Patrick Leahy proposes curtailing US aid to Israel to ensure accountability for journalist killings.
Washington, D.C. – US Senator Patrick Leahy, a senior Democrat, has raised a number of questions about the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh in a statement that also suggested US aid to Israel could be curtailed to ensure accountability.
A US law bearing Leahy’s name bans military aid to countries that commit human rights abuses. On Thursday, the veteran senator said it “must” apply to Israel if Abu Akleh, who was Palestinian-American, was deliberately killed.
“Whether her killing was premeditated, reckless, or a tragic mistake, accountability must be taken,” Leahy said in the statement. “And if it was intentional and no one is held accountable, then Leahy Law must be applied.”
Israel, which human rights groups accuse of having imposed a system of apartheid on the Palestinians, receives $3.8 billion in US security aid annually.
Abu Akleh was fatally shot by Israeli forces on May 11 during a raid on the occupied West Bank city of Jenin. Her assassination sparked worldwide condemnation and calls for justice.
The Biden administration has dismissed calls for an independent investigation, instead insisting Israel can investigate allegations of misconduct by its troops. But on July 4, the State Department dismissed the killing of Abu Akleh as unintentional – a stance criticized by Leahy.
“To say that the fatal shooting of an unarmed person, and in this case one with PRESS written in bold across his clothing, was not premeditated without providing evidence to support that conclusion constitutes the State Department’s commitment to an independent, credible investigation.” carry out and follow the facts,” the senator said on Thursday.
Earlier this month, the Israeli government ruled out conducting a criminal investigation into the incident after releasing a public assessment saying there was a “high probability” that one of its soldiers shot Abu Akleh, but accidentally happened.
Video footage, multiple witnesses and multiple investigations by independent media show that there were no armed Palestinians in the area where Abu Akleh and other journalists were standing before Israeli soldiers began shooting at them.
After months of demanding “accountability” and saying the journalist’s killers should be prosecuted, the Biden administration changed tone after Israel’s statement this month.
Last week, US officials only asked Israel to review its rules of engagement to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future – a demand later publicly denied by Israeli leaders.
In his statement on Thursday, Leahy questioned Israel’s and the US’s approach to the incident. “If the soldier who fired the fatal shot did not intend to kill Ms. Abu Akleh, what did he intend to do?” the senator said.
“If, as the Israeli authorities seem to say, the soldier missed who he was aiming at and accidentally hit Ms. Abu Akleh, then who was he aiming at? What evidence, if any, is there that anyone shot at her in the immediate vicinity of where Ms. Abu Akleh was shot? [Israeli] soldier who killed her?”
Leahy also asked if Israeli soldiers who attacked Abu Akleh’s funeral and beat the mourners carrying her coffin had been reprimanded.
“An independent, credible investigation – that means not by the [Israeli army] and not by the PA – but with their full cooperation, the results must be carried out and the results published,” he said.
Leahy’s statement comes a day after the US Senate Foreign Affairs Committee introduced a legislative amendment that would require the Biden administration to share with lawmakers the full State Department report that led to his July 4 statement.
Senator Chris Van Hollen, one of the most vocal politicians calling for an independent investigation into Abu Akleh’s murder, has spearheaded the effort.
“I will continue to urge full accountability and transparency surrounding the death of Shireen – anything else is unacceptable,” Van Hollen said in a statement on Wednesday.