The military must fully investigate the death of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed during a firefight in Jenin earlier this month, IDF Military Advocate-General Brig.-Gen. Yifat Tomer-Yerushalmi said Monday.
The IDF is “making every effort” to investigate the circumstances that led to her death and to understand how she was killed, she said at the Israel Bar Association annual conference in Eilat.
Investigating the bullet
But the Palestinians’ refusal to allow Israel access to the bullet that killed her “leaves doubt regarding the circumstances of her death,” Tomer-Yerushalmi said.
“Despite the challenge, the IDF continues to investigate and understand the incident in-depth,” she said.
The fog of war does not relieve us of the duty to strive for the truth and act to clarify any doubt.IDF’s Military Advocate General Brig.-Gen. Yifat Tomer-Yerushalmi
“This is due to our and the IDF commanders’ understanding of the importance of striving to remove any doubt and also out of a commitment to preserving freedom of the press and preventing harm to journalists,” she said.
The death of Abu Akleh
Abu Akleh, 51, from Beit Hanina in northeastern Jerusalem, was shot in the head while covering an IDF raid on May 11.
The IDF said it had entered the Jenin refugee camp on the outskirts of Burkin to detain terrorist suspects and was met by “widespread and uncontrolled gunfire” and improvised explosive devices. Abu Akleh was killed toward the end of the raid.
The IDF has reportedly identified the rifle that may have fired the bullet that hit Abu Akleh, the Associated Press reported. But according to Tomer-Yerushalmi, “At this point, it is not clear from which side the bullet that hit the journalist was fired.”
An investigation into the incident is being led by the head of the Commando Brigade, Col. Meni Liberty. The IDF said last week it would not open a criminal investigation into the incident.
Opening a criminal investigation
Opening a criminal investigation is warranted only when there is suspicion of a criminal offense, but “during intense combat activity like in Jenin, the death of an individual in and of itself does not automatically raise such suspicion,” Tomer-Yerushalmi said.
In accordance with policy, a decision to open such an investigation will be made only after the end of the military inquiry, “taking into account all of its findings and the entirety of the information regarding the incident,” she said.
All Palestinian witnesses, including the other journalists who were with Abu Akleh, have denied that there were gunmen in the vicinity and have blamed soldiers for shooting her.
Abu Akleh’s death sparked international outrage against Israel and the IDF.
Several hours after Tomer-Yerushalmi spoke, Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki said the PA had reported her death to the International Criminal Court’s Office of the Prosecutor over the weekend.