The elephant in the room: Israel murdered Shireen Abu Akleh

By JAMES MARKIN

Early in the morning of May 11 in the Palestinian city of Jenin, Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was murdered by Israeli snipers. The basic facts of the case have been confirmed by too many independent investigations to count at this point. According to the major media[1], Shireen was walking down the road towards the town with a group of other journalists, and there were no other people present except a group of elite Israeli marksmen who shot her in the head.

While the Israeli government initially tried to blame Palestinian gunmen for the killing, the overwhelming weight of the evidence has forced even them to back down and more or less agree to the facts presented by the media investigations. However, despite essentially admitting that they shot and killed Shireen Abu Akleh, the IDF has been very clear that they do not believe that any crime was committed.[2]

This is fully in keeping with the IDF’s basic policy. According to UN data, since 2008 Israeli forces have killed 5396 Palestinians. (https://www.ochaopt.org/data/casualties) However, despite this, Amnesty International has found no case where “an Israeli army soldier or member of another security force has been convicted of willfully causing the death of a Palestinian in the OPT since 1987.”[3]

From these numbers alone, it is clear that the IDF kills with impunity. This is because, for the IDF, killing Palestinians in a manner of speaking is not actually a criminal deviation from its function, it is its function. Israel is a settler colony; this is a special kind of colony where the colonial regime seeks to replace an existing indigenous population with a new colonial population. Since its inception, the Zionist movement intended to forcibly displace the Palestinian population. By displacing Palestinians and taking their land, the Israeli state also enriches itself at the expense of the Palestinian people, a process that Marx called primitive accumulation.

Obviously however, the Palestinian people have resisted this process of displacement. This is why the IDF exists, as the far-right Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky wrote: “Zionist colonization must either stop, or else proceed regardless of the native population. Which means that it can proceed and develop only under the protection of a power that is independent of the native population—behind an iron wall, which the native population cannot breach.” This is the role of the IDF, to suppress the Palestinian population by force so that Zionist colonization can continue. For the IDF any Palestinians who are killed in the process are simply a bonus. As long as the process of Zionist colonization of Palestine by Israel continues, no Palestinian can truly expect justice in their treatment by the IDF.

This is not to say that the fact that Shireen Abu Akleh was a journalist had no bearing on her death. In fact, the IDF has a pattern of murdering and targeting journalists specifically. In 2018, during the “great march of return” in Gaza, IDF snipers shot and killed two Palestinian journalists, Yasser Murtaja and Ahmed Abu Hussein, who were both wearing vests that marked them as press. A UN commission investigation found “reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot journalists intentionally, despite seeing that they were clearly marked as such.” Not only were the snipers clearly aware that Yasser Murtaja and Ahmed Abu Hussein were journalists based on their press vests, they intentionally aimed below the bottom of the vests so as to kill their targets.[4]

During last year’s war on Gaza, Israeli warplanes targeted and bombed the Al Jazeera/Associated Press Building as well as another tower which housed the majority of Gaza City’s international press.[5] While Israel claimed that the militant group Hamas had been using the building, this claim was met by skepticism by the international media and was outright rejected by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which called the claim “disinformation.”

Furthermore, while Shireen Abu Akleh’s death led to international outrage due to her status as a beloved figure in the Arabic-language media world, she was not the only journalist the IDF has murdered this year. Less than a month after Abu Akleh’s death, Ghufran Harun Warasneh was shot by the IDF in Hebron as she drove to her job at a TV news station.[6] The IDF’s reason for targeting and killing journalists is clear: dead journalists cannot expose the crimes of the IDF. By killing Yasser Murtaja, Ahmed Abu Hussein, Ghufran Harun Warasneh, Shireen Abu Akleh and so many others, the IDF is attempting to intimidate Palestinians and prevent media coverage of their ongoing colonization of Palestine.

Some might expect that President Biden would disapprove of Israel’s behavior given that he has branded himself a champion of the free press. For example, earlier this year Biden issued a statement for World Press Freedom Day criticizing Russian crackdowns on the free press and stating that “journalists cover war, expose corruption, document environmental damage, lift up the marginalized, champion our communities, and hold the powerful to account. And for this, too often, they are killed, jailed, raped, threatened, and harassed. Women journalists, long a minority in the newsroom, are disproportionately targeted, on and offline, in these attacks.”[7] He went on to promise that “we can and must do more to protect and sustain independent media, and to hold to account those that seek to silence voices essential to transparent, trustworthy, and responsive governance.” This is consistent with a general U.S. position of rhetorically championing liberal ideals in foreign policy.

However, the supposed liberal values of the U.S. are completely subordinated to its interests as a global imperialist power. In the case of the death of Shireen Abu Akleh, Joe Biden wants to maintain the U.S. relationship with Israel, which is a critical junior partner for the United States in the Middle East. Israel’s strong military and ideological commitment to oppose Arab nationalism and communism makes them a perfect fit for the U.S. Since 1968, the U.S. and Israel have collaborated to dismantle and oppose such political forces that could have challenged U.S. access to the economic wealth of the Middle East, including the region’s oil wealth. Indeed, in 1986, Biden explained to the U.S. Senate, “If there weren’t an Israel, the United States of America would have to invent an Israel to protect her interests in the region.” Time and time again, the U.S. has chosen to defend junior partners like Israel instead of sticking up for its supposed liberal values.

The case of Shireen Abu Akleh has made this more obvious than ever as Biden’s rhetoric about protecting female journalists from violence chafes with the actions of his administration in response to her death. Following the death of Shireen Abu Akleh, the U.S. government carried out its own investigation into her death behind the scenes. The findings, only a few paragraphs long, were published on the State Department website. The reported concluded that “gunfire from IDF positions was likely responsible for the death of Shireen Abu Akleh.” However, the State Department clarified that the investigation “found no reason to believe that this was intentional but rather the result of tragic circumstances during an IDF-led military operation against factions of Palestinian Islamic Jihad on May 11, 2022, in Jenin, which followed a series of terrorist attacks in Israel.”

This, of course, was an absurd statement given that all investigations agree that no one else was present when Shireen was killed except her fellow journalists. The State Department seems to expect the world to believe that an elite unit of IDF marksman shot a woman wearing a very obvious press vest by accident with no combatants present. Biden continued to repeat this line during his visit with the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas this month, telling him that “the United States will continue to insist on a full and transparent accounting of her death and will continue to stand up for media freedom everywhere in the world”[8] The reality of this statement, of course, is that Biden has done nothing to push Israel to punish or even identify Akleh’s killer.

Israel is not the only country whose crimes Biden is willing to overlook because they are a junior partner of U.S. imperialism. Earlier this year, when the Egyptian dissident economist Ayman Hadhoud’s body was returned to his wife bearing marks suggesting that he was tortured to death by the Egyptian military, the State Department did not condemn the Egyptian government for this clear and brutal murder. Instead, State Department spokesperson Ned Price called the case “deeply disturbing” and appealed for the Egyptians to carry out a “thorough, transparent and credible investigation without delay.”[9] Just as in the case of Shireen Abu Akleh, the State Department knew very well who had killed Ayman Hadhoud, and they didn’t care. His death caused no changes to the long-standing policy of the United States in selling the Egyptian military regime billions of dollars worth of weapons. Like Israel, Eygpt plays a critical role in securing U.S. military dominance in the Middle East, and so like Israel, the U.S. is happy to overlook brutal crimes against ordinary people in order to continue their relationship.

It is for this reason that Shireen Abu Akleh remains the elephant in the room whenever Biden or his State Department talk about civil rights or press freedom. The evidence of Israel’s guilt is clear as day, and yet the U.S. still maintains its close military and political relationship with Israel with zero changes. Biden might claim that he supports press freedom but his actions speak louder than words.

U.S. workers need to show that we are on the side of the Palestinian people, and that we reject the imperialist government in Washington. This is why we need to call on our unions and community institutions to endorse the BDS movement and continue to build solidarity and support for the Palestinian struggle.

Photos: (Top) Palestinians paint mural memorializing Shireen Abu Akleh in Gaza City, May 12. (Ashraf Amra / APA Images. (Below) Protest in Bethlehem, May 12. (Hazen Baer / AFP / Getty Images)

NOTES:

[1] https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-palestinian-gunman-in-idf-video-unlikely-to-have-killed-al-jazeera-1.10795122, the AP: https://apnews.com/article/politics-west-bank-middle-east-israel-8df6c999627efcef2fe0ca2b401e7a2c, CNN: https://www.cnn.com/2022/05/24/middleeast/shireen-abu-akleh-jenin-killing-investigation-cmd-intl/index.html, and The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/20/world/middleeast/palestian-journalist-killing-shireen.html, among others.

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/may/19/israel-will-not-hold-criminal-inquiry-into-killing-of-journalist-shireen-abu-aqleh)

[3] https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/mde15/5141/2022/en/)

[4] https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/CoIOPT/A_HRC_40_74.pdf

[5] https://www.vox.com/2021/5/15/22437688/ap-al-jazeera-gaza-news-bureau-destroyed-live-israel-airstrike

[6] https://www.womeninjournalism.org/threats-all/israel-ghufran-harun-warasneh-second-palestinian-woman-journalist-killed-in-west-bank-in-a-month

[7] https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/05/03/statement-by-president-joe-biden-on-the-occasion-of-world-press-freedom-day-2022/

[8] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/7/15/palestinians-expect-little-as-biden-travels-to-occupied-west-bank)

[9] https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/us-state-dept-says-death-egyptian-research-requires-investigation-2022-05-02/

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