Lapid: 'Nobody will lecture us on combat ethics'

Al Jazeera hands ICC purported proof IDF ‘deliberately’ killed reporter Abu Akleh

Qatari network delivers to The Hague recently published testimony and footage that it claims ‘entirely undermine’ Israel’s finding that the journalist was shot by mistake

A mural of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh on display, in Gaza City, May 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
A mural of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh on display, in Gaza City, May 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Qatar-based television network Al Jazeera on Tuesday submitted what it said was detailed evidence to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, allegedly proving that the Israel Defense Forces deliberately shot dead its reporter Shireen Abu Akleh during clashes in the West Bank in May.

In a statement, Al Jazeera said it “will today submit the case of Shireen Abu Akleh’s killing by Israeli Occupation Forces to the International Criminal Court,” adding that its reporters and legal team will hold a press conference in the Dutch city alongside “members of Shireen’s family and leading journalists and human rights experts.”

An AFP journalist saw a lawyer representing Al Jazeera’s case entering the ICC’s headquarters to hand over the network’s submission.

Abu Akleh’s family filed an official complaint with the ICC in September. The court’s Office of the Prosecutor will presumably determine whether to launch an investigation into the case.

After the complaint in September, the IDF told The Times of Israel that it rejects the claim that Abu Akleh was shot intentionally and said the establishment of a new investigation would be “biased and misleading.”

The 51-year-old journalist, who was wearing a vest marked “Press” and a helmet, was killed during clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen while covering a 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.

While the Israeli army conducted its own investigation and acknowledged the bullet the killed her was “in very high likelihood” shot from an IDF gun, it has firmly rejected allegations that the veteran journalist was deliberately targeted.

Al Jazeera’s new information was published Thursday in a documentary, including video evidence purportedly showing that at least one Israeli soldier intentionally targeted a group of reporters that included the Palestinian-American Abu Akleh, and that she was not a victim of errant fire during a gun battle between troops and Palestinian gunmen as the IDF has claimed.

“The new witness evidence and video footage clearly show that Shireen and her colleagues were directly fired at by the Israeli Occupation Forces,” Al Jazeera said in its statement Tuesday. “The claim by the Israeli authorities that Shireen was killed by mistake in an exchange of fire is completely unfounded.”

The new evidence “confirms, without any doubt, that there was no firing in the area where Shireen was, other than the [IDF] shooting directly at her,” the anti-Israel network said. “The journalists were in full view of the [IDF] as they walked as a group slowly down the road with their distinctive media vests, and there were no other persons in the road.”

Al Jazeera argued that the IDF’s findings are “entirely undermined” by the new evidence, claiming that “this deliberate killing was part of a wider campaign to target and silence Al Jazeera.”

The International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, on March 31, 2021. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid reacted to the statement, saying: “Nobody will interrogate IDF soldiers and nobody will lecture us on combat ethics, definitely not Al Jazeera.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who is also set to be replaced in the coming weeks, said: “I regret the death of Shireen Abu Akleh, but we need to remember that this was a clear incident of combat that was probed in the most rigorous and in-depth manner, and I advise various bodies, and also Al Jazeera, to go and check what happens to journalists in Iran and in the area where Al Jazeera broadcasts from.

“There is no army that acts with a work ethic like the IDF’s and I want to emphasize my full backing, and that of the entire security establishment, for the commanders and soldiers who are acting to defend the citizens of Israel,” Gantz added.

Outgoing Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman called to have Al Jazeera’s Israeli press credentials revoked after it filed the complaint.

“It is completely unacceptable for Al Jazeera to sue Israel and lecture us on morality,” said Liberman, head of the Yisrael Beytenu party. “It’s not logical that this body has the right to broadcast from Israel. I call on the Government Press Office to revoke the press cards of all Al Jazeera reporters in Israeli territory.”

Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) attend the swearing-in ceremony of the 25th Knesset, at the parliament building in Jerusalem, November 15, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Itamar Ben Gvir, the extremist Otzma Yehudit party leader who is set to become police minister in the upcoming government, called for Al Jazeera to be expelled from Israel.

“Al Jazeera not only covers [events] in an antisemitic way, distorts the truth and publishes lies — it also acts against the State of Israel around the world,” he said in a statement. “This propaganda network should be expelled from the country and not given the opportunity to continue its anti-Israel series of lies.”

In contrast, the left-wing human rights group Yesh Din welcomed Al Jazeera’s move, accusing Israel of necessitating an international probe by neglecting to open an internal criminal investigation into the killing.

“From the first moment, Israel’s conduct has shown that the only way to get to the bottom of the Shireen Abu Akleh case is to open an independent international investigation that will lead to a fair, effective and justified probe of the incident.”

In 2021, the ICC ruled that it had jurisdiction to investigate alleged crimes in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel, which is not a member of the ICC’s Rome Statute, rejected the decision.

The Abu Akleh family has criticized the IDF’s internal investigation, saying that the army “tried to obscure the truth and avoid responsibility” for the killing.

Rights groups claim that Israeli investigations of the shooting deaths of Palestinians often languish for months or years before being quietly closed and that soldiers are rarely held accountable.

Shireen Abu Akleh stands next to a TV camera above the Old City of Jerusalem, in an undated photo. (Al Jazeera Media Network via AP)

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.

Gantz has insisted that the assertion, also 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. 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 US President Joe Biden’s 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 until then appeared to accept the Israeli conclusion.

AFP contributed to this report.

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