Without provocation, Shireen Abu Akleh, an American Palestinian journalist, was gunned down by an Israeli soldier or sniper in the early hours of May 11 near the Jenin refugee camp. Eyewitnesses and video footage clearly confirm that at the time of her killing there was no exchange of fire with Palestinians.
Human rights groups and investigative journalists with leading international media outlets, including The Washington Post, CNN and The New York Times, have proven without a shadow of a doubt that Abu Akleh was killed by the Israelis, yet they are not being held accountable. Why? What have Israeli authorities done to allow them to avoid international accountability?
The answer is complex but it boils down to two basic reasons: A speedy and effective disinformation campaign and the help of enablers from the media, politics and world governments.
Within minutes of an Israeli soldier’s fatally shooting an accredited professional journalist, the Israelis were able to put out video footage that contributed to allowing Israel to get away with murder. This lone, unrelated video muddied the waters surrounding the discussion and introduced enough doubt to help Israel avoid scrutiny of its obvious crime.
By being proactive and filling the airwaves and social media with this video, Israeli authorities were able to take control of a fabricated narrative that allowed people to suspect that maybe Abu Akleh was killed by a stray Palestinian bullet.
The bullet issue was yet another effort by Israel to claim that the Palestinians were possibly hiding something. Efforts by the Palestinians to demand an independent inquiry were derailed by the single topic of an Israeli demand to see the bullet that killed Abu Akleh. And when, under pressure and a promise of neutrality, the US was allowed to see the bullet, the Americans flipped and enabled the Israelis to muddy the waters by keeping the flame of doubt alive.
Not only does Israel proactively push disinformation and use enablers to defend itself but it also brilliantly, though crudely, sells the world its supposed high moral authority and righteous indignation — unlike the Palestinians, who often celebrate their acts of resistance.
Even though they killed Abu Akleh, and their police interrupted her funeral, Israeli authorities have been careful to speak softly in the media, expressing sorrow for her death and appearing to seek the truth about what happened, even though they knew that truth from the very moment she was shot.
The Abu Akleh case will continue to haunt Israeli authorities until they come clean and tell the world who among its soldiers shot her.
Israeli soldiers are known to be highly disciplined and it is rare that a soldier randomly fires a fatal shot, yet the Israelis have been able to continue to claim that the case was “misfortunate” and that they would continue to seek the truth.
Benny Gantz, the Israeli defense minister, tweeted and stated his sorrow over the journalist’s death and insisted that the Israeli army “holds itself to the highest standards” and would continue to investigate Abu Akleh’s killing. He was quoted in The New York Times as saying that “the professional and moral truth is inseparable from our national resilience; the defense establishment is committed to uncovering the truth.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. The New York Times itself had concluded that Israel was responsible for Abu Akleh’s death yet published Gantz’s statement without any qualifiers.
The Israeli army itself had officially announced that it would not investigate the case and even provided a totally unacceptable reason for that decision, namely that the “Israeli Military Police Criminal Investigation Division believes that an investigation that treats Israeli soldiers as suspects will lead to opposition within Israeli society.”
While the Israeli disinformation and the false claims of righteous indignation might have an effect, they have not completely drowned out the voices of those seeking the truth, including members of the US Congress, Abu Akleh’s family, and people of goodwill around the world.
Abu Akleh is not the first journalist or civilian to be killed by Israeli occupation soldiers who are treated with impunity. The case is also not the first in which Israeli officials have fabricated counternarratives and spun alternative “facts” to hide the truth.
Mohammed El-Halabi is still in jail six years after being falsely accused of diverting $50 million from a US Christian charity, in another stark case of lies and fabrications and the use of secret information to incriminate an innocent Palestinian, and humanitarian, for political reasons.
The Israeli designation last year of six Palestinian human rights organizations as “terrorist” organizations is another clear case of such lies and disinformation.
But despite the smooth and proactive nature of Israeli spin, the world is slowly but surely starting to see through it. The EU, for example, ignored the Israeli claims and has agreed to continue funding Palestinian human rights organizations. Chris Van Hollen, a US senator from Maryland, has not accepted the US-Israeli obfuscation and justifications and has insisted on a genuine and thorough independent inquiry into the killing of Abu Akleh.
The Abu Akleh case will continue to haunt Israeli authorities until they come clean and tell the world who among its soldiers shot her, why she was shot, who ordered the shooting and, most importantly, confirm that both the shooter and the officer who ordered the shooting will be thoroughly investigated, held accountable and face a punishment that fits the crime.
• Daoud Kuttab is an award-winning Palestinian journalist from Jerusalem.