US Senators Refuse to Drop Shireen Abu Akleh Assassination at Israel | Palestinian Territories

lsrael has declared the case closed. The US State Department has done its best to dodge difficult questions. But senior members of the US Congress are refusing to withdraw demands for proper justification for the death of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh four months ago.

The longest-serving member of the US Senate, Patrick Leahy, recently raised the bar by warning that Israel’s inability to fully explain the murder of the Al-Jazeera reporter would undermine America’s massive military aid to the Jewish state. under a law he supported 25 years ago. arms supplies to countries that violate human rights.

Nearly half of Democratic Senate members have signed a letter challenging Israel’s claim that Abu Akleh was accidentally shot by a soldier. The letter suggests she may have been targeted because she was a journalist.

The Biden administration is also facing a flood of bill changes and letters from members of Congress demanding that the State Department disclose what it knows about Abu Akleh’s death and that the FBI launch an independent investigation.

Few think there is much of a prospect that the US will actually cut its $3.8 billion annual military aid to Israel in the near future, but it is politically significant that so many high-ranking Democrats have signed up to publicly challenge Israel that has often been able to count on solid bipartisan support in America.

While criticism focused on Abu Akleh’s death, the demands for accountability are coming as Israeli killings of Palestinians have escalated, while Jewish settlers in the West Bank sometimes appear to have been given free rein to attack Palestinians and cross their lands. to take.

Dylan Williams, senior vice president of policy and strategy at Washington-based campaign group J Street, which describes itself as “pro-Israel and pro-peace,” said the demands for justice for Abu Akleh reflect broader concerns.

Israeli police confront mourners as they carry Shireen Abu Akleh’s coffin at her funeral in East Jerusalem in May. Photo: Maya Levin/AP

“Members of Congress seem increasingly frustrated that these kinds of troubling actions by Israeli forces continue to take place, without our government being pushed back in any meaningful way or held accountable,” he said.

“There is growing momentum to make clear that Israel must be held to the same important standards as all of the US’s close allies, and that our steadfast support for Israel’s security does not prevent our government from standing up for the defense of Israel as well. human rights and international law in the occupied Palestinian territory.”

The powerful US Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), which funds political campaigns against politicians critical of Israel, has lobbied against a US investigation into Abu Akleh’s death.

But Sarah Leah Whitson, director of Democracy for the Arab World Now — an advocacy group founded by assassinated Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi to pressure the US government to end support for authoritarian regimes in the Middle East — said it Changing American public sentiment about Israel and the Palestinians has made it easier for some politicians to speak out.

“There is a growing perception among the American public that Israel is committing the crime of apartheid, that Palestinians are unfairly victimized by Israel. This has given lawmakers more room, especially safe lawmakers like Patrick Leahy, to say what they really think,” she said.

“In addition, they have more leeway in this particular case because Shireen Abu Akleh was a US citizen.”

Israel initially claimed that Abu Akleh was shot by a Palestinian in May during a military attack on the occupied city of Jenin in the West Bank. Earlier this month, it finally admitted it was “highly likely” that an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldier killed the journalist, but claimed the shooting happened during a gun battle with Palestinian fighters.

That report was widely rejected because investigations by human rights organizations, the press and the United Nations showed that there was no fighting in the vicinity of Abu Akleh.

Last week, Leahy told the Senate that the Biden administration had failed to respond to calls from members of Congress for the FBI to investigate Abu Akleh’s death, as is “customary and appropriate after a tragedy such as this involving a prominent American who was killed abroad under questionable circumstances”.

“Unfortunately, there has been no independent, credible investigation,” he said.
Leahy disputed the value of Israel’s report on Abu Akleh’s death, noting that there is “a history of investigations into shootings by IDF soldiers that rarely lead to accountability.”

Senator Patrick Leahy noted that there is “a history of investigations into shootings by IDF soldiers that rarely lead to liability.” Photo: Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/EPA

The senator also questioned the role of the State Department after the United States Security Coordinator (USSC) in Jerusalem, Lt. Gen. Mark Schwartz, concluded that there was “no evidence to suggest.” [Abu Akleh’s] murder was intentional”.

Leahy said: “The USSC, following the IDF’s conclusion, apparently did not interview any of the IDF soldiers or other witnesses. To say that the shooting of an unarmed person, and in this case with “press” written in bold on her clothing, was not intentional, without providing any evidence to support that conclusion, the dedication of the State Department Cases to an independent, credible investigation and to ‘follow the facts’.”

Leahy has tabled an amendment, along with other senators, calling on the Biden administration to investigate whether Israel violates the “Leahy Act” of 1997, which bans military aid to countries whose armies violate human rights.

“Or [Abu Akleh’s] killing was intentional, reckless or a tragic mistake, there must be accountability. And if it was intentional, and if no one is held accountable, then the Leahy law must be applied,” Leahy said.

Senator Chris Murphy, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee responsible for the region, told MSNBC that he had not previously supported calls to set terms for US military aid to Israel, but was concerned about its conduct. in the West Bank.

“Some of [Israel’s] recent decisions make a conflict between Israel and the Palestinians more likely, not less likely,” he said. “I haven’t gotten around to putting any conditions on that aid yet, but I think we’re all watching the behavior of the Israeli government very closely.”

Senator Chris Van Hollen: 'I will continue to press for full accountability and transparency regarding Shireen's death.  Anything less is unacceptable.'
Senator Chris Van Hollen: ‘I will continue to press for full accountability and transparency regarding Shireen’s death. Anything less is unacceptable.’ Photo: Reuters

Leahy is backed by other senators, including Chris Van Hollen, who earlier this month pushed for a Senate Foreign Relations Committee amendment requiring the State Department to hand over a full copy of the USSC’s controversial report on Akleh’s death after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken did not respond to a previous request and a series of questions.

“I will continue to push for full accountability and transparency surrounding Shireen’s death. Anything less is unacceptable’, Van Hollen tells the committee.

Van Hollen also played a key role in a letter signed by nearly half of all Democratic Senate members in June demanding “an independent, thorough and transparent investigation” into her murder. The letter said disturbing comments from an Israeli official suggested she may have been targeted because she was a journalist.

“On the day Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed, an Israeli military spokesman, Ran Kochav, stated that Ms. Abu Akleh and her film crew were ‘armed with cameras, if you allow me to say so,'” the letter read. .

“We know you agree that journalists should be able to do their jobs without fear of attack.”

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