57 House Members urge State Department, FBI to investigate the death of Shireen Abu Akleh

Ambassador Herzog in response: “The letter ignores the fact that Israel has called for an impartial joint Israeli-Palestinian investigation with the US in an observer role.”

 The body of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed in during a live fire exchange between Palestinians and IDF in Jenin, is brought to the offices of the news channel in Ramallah in the West Bank, May 11, 2022. (photo credit: ABBAS MOMANI/POOL VIA REUTERS)
The body of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed in during a live fire exchange between Palestinians and IDF in Jenin, is brought to the offices of the news channel in Ramallah in the West Bank, May 11, 2022.
(photo credit: ABBAS MOMANI/POOL VIA REUTERS)

WASHINGTON – A group of 57 House Democrats sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and FBI Director Chris Wray requesting that the State Department and the FBI launch an investigation into the death of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was fatally shot in Jenin on May 11.

“It was reported that Palestinian journalists who were with Ms. Abu Akleh at the time said that they made their presence known to Israeli soldiers, and they did not see militants in the area,” the members wrote. “The Israeli military claimed that the victims were caught between gunfire between Palestinian militants and Israeli Defense Forces. However, media and eyewitnesses had conflicting reports.

“As Members of Congress, we are deeply concerned by the death of Ms. Abu Akleh. Journalists worldwide must be protected at all costs. The US State Department called Ms. Abu Akleh’s death ‘an affront to media freedom,’” they said.

“We welcome the actions and statements taken so far by the US Department of State supporting a thorough investigation. However, given the tenuous situation in the region and the conflicting reports surrounding the death of Ms. Abu Akleh, we request the State Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation launch an investigation into Ms. Abu Akleh’s death.”

They also requested that the State Department “determine whether any US laws protecting Ms. Abu Akleh, an American citizen, were violated.”

 Shireen Abu Akleh (credit: AL JAZEERA) Shireen Abu Akleh (credit: AL JAZEERA)

“As an American, Ms. Abu Akleh was entitled to the full protections afforded to US citizens living abroad,” they wrote. “We urge you to uphold the values that our nation was founded on, including human rights, equality for all, and freedom of speech. We have a duty to protect Americans reporting abroad.”

Israel Ambassador to the US Mike Herzog wrote in a statement that he was “disheartened” to read the letter.

“This letter does not offer a fair representation of the case, ignores important context of the events leading to Ms. Abu Akleh’s tragic death and reaches the wrong conclusion,” Herzog wrote.

“On May 11, 2022, Israeli security forces operated in Jenin to thwart yet another impending terror attack and were confronted by heavily armed Palestinian militants, most of them affiliated with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad – a US designated terrorist organization,” the ambassador wrote. “Shireen Abu Akleh died in the exchange of fire in this charged environment.”

He added that the letter “ignores the fact that Israel has, from the outset, called for an impartial joint Israeli-Palestinian investigation with the US in an observer role. Our call was flatly rejected by the PA [Palestinian Authority], which is cynically using Ms. Abu Akleh’s death to instigate an anti-Israel propaganda campaign.

“To this day, the PA has refused to give Israel access to the bullet that killed Ms. Abu Akleh, making it impossible to conduct a ballistic examination that would determine whether the bullet was shot by an IDF weapon – only the IDF can carry out such an investigation,” Herzog added.

“No journalist should die in the line of duty,” the ambassador continued. “Israel holds freedom of the press in the highest regard and sees the protection of journalists as a fundamental part of our democracy. IDF troops would never intentionally target members of the press.”

Herzog concluded, “To our friends in Congress, we say: Rather than sending unconstructive messages, truth and justice would be better served by calling on the PA to give Israel access to the bullet and allow for the completion of the investigation with the US in an observer role.” 

The IDF has pushed forward with its investigation into the death of the Palestinian-American journalist – and may, according to the Associated Press, have even located the IDF gun that fired the fatal bullet.

On Thursday, however, the IDF clarified that its probe did not include an investigation into criminal activity related to her death, given that it occurred during an exchange of fire between IDF soldiers and Palestinian gunmen.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price pushed back at that decision on Friday, telling reporters that, “we’ve been clear that there must be a transparent and credible investigation of Ms. Abu Akleh’s killing, and that any such investigation must include accountability.”

US Secretary of State Lloyd Austin discussed Abu Akleh’s death with Defense Minister Benny Gantz when the two men met in Washington on Thursday, according to the Pentagon.

Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.