The Killing of Shireen Abu Akleh

28 May

[Prefatory Note: The Collaborative article below was published in Foreign Policy in Focus on May 23, 2022. The Killing of Shireen Abu Akleh sent shock waves throughout the Middle East as she was known and respected as a trusted journalist. We keep waiting for a ‘Sharpville Moment’ with respect to Palestine and Israeli impunity. When will it come?]


If our tax dollars are furnishing the weapons that kill journalists and other innocents, that’s not just an international crime — it’s against U.S. law, too.

By Phyllis BennisRichard Falk |

Shireen Abu Akleh was a seasoned al-Jazeera correspondent for the past 25 years. She was known and respected throughout the Arab world for her brave, honest reporting of the Palestinian struggle.

On May 11, she was shot and killed while covering an Israeli raid on the Palestinian refugee camp outside Jenin.

Abu Akleh’s killing in the Israeli-occupied West Bank was shocking, but hardly unusual. According to the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, she was the 86th journalist to be killed while covering Israeli oppression since Israel first occupied the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem in 1967.

But her killing is part of a longer pattern of Israeli violence and collective punishment — not just against journalists but against all Palestinians — committed with impunity and rationalized by trumped up “security” concerns.

The depth of this abuse was again made shockingly visible after the killing itself, when Israeli police attacked the funeral procession carrying Shireen’s body to the church. They threw Palestinian flags to the ground and violently beat mourners — including the pallbearers, who nearly dropped the casket.

The killing of Shireen and the assault on the funeral procession demonstrated once again the structural nature of Israeli racism and violence against Palestinians. As Amnesty International describes it, Israel’s “regular violations of Palestinians’ rights are not accidental repetitions of offenses, but part of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination.”

There’s no serious question that Abu Akleh was deliberately killed by an Israeli sniper. She was wearing a helmet and a blue protective vest marked “PRESS” and surrounded by other journalists when the group was fired on. She was shot in the head and killed. Another Palestinian journalist was shot and seriously injured.

As so often happens, Israeli officials immediately tried to blame the Palestinians. Israeli officials from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on down made unconvincing claims that Palestinian gunmen were responsible for the killing. Within hours, fieldworkers for the Israeli human rights organization B’tselem easily refuted the Israeli claims.

By the time Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin met with his Israeli counterpart Benny Gantz on May 17, Tel Aviv had largely pulled back from its claims of Palestinian culpability. The Israeli press claimedthat Gantz had indicated Israel welcomed an investigation of Shireen’s killing.

But that claim (unmentioned in the Pentagon’s read-out of the meeting) flew in the face of reports that Israel had already decided it would not investigate, because questioning Israeli soldiers as potential suspects “would provoke opposition and controversy within the IDF and in Israeli society in general.”

Such a pattern of denial is but one aspect of a broader pattern of oppression that is much more pervasive.

Israel itself makes no secret of this. The country’s own Basic Law of 2018 explicitly gives only Jewish citizens of Israel, not Palestinian citizens, the right of self-determination.

Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, along with B’tselem, have concluded that this pattern constitutes the crime of apartheid. This international crime, and its associated human rights violations and war crimes, has continued for decades while political, diplomatic, economic, and military support from the United States goes forward unconditionally.

Washington sends more than $3.8 billion every year directly to the Israeli military, most of it used to purchase U.S.-made weapons systems, ammunition, and more. This makes the U.S. complicit in Israel’s criminal wrongdoing.

So what needs to happen now?

International engagement is crucial. The International Criminal Court has the authority to add the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh and attacks on Palestinian journalists to its existing investigations of alleged Israeli crimes. A variety of UN bodies could also respond by issuing reports that offer policy recommendations.

Calls for an independent, credible investigation need to include a focus on United States responsibility.

Biden administration officials and some members of Congress have called for an investigation of Abu Akleh’s killing. That’s welcome, but hardly sufficient. Israel has a long history of conducting its own investigations, and virtually all result in impunity for Israeli military forces. High-ranking military officials and political decision makers are never even scrutinized.

We in the United States should insist on more.

Why? Above all, because our own tax dollars pay for 20 percent of Israel’s entire military budget. The bullet or the gun used to kill Shireen could have even been purchased from U.S. weapons manufacturers with our own money.

If that’s the case, we need to know — because U.S. laws prohibit it.

The Leahy Law’s restrictions on military aid is unequivocal: “No assistance shall be furnished,” it says, “to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.”

Credible information, including from Israel’s leading human rights organization and five respected journalists standing with Shireen Abu Akleh when she was killed, indicates she was shot in cold blood. If that isn’t sufficient, the State Department should propose an independent, UN-based fact-finding team to prepare a report.

Militarism is on the rise, both in the U.S. and around the world. Maybe the brutal killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, a U.S. citizen as well as a proud Palestinian born in Jerusalem — and the police attack on mourners grieving her death — will provide an impetus toward rethinking Washington’s unconditional support of Israeli lawlessness.

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9 Responses to “The Killing of Shireen Abu Akleh”

  1. matssvensson May 28, 2022 at 10:50 am #

    Dear Richard,
    I just want to tell you that I loved your article. One of the most important ever. Thanks.

    Sent from my iPhone

    • Richard Falk May 30, 2022 at 3:56 pm #

      Mats: Hope you doing well in these times of peril. Your affirming words greatly appreciated, especially considering their source! Warm greetings, Richard

  2. Beau Oolayforos May 28, 2022 at 12:14 pm #

    Shireen isn’t the first, and almost certainly won’t be the last unarmed person to be shot in the head, in cold blood, by an Israeli sniper, with the help and support of the US government. Where are our budget hawks, our taxpayer revolts now? Do we have to PAY, to have innocent blood smeared on our hands? Is gun violence now one of America’s chief exports??

  3. Paul Wapner May 28, 2022 at 1:49 pm #

    Thank you for this amazingly succinct, clear-headed (and clear-hearted) piece. The killing provides yet another window into Israeli systematic injustice. Your ability, as well as Phyllis’s, to look soberly at the ongoing horror year after year and continue to work for Palestinian justice is deeply moving.

  4. roberthstiver May 28, 2022 at 7:29 pm #

    A essential, superlative overview of the facts and tragedy surrounding Shireen Abu Akleh’s sniper-assassination, Professor Falk and Ms Bennis. Zionist Israel — which just days ago assassinated an Iranian military officer in Tehran in front of his home to add to the drumbeat — continues to operate with disdain, arrogance, and accustomed impunity. Thus — however — I can only be cynical WRT to the final sentence above “Maybe….” Surely that is a naive and improbable “maybe” that, in the end, surrounds the international people’s frustration with the premises that justice be must served impartially, that evil must not be rewarded ad infinitum, that this matrix, this agenda, of Zionist settler-colonial-apartheid must be put paid to…all against the backdrop of such intense and vindictive persecution-cum-genocide perpetrated on the victimized, tormented peoples of Palestine. “Maybe” is not about to eventuate…and the US and Israel are hellbent on proving the point.

    Viva Palestine!

    • Richard Falk May 30, 2022 at 8:11 am #

      Bob: As ever, you are generous in your praise and perceptive in your criticism. Our ‘maybe’ a futile cry in the wilderness of ‘power politics.’ Warm greetings, Richard

  5. Kata Fisher May 30, 2022 at 9:21 pm # I did find out about this, and I do find out about this – and what do they think that this is – in the contemporary religious context? Carlo Maria Vigano has a legit accusations against someone and their ecclesiastical hate and hate crimes. Get what he said, and get it very well. NATO – I say NATO: the whore of the Babylon! Professor Falk – women should only say “‘Bismillah’ and it shall be gone.” It will not be gone, unless it will be made to be gone. Thanks, K,F.

  6. asmee June 1, 2022 at 6:04 pm #

    Prof. Richard Falk:

    The Iran fifth column has gone too far and openly are attacking whoever criticize the illegal and brutal US sanction on Iranian people.
    One of these petty fifth column agent is Mansour Farhang that I think is your ‘friend’, Hed like Payam Akhavan, is a zionist criminal propagandist. Farhang goes to ‘Iran International’ an Saudi outlet, I guess for few $$, and spread propaganda against Iran. He does not mind who is the funder, Mohammad Bin Salman, a butcher, but while he is killing MBS behind, he gets his money and forget who is he, but using the platform that a terrorist has provided attacking Iranian government. We spit at these traitors.
    Ms Alena Douhan as Un special rapporteur visited Iran and told the world how these illegal sanctions has negatively affected the whole population and the economy. The zionist behind kisser Mansour Farhang has attacked this lady for not attacking the Iranian government. Please read his stupid essay using google translation by clicking on right side of the mouse in border area of the page and hit “translate to English”.

    M. Farhang, the fifth column, says the following in this essay:

    In the last two decades, Iran has rejected the request of three Special Rapporteurs of the Human Rights Council (Asma Jahangir, Javid Rahman and Ahmad Shahid) and claims that their mission is a conspiracy of the US and Israeli security agencies.

    Iran absolutely is right. Ahmad Shahid is a petty agent and servant of the Israel lobby. Please view the following link to know who is he. Mark Dubowitz, a zionist pro Israel promotes him and he is connected to Greenblatt, a terrorist from ADL.

    Alena Douhan, who visited Iran on May 7, said that the unilateral sanctions imposed mostly by the United States have reduced the quality of life of the Iranian people, especially the low-income class.

    The UN special rapporteur began her presser by explaining her observations, and then went on to recommend some points.
    “I met with a number of civil society members, representatives of financial centers, (and) diplomatic community,” she said.
    “Iran have been subjected to unilateral sanctions for a long time. The U.S. has imposed economic and trade sanctions on Iran from 1970s. These expanded in 2000s. The U.S. sanctions now consists Iran’s central bank,” she added. She then highlighted that despite the conclusion of the JCPOA, which is endorsed by the UN Security Council Resolution 2231 in 2015, the U.S. still bans trade and investment in Iran and this is illegal.
    “Most foreign international companies have left Iran,” Douhan added, noting that based on her observations, Iran’s frozen assets are estimated at $120 billion.
    “Canada imposed sanctions on key Iranian individuals and has listed 200 entities on sanctions list. Statistics show that the unilateral sanctions have had drastic impact on the status of Iran,” the UN Special Rapporteur added.
    “I need to mention that the sanctions have affected academic and sports situation, as well as the low-income sector of Iran,” she explained. She then told reporters that she will address her concerns about the illegality of sanctions in her final report.
    “Applying extraterritorial sanctions on Iranian companies or companies working with Iran or pay Iran in U.S. dollars is illegal under international law,” the special rapporteur noted.
    According to Douhan, sanctions have affected the whole scope of Iranian people’s lives.
    She added, “The whole scope of unilateral and secondary sanctions as well as over-compliance has urged Iranian organizations to seek alternative solutions.”

    • Richard Falk June 4, 2022 at 5:51 am #

      I appreciate your comment, oppose sanctions, and the hostile propaganda, as well as failure to adhere to the recommendations of the HRC SRs. I have not been in touch with
      Mansour Farhang for many years. We were friends, but I do not share his political behavior that you describe. I will read more carefully the helpful article for which you sent a link. It is important that your views gain attention. My best wishes.

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