WASHINGTON — The family of slain Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh spoke in front of the U.S. Capitol alongside several Democratic lawmakers on Thursday to demand a U.S.-led investigation into her killing.
The Abu Akleh family spoke alongside Reps. Andre Carson, Betty McCollum, Marie Newman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley. The family met with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday, after U.S. President Joe Biden declined to meet with them during his recent trip to the Middle East.
Abu Akleh's nephew Victor told The National that he felt the meeting was prompted by mounting pressure on the administration and asserted that Blinken "just wanted to get it out of the way.'' Her niece Lina told The Associated Press that "I felt like we left the meeting with more questions. And our questions were still not answered."
Democratic Rep. Andre Carson framed Abu Akleh's killing as an attack on the press and said that since Israel has been denying its involvement since "day one" it is important the U.S. run their own investigation. Carson said that "Every American killed abroad deserves justice. Palestinians included," and announced his intention to introduce standalone legislation aimed at pursuing justice for Abu Akleh.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib asserted that Abu Akleh's death was not an accident. "This is the life of Palestinians in Israel. Even after death the dehumanization doesn't stop," She said. Talib chastised colleagues who, she said, "need to take out the word Palestinian from Palestinian American for Akleh life to matter."
Tlaib also brought up the case of Rachel Corrie, a pro-Palestinian activist who was crushed to death by an IDF bulldozer in Gaza in 2003, and whose death caused controversy after an Israeli investigation concluded her death was an accident. "I knew when Rachel Corrie's family didn’t find justice that Israel would find impunity," Tlaib said.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley said she was "devastated" that instead of gathering to celebrate Abu Akleh's journalistic achievements, they gather in "outrage and collective grief over her murder."
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez echoed the family's call "for the Biden administration to have this investigation led by the FBI and the Department of Justice, including human rights and special prosecution section, which are tasked with investigating war crimes against U.S. citizens.”
Rep. Marie Newman said she was "embarrassed and outraged that state department is dragging its feet."
Rep. Ilhan Omar said that Abu Akleh's death "is bigger than one person or country, but about our values as Americans." Omar added that it was not acceptable for President Biden to not extend an invitation to the Abu Akleh family and that promising to keep them informed about developments regarding the case was "not enough."
Rep. Betty McCollum, who met with the family privately and helped put together the event, said "our nation was founded on the value that all human rights are equal and we must live up to these ideals by providing Shireen's family and all Americans answers."
Following their meeting with Blinken, the Abu Akleh family met with several key Democrats from both houses of Congress, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Robert Menendez and Sen. Chris Van Hollen.
"Standing up for the freedom of the press and the rights of American citizens cannot be a priority only when it’s convenient. The United States must defend these values and hold both our friends and foes accountable in protecting them. That’s why we must pursue a full, independent, and transparent investigation into the shooting death of Shireen Abu Akleh," Van Hollen said following the meeting.
Van Hollen and Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, introduced legislative text inside the committee's State and Foreign Operations report requiring Blinken to report to Congress what the U.S. is doing to support an investigation into the killing.
Joined by Sens. Dick Durbin, Jeanne Shaheen, Jeff Merkley and Chris Murphy, the lawmakers said "we will continue working to get the full truth about this tragedy, ensure accountability, and make clear our unwavering support for freedom of the press and the safety of journalists around the world.”
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The family also met with Rep. Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who said Abu Akleh's killing is "something that every American and everybody in the world who believes in democracy, believes in accountability, believes in free press [should care about]." Jayapal added she will "do everything" to ensure justice and accountability for the family. The family also met Reps. Jim McGovern and Joaquin Castro.
The lawmakers are among the 57 House Democrats and 25 senators who have demanded that Biden further pursue accountability over the killing. Following the State Department's early July statement saying Israel was likely responsible but evidence was too badly damaged to prove conclusive, progressive Democrats unsuccessfully attempted to issue legislation forcing the administration to lead a new probe.
Six of the most senior senators in the Democratic caucus — all considered close Biden allies and staunch Israel supporters — wrote a pair of letters on the eve of Biden's Middle East visit saying that the State Department's statement wasn’t adequately sufficient in pursuing accountability in Abu Akleh’s death, pushing the administration to continue involving itself in an independent investigation.
The administration, meanwhile, has strongly indicated that it will not involve itself in an investigation, but will instead push Israel to publicly release the findings of its own probe while encouraging cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.