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US ambiguity over Abu Akleh's killing ensures Israel's impunity remains unchallenged

People gather to protest the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh while covering an Israeli raid in West Bank, within events markings the 74th anniversary of the Nakba, also known as Day of the Catastrophe in 1948, in London, United Kingdom on May 14, 2022. [Raşid Necati Aslım - Anadolu Agency]
People gather to protest the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh while covering an Israeli raid in West Bank on May 14, 2022 [Raşid Necati Aslım/Anadolu Agency]

A "forensic analysis" by the US Security Coordinator (USSC) has concluded that shots fired by an Israeli occupation solider "was likely responsible for the death of Shireen Abu Akleh", the US State Department said yesterday in a statement on the killing of the Palestinian-American journalist by an Israeli sniper in May.

In comments that appear to have been intended to absolve Israel of all responsibility, the USSC further concluded that it had "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."

READ: Journalist Shireen Abu Akleh remembered in London

Unsurprisingly, with the killing of Abu Akleh coming on the back of US refusal to accept the consensus of all major human rights group about Israel practice of apartheid, as well Washington's inaction following the killing of 80 year old Palestinian American,  Omar Asad,  the USSC's findings have been met with accusations of whitewash and extreme cynicism. "All investigations published so far conclude that Israel is responsible for the killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh," responded Israel's most prominent human rights group, B'Tselem, which is one of several rights group to label Israel as an Apartheid State.

"It is not clear on what grounds does the US State Department seek to dismiss her killing as 'the result of tragic circumstances' and not as a crime for which those responsible should be held to account", added B'Tselem, while explaining that US policy towards Palestinians killed by Israeli forces "has never been anything other than an organised whitewash."

In a damning statement, Abu Akleh's family also disputed the USSC findings. Sceptical over how it was possible to make the assessment it did, after admitting that the bullet was too damaged to make a "clear conclusion", the family questioned Washington's motive. "All available evidence suggests that a US citizen was the subject of an extrajudicial killing by a foreign government that receives billions of dollars in American military aid each year to perpetuate a prolonged and entrenched military occupation of millions of Palestinians," said Abu Akleh's family.

"The truth is that the Israeli military killed Shireen according to policies and laws that view all Palestinians – civilians, press or otherwise – as legitimate targets, and we were expecting that an American investigation would focus on finding the responsible parties and holding them accountable, not parsing over barely-relevant information details and then assuming good faith on behalf of a recalcitrant hostile occupying power," Akleh's family added,  questioning America's tendency to give Israel the benefit of the doubt following routine killing of Palestinians by the Apartheid State.

READ: Al Jazeera releases image of bullet that killed Shireen Abu Akleh

The Palestinian Authority, which handed the bullet that killed Abu Akleh to the US for examination also slammed the finding. "No amount of vagueness or politicisation can exonerate the killers, whitewash the crime or hide the truth," insisted the PA. "This whitewashing will only further institutionalise Israel's entrenched impunity, continue to deny the Palestinian people any justice, and threaten the safety and lives of journalists in Palestine." The PA insisted that the context in which the crime took place, as well as forensic examination by the General Prosecutor of the State of Palestine and several independent reports, concluded that Israeli occupation soldiers intentionally targeted Abu Akleh, along with other journalists.

Abu Akleh is the latest victim of Israel's war on Palestinian journalists. Lawyers working with the International Criminal Court (ICC) said at a press conference in London in the wake of Abu Akleh's killing, that Palestinian journalists are being systematically targeted by Israel because of the "gift of impunity" granted to the Apartheid State. The same group of lawyers and unions submitted a formal complaint to the ICC, accusing Israel of systematically targeting journalists working in Palestine and failing to properly investigate killings of media workers, which they said amount to war crimes.

Israeli immunity and US whitewash was also highlighted by Dr Agnes Callamard, former UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killing. "I suspect it took the key parties more time to reach agreement over the wording of the statement than actually investigate the killing," said Callamard, who is now the Secretary General of Amnesty International. "Intention matters, but its possible absence does not absolve Israel of its responsibilities. Far from it," she added, arguing that the intention not to kill is immaterial in determining if a crime had been committed.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territory, Francesca Albanese, dismissed the US findings and described Washington of contradicting itself. "I cannot ignore the cognitive dissonance," said Albanese on Twitter, commenting on the press statement about Abu Akleh's killing. "The statement indicates that an 'extremely detailed forensic analysis', couldn't reach a 'clear conclusion' on SA's killing bcs 'the bullet was badly damaged'. Yet, it did reach a conclusion …" Albanese pointed out, reiterating the scepticism around the USSC findings.

READ: Israel's impunity is boosted by the US whitewash of Shireen Abu Akleh's killing

With no silver bullet, it is not clear how the US was able to reach the conclusion it did and imply that, though it may have been an Israeli sniper that killed Abu Akleh, it was a tragic accident. If the State Department does, indeed, believe that the Israelis killed Abu Akleh, then how is it so sure it was not intentional? She and her colleagues were clearly labelled "Press", and wearing protective gear.

All previous probes into the killing, such as the one by the UN and several human rights groups and media agencies, including the New York Times, concluded that the shots that killed Abu Akleh and injured her colleague came from Israeli forces, not Palestinians. In a rare admission of Israel's impunity, The Times even conceded that Palestinian deaths rarely attract international scrutiny, and soldiers accused of crimes against Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank are rarely convicted.

It is also not clear if the US investigation questioned the Israeli soldier alleged to have carried out the shooting. The Apartheid State is said to be withholding information that would prove conclusively the gun and soldier who fired the fatal bullet that killed Abu Akleh. The reason is, perhaps, because the truth of who did or did not kill Abu Akleh does not serve US and Israel's interest. Preserving ambiguity is essential in ensuring Israel's international impunity remains unchallenged.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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