August 15, 2022

U.S. Accused of Whitewashing Israel’s Killing of Shireen Abu Akleh Ahead of Biden’s Middle East Trip

7 min read

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
As President Biden prepares to visit Israel and occupied West Bank, the United States is facing accusations it’s whitewashing the killing of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. On Monday, the State Department announced it had concluded the bullet that killed Shireen likely came from Israeli military gunfire, but stopped short of saying investigators had reached a definitive conclusion in her killing. The State Department also said her death was not an intentional killing but the result of, quote, “tragic circumstances.”
Shireen Abu Akleh was shot in the head May 11th as she reported for Al Jazeera on an Israeli army raid in the occupied West Bank of the Jenin refugee camp, even as she wore a flak jacket and helmet clearly marked ”PRESS.” Palestinian groups and several media organizations, including CNN, The New York Times, Al Jazeera, have determined Abu Akleh was killed by Israel’s military. So has the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, which accused the Biden administration of whitewashing her death.
Shireen Abu Akleh’s niece Lina Abu Akleh responded to the State department’s findings Monday.

LINA ABU AKLEH: We were expecting that such an investigation would actually hold the perpetrators accountable and would carry out a transparent investigation that is free from any political pressure. However, that was not the case. … We will continue to call for justice. We will continue to call on the U.S. to carry out a transparent investigation by an independent body. In addition, we continue to call on the U.N. and the ICC to carry out an investigation and hold Israel accountable and put an end to this grotesque impunity that Israel continues to enjoy.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by the Dutch Palestinian analyst Mouin Rabbani, who is co-editor of the online journal Jadaliyya and hosts the Connections podcast. He’s former senior analyst Middle East and special adviser on Israel-Palestine with the International Crisis Group.
Mouin, thank you for joining us. Talk about the significance of what the U.S. found, because, in fact, they are pointing the finger at Israel, but it comes to the issue of accountability, not to mention they’re coming after The New York Times, CNN, a number of news organizations and the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem have said that this was Israeli gunfire.
MOUIN RABBANI: Yes. I mean, the significance of the U.S. so-called investigation is not what they found but what they chose not to find. In my view, it was a foregone conclusion that the U.S. would find a way to give Israel a pass on the summary execution of the legendary Palestinian journalist — Palestinian American journalist, I should add — Shireen Abu Akleh. And what this report has basically done is say, you know, it’s likely that it was this, but the only definitive conclusion that we can reach was that this was not an intentional act and the result of tragic circumstances. In other words, what the U.S. has done is attempt to throw sufficient doubt on the facts of the case and thereby ensure that Israel will not be held accountable for its actions with respect to the murder of Shireen Abu Akleh. And I think that’s the long and short of it.
And I think I would also add that anyone who expected a serious investigation of this case has an, at best, limited understanding of U.S.-Israeli relations, because, again, in my view, it was always a foregone conclusion that the U.S. government would put Israel’s political interests ahead of justice and accountability for a murdered U.S. citizen, who is also a Palestinian journalist.
AMY GOODMAN: On Tuesday, AP reporter Matthew Lee questioned State Department spokesperson Ned Price. This begins with the State Department spokesperson, Price.

NED PRICE: Given the totality of circumstances, given the totality of facts that became available and that were made available to the U.S. security coordinator and his team, they found no reason to believe that it was an intentional killing, but rather the result of tragic circumstances in the course of a raid.

MATTHEW LEE: OK. And then, how did they come to a determination that there was — that they could not conclude that there was intent or a lack of intent? And how did they come to a conclusion that — I mean, they basically didn’t come to any conclusion.

NED PRICE: What they did —

MATTHEW LEE: Right?

NED PRICE: What — what —

MATTHEW LEE: But then, so, can you explain how it is that you’re so — that you’re able to say that there’s no evidence of intent, no matter who did the shooting?

NED PRICE: Right. Well, that’s exactly what they find, what they found, or precisely what they didn’t find.

MATTHEW LEE: Isn’t that finding — exactly. That’s finding nothing.

NED PRICE: Well, they found no reason to believe this was intentional. But again — but again —

MATTHEW LEE: But they didn’t find any reason to think —

NED PRICE: But —

MATTHEW LEE: They didn’t find any reason that it wasn’t intentional, right?

NED PRICE: Again, the totality —

MATTHEW LEE: Then why do you —

NED PRICE: The totality of the circumstances, based on the two investigations to which they were granted access, based on the site visit to the site of Ms. Abu Akleh’s death, led them to the conclusion that this was the result of tragic circumstances during this IDF-led operation.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Mouin Rabbani, if you can respond to this? And also, I mean, you also had the funeral for Shireen attacked by the Israeli military, where the casket almost fell to the ground as the pallbearers were attacked.
MOUIN RABBANI: Pallbearers were physically assaulted by Israeli police and security forces during the funeral of Shireen Abu Akleh in East Jerusalem. It was just one of a number of incidents by the Israeli forces on the day of her funeral.
I should add, Matthew Lee has been on the State Department’s case and its prevarications when it comes to matters Israeli-Palestinian for years. So all credit to him for following this one, as well.
But, I mean, can one imagine Ned Price responding similarly if a Ukrainian American journalist had been shot by a Russian military sniper in eastern Ukraine? It’s just inconceivable. And again, what is happening here is the U.S. is making very clear that the only definitive conclusion they can reach is that Israel is essentially innocent of the murder of a U.S. citizen. And, you know, that’s the outrage. But that’s also the nature of U.S.-Israeli and U.S.-Palestinian relations and U.S. Middle East policy.
AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about the upcoming visit of President Biden to Israel and the Occupied Territories and the significance of this, how what they’re saying about Shireen Abu Akleh plays into this?
MOUIN RABBANI: Well, as the political analyst and writer Trita Parsi recently wrote, when it comes to the Middle East, Biden’s first term is, for all intents and purposes, identical to Trump’s second term. And certainly when it comes to this issue, the Biden administration’s policy has been to maintain the status quo, to deepen the initiatives that were undertaken by Trump and the sorcerer’s apprentice, Jared Kushner, during the last administration. The emphasis of the Biden administration is very much one of furthering the normalization of diplomatic and economic and security relations between Israel and conservative Arab monarchies, with Saudi Arabia being considered the big prize.
And with specific reference to Shireen Abu Akleh, it seems to me fairly self-evident that what Antony Blinken and other U.S. officials told the Palestinian leadership is that unless you hand over the bullet that killed Shireen Abu Akleh and allow us to put this matter to rest by essentially saying that no conclusion can be reached, we’re not going to throw you the bone of a presidential visit to the Palestinian Authority leadership. And that’s essentially what happened.
AMY GOODMAN: Mouin, I wanted to get your response to what’s happening now. On Wednesday, the Israeli military conducted large-scale raids across the occupied West Bank, detaining at least 42 Palestinians, shooting dead a 20-year-old man named Rafiq Riyad Ghannam during a raid in the village of Jaba, near Jenin, this coming just three days after the Israeli military shot dead 18-year-old Palestinian Kamel Alawneh in the same village. These are the areas that Shireen covered for so long, and these kinds of actions.
MOUIN RABBANI: Yes. I mean, you know, it’s par for the course. You cannot have a military occupation without consistent violent repression to maintain that occupation. You know, history over the past few thousand years demonstrates that conclusively.
And what you have here is the Israelis focusing in particular on the northern West Bank and Jenin and its environs, because that is an area that is under somewhat less firm control of the Palestinian Authority and its security forces, who have been working very hard to ensure peace and quiet for the maintenance of the Israeli occupation. And it’s in that context that you’re seeing these constant raids. And it’s quite likely also that the murder of Shireen Abu Akleh was in part to scare off the media from that area so that Israel could have a freer hand in conducting the kinds of activities that you just mentioned.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Mouin Rabbani, we want to thank you for being with us. Of course, we’ll continue to cover this issue. Dutch Palestinian analyst, co-editor of Jadaliyya, he also hosts the Connections podcast.
That does it for our show. Democracy Now! produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff. I’m Amy Goodman. Stay safe.