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Chris Van Hollen

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) asks a question during the Senate Banking Committee hearing February 15, 2022 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Bill O'Leary/Pool/Getty Images)

Rejecting Israeli Report on Journalist's Killing, Senator Demands Independent US Probe

Israeli Army's claim that Palestinian-American reporter Shireen Abu Akleh was accidentally killed by an IDF soldier contradicts numerous other analyses, says U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.

Julia Conley

Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland is re-upping his demand for an independent probe into the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh after rejecting the findings of a new report issued by the Israeli Army which claimed its soldiers may have accidentally shot the reporter.

A report released by Israel over Labor Day weekend, said the Maryland Democrat, contradicted investigations conducted by the United Nations, The New York Times, The Washington Post, other news outlets, and human rigts groups shortly after Abu Akleh's fatal shooting in the West Bank in May.

Months after the incident, Israel said it was "highly probable" that Abu Akleh was killed by a member of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), but that the shooting was accidental and the journalist was caught in crossfire as the Israeli soldier was under fire by Palestinians.

The lack of evidence provided by Israel, said Van Hollen, "underscores [the] need for [an] independent U.S. inquiry into this American journalist's death."

According to witness accounts and videos of Abu Akleh before her killing, the journalist was wearing a helmet clearly identifying her as a member of the press and was not in the vicinity of fighting when she was killed.

A probe by the U.N. in June found that rather than an accidental shooting by a soldier who misidentified her as a combatant, Abu Akleh was shot by "several single, seemingly well-aimed bullets."

Van Hollen led several Democratic senators in July in demanding the Biden administration ensure an independent probe, noting that a forensic analysis of the bullet which killed Abu Akleh "hardly constitutes an independent investigation into the overall circumstances of her killing."

On Monday, U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the administration welcomed "Israel's review of this tragic incident," adding only that "policies and procedures to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future" should be examined.

Last week, prior to Israel's release of its report, Lina Abu Akleh—the journalist's niece—condemned the Biden administration for its refusal to take "meaningful action" to ensure the truth about her aunt's death is uncovered and those responsible held to account.

"It's been almost four months now with no accountability and no action from the U.S. administration," she said at a National Press Club news conference.

On Tuesday, historian Juan Cole asked in a column how Israeli and American officials plan to proceed now that Israel has admitted Abu Akleh was likely killed by an IDF soldier.

"Since the Israeli government has now admitted the (high) likelihood that its sniper killed Shireen, surely it will now treat the killing as a form of manslaughter (at the very least) and punish the sniper? No, it won't," wrote Cole. "But surely it will pay reparations to Shireen's family? No, it won't. Surely the Biden administration will intervene to ensure justice is done for an American citizen like Shireen? No, it won't."

"The whole affair signals once again Washington's commitment to awarding Israel impunity for such killings, even of American Christians," he added. "It isn't what we expect or deserve from our own government, but it is the reality."

In addition to calling for an independent probe by the U.S., Abu Akleh's family has demanded the case be taken up by the International Criminal Court, as the Geneva Conventions state that journalists in war zones must be protected as civilians are.

"Since Israel is incapable of holding themselves accountable, we are also pressing for a full International Criminal Court investigation and trial," said the family in a statement Monday. "Israel's killing of our dear Shireen cannot be swept aside. We cannot and will not stop until we have justice for Shireen."

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