Murder of Al Jazeera journalist referred to ICC in complaint
JERUSALEM — A coalition of lawyers and advocacy groups said on Tuesday it had referred the shooting death of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh to the International Criminal Court on behalf of her family, calling on prosecutors to investigate the incident. which she described as Israel’s deliberate targeting of the veteran journalist.
Palestinian officials, Abu Akleh’s family and Al Jazeera accuse Israel of deliberately targeting and killing the 51-year-old journalist, who was wearing a helmet and protective vest marked with the word “press” when she was shot down last May in the occupied West Bank.
An international research group has also presented its investigation into the fatal shooting, implicating an Israeli soldier in his death and alleging the timing and trajectory of the bullets suggest Abu Akleh was deliberately targeted. Israel acknowledged that Israeli fire likely killed Abu Akleh, but strenuously denied claims that a soldier intentionally targeted her.
This point of contention has become central to Palestinian efforts to hold Israel accountable for the shooting. Abu Akleh’s lawyers said on Tuesday they had added his case to a legal complaint filed by the ICC that accuses Israel of deliberately killing and injuring Palestinian journalists wearing press vests in the West Bank and Gaza.
“Our family shouldn’t have to wait another day for justice,” Anton Abu Akleh, Shireen’s brother, told reporters in The Hague. “No other Palestinian-American or journalist family should have to endure what ours has.”
Filing a complaint with the court does not guarantee that prosecutors will open an investigation. If opened, such an investigation could take years, with actual prosecutions far away.
ICC prosecutors opened a preliminary examination into allegations of war crimes committed by Israel in Gaza and the occupied West Bank in 2015, but did not open a formal investigation until last year. It is not known how long this probe will last.
Abu Akleh had covered the West Bank for Al Jazeera for two decades and was a household name in the Middle East. His death sparked outrage around the world, highlighting Israel’s operations in the West Bank. Some 90 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli night raids in recent months, many believed to be activists or young Palestinians protesting the raids, making it the deadliest year in the occupied territory since 2016.
This month, Israel acknowledged for the first time that there was a “high probability” that one of its soldiers mistakenly killed Abu Akleh during a raid in the northern West Bank. However, the military did not accept full responsibility and said no one would be punished for the shooting. Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid also pushed back against US calls for Israel to review its open fire policy.
Israel claimed its soldiers were fighting Palestinian gunmen at the time, although witness accounts and amateur videos showed the area was quiet in the moments before his shooting.
From The Hague on Tuesday, London-based group Forensic Architecture, in collaboration with Palestinian human rights group Al Haq, presented a video reconstruction of the moments leading up to the murder of Abu Akleh.
Based on what they said were never-before-seen footage collected from Al Jazeera and interviews with witnesses, the groups traced at least 13 bullets that were allegedly fired from an Israeli armored vehicle approximately 200 meters away ( yards) on the road to Abu Akleh and his colleagues from Jenin Refugee Camp. An analysis of the trajectory of the bullets, four of which hit a tree next to Abu Akleh, suggests ‘cautious and precise firing’ by the shooter who repeatedly aimed at reporters ‘in quick succession’, the groups found. .
“All shots were aimed above the shoulders and aimed to kill,” they added, noting that a reconstruction of a soldier’s line of sight through the optical scope of an assault rifle indicated that the journalists’ vests emblazoned with the word “press” would be visible. Footage also showed that a civilian trying to help Abu Akleh, who had collapsed on the ground, was targeted every time he entered the shooter’s line of sight, suggesting that Israeli forces were preventing Abu Akleh from receive medical treatment, the groups said.
Israel has designated Al Haq as a terrorist organization because of its alleged ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – a left-wing secular movement with a political party as well as an armed wing that has carried out attacks against Israelis.
A series of investigations by international media, including the Associated Press, revealed that Israeli troops most likely fired the fatal bullet. The United States concluded that an Israeli soldier probably killed her by mistake, but did not explain how it came to that conclusion.
Israel previously said only a forensic analysis of the bullet that killed Abu Akleh could confirm whether it was fired by an Israeli soldier or a Palestinian militant. However, an analysis of the bullet conducted by the United States last July was inconclusive, as investigators said the bullet had been badly damaged.