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Alongside Abu Akleh relatives, progressive Dems call on Biden to probe killing

Tlaib laments White House refusal to uphold standard practice of launching investigation into killings of American citizens abroad; AOC says president must meet with family

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Rep. Ayana Pressley speaks during a press conference on Capitol Hill, calling for the US to open an independent investigation into the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, on July 28, 2022. (Screen capture/Facebook)
Rep. Ayana Pressley speaks during a press conference on Capitol Hill, calling for the US to open an independent investigation into the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, on July 28, 2022. (Screen capture/Facebook)

WASHINGTON — Ten Democrats held a press conference on Capitol Hill Thursday along with the relatives of Shireen Abu Akleh, reiterating their call for the Biden administration to launch an independent investigation into the Palestinian-American journalist’s killing.

The group of lawmakers largely made up of members of the so-called “Squad” of progressive Democrats face an uphill battle though, given that a senior Biden administration told The Times of Israel last week that the US will not be opening its own probe into the May 11 killing and is content with its review of the Israeli and Palestinian investigations.

Rep. Andre Carson, who introduced legislation earlier this month compelling US authorities to launch a probe, called the killing “an attack on the fourth estate — the free press” and declared during the press conference that Israel was responsible.

“This is the life of Palestinians in Israel. Even after death, the dehumanization doesn’t stop,” said Rep. Rashida Tlaib, referencing Israeli police officers’ beating of Palestinian pallbearers at Abu Akleh’s funeral.

She noted that standard procedure is for the US government to investigate the killing of American citizens abroad and lamented that the policy had not been maintained in the case of Abu Akleh.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called on US President Joe Biden to meet with Abu Akleh’s relatives, who are in Washington at the invitation of Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The top US diplomat met with the three relatives on Tuesday and the family has also met with over a dozen members of Congress. Abu Akleh’s brother Tony said the family also hopes to meet with members of the Justice Department’s Human Rights Division to advance their call for an independent US probe.

Blinken, in a tweet after the meeting, said that Abu Akleh’s “fearless journalism earned her the respect of audiences around the world.” He added: “I expressed my deepest condolences and commitment to pursue accountability for her tragic killing.”

Relatives of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, including her brother Tony Abu Akleh (L), her niece Lina Abu Akleh (C), and nephew Victor Abu Akleh (2L), stand outside the State Department in Washington, DC, on July 26, 2022, after meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (OLIVIER DOULIERY / AFP)

Addressing the family during the press conference, Rep. Ilhan Omar added, “I hope you know that you have allies in Washington who will not let her death be in vain.”

Also speaking at the presser are Reps. Betty McCollum, Ayana Pressley and Marie Newman, with Rep. Cori Bush, Sen. Chris Van Hollen and Sen. Jeff Merkley sending statements that were read on their behalves.

Abu Akleh was shot and killed during gunbattles between IDF troops and Palestinian gunmen while covering an Israeli military raid in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank. After a wave of deadly terror attacks in Israeli cities since March, some of which were carried out by Palestinians from the Jenin area, the IDF had stepped up its raids in the West Bank in what the army said was an effort to tamp down the violence.

The State Department announced last month that while the IDF was likely behind the reporter’s killing, a ballistic analysis found the bullet was too damaged to reach a definitive conclusion. Moreover, after analyzing Israeli and Palestinian Authority investigation into the matter, US authorities found that Abu Akleh was not killed intentionally.

Yellow tape marks bullet holes on a tree and a portrait and flowers create a makeshift memorial at the site where Palestinian-American Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed in the West Bank city of Jenin, on May 19, 2022. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)

The findings have not been accepted by progressive lawmakers who frequently criticize Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and have called on Biden to launch his own probe into the matter. But the White House has no intention of taking that step, a senior administration official told The Times of Israel last week, while clarifying that the US will still continue to urge Israel to complete its own probe and release the findings in order to ensure accountability.

Asked what accountability may look like, State Department spokesman Ned Price said earlier this week that it would not likely mean prosecuting Israeli soldiers involved, but possibly making changes to IDF open-fire rules to ensure the protection of journalists working in combat zones.

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