The family of Shireen Abu Akleh has called on the United States to investigate the killing of the Al Jazeera journalist, who was fatally shot by Israeli forces in May, renewing calls for answers and accountability in the case.
At a news conference outside the US Capitol on Thursday, Abu Akleh’s relatives – joined by several US lawmakers – emphasised that the slain journalist was a US citizen entitled to the protection of her government.
“We want to know who pulled the trigger, and why,” Victor Abu Akleh, Shireen’s nephew, told reporters.
“And we want there to be accountability for the system that gave the green light, so that other families don’t suffer the way that we have. The reality, of course, is that in Palestine, our family’s grief is not unique. Shireen wasn’t even the first US citizen killed by Israel this year.”
Tony Abu Akleh, the slain journalist’s brother, called for “meaningful action” from the US government and hit out at President Joe Biden for failing to meet the family during his trip to Israel and the occupied West Bank earlier this month.
“President Biden was 10 minutes away; he never came to see us, so we had to come here to Washington,” he said.
“President Biden still hasn’t agreed to meet us. We need him to hear from us directly, so that he understands the pain our family, and too many other Palestinians, have endured.”
Abu Akleh, a dual Palestinian-American citizen, was killed by an Israeli sniper on May 11 while covering a military raid in the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank.
Palestinian witnesses, journalists and rights organisations have said there were no armed fighters in the immediate vicinity of Abu Akleh, or any exchange of fire at the time she was shot.
Tony, Victor and Abu Akleh’s niece Lina have been at the forefront of calling on the US to take concrete action to hold Israel accountable. They have also challenged the Department of State’s official early July line, which stated that the US had “found no reason to believe that [Abu Akleh’s killing] was intentional but rather the result of tragic circumstances” during an Israeli army operation against armed Palestinian factions.
The family met Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier this week. At the news conference on Thursday, Lina said Blinken did not make “any promises” to the family about pushing for a US investigation in the case.
“We appreciate that Secretary Blinken emphasised his commitment to accountability,” Lina said. “We also know that accountability requires action if he really means it. It will require honest, swift and bold action by him and others in the administration who are concerned about the well-being of their citizens and their journalists working abroad.”
While verbally calling for accountability, the Biden administration has so far rejected calls for a US-led investigation in the case. And rights advocates have said the July statement that ruled out that Abu Akleh was shot intentionally – a proclamation made without a proper probe – undercut efforts to hold those responsible to account.
Congressman Andre Carson, who has led a congressional push demanding an FBI investigation in the case, said Israel – which initially falsely blamed armed Palestinians for the killing and continues to deny responsibility – should not be conducting the investigation.
“It makes it more important for our government to conduct our own investigation,” Carson said. “Shireen needs justice. Every American killed abroad is entitled to our protection. Every human killed – American or not – deserves justice, Palestinians included, Black folks included.
“We want answers. We need to ensure that these answers are accurate, that they are transparent, and that they are timely.”
There have been numerous calls from Congress – including from some staunch Israel supporters and Republicans – for the Biden administration to push for an independent probe into the killing of Abu Akleh.
On Thursday, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, who is of Palestinian descent, said it was “shameful” that Abu Akleh’s family has to come to Washington to push the US government to take action and seek accountability for the killing of an American citizen and a journalist.
“I promise you this,” Tlaib told Abu Akleh’s family, “many of us standing with you here today are going to continue to fight along your side every step of the way.”
The US State Department has previously said that Israel has “wherewithal and the capabilities to conduct a thorough, comprehensive investigation” into the killing of Abu Akleh.
At Thursday’s news conference, Congresswoman Betty McCollum urged a “thorough, transparent US investigation by the State Department and the FBI”. And Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley described the killing of Abu Akleh “unacceptable and devastating”.
“We will not let up; we will celebrate Shireen’s life; we will honour her memory, and we will continue to press for accountability,” Pressley said.
For her part, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a key US House progressive, urged the Biden administration to launch a probe into the killing.
“The president should also meet with Shireen’s family, and I urge him to do so while they are in Washington to directly hear from them,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
“Shireen and her family deserve to be treated the same way that any other American would be in this situation. An American journalist was killed abroad by a foreign army, by a sniper. This situation demands a thorough and objective investigation.”
Besides the FBI and the State Department, Abu Akleh’s family members and the lawmakers backing them are also urging the US Justice Department’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section to get involved in the case.
In an op-ed published The Washington Post on Wednesday, Lina said the family wants to meet Biden in order for him to demonstrate that her aunt’s case is a priority for the US government.
“My family reiterated our demand that the United States conduct its own investigation into what happened to Shireen, retract its statement from July 4, and be more open and transparent with us,” Lina wrote.
“We are not naive,” she continued. “We know that the United States has failed to conduct its own investigations into previous killings of American citizens by Israeli soldiers and that the US government has helped Israel avoid accountability for decades of grave, systematic human rights abuses and violations of international law.”