Sen. Ossoff Presses White House on Journalist’s Death
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Sen. Ossoff Presses White House on Journalist’s Death

The senator gave the Secretary of State 30 days to report back on the killing of a Palestinian-American reporter in the West Bank.

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington // AP Photo
Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington // AP Photo

Senators Jon Ossoff and Mitt Romney are insisting that the Biden administration “ensure a full and transparent investigation is completed and that justice is served” in the death of an American journalist in the West Bank in May.

In a June 6 letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the Jewish Democrat from Georgia and the Republican from Utah declared themselves “deeply disturbed” by the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, a reporter for Al Jazeera.

Abu Akleh, a 51-year-old native of East Jerusalem, had reported for the Qatari-funded news organization for the past 25 years. She was killed early on the morning of May 11, struck in the head by a bullet as she stood with other journalists covering an Israel Defense Forces raid at a refugee camp in the city of Jenin. At the time of her death, Abu Akleh was wearing a helmet and a blue armored vest that read “Press.”

Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah

Ossoff and Romney asked Blinken to “Please provide a detailed update on the progress of this effort within 30 days.”

While not referring explicitly to the senators’ letter, Blinken said on June 8: “We are looking for an independent, credible investigation. When that investigation happens, we will follow the facts, wherever they lead. It’s as straightforward as that.”

Israel has rejected the Palestinian Authority’s assertion that Abu Akleh was targeted by IDF troops and called on the PA to release the bullet that killed Abu Akleh for an independent examination. The PA has refused, saying that it does not trust Israel.

Israeli news organizations reported that an interim report issued by Israel posited two scenarios: one in which indiscriminate fire by Palestinian gunmen in the direction of IDF vehicles struck Abu Akleh, and another in which a shot fired in return by an Israeli sniper struck the reporter. The newspaper Haaretz subsequently reported that the IDF’s Military Police Criminal Investigation Division has not planned any further investigations.

In their letter, Ossoff and Romney wrote: “The killing of a U.S. citizen and of a journalist engaged in the work of reporting in a conflict zone is unacceptable. All over the world, journalists pursue truth and accountability at great personal risk. Press freedom is a core American value, and we cannot accept impunity when journalists are killed in the line of duty. We insist that the Administration ensure a full and transparent investigation is completed and that justice is served for Ms. Akleh’s death.”

Shireen Abu Akleh, reporting in Jerusalem for Al Jazeera, was one of the best-known Palestinian journalists. // Agence France-Presse

Asked to comment on the Ossoff-Romney letter, the Consulate General of Israel to the Southeast sent the AJT the following statement: “We express sorrow over the death of the journalist Ms. Abu Akleh and see great importance in freedom of the press, and work to preserve it. An investigation was conducted regarding the tragic death of Ms. Abu Akleh during a heavy exchange of fire in the midst of a counter-terror operation in Jenin and the conclusions are indecisive regarding who shot the bullet that killed Ms. Abu Akleh.

“We call on the Palestinian Authority to cooperate with said investigation to get to the truth and wonder why they do not cooperate and allow for an independent investigation to examine the bullet that they hold and can shed light on the investigation of who shot Ms. Abu Akleh,” the statement read.

Abu Akleh was born in 1971 to a Melkite Catholic family in East Jerusalem and graduated from a Jordanian university with a degree in journalism. She joined Al Jazeera in 1997. The New York Times reported that Abu Akleh “spent time in the United States when she was younger and obtained U.S. citizenship through family on her mother’s side, who lived in New Jersey, friends and colleagues said.”

Ossoff and Romney’s letter follows one by 57 Democratic members of the House, calling for the State Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to launch an independent investigation, as well as another, from a bipartisan group of 25 representatives, asking the Palestinian Authority to cooperate with Israel’s investigation.

The Times of Israel has reported that an administration official told the website that the U.S. would not open its own probe into the incident.

Prior to his election in January 2021, Ossoff was CEO of Insight: The World Investigates, a company that produced documentaries about war crimes, corruption and organized crime that aired on a number of international networks.

During his Senate campaign, Ossoff talked about his family ties to Israel. He also did so during Israel’s May 2021 war with groups firing rockets from Gaza. During that conflict, Ossoff led a call by 29 members of the Senate that urged a cease-fire.

Since taking office, Ossoff has met with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, President Isaac Herzog and other ranking members of the Israeli government.

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