Killing of Abu Akleh shows Israel will always be guilty to the world - analysis

Many people's opinions that Israel was guilty of killing Shireen abu Akleh were formed hours after the incident before there were any facts.

Jordanian journalists protest the death of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh in Amman (photo credit: REUTERS)
Jordanian journalists protest the death of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh in Amman
(photo credit: REUTERS)

The Palestinian Authority has said it wants to go to the international community to punish Israel for the killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. This demand for an international investigation was part of the reaction that appeared on the street and online within hours of the death of Abu Akleh. It is part of a wider accusation that blames Israel for her death, regardless of the details. 

Israel isn’t in the same position as other countries. This is due to a variety of reasons. What is important to understand is that the killing of the journalist was immediately blamed on Israel. Ayman Mohyeldin on MSNBC said “we hear - as we did yet again today - American officials condemn and call for investigation into Israeli abuses. But as history has shown, there is rarely, if ever, any justice for the killing of Palestinians, whether they are American or not.” Mehdi Hasan also noted on MSNBC that "Shireen's producer told Al Jazeera they identified themselves to the Israelis as press & that the Israelis shot at them without asking them to leave or stop filming." 

Both the statements above were retweeted by US member of Congress Ilhan Omar. She noted after the reports of the killing on May 11 that “[abu Akleh] was killed by the Israeli military, after making her presence as a journalist clearly known. We provide Israel with $3.8 billion in military aid annually with no restrictions. What will it take for accountability for these human rights violations?” At the same time, she tweeted a demand for the media to fact-check Israeli claims. This demand for facts alongside assertions that Israel had killed the journalist illustrates the theme. Israel is guilty of the killing, even before basic facts have been determined. When these claims were being made, there was no autopsy or determination of who fired the round that killed Abu Akleh. 

US politician Rashida Tlaib made similar claims. “May Shireen's memory be for a blessing and for truth. May we end US complicity and support for the Israeli government's violent apartheid regime that killed her.” She also retweeted claims that Israel had killed the journalist. “When will the world and those who stand by Apartheid Israel that continues to murder, torture and commit war crimes finally say: ‘Enough’? Shireen Abu Akleh was murdered by a government that receives unconditional funding from our country with zero accountability. An American journalist clearly marked with press credentials was murdered. Doing and saying nothing just enables more killings. Whether you're Palestinian, American, or not, being killed with US funding must stop,” Tlaib wrote. 

Amnesty International’s reaction to the killing was more simple. “End Israel’s apartheid. End Israel’s apartheid. End Israel’s apartheid. End Israel’s apartheid. End Israel’s apartheid. End Israel’s apartheid. End Israel’s apartheid. End Israel’s apartheid,” they tweeted. Without any investigation, they wrote “Israeli authorities must end unlawful killings, willful injury, arbitrary arrests, torture and other ill-treatment, persecution, and collective punishment against Palestinians, including many children. This is the latest incident... Palestinian journalist for Al Jazeera, Shireen Abu Akleh, was shot in the head on 11 May while covering an Israeli military raid on a refugee camp in the city of Jenin, in the northern occupied West Bank.” 

Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota speaks at a news conference at a memorial for Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center, April 20, 2021. (Stephen Maturen/Getty Images) (credit: STEPHEN MATUREN/GETTY IMAGES/JTA)
Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota speaks at a news conference at a memorial for Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center, April 20, 2021. (Stephen Maturen/Getty Images) (credit: STEPHEN MATUREN/GETTY IMAGES/JTA)

While some say they want an international investigation because they don’t trust Israel’s authorities to carry out an investigation, others didn’t even wait for any investigation before accusing Israel and then demanding an end to “apartheid” or support for Israel. This narrative was already set in place before Abu Akleh was killed. She is then placed into the narrative. The narrative is like a train track and it has only one destination which is a desire to blame Israel and heap hatred on Israel, and then any example that fits this is put onto the track. 

The issue here is that Israel has no chance of ever being innocent. It doesn’t matter if there is an international investigation because the guilty verdict has already been handed down. Unlike other countries, Israel doesn’t ever get to make mistakes or even be given the chance to show that it was innocent. Omar and Tlaib and some others who slammed Israel on May 11 are likely aware that the US has carried out drone strikes that killed civilians. In September of 2021, the US apologized for a strike in Afghanistan that killed as many as 10 civilians. Omar Tweeted at the time “Sorry’ isn't enough. Thousands have been killed in covert, unaccountable drone strikes over the past two decades. We should be demanding accountability for anyone involved in this and a full inquiry into this and the entire drone program.” 

The US drone strike took place in August of 2021. In this case, the US had weeks to investigate and determine that a mistake was made. Omar condemned the US but her condemnation was more judicious than her tweets on Israel. She called for those involved to be held accountable. For Israel, it was a claim that the journalist was killed “after making her presence as a journalist clearly known.” Is that what happened? Did we know this happened on May 11, hours after reports of the killing were made public? Omar wants accountability for US military support for Israel. This doesn’t even give Israel the time to investigate. It’s just an open-and-shut case. 

The guilty verdict before any details are known is part of the mantra about Israel and it sets up Israel to be in a very difficult situation. Israel can investigate potential abuses, and Israel has the technology to do investigations. However, there is a sense that while some want answers about the killing, many do not. Many judged Israel anyway. They have opinions that range from claiming Israel “assassinated” the journalist, to claiming that Israel’s “apartheid” must end. It doesn’t matter if Israel wasn’t responsible or if Israel made a mistake, or even if an individual soldier is responsible, it’s just another example to be used to slam Israel.  

It's sometimes difficult to separate the legitimate demands for an investigation from claims that Israel can’t even be trusted to investigate this incident and using the incident to bash Israel. If Israel is put in the position where critics won’t even trust Israel’s own findings on this case and only an “international” investigation can perform the findings, then how will we ever know what happened?

The evidence is already being moved around, the need to protect the scene and do basic forensics is disappearing with time. Lack of cooperation from local Palestinian authorities doesn’t help. An international investigation would take time to assemble. The track record of such investigations is that they are slow. By that time it’s not clear if such a team of investigators could even come to Israel because Israel will naturally not want them to come. Demands for such an investigation put Israel in an impossible spot. If it rejects the “international” investigation it will be seen as covering up details. If it accepts it then it opens the door for more.

Either way, Israel’s current government, which is very different than the last government, has been very forthright with wanting to know the truth. Yet, the anti-Israel critics don’t want to hear anything from this government. In their view, it doesn’t matter if Israel has a centrist or left-leaning government. This impossible situation means Israel is always guilty in the view of some critics. Israel doesn’t need to satisfy those critics, but trying to figure out how to deal with the avalanche of knee-jerk anti-Israel reactions is one of the difficult challenges for Jerusalem. Knowing this bias, it behooves Israel to always be extra careful in confrontations with Palestinians.