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Niece of Palestinian American Shireen Abu Akleh, Killed by Israel, Wants Biden Mtg. & Indep. Inquiry

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The Israeli army has admitted for the first time that Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was likely fatally shot by an Israeli soldier during an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank in May. The conclusion to the internal investigation comes after months of outrage from Abu Akleh’s family and human rights activists at Israel’s initial claim that the bullet came from Palestinian fire. The U.S. responded by saying it will pressure Israel to reexamine its rules of engagement. Abu Akleh’s family says it’s not enough, and is demanding a meeting with President Biden. “Real accountability includes holding the soldier who killed Shireen accountable … and changing the entire policy that continues to perpetuate violence against Palestinians,” says Shireen Abu Akleh’s niece, Lina Abu Akleh.

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StoryMay 06, 2024“Criminal Act”: Israel Bans Al Jazeera, Largest Int’l News Org. in Gaza, Ahead of Rafah Invasion
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Israel has for the first time admitted one of its soldiers may have been responsible for the death of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot in the head May 11th while covering an Israeli raid on the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. Israel said Monday Abu Akleh may have been “accidentally” hit by Israeli troops’ gunfire after they came under fire from Palestinian fighters.

But eyewitness accounts and videos of the area where Shireen was killed do not show a gun battle. She also wore body armor and a helmet clearly labeled ”PRESS.” Investigations by The New York Times, CNN, The Washington Post and other media outlets also challenge the official Israeli version of Abu Akleh’s killing. The Times said there were, quote, “no armed Palestinians near her when she was shot,” unquote. In Ramallah, Al Jazeera’s West Bank bureau chief rejected the Israeli claims about the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, its longtime reporter.

WALID AL-OMARI: [translated] It is clear that they are trying to perpetuate ambiguity and deception on the one hand, while at the same time clear themselves of wrongdoing by claiming that there was an exchange of fire. These are all lies, because all the accounts and videos and witnesses disprove their claims.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, Israel still says it will not launch a criminal probe into Shireen Abu Akleh’s killing. The Biden administration continues to face backlash over its response to her death, with U.S. officials accused of trying to cover for Israel. U.S. State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel spoke Tuesday.

VEDANT PATEL: We’re going to continue to press our Israeli partners to closely review its policies and practices on rules of engagement and consider additional steps to mitigate the risk of civilian harm, protect journalists and prevent similar tragedies in the future.

AMY GOODMAN: On Tuesday, Democratic U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland dismissed the allegations from the Israeli army that Abu Akleh was killed in the midst of a gunfight between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians, tweeting, quote, “The crux of the 'defense' in this IDF report is that a soldier was 'returning fire' from militants. But investigations…found no such firing at the time.” Maryland Senator Van Hollen and Abu Akleh’s family are calling for the U.S. to launch an independent investigation.

For more, we’re joined in New York by Lina Abu Akleh, the niece of Shireen.

Lina, welcome to Democracy Now! First, our condolences to you and your family.

LINA ABU AKLEH: Thank you so much, Amy. Thank you for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you’re here in New York, and you’ve been in Washington. You just spoke at the National Press Club. Can you respond to Israel’s report saying that they may well likely have “accidentally,” the Israeli — an Israeli soldier, unidentified, killed your aunt? Can you talk about that report and what you’re calling for?

LINA ABU AKLEH: Yes, of course. You know, that statement did nothing other than obscure the truth and avoid responsibility and accountability, as a matter of fact. And time and time again, we’ve seen how Israel is unwilling to hold itself accountable for killings. And as a family and as her niece, we are infuriated. We were not expecting a statement from the Israeli government, the Israeli army, because we have seen how over the past months they’ve been changing the narrative and shifting the narrative.

Here is what we know. We know the facts. We know that Shireen was in Jenin covering a raid. She identified herself to the army, in addition to her colleagues, who were all wearing press vests and a protective helmet. You know, we’re talking here about the most advanced army, one of the most technologically advanced armies, and they still were able to aim precisely in the area right beneath her head and shoot her. In addition, there were continuous fires right after they killed my aunt. Even when they were trying to help her, they were still being fired at. So, to us, the statement is nothing but obscuring the truth, and it shows ambiguity, and they still are trying to escape any form of responsibility.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I wanted to ask you, Lina, this — the fact that clearly this was an accurate hit by a soldier, most likely using a telescopic sight, he could shoot your aunt, but then, supposedly, not see that she was clearly marked with the words “press” on her?

LINA ABU AKLEH: You know, it wasn’t — there were “press” written in the front and the back. You know, they were identifying themselves before they were — before they started. They were about to report, and the area was very quiet when they were there. And we’ve seen videos. We’ve seen Palestinian eyewitnesses who were in the scene. So, for us, that is nothing but, again, obscuring the truth and trying to spread disinformation. Shireen was a very well-known journalist. She was reporting from the West Bank, from Jerusalem, for the past 25 years. There is no way that she was misidentified.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you’ve said that your aunt was killed twice, once in Jenin and once in Jerusalem. Could you explain further?

LINA ABU AKLEH: Yes, I always say that Shireen was killed twice, once in Jenin on May 11th and the second time in Jerusalem during her funeral on May 13th at the hospital, when the funeral was brutally attacked by Israeli paramilitary forces who were armed to teeth, attacking the mourners, attacking my family, attacking the pallbearers who were carrying the casket. It was a very disturbing scene. It was very traumatizing, to say the least. I remember we were being pushed. We were being beaten by batons, all because we wanted to put our dear aunt to rest. But unfortunately, even during her funeral, she was still being attacked. She was still trying to be silenced. And that was a scene that will forever be entrenched in the minds of all Palestinians and the world. This was something that was not really unprecedented, but something that was just very, very disturbing. It was brutal, to say the least.

AMY GOODMAN: Lina, for people who aren’t familiar with what happened at the funeral, this was at the time Israel was saying it was Palestinians who had killed Shireen. And what the Israeli military or police did at the funeral, and also the Israeli government saying they had agreement with Tony, with Shireen’s brother?

LINA ABU AKLEH: Yeah. So, that was, again, part of their way to shift the narrative, to spread disinformation. Before the funeral, they actually summoned my father, Tony, and they tried to put constraints on how we want to mourn Shireen, limiting number of gatherers, of mourners, putting restrictions on who can access the hospital. But, of course, my father did not agree to anything. We did not have any agreement with them. We made it clear that this is not just a funeral for our family, but this is a national funeral. Shireen was loved and respected by everyone. Everyone was there to mourn her.

But from the moment we made our way to the hospital, there were multiple Israeli checkpoints in Jerusalem restricting our access to the hospital. There was — it felt like an actual war zone outside the hospital. When we got into the hospital and we were trying to take the casket into the hearse, we were attacked brutally by the Israeli forces. And they were trying to restrict the funeral procession to the church. And it was in that moment where the entire world beared witness to what it’s like to be living under occupation and have our entire lives controlled. And this is the same army that the U.S. continues to fund annually with $4 billion. So, that day is a moment that will never be forgotten. But even on her funeral, my aunt Shireen was still reporting, and her voice was even louder than any other moment, in that specific day.

AMY GOODMAN: We wanted to play a montage of Shireen Abu Akleh covering the Middle East. She did it for more than two decades for Al Jazeera. Let’s go to some of those reports.

SHIREEN ABU AKLEH: [translated] There have been cases of suffocation. Dozens of Palestinians were injured after the firing of tear gas canisters. … This wall inhibits the view, the sun and communication between Palestinians. Even more importantly, it is threatening their dream of having a geographically continuous nation. … It might not be easy for me to change the reality of the situation on the ground, but at least I was able to contribute by helping those voices reach the world. I am Shireen Abu Akleh.

AMY GOODMAN: Shireen Abu Akleh. She was 51 years old, worked for Al Jazeera, a very familiar face and voice to the Arab world. Lina, you’re here in the United States. When President Biden visited Israel, your family wanted to meet with him. Instead, you were invited to Washington. You met with Tony Blinken, is that right? The secretary of state. But you’re demanding a meeting with President Biden? Can you talk about all that you’re demanding and the significance of Chris Van Hollen, the senator from Maryland, not accepting the Israeli report on her death and calling for that independent investigation?

LINA ABU AKLEH: Yeah, you know, when President Biden was in the Middle East, when he was in Jerusalem specifically, he was 10 minutes away from our house, from Shireen’s house, where she grew, where she was born. But yet he refused to meet with us there. Instead, our family had to come to D.C., and we met Secretary Antony Blinken. But we are still calling for a meeting with the U.S. president, with President Biden, because that will show that he is serious about this case and that he is willing to take action.

But ever since my aunt was killed, all the statements released by the U.S. State Department, U.S. administration has been nothing but empty words followed with no action. And that’s why we will continue to demand an investigation, a U.S.-led investigation, for the killing of a U.S. citizen, because this is what would have happened if it was any other U.S. citizen killed abroad, and this is what usually happens, and, second, because a U.S. investigation will inevitably show the same as — will inevitably conclude the same as all reputable reports have shown, that Shireen was killed, she was targeted by an Israeli soldier, and will help identify this soldier and have accountability. Again, this is not just about Shireen, but this is about ensuring that no other family, no other family of a U.S. citizen, of Palestinians, have to suffer, have to go through what we have been going through. Therefore, it’s so important that the U.S. opens up an investigation, a transparent investigation, to hold the Israeli soldier accountable, the Israeli army accountable for the killing of Shireen.

And this is not our only — we are not the only ones demanding this. But, as you stated, we have members of Congress, senators, representatives, all — a majority of them are backing our calls. We saw how Senator Van Hollen dismissed the statement. We also saw how Representative André Carson, as well, he was stating that this is not enough, it falls short of any form of accountability. Real accountability includes holding the soldier who killed Shireen accountable, holding the person who called for pulling the trigger, and changing the entire system, this entire policy that continues to perpetuate violence against Palestinians.

AMY GOODMAN: Lina Abu Akleh, I want to thank you for joining us, niece of Shireen Abu Akleh. Of course, we will continue to cover this story. And again, our condolences to your family.

LINA ABU AKLEH: Thank you so much.

AMY GOODMAN: Next up, in a victory for Trump, a federal judge he appointed has granted his request for a special master to review classified documents the FBI seized at Mar-a-Lago. We’ll get response from Elie Mystal, author of Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy’s Guide to the Constitution. Stay with us.

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