The family of slain Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh failed to secure a United States pledge to launch a criminal probe into her death, nor were they able to meet with US President Joe Biden during the week they spent advocating on her behalf in Washington, DC.
“The Biden administration, beyond expressions of sympathy and sadness, did little to press for justice for a journalist – and a US citizen,” her niece Lina tweeted on Friday.
Abu Akleh’s brother Tony, along with her niece Lina and nephew Victor, spent the week in the country’s capital, where they met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken as well as Congressional members.
Shireen, a veteran Al Jazeera journalist, was killed on May 11 while covering an IDF raid on a Jenin refugee camp. The Palestinian Authority and her family have accused IDF soldiers of deliberately targeting her.
The IDF has not been able to determine if Shireen was killed by an IDF or a Palestinian gunman and its investigation is still ongoing.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Saturday told Blinken during their phone conversation that the IDF is working to complete its investigation into Abu Akleh's death and said that Israel would share the probe's conclusions with the United States.
On Wednesday, six Democratic senators from the Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations said they included language in their committee’s report to Congress requiring Blinken to take steps to facilitate an independent investigation.
“Our report language requires the Secretary of State to submit a report to Congress on steps taken to support such an investigation and provide further details on the findings,” the six senators said when they announced the initiative led by Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont).
Bills to Congress
During a press conference with the family on Thursday, Rep. Andre Carson (D-Indiana) said he was submitting the Justice for Shireen Act to Congress. This, he explained is a standalone bill that would require a report on her death by the State Department and the FBI in consultation with the Department of Defense and the National Director of Intelligence.
“I urge my colleagues to see this as a free press issue. To put aside Israel and Palestine politics and see this for what it is; an attack on independent reporting and the killing of our citizen,” Carson said.
In light of increasing attacks on journalists, he explained, he was separately introducing the Justice for Journalists Act. This, he said, would “require relevant agencies to report on the death of all American Journalists killed in the line of duty. This fight for answers is unacceptable. Everyone deserves Justice, including Shireen.”
"I urge my colleagues to see this as a free press issue. To put aside Israel and Palestine politics and see this for what it is: an attack on independent reporting and the killing of our citizens."Representative André Carson
He recalled that 81 members of Congress had already signed a letter calling for a US-led criminal investigation.
Investigation was inconclusive
In late June and early July, the US reviewed material from investigations done by both the IDF and the Palestinians. A US ballistic test of the bullet was inconclusive, and the Biden administration concluded that Shireen was likely killed by accidental gunfire from an IDF position in Jenin.
The State Department, however, has said that its efforts did not amount to a criminal investigation.
At Thursday’s press conference, Shireen’s niece Lina said, “We are a family in mourning. Shireen’s killing devastated us. We should not have to fight for justice. We will pursue accountability wherever it takes us.”
She added, “Any family of a US citizen who is killed abroad expects their government to put its resources behind an investigation. This is the very least the Biden administration must do.”
"We are a family in mourning. Shireen's killing devastated us. We should not have to fight for justice. We will pursue accountability wherever it takes us."Shireen's niece Lina
Tony Abu Akleh said he was disappointed that Biden did not meet with them, including when the president visited Jerusalem earlier in the month, particularly because his sister was a beloved and prominent journalist.
“President Biden was 10 minutes away. He never came to see us, so we had to come here to Washington,” he said.They had met with more than a dozen members of Congress, but Biden “still has not agreed to meet with us,” Tony said.
The family had wanted Biden to “hear from us directly so he can understand the pain that our family and too many other Palestinians have endured,” Tony said. “[Biden] has the power to make sure that this does not happen again.”