U.S. Condemns Killing of Palestinian Journalist, Calls for 'Immediate' Investigation

'Shireen Abu Akleh was murdered by a government that receives unconditional funding by our country with zero accountability,' Rep. Rashida Tlaib says, though Israel claims the reporter was killed by Palestinian fire

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
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Shireen Abu Akleh, a journalist for Al Jazeera network, with the Old City of Jerusalem in the background.
Shireen Abu Akleh, a journalist for Al Jazeera network, with the Old City of Jerusalem in the background.Credit: AP
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels

WASHINGTON – The U.S. State Department condemned on Wednesday the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American reporter for Al Jazeera who was fatally shot while covering an Israeli military raid in the West Bank, calling the incident "an affront to media freedom everywhere."

The U.S. is "heartbroken" by Abu Akleh's death, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said, adding that "the investigation must be immediate and thorough and those responsible must be held accountable."

Price later told reporters that “the Israelis have the wherewithal and the capabilities" to conduct a thorough, comprehensive investigation.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the killing a "horrific tragedy," adding that "a thorough, objective investigation is needed now."

"Congress is committed to the defense of press freedoms worldwide and protection of every journalist, particularly those in conflict zones," Pelosi added.

Following the incident in Jenin, Palestinian-American lawmaker Rep. Rashida Tlaib called on U.S. President Joe Biden to hold Israel accountable.

"When will the world and those who stand by Apartheid Israel that continues to murder, torture and commit war crimes finally say: 'Enough"?' Shireen Abu Akleh was murdered by a government that receives unconditional funding by our country with zero accountability," the Democratic congresswoman from Michigan said.

Tagging Biden on Twitter, Tlaib wrote: "An American journalist clearly marked with press credentials was murdered. Doing and saying nothing just enables more killings. Whether you're Palestinian, American, or not, being killed with U.S. funding must stop."

She then quoted Biden's remarks at last month's White House Correspondents' Dinner, where he said: "We honor journalists killed, missing, imprisoned, detained, and tortured; covering war, exposing corruption, and holding leaders accountable. The free press is not the enemy of the people – far from it. At your best, you’re guardians of the truth."

Rep. Andre Carson and Ilhan Omar joined Tlaib in directly accusing the Israeli military of killing her, adding that "the U.S. must hold the Israeli government accountable for this and all other acts of unjust violence it commits."

Omar flagged the restriction-free $3.8 billion in annual U.S. military aid, while noting "this is happening as Israel razed the homes of 40 Palestinians yesterday, leaving them homeless. And as they plan to evict 1,000 from the West Bank—the largest mass expulsion since 1967. What will it take for accountability for these human rights violations?"

Sen. Chris Murphy, who chairs the subcommittee responsible for the Middle East, and Reps. Adam Schiff, Ro Khanna and Mark Pocan joined calls for both an immediate thorough investigation into her "heartbreaking" and "shameful" death, as well as full accountability for those responsible.

Rep. Betty McCollum, one of the most vocal pro-Palestinian advocates in Congress, said Abu Akleh's death "must be condemned and investigated, and there must be accountability."

The lawmakers' comments follow U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides saying he "encouraged a thorough investigation" into the circumstances of her death.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield called Abu Akleh's killing "really, really horrifying," adding that "she will be sadly missed by all of us, and we have to ensure that we get to the bottom of her killing."

The European Union also condemned the shooting, saying in a statement that a "thorough, independent investigation" into the killing is essential to bring those responsible to justice."

"It is unacceptable" to target journalists doing their job, EU Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Peter Stano said in the statement, adding that "journalists covering conflict situations must be ensured safety and protection at all times."

Turkey also denounced the incident. "I am deeply saddened by the news of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh’s killing and offer my condolences to her family and colleagues," a spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, adding that "It is unacceptable for journalists, who serve the public and the truth, to be targeted under any circumstances."

Israel has said the Palestinian Authority rejected its offer to conduct a joint investigation into Abu Akleh's death, even before an official offer had been made. In the hours following her killing, Israel launched a "PR blitz" aimed at pushing the message that Abu Akleh was killed by Palestinian fire, even though the military has yet to conclude its investigation.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz told the Knesset that the military's probe into Abu Akleh's killing found "no military fire at the journalist." Gantz added that Israel told several countries – including Qatar, where Al Jazeera is based – that initial Israeli findings suggest that Abu Akleh was hit by Palestinian fire.

Israeli Embassy to the U.S. spokesperson Elad Strohmayer later said that "at this moment it's premature and irresponsible to cast blame and make accusations regarding who's responsible for [Abu Akleh's] death," adding that "caution and accuracy are important when reporting on this."

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