Who Killed Journalist Shireen Abu Akleh?

In the United States, the State Department has called for an investigation. “It is important to us. It is important to the world that that investigation be thorough, that it be comprehensive, that it be transparent and, importantly, that investigations end with full accountability and those responsible for her death being held responsible,” Ned Price, a department spokesman, said last month. In the House of Representatives, 57 Democrats signed a letter to the secretary of state and the head of the F.B.I. demanding they conduct their own investigation, urging them “to uphold the values that our nation was founded on, including human rights, equality for all and freedom of speech.” The letter continued, “We have a duty to protect Americans reporting abroad.”

CNN and other news organizations have begun their own investigations. After reviewing video footage, witnesses’ accounts and audio forensic analysis of the gunshots, CNN reported that the evidence suggested that “Abu Akleh was shot dead in a targeted attack by Israeli forces.” The witnesses and videos, it said, provided new evidence “that there was no active combat nor any Palestinian militants near Abu Akleh in the moments leading up to her death.”

Israel reacted sharply. In an address to the World Economic Forum in Davos on May 25, President Isaac Herzog of Israel rejected the report, saying it was based on “fake facts.”

That only makes it more important to get a full accurate accounting, and the best possible means of establishing those facts would be an independent investigation conducted by a group with American, Israeli and Palestinian participation.

On May 20, Israel’s ambassador to the United States said in a statement that Israel has, “from the outset, called for an impartial joint Israeli-Palestinian investigation with the U.S. in an observer role.”

Independence in this probe would be, certainly, a tall order. The Palestinians, convinced that Israel would try to whitewash the killing, declared from the outset that they would not cooperate with any Israeli investigation. In Israel, which has faced decades of one-sided condemnations by the United Nations and other international agencies, there is a deep mistrust of any outside investigation. And Israel’s political right does not look kindly on investigating troops.

While the questions around Ms. Abu Akleh’s death may be difficult to answer, that is no excuse for ignoring them. Reporters are aware of the dangers inherent in covering armed conflict, and they know that armies are not keen to have their violent missions exposed to public scrutiny. But the work of journalists is essential to public accountability for the actions of any country’s military. Journalists cannot do their jobs if they are targeted with impunity by any side in a conflict. Even if she was not singled out, Israel still needs to grapple with how this happened and what can be done to avoid similar tragedies.

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