Al Jazeera film claims to show IDF deliberately shot at Abu Akleh, other journalists
Footage in new documentary ostensibly shows there was no gun battle in the specific area where veteran TV reporter was killed
Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.
A documentary aired last week by the Qatar-based Al Jazeera news outlet included video evidence purportedly showing that at least one Israeli soldier intentionally targeted a group of reporters that included Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh during clashes in the West Bank in May.
The 38-minute-long documentary — titled “The Killing of Shireen Abu Akleh” — was screened last Thursday as an episode of the docuseries Fault Lines, which has aired on the Al Jazeera English TV channel since 2009.
The documentary included witness accounts and video footage that it said proved Abu Akleh and other journalists were clearly targeted and that she was not a victim of errant fire during a gun battle between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen, as the Israel Defense Forces has claimed.
The 51-year-old Al Jazeera journalist, who was wearing a vest marked “Press” and a helmet, was killed during clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen while covering an Israeli military operation in the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank on May 11, amid a wider IDF terror crackdown, according to the official account provided by the IDF.
The footage in the documentary appears to show that there was no gun battle at the specific site at the time, but only Israeli troops firing toward the group of Palestinian journalists that included Abu Akleh. The claim was supported by testimonies of witnesses and colleagues of Abu Akleh who were there when the incident took place.
“In the camp, there was shooting, but in the area where were walking, there were no clashes, no presence of resistance fighters,” Palestinian journalist Mujahed Al-Saadi was quoted as saying.
“We stood so that they can see us well and recognize us as journalists,” Al Jazeera journalist Ali Al-Samoudi noted.
The documentary also included a simulation purporting to demonstrate typical sights of Israeli weapons used at the time, showing that the Israeli position would have allowed a clear view of the journalists.
It also pointed to the fact that fellow journalists who were trying to pull Abu Akleh out of the way were also fired on, asserting that they were deliberately targeted.
“I’m sure we were targeted as journalists,” Palestinian journalist Shatha Hanaysha said.
“The journalist has become a target for them because they tell the real story, the Palestinian story and they don’t want to hear it,” Al Jazeera cameraman Majdi Bannoura alleged.
The IDF initially blamed Palestinian gunmen for the fatal shooting but later acknowledged that Abu Akleh was likely killed by Israeli soldiers, though it stressed the incident was unintentional and the result of an errant bullet fired at nearby gunmen.
“In terms of trying to control the narrative, you can see how [the Israeli] version has changed from ‘it was probably a Palestinian’ to ‘we’re not sure who did it’ to ‘it might have been us’ to ‘it was probably us’,” the director of Israel’s B’Tselem human rights group, Hagai El-Ad, told Al Jazeera. “Each change in that narrative wasn’t volunteered by Israel. Each and every change in the narrative was the result of investigations and the facts and they arrived at the point that they had no other choice.”
Last month, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation said it was launching a probe into Abu Akleh’s death. Israel said it would not cooperate with the investigation.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz has insisted that the assertion, previously made by the Palestinian Authority, that Israel deliberately targeted Abu Akleh, is a “blatant lie.” Gantz also said last month that the FBI investigation is unnecessary. Outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid criticized the US decision to investigate the incident, vowing not to allow IDF soldiers to be “interrogated by the FBI or by any foreign body or foreign country, no matter how friendly.”
The decision on an FBI probe represented an about-face, after the Biden administration insisted for months that it would not be opening its own investigation, instead relying on probes conducted by the Israeli and Palestinian authorities. The US had hitherto accepted the Israeli conclusion.
Al Jazeera’s docuseries Fault Lines examines US involvement in emerging issues around the world. The latest episode, dealing with Abu Akleh’s death, is likely to increase pressure on the Biden administration to ensure that the FBI investigation is seen through.
In September, a Palestinian human rights group and a London-based research firm published a report which they said showed Abu Akleh was intentionally targeted by Israeli troops.
The report by the Al-Haq rights group said it used previously unseen footage and “advanced spatial and audio analysis” to determine that Abu Akleh was “explicitly targeted” by Israeli troops.
Earlier in September, when publishing its final probe into the matter, an IDF official told reporters that a soldier had been identified who had “with very high likelihood” shot the journalist by mistake.
Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.