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Israel Rejects U.S. Pressure on 'Rules of Engagement' Despite Killing of U.S.-Palestinian Journalist

Michael W. Chapman | September 7, 2022 | 3:16pm EDT
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Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid.  (Getty Images)
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid. (Getty Images)

Although the Israeli military admitted on Monday there was a "high probability" that one of its soldiers shot dead U.S.-Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh back in May, Israel's prime minister, Yair Lapid, rejected any suggestion that the U.S. would influence its rules of engagement for soldiers dealing with violent conflicts.

The U.S. announced on Tuesday, Sept. 6, that it would "press Israel" to "review its policies and practices" in such instances because of Akleh's death.

"[N]o one will dictate open fire regulations to us when we are fighting for our lives," said Prime Minister Lapid on Sept. 7, as reported in Haaretz

He added that he would "not allow them to put an IDF soldier on trial who defended himself against fire from terrorists, just to receive a round of applause from the world."

Earlier, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that the Jewish state's rules of engagement are set by the IDF chief of staff  "alone, and he will continue to set the open fire policy in accordance with the operational needs and doctrine of ethics of the IDF," reported Haaretz

Archimandrite Abdullah Yulio, parish priest of the Melkite Greek Catholic church in Ramallah, speaks during the 40th day after death memorial service for the late Palestinian and veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh at the Melkite Greek Catholic Church of the Presentation of the Lord at the Temple (al-Liqaa) in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Beit Hanina in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem on June 18, 2022. (Getty Images)
Archimandrite Abdullah Yulio, parish priest of the Melkite Greek Catholic church in Ramallah, speaks during the 40th day after death memorial service for the late Palestinian and veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh at the Melkite Greek Catholic Church of the Presentation of the Lord at the Temple in the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Hanina in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem on June 18, 2022. (Getty Images)

According to Reuters, U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel said on Tuesday, "We will continue to press Israel directly and closely at the senior-most levels to review its policies and practices on this to ensure that something like this doesn't happen again in the future."

Shireen Abu Akhel, a U.S.-Palestinian citizen, had worked as a reporter for Al Jazerra since 1997. On May 11, while covering an Israeli raid on the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank, she was shot in the head and died at the scene.

Akhel, 51, was wearing a helmet and a protective vest emblazoned with big letters that said "Press." In addition to Akhel, Al Jazeera journalist Ali al-Samoudi, at the scene, was hit in his back with a bullet. He survived.

After an investigation of the killing, the U.S. State Department said the gunfire "from IDF positions was likely responsible for the death of Shireen Abu Akleh."

On Sept. 5, the Israel military report stated there was a "high probability" that one of its soldiers accidentally shot Akhel. The report further said no one would be punished for the shooting, reported the Associated Press. 

Journalist Ali Al-Samoudi told Al Jazeera there were no Palestinian militants at the scene when Akleh was killed.

In a statement about the Israeli military report, Akhel's family said, “Today, the Israeli government and military released a statement that tried to obscure the truth and avoid responsibility for killing Shireen Abu Akleh, our aunt, sister, best friend, journalist, and a Palestinian American. We've known for over 4 months now that an Israeli soldier shot and killed Shireen as countless investigations conducted by CNN, the Associated Press, the New York Times, Al Jazeera, Al-Haq, B'tselem, the United Nations, and others have all concluded.

"And yet, as expected, Israel has refused to take responsibility for murdering Shireen. Our family is not surprised by this outcome since it’s obvious to anyone that Israeli war criminals cannot investigate their own crimes. However, we remain deeply hurt, frustrated and disappointed."

At least 81 members of Congress (House and Senate) have called on the Biden administration to direct the State Department and the FBI to conduct a thorough investigation into Akhel's death. In late July, Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.) introduced the Justice for Shireen Act

Shireen Abu Akhel, left, after she was shot in the head on May 11, 2022. (Screenshot Al Jazeera)
Shireen Abu Akhel, left, after she was shot in the head on May 11, 2022. (Screenshot Al Jazeera)

"From day one, Israel has denied responsibility for Shireen’s murder," said Carson.  "Israel has shown a lack of reverence for her life, and disrespect towards her home country, the U.S., as well as journalists across the world who risk their lives to bring us the news. This makes it imperative for our government to conduct our own investigating."

On the day Akhel was killed, May 11, the Israeli prime minister issued a statement that said, "According to the information we have gathered, it appears likely that armed Palestinians — who were firing indiscriminately at the time — were responsible for the unfortunate death of the journalist."

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