US senators refuse to drop Shireen Abu Akleh murder with Israel | Palestinian territories
IIsrael declared the case closed. The US State Department did its best to avoid difficult questions. But senior members of the US Congress are refusing to drop demands for a proper account of the death of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh four months ago.
The longest-serving member of the US Senate, Patrick Leahy, recently upped the ante by warning that Israel’s failure to fully explain the killing of the Al-Jazeera journalist could jeopardize huge US military aid to the Jewish state under a law he sponsored 25 years ago supplies weapons to countries that violate human rights.
Nearly half of the Democratic members of the Senate signed a letter questioning 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 flurry of legislative amendments and letters from members of Congress demanding that the State Department reveal what it knows about Abu Akleh’s death and that the FBI launch an independent investigation.
Few people think there’s much of a chance that the United States will cut its $3.8 billion-a-year military aid to Israel in the near future, but it’s politically significant that so many senior Democrats be committed to publicly challenging Israel, which has often been able to count on strong bipartisan support in America.
Although the review has concentrate in Abu Akleh’s death, demands for accountability come as Israeli killings of Palestinians escalate while Jewish settlers in West Bank appear sometimes had carte blanche to attack Palestinians and to resume their land.
Dylan Williams, senior vice president of policy and strategy for Washington-based campaign group J Street, which describes itself as “pro-Israel and pro-peace,” said demands for justice for Abu Akleh reflect broader concerns.
“Members of Congress seem increasingly frustrated that these types of disturbing actions by Israeli forces continue to take place, without facing significant pushback or accountability from our government,” he said.
“There is growing momentum to make it clear that Israel must be held to the same high standards as all close US allies, and that our unwavering support for Israel’s security does not and should not prevent our government to also stand up in defense of 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 slain Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi to pressure the US government to end its support for authoritarian regimes in the Middle East — said shifts in American public opinion about Israel and the Palestinians have made it easier for some politicians to speak out.
“There is a growing opinion among the American public that Israel is committing the crime of apartheid, that the Palestinians are being unjustly victimized by Israel. It gave lawmakers more space, especially confident lawmakers like Patrick Leahy, to say what they really think,” she said.
“Also, they have more space on this particular case because Shireen Abu Akleh was an American citizen.”
Israel first claimed that Abu Akleh was shot dead by a Palestinian during a military raid on the occupied West Bank city of Jenin in May. Earlier this month he finally admitted it was ‘highly probable’ that an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldier killed the journalist, but claimed the shooting took place during a shootout with Palestinian fighters.
This account has been widely dismissed because investigations by human rights groups, the press and the United Nations have shown 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 like this involving a prominent American killed overseas in questionable circumstances.” .
“Unfortunately, there was no independent and credible investigation,” he added. said.
Leahy disputed the value of Israel’s report on Abu Akleh’s death, noting that there was “a history of investigations into shootings by IDF soldiers that rarely result in accountability.”
The senator also questioned the State Department’s role after the United States Security Coordinator (USSC) in Jerusalem, Lt. Gen. Mark Schwartz, concluded there was “no evidence indicating [Abu Akleh’s] the murder was intentional”.
Leahy said, “The USSC, echoing the IDF’s conclusion, apparently did not interview any of the IDF soldiers or any other witnesses. To say that fatally shooting an unarmed person, and in this case one with “press” written in bold print on their clothing, was unintentional, without providing any evidence to support that conclusion, calls into question the State Department’s commitment to independent, credible investigation, and “following the facts.”
Leahy introduced a amendmentas well as other senators, call for the Biden administration to examine whether Israel violated the 1997 “Leahy Act” banning military assistance to countries whose armies violate human rights.
“Whether [Abu Akleh’s] the murder was intentional, reckless or a tragic mistake, there must be accountability. And if it was intentional, and no one is held responsible, then the Leahy law must be applied,” Leahy said.
Sen. Chris Murphy, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee responsible for the region, told MSNBC that he had not previously supported calls to set conditions for US military aid to Israel, but that he was concerned about his conduct in the West Bank.
“A part of [Israel’s] recent decisions make conflict between Israel and the Palestinians more likely, not less likely,” he said. said. “I haven’t gotten to that point yet, advocating for the terms of this aid, but I think we’re all watching the behavior of the Israeli government very carefully.”
Leahy is backed by other senators, including Chris Van Hollen, who pushed for an amendment passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this month requiring the State Department to turn over a full copy of the controversial U.S. report. USSC on Akleh’s death after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken failed to respond to an earlier request and series of questions.
“I will continue to push for full accountability and transparency around Shireen’s death. Anything less is unacceptable,” Van Hollen told the committee.
Van Hollen was also instrumental in a letter in June signed by nearly half of all Democratic members of the Senate demanding “an independent, thorough and transparent investigation” into his assassination. The letter said disturbing comments from an Israeli official suggested she might have been targeted because she was a journalist.
“On the day Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed, an Israeli army spokesman, Ran Kochav, said Ms. Abu Akleh and her film crew ‘were armed with cameras, if you will allow me to say so. ‘”, indicates the letter. .
“We know you agree that journalists should be able to do their job without fear of attack.”