Friday, June 21, 2024

US rights groups urge congress to pass bill on govt. probe into Al-Jazeera journalist killing

Dozens of progressive policy groups and human rights organisations came together on Tuesday to call on the US Congress to pass a bill that would require the administration of President Joe Biden to investigate the killing of Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

In a letter to Congress that was shared with Middle East Eye, more than 60 national organisations urged lawmakers to pass the legislation, which was first introduced by Congressman Andre Carson last year.

The bill, named the Justice for Shireen Act, would require the FBI and State Department to publicly report on the details surrounding the killing of Abu Akleh, a veteran journalist with Al Jazeera Arabic who was killed in May 2022 while reporting during an Israeli raid on the city of Jenin in the occupied West Bank.

“The United States has a moral and legal obligation to ensure that its military funding is not used to support actions that violate international humanitarian or human rights law,” said the letter, which was organised by the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), Americans for Justice in Palestine Action, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Democracy for the Arab World Now.

“We call upon Congress to pass Representative Carson’s Justice for Shireen Act to require necessary reporting into Shireen Abu Akleh’s killing and urge Congress and the Biden administration to take immediate steps to ensure that US military funding to the Israeli government does not support human rights abuses against Palestinians.”

Carson had attempted to fit the legislation as an amendment into the National Defense Authorization Act of 2024, the Pentagon’s annual policy and budget bill. However, the amendment was tossed out in the House of Representatives.

Abu Akleh was shot dead by Israeli forces in May 2022 while covering an Israeli raid into the Palestinian village of Jenin. Israel initially said that Palestinian gunmen may have been responsible for her death, but later backtracked and said it was unclear what had happened.

Eyewitnesses, including MEE correspondent Shatha Hanaysha, said Abu Akleh was shot by an Israeli sniper.

She was the second American citizen to be killed at the hands of Israeli forces that year. In January 2022, Omar Assad, a 78-year-old Palestinian American, suffered from a heart attack after being detained, blindfolded, and gagged by Israeli forces.

“Over a year has passed since Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was tragically killed during an Israeli military raid in a refugee camp in the occupied West Bank,” Hassan El-Tayyab, FCNL’s legislative director for Middle East policy, told Middle East Eye.

“There is overwhelming evidence that she was killed by an Israeli soldier, and no one has been held responsible for this heinous act of violence. Shireen has not received the justice she deserves.”

The call to Congress was echoed by Abu Akleh’s family, which has spent over a year meeting with the Biden administration and US lawmakers over the killing, and has submitted a case to the International Criminal Court.

“Thank you to the organisations who continue to push for accountability and justice for Shireen,” the family said in a statement shared with MEE.

“When a US citizen is killed by a foreign military, the family shouldn’t have to fight for the bare minimum. Every member of Congress should support the Justice for Shireen Act so that we are one step closer to ensuring no other journalist’s family suffers the way ours has.”

Last July, the State Department used an initial summary from the US Security Coordinator for Israel (USSC) and the Palestinian Authority to conclude that Israeli gunfire likely killed Abu Akleh, but the Biden administration said there was no reason to believe it was intentional.

Many US lawmakers have demanded to know the details of the killing. Tuesday’s letter notes that more than 100 members of Congress have either made statements or signed letters calling for a “thorough US-led investigation that results in accountability”.

Last month, Senator Chris Van Hollen was able to take a look at the USSC report on the killing and concluded that it did provide some insights into the unit in the Israeli forces that were operating in the area during her shooting.

However, the report “does not and cannot shed new light” on the mindset of the individual who took the final shot. Van Hollen added that the USSC team “were not granted access to key witnesses and therefore were unable to conduct an independent investigation”.

The senator has since called for the report to be declassified in its entirety.

Since Abu Akleh’s death in Jenin last year, Israeli forces have launched numerous military raids into the Palestinian city. Most recently, Israel launched a raid on 3 July that killed 12 Palestinians and left more than 100 others wounded.

Analysts told Middle East Eye earlier this month that the raid on Jenin, and the US response to it, underlined the Biden administration’s lack of red lines as violence against the Palestinians escalates.

“Shireen Abu Akleh’s killing is part of a systemic pattern of human rights abuses against Palestinians and the free press by the Israeli military,” the letter said.

Tuesday’s letter also comes as Israeli President Isaac Herzog begins his visit to Washington this week, where he will deliver an address to a joint session of Congress.

On Sunday, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, who heads the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said that Israel was a racist state, in response to pro-Palestinian demonstrators in Chicago.

The lawmaker backtracked on the remarks and apologised. However, the remarks come after several members of the progressive caucus announced their plans to boycott Herzog’s speech to Congress, including Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez.

Tayyab said US Congress should raise the issue of Abu Akleh’s killing during Herzog’s visit to Washington.

“It is important for members of Congress to support Congressman Andre Carson’s Justice for Shireen Act and use President Herzog’s visit to amplify the need for a host of urgent policy reforms, including accountability for the shooting death of Shireen Abu Akleh and respect for the human rights of Palestinians,” Tayyab told MEE.

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