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American journalist shot and killed while reporting in West Bank

A Hamas rally in Ramallah, in the West Bank. (Ervaude, Wikimedia Commons)
May 12, 2022

A Palestinian-American journalist was fatally shot in the West Bank on Wednesday while on assignment for Al Jazeera.

Al Jazeera announced the death of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in a Wednesday statement. The Qatar-based news organization said Akleh was reporting on Israeli raids against Palestinians in the West Bank and claimed the Israeli forces killed her and wounded Al Jazeera producer Ali al-Samudi. The Israeli military has said Abu Akleh was killed during an active gun battle between Israeli forces and Palestinian gunmen and cannot determine who exactly shot Abu Akleh.

“In a blatant murder, violating international laws and norms, the Israeli occupation forces assassinated in cold blood Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Palestine, Shireen Abu Akleh, targeting her with live fire early this morning, Wednesday, May 11, 2022, while conducting her journalistic duty, clearly wearing a press jacket that identifies her a journalist, covering the Israeli occupation forces storming of Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank,” Al Jazeera said.

Israeli Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, the Chief of the General Staff for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), responded to the allegations that IDF troops killed Abu Akleh in a video statement on Wednesday.

Kohavi said Palestinian gunmen “fired extensively at Israeli forces, recklessly and indiscriminately in every direction.” Kohavi said IDF troops, by contrast, “open fire in a professional and precise manner.”

“The reporter was killed in a battle zone,” Kohavi added. “At this point, it is not possible to determine the source of the gunfire that hit her and we express our sorrow over her death.”

In an interview shared by Middle East Eye, Al-Samudi said the Israeli forces killed Abu Akleh.

“We were going in to film the [Israeli] army raid,” al-Samudi said. “Then they started shooting at us. They didn’t ask us to leave or to stop. They shot at us. One bullet hit me and another hit Shareen and they killed her in cold blood because they are killers and only specialize in the killing of Palestinians.”

When asked about the possibility Abu Akleh was actually hit by fire from Palestinian gunmen, al-Samudi said, “There were no resistance fighters around us. When there are Palestinian fighters shooting, we don’t go.”

Some of Israel’s defenders online shared a video purporting to show Palestinian gunmen firing blindly around corners in the area near where Abu Akleh died.

“During intense fighting in Jenin, in which Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed, you see in this video a Palestinian terrorist saying “We hit a soldier, he is lying on the ground,” one Twitter user said. “But no IDF soldier was injured, so entirely plausible the Palestinian groups shot her.”

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett shared a shorter version of the video on Wednesday.

“The chairman of the PA throws accusations in Israel without a solid basis. According to the data we have at the moment, there is a good chance that armed Palestinians, who fired wildly, are the ones who led to the unfortunate death of the journalist. The Palestinians were even documented saying, ‘We hit a soldier, he is lying on the ground.’ No [Israeli] soldier was injured, raising the possibility that they were shot in a journalist.”

“Israel called on the Palestinians to conduct a joint pathological analysis and joint investigation, relying on all available documentation and findings, to arrive at the truth,” Bennett added. “So far, the Palestinians are refusing. IDF forces will continue to act against the terrorists at their bases, in order to break the deadly wave of terrorism and restore security to Israeli citizens.”

Palestinian Authority Civil Affairs head Hussein al-Sheikh confirmed the Palestinian side had rejected the Israeli call for a joint investigation.

“#Israel has requested a joint investigation and to be handed over the bullet that assassinated the journalist Shireen, we refused that, and we affirmed that our investigation would be completed independently, and we will inform her family, #USA, #Qatar and all official authorities and the public of the results of the investigation with high transparency,” al-Sheikh tweeted. “All of the indicators, the evidence and the witnesses confirm her assassination by #Israeli special units.”

On Wednesday, White House Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, “We strongly condemn the killing of Al Jazeera journalist and American citizen Shireen Abu Akleh in Jenin today, and we extend our deepest condolences to her family. We call for a thorough investigation to determine the circumstances of her death. Investigating attacks on independent media and prosecuting those responsible are of paramount importance.”
 
“We will continue to promote media freedom and protect journalists’ ability to do their jobs without fear of violence, threats to their lives or safety, or unjust detention,” Jean-Pierre added.