The United States is opposed to the International Criminal Court's proceedings against Israel, State Department Spokesman Ned Price said after Al Jazeera filed a legal brief asking the Hague to include the shooting death of its veteran Palestinian-American correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh within its larger investigation against the Jewish state.
“When it comes to the ICC, we maintain our longstanding objections to the ICC’s investigation into the Palestinian situation,” Price said told reporters in Washington in response to a direct question about Shireen’s death.
The US holds that the “ICC should focus on its core mission, and that core mission of serving as a court of last resort in punishing and deterring atrocity crimes,” he said.
Shireen was shot to death on May 11 while covering an IDF raid on a refugee camp on the outskirts of the Palestinian West Bank city of Jenin. Al Jazeera, Shireen’s family and the Palestinian Authority have accused the IDF of intentionally targeting Shireen.
Israel and the Biden administration have rejected that conclusion and contended that Shireen had been accidentally killed by an IDF soldier but that available evidence made it impossible to draw definitive conclusions. Israel has said she was killed during a firefight between IDF soldiers and Palestinian gunmen.
In its legal submission to the ICC at the Hague, Al Jazeera submitted new evidence to substantiate that claim.
“There can be no reason now, we say, not to take the next step which is to investigate, find the persons responsible and charge them,” Al Jazeera’s attorney Rodney Dixon told reporters on Tuesday after filing a legal brief to the court.
Considering 'command responsibility'
He asked the ICC to take into account the doctrine under international law of “command responsibility” under which those in charge could be held accountable as though they had “pulled the trigger” themselves, alongside those directly involved, Dixon said.
“At the very least those in command should be held responsible because they have said that there is no suspicion here of any crime, so there has been a complete cover-up,” Dixon explained.
He did not target any individual in his comment, but it could include Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Prime Minister Yair Lapid and his predecessor Naftali Bennett.
The US Federal Bureau of Investigation’s decision to probe Shireen’s death, a move that is standard when American citizens are killed overseas, has no bearing on Al Jazeera’s decision to turn to the ICC, he explained.
"The ICC should be investigating alongside other states," Dixon said adding that the two bodies can share evidence. "There is no reason not to take this forward because of the FBI investigation," he added.
But Al Jazeera's submission to the ICC is not limited to Abu Akleh's death but takes into account prior attacks against the news agency and its reporters, including bombing its headquarters in Gaza, Dixon explained.
“The case which we presented is one that shows a wider attack on Al Jazeera over a prolonged period of time, which has now escalated to the direct taking of life,” Dixon said.
“There is a clear attempt to shut it down and silence it in Palestine to prevent the truth and the information that the public wants,” he stated.
Shireen’s niece Lina said that half a year after her aunt’s death, the family still does not know who pulled the trigger and who was involved in the chain of command.
"Israeli soldiers are almost never held accountable for their war crimes," she said, adding that it is past time for justice for Shireen.
Al Jazeera adds to ICC investigation
Al Jazeera made its submission to the ICC at a time when the court is investigating whether there is enough evidence to justify lawsuits to be filed against individual Israelis at The Hague. The Al Jazeera submission can only move forward if the ICC publishes an affirmative answer to that question.
Lapid said that there was no room for ICC involvement in the case.
“No one will investigate IDF soldiers and no one will preach to us about morals in warfare, certainly not Al Jazeera,” he said.
In Washington on Tuesday, Price said that the Biden administration has offered its condolences to the family both in person and in public.
“She was a US citizen. She was an intrepid reporter. Her journalism was known to audiences around the world. She was known to people in this building and to our officials in the region as well.
We’ve had a number of conversations with her family, with other stakeholders as well. We’ve also spoken at some length, regarding the circumstances of her killing," Price said.