As Joe Biden prepares to embark on his first trip to Israel as US president, the family of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh has sent him a letter laying out a list of demands to ensure accountability for her killing in the occupied West Bank in May.
The letter on Friday berated Biden for what it called efforts by his administration to “whitewash Shireen’s killing and perpetuate impunity” for Israeli forces who killed the journalist in May.
The Biden administration infuriated Palestinian rights and press freedom advocates when it released a statement saying the bullet that killed Abu Akleh “likely” came from an Israeli military position but dismissed the incident as the unintentional “result of tragic circumstances”.
Abu Akleh’s family called on the US administration to retract that statement, expressing “grief, outrage and sense of betrayal” with Biden.
Below is the full text of the family’s letter. (Hyperlinks, emphasis in original)
Dear Mr. President:
We, the family of Shireen Abu Akleh, write to express our grief, outrage and sense of betrayal concerning your administration’s abject response to the extrajudicial killing of our sister and aunt by Israeli forces on May 11, 2022, while on assignment in the occupied Palestinian city of Jenin in the West Bank.
Shireen was a prominent, beloved Palestinian journalist. She was a role model and a mentor to aspiring Palestinian female journalists, and a trusted colleague of many in the local and international media. She was also a United States citizen. Despite wearing a protective helmet and blue bulletproof vest clearly marked as “PRESS,” Shireen was murdered by an Israeli-fired bullet to the head. Israeli forces continued to fire live rounds as bystanders– including other members of the press–tried to render assistance. Then, as we and hundreds of others gathered to begin her funeral procession, Israeli forces attacked us, beating mourners and pallbearers, violently disrupting the dignified burial procession she deserved.
In the days and weeks since an Israeli soldier killed Shireen, not only have we not been adequately consulted, informed, and supported by U.S. government officials, but your administration’s actions exhibit an apparent intent to undermine our efforts toward justice and accountability for Shireen’s death. Investigations conducted by the United Nations, the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, the Associated Press, Bellingcat, and B’Tselem all concluded an Israeli soldier fired the shot that killed Shireen. All available evidence suggests that Shireen, a U.S. citizen, was the subject of an extrajudicial killing, yet your administration has thoroughly failed to meet the bare minimum expectation held by a grieving family—to ensure a prompt, thorough, credible, impartial, independent, effective and transparent investigation that leads to true justice and accountability for Shireen’s killing.
Instead, the United States has been skulking toward the erasure of any wrongdoing by Israeli forces. From the failure to immediately ensure an independent and impartial investigation, to the rushed hand-off of the bullet that killed Shireen without consultation let alone allowing us to have a representative present, which culminated in the July 4 statement adopting the conclusions and talking points of the Israeli government, your administration’s engagement has served to whitewash Shireen’s killing and perpetuate impunity. Little information has been shared on who oversaw the American “summation” of investigations, who participated in the ballistics assessment, or any specific individual qualifications or findings leading to the conclusions issued by your administration. It is as if you expect the world and us to now just move on. Silence would have been better.
You have made clear that your administration is willing to abdicate its responsibility concerning Israel’s extrajudicial killing of Shireen. The July 4 press statement by Department of State Spokesperson Ned Price announced that Shireen’s killing was likely unintentional, yet when pressed by reporters during the July 5 press briefing, Mr. Price conceded that nobody present was qualified to reach a conclusion about intent. He also clarified that the United States government did not, in fact, conduct its own investigation, let alone legal analysis, and that the Department of State was content with merely “summarizing”—and adopting—Israeli authorities’ investigation. Nonetheless, your administration deemed it necessary to include and perpetuate the baseless and damaging conclusion that the killing was not intentional, seemingly choosing political expedience over actual accountability for a foreign government’s killing of a U.S. citizen.
We remind you that on May 11, the day an Israeli soldier killed Shireen, Mr. Price stood at the Department of State podium to strongly condemn her killing and call for “an immediate and thorough investigation and full accountability.” Then, on July 5, that call for full accountability was reduced to nothing more than a contorted statement that Israel “soon will be in a position to consider steps to further safeguard noncombatants.” We are incredulous that such an expectation would be the pinnacle of your administration’s response to the killing of Shireen. Israeli forces have for long known no bounds, perpetrating war crimes and killing Palestinian civilians with impunity, including those clearly identifiable as children, medical personnel and journalists. Israeli officials and armed forces are enabled and empowered by unconditional U.S.-sourced weapons and financial assistance and then provided with near absolute diplomatic support to shield Israeli officials from any accountability.
Since Israeli forces killed our Shireen, lawmakers have pressed you to deliver on the strong condemnation and call for “full accountability” concerning Shireen’s death. On May 19, 57 members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray to demand the State Department and the FBI launch an investigation into the killing of Shireen. On June 6, Sens. Jon Ossof and Mitt Romney sent a letter to Secretary Blinken insisting that the administration ensure a “full and transparent investigation and accountability”. On June 23, Senator Chris Van Hollen and 23 of his Senate colleagues sent you a letter demanding you ensure the direct involvement of the United States in the investigation of Shireen’s killing, stressing the importance of an independent, thorough, and transparent investigation.
We reaffirm these demands on behalf of our beloved Shireen as your administration’s actions to date have not only fallen woefully short of “full accountability” but they amount to express acceptance for Shireen’s killing. Your administration’s actions can only be seen as an attempt to erase the extrajudicial killing of Shireen and further entrench the systemic impunity enjoyed by Israeli forces and officials for unlawfully killing Palestinians.
We call on you to:
- Meet with us during your upcoming visit and hear directly from us about our concerns and demands for justice.
- Provide us with all of the information gathered by your administration to date concerning Shireen’s killings, including any evidence reviewed and assessed by U.S. officials, the identities and qualifications of all individuals present during the latest review of evidence, any forensics reports or other information that has not been provided to us or our legal team.
- Retract the Department of State’s July 4 press statement, given that the Department’s own account indicates that it is not based on any credible assessment.
- Direct the Department of Justice, including the Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Bureau, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and any other relevant U.S. offices or agencies to take action on Shireen’s extrajudicial killing.
- Finally, and it should be needless to say, we expect the Biden administration support our efforts to push for accountability and justice for Shireen, wherever they take us.
Anton Abu Akleh
On behalf of the Abu Akleh Family
CC: Secretary of State Mr. Antony Blinken