US: Killing of Al Jazeera journalist is affront to media freedom

"There is a good chance that armed Palestinians, who fired widely, are the ones who led to the unfortunate death of the journalist," said Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

 picture of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed by Israeli army gunfire during an Israeli raid, according to the Qatar-based news channel, is displayed in Al-Jazeera headquarter building in Doha, Qatar, May 11, 2022. (photo credit: REUTERS/IMAD CREIDI)
picture of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed by Israeli army gunfire during an Israeli raid, according to the Qatar-based news channel, is displayed in Al-Jazeera headquarter building in Doha, Qatar, May 11, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/IMAD CREIDI)

The United States sharply condemned the killing of veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh on Wednesday, calling her death “an affront to media freedom everywhere.”

US State Department spokesman Ned Price tweeted that the US is “heartbroken by and strongly condemns the killing of American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in the West Bank. The investigation must be immediate and thorough and those responsible must be held accountable.”

Abu Akleh was killed while covering an IDF operation in Jenin early in the day that involved an exchange of fire with Palestinian gunmen.

The IDF and the Palestinian Authority have launched investigations into her death. In advance of a more in-depth probe, Israel blamed Palestinian gunmen while the PA said it held Israel accountable.

Abu Akleh’s death comes in the midst of a dispute between Israel and the US over West Bank settlement activity and other issues regarding Jerusalem.

 Mourners carry the body of veteran Al Jazeera Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh, who was killed during clashes between Palestinian gunmen and IDF troops in Jenin on May 11, 2022. (credit: JAAFAR ASHTIYEH/AFP via Getty Images) Mourners carry the body of veteran Al Jazeera Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh, who was killed during clashes between Palestinian gunmen and IDF troops in Jenin on May 11, 2022. (credit: JAAFAR ASHTIYEH/AFP via Getty Images)

srael scrambled to contain a spiraling public relations crisis over Abu Akleh’s death, akin to the incident during the 2021 Gaza War in which Israel bombed a building that housed the Associated Press.

Abu Akleh, a Palestinian resident of east Jerusalem, received immediate public support both on the Arab street and on social media, where she was heralded as a symbol of the need for press freedom and a victim of Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank.

The European Union and the UN called for an investigation and spoke out in support of media freedom.

“It is unacceptable to target journalists while they perform their job,” the EU stated. “Journalists covering conflict situations must be ensured safety and protection at all times. Just days after World Press Freedom Day, the European Union recalls the crucial role played by journalists, media workers and free and independent media."

Defense Minister Benny Gantz told the Knesset that Israel has sent messages to its allies and countries that it does not have relations with, including Qatar, where Al Jazeera is headquartered, to explain that it is highly likely that Abu Akleh was killed by Palestinian gunmen.

The results of Israel’s investigation will be sent “in a clear and transparent manner to our American friends, as well as to the PA,” Gantz said.

Gantz and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid both said they have reached out to the PA with a request that a joint Israeli-Palestinian autopsy would be held to determine whether she was killed by a Palestinian or IDF bullet. One of the messages, Gantz said, was sent to PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Gantz told the Knesset that the PA had refused to their request.

“To uncover the truth, there must be a real investigation, and the Palestinians are currently preventing that,” Bennet said. “Without a serious investigation, we will not reach the truth.”

Hussein al-Sheikh, a senior PA minister, denied that Israel had requested a joint autopsy.

“We hold the occupation government [Israel] responsible for the assassination of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh,” al-Sheikh tweeted. We deny what the PM of the occupation government announced that they were turning to the #PA to [jointly] conduct an investigation into her assassination.”

He added that the PA plans to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court.

 Joint LIst MKs Ayman Odeh, Aida Touma-Sliman and Ofer Cassif visit the family of killed journalist  Shireen Abu Akleh on May 11, 2022.  (credit: JOINT LIST SPOKESPERSON'S OFFICE) Joint LIst MKs Ayman Odeh, Aida Touma-Sliman and Ofer Cassif visit the family of killed journalist Shireen Abu Akleh on May 11, 2022. (credit: JOINT LIST SPOKESPERSON'S OFFICE)

PA Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh tweeted that “Abu Akleh contributed to forming the memory of an entire generation [and] telling the Palestinian story to the world. Shireen was killed by the Israeli occupation while documenting their horrific crimes against our people.”

Abbas offered his condolences in a phone call with the bureau chief of Al Jazeera in Ramallah, saying that Palestine has lost “one of the knights of truth.”

Abu Akleh’s death generated a heated political debate including in the Knesset Law Committee, which met on Wednesday morning.

“I cannot help but relate to the incident in these circumstances,” Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar said at the meeting.“Every person’s death is tragic. The facts are that there was an operation by the security forces to arrest suspects in the Jenin terrorist [refugee] camp and other locations in the region. I am reminding [you] that a number of murderers who killed Israeli citizens came from Jenin, and the activity there is essential. The specific incident involved massive firing and explosives. Thank God there were no casualties to our forces."

Read more on the death of journalist Shireen Abu Aqla in Jenin:

“The Palestinians, as usual, hurried to launch a blood libel against the IDF, exactly 20 years after the previous blood libel following IDF activity in Operation Defensive Shield in the Jenin refugee camp, an event I am well aware of.“According to our defense establishment, there are indications that the journalist was hit by Palestinian gunfire and not the IDF. The Palestinians refused Israel’s offer for a joint investigation. One has to wonder why. I think they refused because they have no interest in revealing the truth.”

Joint List MK Osama Saadi said in response: “There are seven testimonies of reporters in the field; instead of saying that you condemn and apologize for the murder, you call it a blood libel. This isn’t just a death, it is murder and execution of a prominent journalist.”

Other Arab-Israeli MKs also condemned Abu Akleh’s death.

“Shireen was Al Jazeera’s face in the Arab world, a model of a brave journalist,” Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi wrote on Twitter.

“There is no justification in the world for lethal shooting at her or at journalists wherever they are. Once again, the army soldiers are harming journalists and their important work, and their presence on the ground is not taken into account. The regular statement that ‘the army is investigating the incident’ is provocative, false and especially outrageous on this difficult morning. Shooting, lying and covering up – we already know this mechanism too well.”

Abu Akleh is the second Palestinian with US citizenship to have been killed this year in a situation where the IDF was present. In January, Omar As’ad, 78, died of a heart attack after he had been briefly detained by the IDF in the West Bank.