Muslim world slams Abu Akleh killing, but largely refrains from blaming Israel
Jerusalem’s Gulf partners issue muted response, as does Turkey; by contrast, Qatar and Kuwait condemn ‘Israeli occupiers’ assassination’ of Al Jazeera journalist
Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter
As Israel comes under harsh criticism in the West over the death of veteran Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, killed as she covered clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen during an IDF raid in Jenin on Wednesday, the response in much of the Muslim world has been relatively muted.
The Palestinian Authority Health Ministry and Palestinian witnesses, including other journalists, charge that Israeli troops raiding Jenin on Wednesday morning fired the gunshots that killed Abu Akleh.
Israeli leaders claimed she was likely killed by Palestinian fire. Defense Minister Benny Gantz told parliament on Wednesday afternoon that preliminary findings showed “no [Israeli] gunfire was directed at the journalist,” whereas “we have seen footage of indiscriminate shooting by Palestinian terrorists, which is likely to have hit the journalist.” IDF chief Aviv Kohavi said later Wednesday that, at this stage, “it was not possible to determine whose gunfire she was hit by.”
Turkey, whose leaders have not shied away from apoplectic comments about Israel in recent years, made do with a tweet by a member of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s inner circle.
Notably, the tweet did not mention Israel by name.
“I am deeply saddened by the news of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Aqla’s killing and offer my condolences to her family and colleagues,” tweeted Fahrettin Altun, Erdogan’s communications director and member of Turkey’s National Security Council.
I am deeply saddened by the news of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Aqla’s killing and offer my condolences to her family and colleagues.
— Fahrettin Altun (@fahrettinaltun) May 11, 2022
“It is unacceptable for journalists, who serve the public and the truth, to be targeted under any circumstances,” he continued. “I call for a proper, transparent, and swift investigation into this incident and for those responsible to be brought to justice.”
Altun is one of Erdogan’s closest advisers and meets with him daily, a Turkish official told The Times of Israel.
“Altun behaved as expected,” said Hay Eytan Cohen Yanarocak, a Turkey scholar at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security. “While condemning the killing he underlined the need of launching an investigation. Unlike the past, this stance can be considered very moderate.”
Turkey is trying to mend ties with Israel and restore full diplomatic relations. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu is expected to visit Israel in the coming weeks.
Israel’s Gulf partners also refrained from casting direct blame.
Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it “strongly condemns the killing of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, which took place near the Jenin refugee camp in the Palestinian territories while she was on duty, as it is a violation of the rules and principles of the international humanitarian law.”
The island kingdom also demanded an “immediate, comprehensive investigation of the crime and to bring perpetrators to justice.”
The UAE, which along with Bahrain and Morocco signed the Abraham Accords with Israel in September 2020, declined to comment. Saudi Arabia, which does not recognize Israel but has extensive security and intelligence ties with Jerusalem, also refrained from issuing a statement.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the response from neighboring states.
Press coverage of the killing in these countries was also restrained.
“The media coverage is relatively calm,” said Moshe Albo, modern Middle East historian at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at Reichman University in Herzliya. “It’s not over the top. Same in Egypt.”
The UAE press did not quote Emirati officials about Abu Akleh’s death, said Moran Zaga, an expert on the Gulf region at Mitvim – The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies.
“All of them, with the exception of the Khaleej Times, the most ‘right-wing,’ avoid direct accusation,” Zaga pointed out.
Saudi coverage has been similarly muted, said Albo.
Jordan condemned Abu Akleh’s killing, which it called “a horrific crime.” But Amman also chose not to specifically blame Israel.
“We strongly condemn the killing of renowned Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in occupied Jenin. This is a horrific crime that must be transparently investigated & its perpetrators brought to justice. Deepest condolences to her family & to Al Jazeera network,” said Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi.
By contrast, Qatar, which owns the Doha-based Al Jazeera network’s parent company, was especially harsh in its reaction to Abu Akleh’s death.
The Gulf state’s foreign ministry condemned “in the strongest terms the Israeli occupation forces’ assassination” of the Al Jazeera journalist. Doha called the incident “a heinous crime and a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law and a blatant infringement on freedom of media and expression and the right of peoples to access information.”
Qatar Strongly Condemns Israeli Occupation Forces' Assassination of Al Jazeera's Correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh
???? To read the full statement: https://t.co/62yhMTh4zP#MOFAQatar pic.twitter.com/l7g99lliR4
— Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Qatar (@MofaQatar_EN) May 11, 2022
Qatar and Israel do not have diplomatic relations.
Kuwait, which also does not recognize Israel, similarly condemned “the Israeli occupiers’ assassination” of Abu Akleh. Kuwait’s Foreign Ministry called on the international community to hold Israel accountable for crimes against the Palestinian people.
Calls for investigation
United States Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides called for a “thorough” investigation into the death of Abu Akleh, a US citizen.
“Very sad to learn of the death of American and Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. I encourage a thorough investigation into the circumstances of her death and the injury of at least one other journalist today in Jenin,” he said Wednesday.
A US embassy spokesperson called Abu Akleh “deeply respected by many Palestinians and others around the world” for her coverage.
US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the US demands an “immediate and thorough” investigation into the killing.
“We are heartbroken by and strongly condemn the killing,” Price said. “Those responsible must be held accountable.
“Her death is an affront to media freedom everywhere,” he said.
The US ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, called Abu Akleh’s death “really horrifying,” and called for a transparent investigation.
United Nations Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland similarly called for an “immediate and thorough investigation,” without specifying who he thought was responsible.
“I strongly condemn the killing of Al Jazeera’s reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot with live fire this morning while covering an Israeli security forces’ operation in #Jenin, in occupied West Bank,” Wennesland said.
The European Union called for “a swift and independent investigation to bring the perpetrators to justice.”
Abu Akleh, 51, was born in Jerusalem. Carrying both a Jerusalem residency card and an American passport, she began working for Al Jazeera in 1997 and regularly reported on-camera from across Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.
“I chose to become a journalist to be close to people. It may not be easy to change reality, but I was at least able to bring their voice to the world,” Abu Akleh said in a video taped for the Qatari channel’s 25th anniversary.
Al Jazeera accused Israeli soldiers of “deliberately targeting and killing” Abu Akleh “in cold blood.”
“We call on the international community to condemn and hold the Israeli occupation forces accountable,” the Qatar-based broadcaster said.
In the wake of Abu Akleh’s death, senior Israeli officials said Israel offered to conduct a joint investigation in the killing alongside the Palestinian Authority, but Ramallah refused.
“Unfortunately, the Palestinian Authority at this stage is preventing any possibility for a joint investigation or even access to the fundamental findings required to reach the truth,” Bennett said Thursday, referring to the bullet that killed the veteran journalist and could hold the key to learning who is responsible for her death.
“I expect full, open and transparent cooperation,” he said, adding, “I also hope that the Palestinian Authority will not take any actions meant to obstruct the investigation or compromise its due process in a way that will prevent us from reaching the truth.”
Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar charged that “the Palestinians, as usual, are rushing into a blood libel against the Israel Defense Forces.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas again charged Thursday that Israel was responsible for Abu Akleh’s death, and vowed that the matter would be taken to the International Criminal Court because Israel “cannot go unpunished.” The ICC last year opened a war crimes investigation into the West Bank and Gaza.
Palestinian journalist Ali Samoudi, who was working as her producer and was injured by gunfire, told The Associated Press they were among a group of seven reporters who went to cover the raid early Wednesday. He said they were all wearing protective gear that clearly marked them as reporters, and they passed by Israeli troops so the soldiers would see them and know that they were there.
He said the first shot missed them, then a second struck him, and a third killed Abu Akleh. He said there were no armed Palestinians or other civilians in the area — only the reporters and the army.
Samoudi said the military’s suggestion that they were shot by armed Palestinians was a “complete lie.”
Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.