Israel Needs to Open an International Investigation and Issue a Statement of Regret

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IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi in Herzliya, Israel, in March.
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi in Herzliya, Israel, in March.Credit: Hadas Parush

“Shireen Abu Akleh, Al Jazeera, Palestine,” is a familiar line in every Palestinian and Arab home. This was the sign-­off of all the reports filed by journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed by gunfire in Jenin yesterday. To Palestinian eyes and ears, this sentence and Abu Akleh herself stood for the fight for real and courageous journalistic reporting on what goes on under the occupation.

With her death, Abu Akleh also became a symbol of the brutality of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and a symbol of the violation of freedom of the press. Official Israeli spokespeople hastened to pin the blame for her death on the Palestinian gunmen who fired at the soldiers during an arrest operation in Jenin. But as of this writing, Israel has not presented proof that Israel Defense Forces soldiers were not the ones who shot the journalist in the head.

Nor did Israel officially express regret over the journalist’s death. And to make matters worse, yesterday afternoon, police came to the grieving family’s home and demanded the removal of several Palestinian flags being flown on the house. That, despite the fact that it is the Palestinian Authority flag and anyone has the right to fly it. Of more serious concern is that the IDF and the police have genuinely earned the distrust of Palestinians and the rest of the world when it comes to protecting the freedom of movement and safety of Palestinian journalists. In recent years, there have been dozens of instances in which journalists in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have deliberately been harmed by police officers and soldiers. Most, if not all, of these cases did not lead to charges being filed against the police officer or soldier.

In 2018, Palestinian journalist Ahmed Abu Hussein was shot in similar circumstances during clashes near the Gaza border fence. There is hardly any Palestinian journalist from East Jerusalem who has not been struck by a rubber bullet, beaten with a club or hurt by a stun grenade over the past years. Most have experienced all of these things, and more than once. A large portion of these incidents were caught on film, and it can clearly be seen that the violence occurred for no reason. The police internal investigations division opened several investigations, but no charges were brought in any of the cases.

The government should immediately issue a statement of regret over Abu Akleh’s death and announce that it will agree to an investigation of the incident under the supervision of international officials. Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev must also make absolutely clear to the military and police commanders that protecting the lives of Israeli, Palestinian and foreign journalists, along with their dignity and freedom of operation, is part of their job description. The wounding or killing of a journalist is completely unacceptable. And one more thing: The Israel Police would be wise to leave the grieving family in peace and not persecute them for no reason.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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