Family members and colleagues of slain Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh told UN investigators Thursday she had been deliberately targeted as part of Israel’s “wide-scale war” on Palestinian media workers.
The killing of the veteran Al Jazeera reporter, who was wearing a bulletproof vest marked “Press” and a helmet when she was shot in the head while covering a gun battle between Israeli forces and Palestinian terrorists that broke out during an IDF raid near the northern West Bank city of Jenin on May 11, is the subject of one of the first in a series of rare public hearings at the UN.
“We want complete accountability. We want justice,” the slain journalist’s niece Lina Abu Akleh told AFP after testifying at what she said was a “historic” hearing at the UN in Geneva.
The hearings, which have been harshly criticized by Israel, are being hosted by the Commission of Inquiry (COI) created by the UN Human Rights Council last year to probe the root causes of the decades-long Middle East conflict.
Speaking to the investigators, Lina Abu Akleh said it was “painful beyond words” to think about how her aunt died, insisting there was no doubt Israeli soldiers “were deliberately targeting my aunt.”
‘In cold blood’
Abu Akleh’s colleague Ali Sammoudi, an Al Jazeera producer who was also shot that day but survived, agreed.
He said the group was “wearing full journalist attire” and that there had been no militant activity nearby.
Suddenly “a bullet exploded in the air,” he said, describing how he screamed “Go back!” before feeling “an explosion in my back.”
It is clear, he said, holding up a photograph of his slain colleague, that “Shireen Abu Akleh was killed in cold blood, intentionally.”
The Israel Defense Forces initially blamed Palestinian gunmen for the shooting, but later acknowledged that Abu Akleh was likely killed by an Israeli soldier while stressing that the incident was an accident and that the reporter was not deliberately targeted.
In September, when publishing its final probe into the matter, a military official told reporters that a soldier had been identified who had “with very high likelihood” shot the journalist by mistake.
Based on the final findings of its probe, the IDF said it was still “not possible to unequivocally determine the source of the gunfire” that killed Abu Akleh, but that “there is a high probability that Abu Akleh was accidentally hit by IDF gunfire fired toward suspects identified as armed Palestinian gunmen during an exchange of fire in which life-threatening, widespread and indiscriminate shots were fired toward IDF soldiers.”
The late acknowledgment, which came after months of the army insisting it was impossible to determine the source of the deadly shot and suggesting Palestinian terror fire could have killed the journalist, was no consolation, Lina Abu Akleh said.
“They didn’t fully admit that it was them. They didn’t even give us the name of the soldier,” she told AFP. “They are unwilling to even open a criminal investigation.”
She said none of the Israeli authorities have even been in touch with the family since her aunt’s May 13 funeral — which saw baton-wielding Israeli police beat pallbearers carrying the coffin which was covered by a Palestinian flag.
The family has appealed for an independent investigation, including petitioning the International Criminal Court to open a probe.
‘War’ on journalists
Lina Abu Akleh voiced hope that Thursday’s hearing could make a difference.
Ensuring accountability is vital to help prevent further bloodshed, she said, insisting that Abu Akleh’s “killing is not a separate incident, but part and parcel of the entire system that continues to perpetuate this type of violence.”
The head of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, Naser Abubaker, agreed, telling Thursday’s hearing that nearly 50 Palestinian journalists had been killed since 2000, and “no one was held accountable.”
“Israel is targeting Palestinian journalists as part of a systemic policy to stifle the Palestinian voices and to silence us,” he said.
“We as Palestinian journalists are subjected to not just abuse and violations, but a wide-scale war by the occupying state.”
Abubaker said Palestinian journalists had been subjected to 7,500 violations since 2013, or around 830 every year.
“Would the world be silent if all of these crimes had occurred in any place other than Palestine?” he asked.
Israel has been harshly critical of the COI, accusing the investigators of championing an “anti-Israel agenda,” and has flatly refused to cooperate with its investigations.
It has also slammed the public hearings, which began on Monday, as “sham trials.”