Analysis |

Abu Akleh Probe Proves That Without Real Pressure, Israel Will Never Take Accountability

The Israeli military knew full well that any fury from Abu Akleh’s family, and certainly from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, will carry no weight at this point – Israel is unconcerned about Palestinian or international criticism

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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A Palestinian holds a picture of slain Palestinian-American Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, during a candlelight event to condemn her killing, in front of the office of Al Jazeera network, in Gaza City, in May.
A Palestinian holds a picture of slain Palestinian-American Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, during a candlelight event to condemn her killing, in front of the office of Al Jazeera network, in Gaza City, in May.Credit: Adel Hana /AP
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

The results of the IDF’s investigation into the circumstances of the death of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, which the military released on Monday, are an obvious attempt by Israel to have it both ways. On the one hand, it is partially accepting the official Palestinian view – that of official authorities and that of Abu Akleh's family – which states that the journalist was shot by an Israeli soldier. On the other, it claims no responsibility, and does not involve opening a criminal investigation into the shooter.

This position, which comes wrapped in a good deal of verbiage about a thorough and in-depth investigation as well as some added visual elements, may suffice for some. The U.S. administration, which pressured Israel for answers, for instance, or some democratic forums in Israel and abroad that demanded a comprehensive investigation. But it does not constitute any sort of turning point move in which Israel changes direction on harming innocent Palestinians, whether they be ordinary civilians or journalists like Shireen Abu Akleh.

The probe’s results show that the IDF has backed down from the initial reports and briefings it gave to military journalists, in which it stated that the gunfire “definitely” came from Palestinian militants, a claim it backed up with videos of Palestinian gunmen firing indiscriminately from an alleyway. This means that every immediate denial regarding a similar incident in the West Bank or Gaza warrants thorough examination and skepticism, even if the IDF propaganda machine keeps reciting the same messages again and again.

At the same time, the results of the probe did not signal a shift in approach toward the Palestinians. The wording about "high probability," along with the description of the circumstances at the scene, combined with the military prosecutor’s position, derailed any possibility of justice being served.

What counts more for Israelis is that the top brass and politicians be blocked from any possibility of being held accountable. Anyone keeping up with the responses to the probe’s findings will see that the Israeli mainstream was not outraged, nor were right-wing circles, including the far-right.

If the army were to announce that it takes full responsibility for Abu Akleh's shooting and state that it will launch a criminal investigation against the force that was mobilized to the scene – including against the soldier who fired the shots that killed her – it would provide a wealth of propaganda material for the upcoming Israeli election. The Elor Azaria affair would pale in comparison to the fire that would be directed against Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz and everyone in their circles, including former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot, who as a political rookie could find himself answering questions in TV interviews about the Azaria precedent.

The army’s announcement on Monday sidestepped this frightening scenario and provided answers to the drab and indifferent Biden administration. It knew full well that any furious response from Abu Akleh’s family, and certainly from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas – not to mention Palestinian and international human rights organizations – will carry no weight at this point. Israel is unconcerned about Palestinian or international criticism. Not in recent years, anyway.

The Palestinians and Abu Akleh’s family are not naïve; as soon as the first leaks about the probe’s results were out, they understood which way the wind was blowing. The probe ultimately concluded, unsurprisingly, that Shireen Abu Akleh, the respected journalist from Al Jazeera who had U.S. citizenship and broad international support, was just another Palestinian who was harmed in occupied territory. In the absence of genuine and effective international pressure, Israel will never take accountability and do justice for Palestinians, even if they are household names with a foreign passport.

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