Last week the United States government accepted Israel’s claim that the soldier who shot Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in occupied Jenin on May 11 did not mean to kill her. But Israel has given no evidence for the claim.
And yesterday outgoing Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy gave a strong speech on the Senate floor challenging the U.S. stance and warning that the case could require a cutoff of American military aid.
“There has been no independent, credible investigation,” Leahy said. “To say that fatally shooting an unarmed person, and in this case one with PRESS written in bold letters on her clothing, was not intentional, without providing any evidence to support that conclusion, calls into question the State Department’s commitment to an independent, credible investigation and to ‘follow the facts.’”
Leahy said that if the killing was intentional, and Israel does not hold anyone accountable, “then the Leahy Law must be applied.” That law bars military aid to countries that commit human rights violations with impunity.
Independent investigations by human rights groups and media organizations have all left open the possibility that an Israeli soldier targeted Abu Akleh. She was in a group of reporters all clearly identified, and the shot that killed her was one of several in a tight group — “repeat shooting directly at unarmed civilians, most of them conspicuously marked as journalists,” as one human rights group said.
The U.S. conclusion that the killing was not intentional was based on a review of Israeli materials, and Leahy said that Israel could not be relied upon. Because “Israel has a history of investigations of shootings by IDF soldiers that rarely result in accountability.”
Israel lied about the case from the start, and only admitted its responsibility more than three months later.
Leahy asked a series of “key” questions about the official findings:
If the soldier who fired the fatal shot did not intend to kill Ms. Abu Akleh, what did he intend?
If, as the Israeli authorities appear to be saying, the soldier missed who he was aiming at and hit Ms. Abu Akleh by mistake, who was he aiming at? What evidence is there, if any, that anyone in the immediate vicinity of where Ms. Abu Akleh was shot was firing at the IDF soldier who killed her?
Leahy mocked the official line on the killing from the US Security Coordinator. “What specific evidence led to the USSC’s conclusion ‘that there is no reason to believe that this was intentional but rather the result of tragic circumstances?’ What were the ‘tragic circumstances’ the USSC was referring to?”
Leahy also referenced the Israeli attack on Abu Akleh’s funeral procession in Jerusalem.
I have also urged Israeli authorities to discipline those who were responsible for, and participated in, the chaos that erupted during Ms. Abu Akleh’s funeral procession, when Israeli police needlessly beat mourners with batons, including the pallbearers, causing them to momentarily drop one end of the casket. Has anything been done?
Then Leahy said the case was reminiscent of the Saudi state murder of Jamal Khashoggi, there will be no consequences:
There is an increasing foreboding that, as in so many other cases and like the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, there will never be the independent, credible investigation and accountability that Ms. Abu Akleh’s family, the Secretary of State, I, and others have called for. That would further jeopardize the safety of journalists everywhere who courageously risk their lives to inform the public.
Leahy’s speech is another sign that progressive Democrats and the press are not going to drop the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh but will keep up pressure on the Biden administration.
Two days ago the Senate Foreign Relations Committee demanded a copy of the U.S. report that accepted the Israeli investigation.
Nearly 60 Congresspeople and 24 Senators endorsed earlier demands for a U.S. investigation. Rep. Andre Carson has said he will keep pushing that bill till a majority of Congress signs on. Senator Chris Van Hollen has repeatedly called for accountability.
Leahy’s comments have been reported by Al Jazeera, Abu Akleh’s former employer. Leahy’s tweet of the speech has been widely retweeted.
The liberal Zionist group J Street retweeted Leahy’s comments, its political director writing, “The Leahy Law blocks military aid to foreign security units that commit gross human rights violations.”