WASHINGTON – A group of 57 House Democrats sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and FBI Director Chris Wray requesting that the State Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) will launch an investigation into the death of Shireen Abu Akleh, a journalist for Al Jazeera, who was fatally shot in Jenin on May 11.
“It was reported that Palestinian journalists who were with Ms. Abu Akleh at the time said that they made their presence known to Israeli soldiers, and they did not see militants in the area,” the members wrote. “The Israeli military claimed that the victims were caught between gunfire between Palestinian militants and Israeli Defense Forces. However, media and eyewitnesses had conflicting reports,” they added.
“As Members of Congress, we are deeply concerned by the death of Ms. Abu Akleh,” their letter reads. “Journalists worldwide must be protected at all costs. The US State Department called Ms. Abu Akleh’s death ‘an affront to media freedom.’”
“We welcome the actions and statements taken so far by the US State Department supporting a thorough investigation,” they wrote. “However, given the tenuous situation in the region and the conflicting reports surrounding the death of Ms. Abu Akleh, we request the State Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) launch an investigation into Ms. Abu Akleh’s death.”
They went on to request the State Department “to determine whether any US laws protecting Ms. Abu Akleh, an American citizen, were violated.”
“As an American, Ms. Abu Akleh was entitled to the full protections afforded to US citizens living abroad,” they wrote. “We urge you to uphold the values that our nation was founded on, including human rights, equality for all, and freedom of speech. We have a duty to protect Americans reporting abroad.”
Israel’s Ambassador to the US, Mike Herzog, responded to the letter and wrote in a statement that he was “disheartened” to read the letter.
“This letter does not offer a fair representation of the case, ignores important context of the events leading to Ms. Abu Akleh’s tragic death and reaches the wrong conclusion,” Herzog wrote.
“On May 11, 2022, Israeli security forces operated in Jenin to thwart yet another impending terror attack and were confronted by heavily armed Palestinian militants, most of them affiliated with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad – a US-designated terror organization,” Herzog wrote. “Shireen Abu Akleh died in the exchange of fire in this charged environment.”
He added that the letter “ignores the fact that Israel has, from the outset, called for an impartial joint Israeli-Palestinian investigation with the US in an observer role. Our call was flatly rejected by the P.A., which is cynically using Ms. Abu Akleh’s death to instigate an anti-Israel propaganda campaign.”
“To this day, the P.A. has refused to give Israel access to the bullet that killed Ms. Abu Akleh, making it impossible to conduct a ballistic examination that would determine whether the bullet was shot by an IDF weapon – only the IDF can carry out such an investigation,” Herzog added.
“No journalist should die in the line of duty,” the Ambassador continued. “Israel holds freedom of the press in the highest regard and sees the protection of journalists as a fundamental part of our democracy. IDF troops would never intentionally target members of the press.”
“To our friends in Congress, we say: Rather than sending unconstructive messages, truth and justice would be better served by calling on the P.A. to give Israel access to the bullet and allow for the completion of the investigation with the US as an observer role,” Herzog wrote in his statement.