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Israel’s “Self-Investigations” Are Not Enough

Israel's "Self-Investigations" Are Not Enough

Shireen Abu Akleh, a well-regarded Palestinian journalist, has become the next martyr in the Israel-Palestine Conflict. On May 11, she stood with her colleagues in the occupied West Bank. While wearing her blue press vest, which discerned her from combatants, Abu Akleh was struck in the head by unexpected gunfire.

Unsurprisingly, both sides of the conflict have spun clashing narratives following her death. Israel claims she got caught in crossfire initiated by Palestinian fighters. Palestinians claim Israel Defense Forces murdered Abu Akleh.  Accounts from eyewitnesses at the scene, as well as video footage, seem to support the latter. According to multiple sources, no Palestinian fighters were present at the time of her death. Satha Hanaysha, a journalist working alongside Abu Akleh, told CNN that IDF targeted the group intentionally. According to Hanaysha, the press followed regular protocol on the morning of the attack. This protocol consists of making themselves known to Israeli forces before approaching a scene. Despite identifying themselves at the entrance to Jenin Refugee Camp, the group of journalists were greeted by gunfire. An independent Dutch organization found that Israeli forces likely fired the bullet that killed Abu Akleh.

The United States has forged a strong relationship with Israel over the last fifty years. U.S. leaders have continually hailed Israel as a “vibrant democracy” and “one of the most successful democracies in the world.” These words ignore Israel’s long history of violence. The unjust killing of Shireen Abu Akleh has reminded us of the fragility of Israel’s “moral character.” She is sadly yet another in a long line of tragedies brought on by Israel’s poor human rights record. In 2021, Palestinian journalist Yusef Abu Hussein died in an Israeli air raid. He worked as a broadcaster for the Voice of al-Aqsa radio station. Al-Jazeera reported that his home was intentionally targeted. In 2018, Israeli forces shot Palestinian journalist Ahmed Abu Hussein while he covered protests in Gaza. Like Shireen Abu Akleh, he adorned his blue press vest when he died. These stories are not isolated events – Israeli forces have killed at least 45 journalists since 2000.

Israel has contended with its own violence by leading self-investigations. It is not difficult to imagine why an accused party cannot credibly lead their own investigation. However, Israel has done so for years. In 2018, Israeli police reacted violently to Palestinian protests in the Gaza Strip. They opened fire on hundreds of unarmed civilians, killing over two hundred Palestinians. The international community demanded Israel allow an investigation of the mass casualties. Israeli leaders obliged; they opened an investigation on their own military. The investigation indicted one Israeli soldier for the murder of a 14-year-old Palestinian. The other 214 victims received no justice.

In 2021, the International Criminal Court launched an investigation into the events of 2018. Israel refused to cooperate, instead firing claims of anti-Semitism. Bringing justice to victims of state-sponsored violence is not anti-Semitic. Rather, it contributes to the creation of a safer environment for those on both sides. Israel cannot be a contributing member of the international community if it continues to oppose international bodies. The United Nations, for example, has attempted to launch multiple probes into alleged Israeli crimes. Israel repeatedly refuses to cooperate. This only prevents transparent investigations and aggravates the conflict.

Israel claims it possesses the ability to conduct its own investigations – if this is true, it should have no problem allowing an international body to oversee. If Israel can address these incidents with full transparency, perhaps it can move one step closer to ending the violence. As for the United States, President Biden should advocate for a U.S.-led investigation into Abu Akleh’s death. If the United States wants to continue to support human rights across the world, it cannot turn a convenient blind eye to Israel.