-party examiners, as part of a process overseen by the U.S. Security Coordinator (USSC), could not reach a definitive conclusion regarding the origin of the bullet that killed Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Ballistic experts determined the bullet was badly damaged, which prevented a clear conclusion.
‘In addition to the forensic and ballistic analysis, the USSC was granted full access to both Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Palestinian Authority (PA) investigations over the last several weeks. By summarizing both investigations, the USSC concluded that gunfire from IDF positions was likely responsible for the death of Shireen Abu Akleh, The USSC found no reason to believe that this was intentional but rather the result of tragic circumstances during an IDF-led military operation against factions of Palestinian Islamic Jihad on May 11, 2022, in Jenin, which followed a series of terrorist attacks in Israel.’
The family of Abu Akleh has kept the issue alive, lobbying U.S. officials for a new investigation.
‘I deplore the loss of Shireen,’ said Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. ‘She was a remarkable journalist, an American citizen, as you well know. And there too we are determined to follow the facts and get to the truth of what happened to her.’
Over the summer, two dozen Democratic senators wrote to President Biden, asking for an independent investigation. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat from Maryland, signed the letter.
‘What we want is an independent investigation, and I would hope everybody would want to get to the bottom of this and get to the facts and wherever they lead,’ he told Fox News.
At least one pro-Israel group has questioned the purpose of the FBI investigation, months after one was already completed by the IDF and USSC, and suggested that the DOJ was bowing to political pressure.
‘It’s highly unlikely that any new information will be derived from a follow-up investigation. If anything, right now this appears to be politically motivated,’ said Jonathan Schanzer, a vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington, D.C., think tank.
Outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid scoffed at the idea of an FBI investigation into the IDF.
‘The IDF soldiers will not be investigated by the FBI, nor by any foreign entity or foreign country, however friendly it may be,’ Lapid said. Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is likely returning to the job, has expressed similar sentiments.
Both the DOJ and the FBI have declined to comment on the matter.
Van Hollen, who has met with Abu Akleh’s relatives, said they’ve deserved an independent look at the tragedy.
‘I’m pro-Israel, strongly pro-Israel, and I think you can be pro-Israel and still want to get the facts regarding the shooting death of an American citizen and journalist,’ he said.
Al Jazeera is now asking the Internal Criminal Court to investigate. The FBI would need Israel’s cooperation to run a successful investigation, but Lapid has made it clear that will not happen.