WASHINGTON (JTA) — A bipartisan group of 25 US Congress members, including a number who are close to the pro-Israel community, called on the Biden administration to pressure the Palestinian Authority to release the bullet that killed Palestinian reporter Shireen Abu Akleh for an independent investigation.
Abu Akleh was killed last month while covering clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen during an Israel Defense Forces operation in the West Bank city of Jenin.
Palestinian investigators blamed Israel for her death, while Israel says that only a ballistic analysis of the bullet — which is held by the Palestinian Authority — and the soldiers’ guns, can determine if one of them fired the fatal shot. The Palestinian Authority has refused to hand over the bullet, saying it doesn’t trust Israel.
“We urge you to ask the Palestinian Authority to provide access to the forensic evidence in Abu Akleh’s death for an independent investigation so that all parties can reach a definitive conclusion about the events leading to her death, and hold all parties accountable,” said the letter sent Friday and spearheaded by Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a Jewish New Jersey Democrat.
The signatories, 14 Democrats and 11 Republicans, include lawmakers known for their close ties to the center-right pro-Israel community, among them Democrats Gottheimer and Donald Norcross of New Jersey; Virginia Democrat Elaine Luria; and Democrat Juan Vargas and Republican Young Kim, both from California.
Israel has called for a joint investigation into the May 11 killing of Abu Akleh, a venerated Al Jazeera journalist, with the Palestinian Authority, and have suggested the United States act as an observer. The Palestinian Authority has rejected any Israeli role in the investigation and has called on the International Criminal Court to launch a case against Israel.
Thank you to lawmakers urging the Palestinian Authority provide access to key evidence in Abu Akleh's tragic death. The PA refused Israel's proposal for a joint investigation but without the bullet that killed her, it's impossible to determine who fired it. pic.twitter.com/91lmLWAUly
— Democratic Majority for Israel (@DemMaj4Israel) June 3, 2022
Abu Akleh was an American citizen, but the US has said it will not carry out its own investigation into her death, and will instead continue advising the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority on their own respective probes into the incident.
Last month, 57 Democrats sent a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and to the FBI pressing for a US investigation. The letter appeared to place more credence in versions of events that blamed Israeli soldiers for the shooting. Two major US media outlets, CNN and the Associated Press, said Israeli soldiers were the likely culprits.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid told Blinken the CNN and Palestinian Authority investigations were “biased,” and Israel has firmly rejected all accusations that Israeli troops deliberately targeted Abu Akleh as a “blatant lie.”
The Gottheimer letter said an investigation was “critical” to resolving an issue that impinged on press freedoms.
“Ms. Abu Akleh was one of eighteen journalists who have lost their lives this year in the course of their work,” the letter said. “A free press is vital to an accountable, democratic government. No journalist should face threats or violence for doing their job.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.