US: We don't hold Israel criminally accountable for Abu Akleh's death

Price said that the US had attempted to walk a fine line between ensuring civilian safety and telling the IDF what to do in military operations.

 Palestinians attend a protest demanding US President Joe Biden to achieve justice for Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed during an Israeli raid in Jenin, in Gaza City July 13, 2022 (photo credit: REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA)
Palestinians attend a protest demanding US President Joe Biden to achieve justice for Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed during an Israeli raid in Jenin, in Gaza City July 13, 2022
(photo credit: REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA)

The Biden administration does not consider the IDF to be criminally accountable for the May 11 shooting death of American-Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Tuesday.

“We’ve always been very clear that we’re not looking for criminal accountability,” he said during a briefing with reporters in Washington.

The Biden admiration has accepted the conclusions of both the IDF investigation and its own examination conducted by the US Security Coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority (USSC). Both probes concluded that her death, likely at the hands of an IDF soldier, was “not an intentional, targeted killing.”

"No one knows the IDF’s processes and procedures better than the IDF. And so it is not on us or any other country or entity to say precisely what the IDF or any military or security organization around the world should do."

US State Department spokesman Ned Price

“It is important that countries around the world, including Israel, do everything they can to protect civilian life,” Price said. “And, of course, reporters, journalists are civilians. They should never be targeted. The Israeli report similar to the USSC report found no indication of intentionality.”

It was the conclusion of the US that Abu Akleh’s death “was the tragic result of a gunfight in the context of an Israeli raid in the West Bank,” he said.

The Palestinian response to US findings 

 A Palestinian girl protests in support of slain Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, as US President Joe Biden visits Augusta Victoria Hospital, in Jerusalem (credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD) A Palestinian girl protests in support of slain Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, as US President Joe Biden visits Augusta Victoria Hospital, in Jerusalem (credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)

Abu Akleh’s family has called, without success, for the US to allow an FBI investigation into Shireen’s death, as is done when an American citizen is killed under questionable circumstances. So far, no formal US criminal probe has been conducted.

The USSC review could not be considered a full criminal investigation, the State Department clarified in July.

Abu Akleh, a veteran and popular Al Jazeera correspondent, was shot in the head while walking with other reporters on the sidelines of a firefight between the IDF and armed Palestinians in Jenin. She was wearing a flak jacket and helmet, with a sign that indicated she was a member of the press.

"We are continuing to have conversations with our Israeli partners about the imperative, the importance of protecting civilian life, including, of course, the life of reporters and journalists."

US State Department spokesman Ned Price

A Palestinian Authority investigation concluded that she had been killed by a soldier who deliberately targeted her. The USSC review and the IDF probe concluded that Abu Akleh was likely killed by a soldier and that, if so, the shooting was accidental.

Price indicated in his briefing that the US had not accepted the PA’s conclusion even though it had reviewed the material.

What does Price mean by asking Israel to take accountability?

When the US speaks of Israeli accountability in Abu Akleh’s death, it has focused on the army’s operational procedures for protecting civilians and journalists in situations of violence, he said.

“When we talk about accountability in this case, we want to see everything – steps put in place to see to it that the possibility that something like this could happen again is profoundly mitigated,” Price said.

“We are continuing to have conversations with our Israeli partners about the imperative, the importance of protecting civilian life, including, of course, the life of reporters and journalists,” he said.

Tension has risen between Israel and the Biden administration over this issue, with Jerusalem concerned that the US is interfering in its war against Palestinian terrorism.

Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf said at a briefing: “The security conditions on the West Bank do concern us greatly, but they also concern Israel, and they also concern the Palestinian Authority. Our part in this is to ensure that to the greatest degree possible, security cooperation is robust and continuing, but that other things are done around and outside that security cooperation that sustain it.”

“I had a mix of discussions that also went very directly to the economic conditions on the West Bank and Gaza, because those can help and sustain improvement in security conditions,” she said. “We have a three-star general out there leading the US Security Cooperation Office, which helps as well in an ongoing way in ensuring cooperation, training and capacity-building supports efforts on the West Bank and Gaza. But, yes, I am concerned.”

Price said the US had attempted to walk a fine line between ensuring civilian safety and telling the IDF what to do in military operations.

“We haven’t been prescriptive,” he said. “No one knows the IDF’s processes and procedures better than the IDF. And so it is not on us or any other country or entity to say precisely what the IDF or any military or security organization around the world should do.”

“It is undeniably true that Israel faces a profound threat. It is a threat that emanates not only from Hamas in Gaza, but it is a threat that emanates from terrorist groups but also lone actors, including lone actors who have recently committed horrific acts of terrorism and violence, actors who emanated from the West Bank. So there is no denying the security threat that Israel faces,” Price said. 

Barbara Leaf, the assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, said on Wednesday that the security “the security conditions on the West Bank do concern us greatly, but they also concern Israel and they also concern the Palestinian Authority.”

“Our part in this is to ensure that to the greatest degree possible, security cooperation is robust and continuing, but those other things are done around and outside that security cooperation that sustains it,” she said in a press briefing. “I had a mix of discussions that also went very directly to the economic conditions on the West Bank and Gaza, because those can help and sustain improvement in security conditions,” said Leaf. “We have a three-star general out there leading the US Security Cooperation Office, which helps as well in an ongoing way in ensuring that that cooperation, training and capacity building supports efforts on the West Bank and Gaza. But, yes, I am concerned.”