‘Gantz: US shouldn’t doubt Israel’s transparency on Abu Akleh probe’

The US observed and took part in the Israeli investigation and was exposed to its details, a source with knowledge of the matter pointed out.

 Shireen Abu Akleh (photo credit: AL JAZEERA)
Shireen Abu Akleh
(photo credit: AL JAZEERA)

No foreign body will investigate the IDF, a moral army, outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid said Tuesday in the Knesset, after the US Department of Justice informed Israel of plans for an FBI probe into the killing of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

“The IDF is a moral army with values,” Lapid said. “The IDF and its soldiers defend Israel and are questioned after every unusual event and are committed to the values of democracy and its laws.”

“IDF soldiers will not be investigated by the FBI nor by any foreign body or state, friendly as it may be,” he said. “We will not abandon IDF soldiers to foreign investigations, and we expressed our strong protest to the Americans at the appropriate levels.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz told American interlocutors in recent days that, while he was not diminishing the tragedy of a journalist being killed on the job, Israel would not stand for the US calling into question the professionalism and transparency of the Defense Ministry and the IDF.

The US observed and took part in the Israeli investigation and was exposed to its details, a source with knowledge of the matter said.

At the same time, the US has yet to be transparent about its investigation plans, not giving Israel any details, multiple Israeli government sources said Tuesday.

The Defense Ministry said it stood behind its refusal to cooperate with the inquiry regardless of what its parameters turn out to be. Israeli cooperation with an FBI probe is a nonstarter, according to the source, because it is casting aspersions on the IDF by its existence.

 Defense Minister Benny Gantz attends a Blue and White party meeting in the Knesset last month. (credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS) Defense Minister Benny Gantz attends a Blue and White party meeting in the Knesset last month. (credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)

When did Washington inform Israel about this plan?

Washington informed Jerusalem of the planned investigation days before it was made official, and it did not include any details of the scope of the inquiry, multiple Israeli sources said, such as what crime they are investigating, murder or manslaughter, why it is in their jurisdiction, who they plan to question and how they will gain access to them if Israel is not cooperating.

“I have delivered a message to US representatives that we stand by the IDF’s soldiers, and that we will not cooperate with an external investigation.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz

The US Department of Justice informed the Israeli Justice Ministry this week that it would be investigating the killing of the Al Jazeera journalist, who is a US citizen, in Jenin in May. An IDF probe, which delayed because the Palestinian Authority refused to hand over the bullet that killed Abu Akleh, concluded in September that she was likely unintentionally shot by an Israeli soldier in an exchange of fire with Palestinian terrorists, but that there was no conclusive evidence. The PA and Abu Akleh’s family, however, accused the IDF of killing her deliberately, and her family lobbied the US to open an investigation.

In a public statement on Monday, Gantz said the investigation was “a serious mistake.”

“The IDF has conducted a professional, independent investigation, which was presented to American officials with whom the case details were shared,” he said. “I have delivered a message to US representatives that we stand by the IDF’s soldiers and that we will not cooperate with an external investigation.”

The Abu Akleh family released a statement that said they were “encouraged” by the opening of an investigation.

“We hope that the United States will use all of the investigative tools at its disposal to get answers about Shireen’s killing and hold those who are responsible for this atrocity accountable,” they said.

US Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) tweeted: “The FBI opening an investigation is the first step towards real accountability for Shireen’s assassination and it is long overdue. Unsurprisingly, the Israeli government is already refusing to cooperate... I urge the FBI and the Justice Department to take every step possible to ensure that this investigation is conducted in a transparent, credible, and unbiased manner.”

The PA welcomed the decision to open the investigation.

PA presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said the decision constitutes “further evidence of the lack of credibility of the occupation authorities’ account of all cases of deliberate killings carried out by their forces against our people.”

He called for holding accountable those responsible for the killing of Abu Akleh.

Abu Rudeineh denounced the Israeli reaction to the decision, saying the Israeli policy defies international law through its disregard for international and UN resolutions and its refusal to comply with them.

The PA Ministry of Foreign Affairs also welcomed the US decision and said the Palestinians were ready to cooperate with an investigation into the case of Abu Akleh and other Palestinians allegedly killed by Israeli security forces. The US investigation was needed because of Israel’s attempts to “obliterate” the case, it said.

“The Palestinians are ready to cooperate with any international or US investigations into the execution of the martyr Abu Akleh and other victims of extrajudicial killings,” it added.