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Report: Shireen Abu Akleh, who died a year ago, is one of 20 journalists whose deaths involve Israeli military

The Committee to Protect Journalists’ scathing report notes that not a single soldier has faced prosecution in any of these cases

The 2022 killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was just the most high-profile example of a pattern that has seen 20 journalists killed by Israeli Defense Forces over the past 22 years, according to a new report. 

The document, issued by the Committee to Protect Journalists on Tuesday, outlined the circumstances in which 18 Palestinian journalists and two European correspondents were killed, along with the lack of consequences for any members of the IDF in the aftermath. 

The report notes that no journalists have been killed within Israel proper during this time period. While five other journalists were killed in the West Bank and Gaza during this time period, two of those died while following Palestinian engineers disposing of unexploded Israeli missiles. 

Other countries have been deadlier for journalists than Israel over the same time frame. In Iraq, almost 300 journalists have been killed since 2001. In Mexico, 140 journalists have been killed in that time, while 77 journalists were killed in Afghanistan. Another 68 were killed in India and over 40 have been killed in both Brazil and Colombia. But the deaths in West Bank and Gaza outstrip the number of journalists killed in countries such as Egypt (11), Haiti (16), Libya (15) and Saudi Arabia (two, including the murder and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi). 

Sherif Mansour, a Washington, D.C.-based journalist and CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, said that Israel is being held to “the very same standard we’re holding any country around the world, including the United States.”

Mansour added: “We have criticized and protested the Israeli government for years over this record and we did the same with the U.S. government when they kill journalists in Iraq, Afghanistan, even when they provided support for the Saudi-led coalition bombardment in Yemen that killed five journalists.”

A spokesperson for the Israeli government sent the Forward a statement on behalf of the IDF.

“The IDF regrets any harm to civilians during operational activity and considers the protection of the freedom of the press and the professional work of journalists to be of great importance,” it said. 

A pattern after deaths

Abu Akleh was killed on May 11, 2022, in the West Bank City of Jenin. She, alongside many international journalists, had been covering the aftermath of an Israeli military raid in the city.

Following Abu Akleh’s death, the Israeli government initially said they believed the bullet was fired by a Palestinian. However, numerous investigations by media outlets, including CNN and The New York Times, found there was a strong possibility that Abu Akleh and her team, all of whom were wearing clothing that identified them as members of the press, were targeted by members of the IDF. A Palestinian Authority investigation concluded that the IDF deliberately shot Abu Akleh. 

Her producer, Alia al-Samoudi, was also shot and wounded in the shoulder. Nobody has been charged with any crimes in connection with the shooting. 

The Abu Akleh shooting was not the only incident mentioned in the report in which a journalist was killed despite wearing clothing that clearly identified them as belonging to the press.

In their statement, the IDF denied ever targeting noncombatants, including journalists.

During intense combat situations, the IDF only strikes at military targets and takes all possible precautions in order to reduce harm to civilians during its operational activities,” they said. 

Abu Akleh’s killing and its aftermath are an example of a recurring strategy on the part of the IDF, according to the report, that includes pushing false narratives over the circumstances involved in each death. In 2018, following the death of Yaser Murtaja, members of the Israeli government accused the filmmaker of being a member of Hamas’ military wing, a claim that was echoed following the deaths of two Al-Aqsa cameramen. 

Those accusations are part of a pattern, said Mansour, which is “designed to evade accountability.” In none of the 20 cases that were examined did an Israeli soldier face criminal punishment, and the inquiries are often slow and lack transparency. 

No transparency

In some cases, no investigation was even opened unless there was international pressure. The report cites the death of British journalist James Miller, who was shot in the neck in 2005. A British inquest jury ruled the death had been a murder and the British government pressured Israel to take legal action against the soldiers involved. But after the Israeli government made a payment to Miller’s family, the British government said it would not press for extradition. 

“The routine action included responses like discounting evidence and witness claims and clearing soldiers from the killing while inquiries are in progress,” said Mansour. 

In their statement, the IDF insisted that  “independent and in-depth inspection and investigation mechanisms” are triggered after civilian deaths.

“In cases where an allegation of unlawful harm to civilians is raised, including against journalists, an investigative procedure is initiated to clarify the allegation. Following this, the Military Advocate General’s Corps decides on the continuation of the case in accordance with the materials collected, independently and based exclusively on professional considerations. In cases where there is reasonable suspicion of a criminal offense, a criminal investigation will be opened. As a general rule, in the event that a person is killed as a result of IDF activity in the Judea and Samaria region, a criminal investigation will be opened, unless the incident occurred in an active combat situation, or if there is no suspicion of a crime having been committed by IDF soldiers.”

But Mansour said that statements from the government and military don’t match “the reality on the ground.”

The fear of being targeted and lack of accountability after journalists are killed “sends a chilling message to journalists and media throughout the West Bank and Gaza,” said Mansour. “That is a problem for anyone who wants to do reporting, because Israeli journalists and national journalists and foreign journalists around the world rely on Palestinian journalists to be able to provide them with information. So we end up basically paying the toll.”

Mansour said the CPJ is calling on Israel to be more transparent about its rules of engagement, and to hold their soldiers to account by conducting proper criminal investigations in incidents where journalists are killed. 

“They cannot just give lip service to the cause of press freedom,” he said. “They have to show it with practical and immediate steps.”

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