Thursday, August 11th | 14 Av 5782

July 7, 2022 10:15 am

The Bullet That Killed Abu Akleh

avatar by Shoshana Bryen /


People light candles during a vigil in memory of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed during an Israeli raid, outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, May 16, 2022. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma – Journalist Shireen Abu Akleh died covering an Israeli counter-terror operation on the West Bank. That this was a tragedy is the only thing clear about her death.

Various media outlets—some reasonably unbiased and some not—mounted “investigations.” Private companies, including a Dutch-based consortium, did their own. Politicians with an ax to grind made statements without evidence. The Israeli government and the Israel Defense Forces called for a joint Israeli-Palestinian investigation. Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh responded, “We refused a joint investigation, because those who fabricated the history of a people, stealing land and homeland, can fabricate a narrative.”

All of this should have been of interest to the United States since Abu Akleh held US citizenship as well as Palestinian. Pro-Palestinian activists in the United States let President Joe Biden know that they believed America had to do more. Democrats in the House and Senate wrote stiff letters. The Senate letter says, in part:

It has now been over a month … (and) there has been no significant progress toward the establishment of an independent, thorough and transparent investigation into her killing … . We believe the only way to achieve that goal is for the United States to be directly involved in investigating Ms. Abu Akleh’s death.

Maybe they forgot that for nearly two months, the PA hid the bullet. A bipartisan group of pro-Israel legislators wrote to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, requesting that he “ask the Palestinian Authority to provide access to the forensic evidence in Abu Akleh’s death for an independent investigation so that all parties can reach a definitive conclusion about the events leading to her death, and hold all parties accountable.”

The political hot potato became hotter as Biden’s visit to the region, including to the PA, drew closer. Whatever their political leanings, it would have been hard for Biden to ignore more than 100 American legislators while visiting PA strongman Mahmoud Abbas.

So, an exercise was designed to clear the way. Make no mistake: It was not designed to determine who killed Abu Akleh and the conclusions of the US Security Coordinator (USSC) for the West Bank, released on the July 4 (not a day reporters are looking for stories) are likely not the result of an independent investigation.

Under increasing heat, PA Attorney General Akram Al-Khatib had announced last week: “We will not hand over the bullet that killed Abu Akleh to the occupation.” It would, he said, be examined “at the US embassy in Jerusalem,” adding that the PA had received “guarantees” from the United States that the bullet “would not be delivered to Israel. We have agreed that Americans will conduct a forensic examination of the bullet.”

The embassy is unlikely to have the facilities for such an investigation, and more than one source said it was done over the weekend in an Israeli laboratory. Qatari government newspaper Al-Jazeera, for which Abu Akleh worked, said it wasn’t clear who—the Americans or the Israelis—did the actual work.

But the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported, “Contrary to the Palestinian Authority’s demand that Israel not be involved in the investigation … the Israeli military says that ‘this is an IDF test, an IDF investigation in an American presence.’” Over the weekend also, Politico reported that the Dutch-based group published its own “analysis of video and audio evidence gathered on social media. The material came from both Palestinian and Israeli military sources.”

Who cites which sources isn’t always clear, but on Monday, the State Department announced America’s findings. Except they weren’t really findings, as such. The US Security Coordinator:

  1. “Could not reach a definitive conclusion” regarding (the bullet’s) origin, “due to the condition of the bullet”;
  2. “Concluded that gunfire from IDF positions was likely responsible”;
  3. “Found no reason to believe that this was intentional but rather the result of tragic circumstances during an IDF-led military operation against factions of Palestinian Islamic Jihad … which followed a series of terrorist attacks in Israel”; and
  4. The conclusion was reached “by summarizing both” the IDF and PA investigations, to which he was granted “full access.”

Starting with 4, there is no official confirmation that the United States conducted any investigation or indeed watched while anyone else did, Haaretz and Al-Jazeera notwithstanding. 1, 2, and 3 allow both the Palestinians and Israelis to complain. And that, perhaps, was the point.

Everyone is aggravated, but the White House can shrug it off, saying “we had an investigation, but there were no firm conclusions, including whether this was even the right bullet. No one is directly accused, no one is convicted, no one is denounced for two months of stalling and obstruction.”

Good enough as the president gets ready to travel to the region.

Shoshana Bryen is senior director of the Jewish Policy Center and editor of inFOCUS Quarterly.

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