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Investigation of the Death of Shireen Abu Akleh


On May 11, 2022, Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American correspondent for Al Jazeera, was killed. Her death occurred during an Israeli operation against Palestinian terrorists in Jenin following a spate of attacks that resulted in the death of 11 people. After resisting American requests for the bullet that killed Abu Akleh to determine the gun that fired it, the Palestinian Authority finally turned it over to American officials who ran ballistic tests. Critics raised questions about the chain of custody and the possibility the bullet was not the one that killed Abu Akleh. Nevertheless, the State Department issued the following statement.

After an extremely detailed forensic analysis, independent, third-party examiners, as part of a process overseen by the U.S. Security Coordinator (USSC), could not reach a definitive conclusion regarding the origin of the bullet that killed Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Ballistic experts determined the bullet was badly damaged, which prevented a clear conclusion.
In addition to the forensic and ballistic analysis, the USSC was granted full access to both Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Palestinian Authority (PA) investigations over the last several weeks. By summarizing both investigations, the USSC concluded that gunfire from IDF positions was likely responsible for the death of Shireen Abu Akleh.  The USSC found no reason to believe that this was intentional but rather the result of tragic circumstances during an IDF-led military operation against factions of Palestinian Islamic Jihad on May 11, 2022, in Jenin, which followed a series of terrorist attacks in Israel.
The United States appreciates and continues to encourage cooperation between Israel and the PA in this important case. We will remain engaged with Israel and the PA on next steps and urge accountability. We again offer our deepest condolences to the Abu Akleh family.

Following these findings, the Chief of the General Staff, LTG Aviv Kohavi, ordered that the Israeli investigation continue. The Palestinians refused to cooperate.

The results were announced on September 5, 2022, concluding that it was “not possible to unequivocally determine the source of the gunfire which hit and killed Ms. Abu Akleh.” The report acknowledged that “there is a high possibility that Ms. Abu Akleh was accidentally hit by IDF gunfire fired toward suspects identified as armed Palestinian gunmen during an exchange of fire.” 

The IDF’s Military Advocate General’s Office said it did not intend to pursue criminal charges against any soldiers after the review found “no suspicion that a bullet was fired deliberately at anyone identified as a civilian and in particular at anyone identified as a journalist.”

Kohavi called her death a “devastating incident” that “took place during operational activity intended to prevent Palestinian terrorism, which calls for the harming of Israeli civilians.”

Palestinians and other detractors were not satisfied as the only possible conclusion in their minds was the one they had preconceived. 

Responding to the original accusation that Israel had intentionally killed the journalist, then-Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said that Abu Akleh worked in the region for more than 20 years without being harmed. The same is true for the other foreign journalists in Israel. He also noted her employer, “Al Jazeera, a network run by an Islamist state that is openly hostile to Israel, has permanent staff in Israel who are protected by the state the network slanders on a regular basis.”

The journalist’s family and a number of Democrats in Congress were dissatisfied with the conclusions and demanded the United States launch an independent investigation. In November, the FBI opened an investigation, which Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz called “a grave mistake.” The decision is likely to create tensions between the administration and the newly elected Israeli government, which does not plan to cooperate.

Source: Ned Price, “On the Killing of Shireen Abu Akleh,” U.S. Department of State, (July 4, 2022).
Hadas Gold and Abeer Salman, “Israeli military admits Shireen Abu Akleh likely killed by Israeli fire​​​​, but won't charge soldiers,” CNN, September 6, 2022).
Anna Ahronheim, Tovah Lazaroff, and Lahav Harkov, “Shireen Abu Akleh likely killed by IDF gunfire in Jenin, Israel admits,” Jerusalem Post, September 5, 2022).
Yair Lapid, “Israel Never Targets Journalists,” Wall Street Journal, June 9, 2022).
Barak Ravid, “FBI opens investigation into killing of Palestinian American Shireen Abu Akleh,” Axios, (November 14, 2022).