The Israeli military said Monday there was a “high probability” that a soldier killed a well-known Al Jazeera journalist in the occupied West Bank last May, when it released the results of its investigation into the murder.
In a briefing to reporters, a senior military official said a soldier opened fire after falsely labeling Shireen Abu Akleh as a militant. But he provided no evidence to substantiate Israel’s claim that Palestinian gunmen were present in the area and said no one would be punished. He also declined to comment on video evidence showing the area was quiet before Abu Akleh was shot.
The conclusions followed a series of investigations by media organizations and the United States that concluded that Israel fired or most likely fired the fatal shot. But it was unlikely they would let the matter rest.
“He misidentified her,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity under military briefing guidelines. “His real-time reports… definitely point to misidentification.”
Abu Akleh was wearing a helmet and vest that identified her as a press when she was assassinated in May while reporting on Israeli military incursions into the occupied West Bank.
The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem accused the military of carrying out a whitewash.
“It wasn’t a mistake. It’s policy,” the group said.
Al Jazeera’s local bureau chief, Walid Al-Omari, accused the military of trying to evade responsibility. “This is clearly an attempt to circumvent the opening of a criminal investigation,” he told The The Bharat Express News.
The 51-year-old Palestinian-American had followed the West Bank for two decades and was a familiar face throughout the Arab world. The Palestinians and Abu Akleh’s family have accused Israel of deliberately murdering her, and her death remains a major point of contention between the parties.
The official said the military could not determine with certainty where the fire came from, and said Palestinian gunmen may have been in the same area as the Israeli soldier. But he said the soldier shot the journalist “with a very high probability” and that he did it accidentally.
The official did not explain why witness statements and videos showed no militant activity in the area, as well as no gunfire in the vicinity until the barrage that struck Abu Akleh and injured another reporter.
Family of journalists criticize investigation
He also did not say why the investigation took four months, although he said the Israeli military leader asked for more information after an initial investigation. The official said the investigation had been shared with the army’s independent prosecutor, who had decided not to launch a criminal investigation. That means no one will be charged in the shooting.
Abu Akleh’s family criticized the investigation, saying the military was “trying to cover up the truth and avoid responsibility” for the killing.
The family also reiterated its call for an independent US investigation and an investigation by the International Criminal Court.
Rights groups say Israeli investigations into the deaths of Palestinians often languish for months or years before being quietly shut down and soldiers are rarely held accountable.
Israel has said she was killed in a complex battle with Palestinian militants and that only a forensic analysis of the bullet can confirm whether it was fired by an Israeli soldier or a Palestinian militant. However, a US-led analysis of the bullet last July was inconclusive, as investigators said the bullet was badly damaged.
An The Bharat Express News reconstruction of her murder lent support to testimonies that she was murdered by Israeli forces. Subsequent investigations by CNN, the New York Times and the Washington Post came to similar conclusions, as did the monitoring by the UN chief of human rights office.
Abu Akleh rose to fame two decades ago during the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, against Israeli rule. She documented the harsh realities of life under Israeli military rule — now well into its sixth decade with no end in sight — for viewers across the Arab world.
Israeli police were criticized around the world for beating mourners and mourners during her funeral in Jerusalem on May 14. An Israeli newspaper reported that a police investigation revealed misconduct by some of its officers, but said those who oversaw the event will not be severely punished.
Jenin has long been a bastion of Palestinian militants, and several deadly attacks have recently been carried out in Israel by young men from and around the city. Israel regularly conducts military incursions into Jenin, which it says are aimed at arresting militants and preventing more attacks.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East War and has built settlements that are home to nearly 500,000 Israelis alongside nearly three million Palestinians. The Palestinians want the area to become the most important part of a future state.