Washington, DC – Rights groups in the United States are urging Congress to pass a bill that would require the US government to investigate the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh by Israeli forces and present its findings in a report to lawmakers.
In a letter addressed to Congress members on Tuesday – amid the visit of Israeli President Isaac Herzog to Washington, DC – more than 60 organisations renewed calls for justice for the slain journalist – a US citizen who was fatally shot while covering an Israeli raid on Jenin in the occupied West Bank last year.
Congressman Andre Carson had introduced the legislation – dubbed the Justice for Shireen Act – in May, coinciding with the first anniversary of her killing.
“Shireen Abu Akleh was a celebrated journalist who gave voice to Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation. Her death, on May 11, 2022, and the violent attacks on her funeral procession by Israeli police, horrified the entire world,” the letter read.
“And yet, a forceful response from the United States government for accountability for her killing has been noticeably absent.”
The statement was signed by prominent human rights and press freedom advocacy groups, including American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Amnesty International USA, Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch, Oxfam America, Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) and Reporters Without Borders.
The Justice for Shireen Act is unlikely to pass in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where Israel also has many staunch supporters amongst Democrats. But the letter highlights the continuing push by rights advocates to seek accountability for the killing of Abu Akleh, a veteran television correspondent who was renowned across the Arab World.
Carson’s bill would compel the Biden administration to identify “any United States defense materials, funds or services that were implicated in the death of Shireen Abu Akleh”.
Despite being accused by leading human rights groups, including Amnesty International, of imposing apartheid on Palestinians, Israel receives at least $3.8bn in US aid annually.
“We call upon Congress to pass Representative Carson’s Justice for Shireen Act to require necessary reporting into Shireen Abu Akleh’s killing and urge Congress and the Biden administration to take immediate steps to ensure that US military funding to the Israeli government does not support human rights abuses against Palestinians,” Tuesday’s letter read.
The groups added that the US has a “moral and legal obligation to ensure that its military funding is not used to support actions that violate international humanitarian or human rights law”.
Last year, Israeli officials falsely accused Palestinian gunmen of fatally shooting Abu Akleh before acknowledging months later that she was likely killed by an Israeli soldier.
Still, Israel has dismissed the incident as unintentional and has not opened a criminal probe into the killing, prompting calls for the US – a close Israeli ally – to conduct its own investigation and seek accountability in the case.
In November, Israeli and US media reports said the FBI opened the investigation into the incident, but the Department of Justice has refused to comment or even confirm the purported probe.
Witnesses, video footage and investigations by numerous media outlets have concluded there was no fighting in the immediate vicinity of where Abu Akleh, who was in full press gear, was fatally shot.
US officials initially called for accountability for the shooting, including prosecuting Abu Akleh’s killers to the “fullest extent” of the law.
Weeks after the incident, Secretary of State Antony Blinken also said that Washington was looking for an “independent” investigation into the killing.
But Washington appeared to drop that demand last year. Instead, the Department of State now says it is seeking accountability by calling on Israel to review its military rules of engagement — a demand Israeli leaders have openly rejected.
Earlier this year, the US Security Coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority (USSC) submitted a report to Congress on the killing. It was described as a “summation” assessment of other investigations of the incident – not an independent one.
Still, the Biden administration has kept it classified. Last month, Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen said the report provides “very important insights” into the incident and called for making it public in full.
In their letter on Tuesday, the rights groups noted Van Hollen’s demand, adding that the killing of Abu Akleh is “part of a systemic pattern of human rights abuses against Palestinians and the free press by the Israeli military”.
The Abu Akleh family expressed gratitude to the organisations that penned the letter on Tuesday and joined them in urging Congress to pass the legislation.
“When a US citizen is killed by a foreign military, the family shouldn’t have to fight for the bare minimum,” the family said.
“Every member of Congress should support the Justice for Shireen Act so that we are one step closer to ensuring no other journalist’s family suffers the way ours has.”
Abu Akleh was one of two US citizens killed by Israeli forces in 2022. In January of that year, 80-year-old US citizen Omar Assad suffered a stress-induced heart attack after he was arbitrarily detained, bound, blindfolded and gagged by Israeli forces who left him unresponsive on the ground.
Israel said last month that it will not charge any of its soldiers with a crime over the death of Assad.