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“Pathetic and inadequate”, MPs slam UK’s response to killing of Al Jazeera journalist

27th May 2022
“Pathetic and inadequate”,  MPs slam UK’s response to killing of Al Jazeera journalist

Elham Asaad Buaras

Opposition MPs have slammed the UK Government’s reluctance to join international bodies, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the EU, in calling for an independent investigation into the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Shireen’s colleagues and an AFP photojournalist, who all witnessed and captured her killing on video, insist she was assassinated by an Israel Defence Forces (IDF) sniper while covering their raid on a house in Jenin, West Bank, on May 11.

The Palestinian-American journalist was shot in the neck while wearing a blue vest marked “press”, and transported to Ibn Sina Hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Another journalist, Ali Samodi, was shot in the back but survived; two others were transported to a hospital in moderate condition.

Fellow journalist Shatha Hanaysha said that she, Shireen and Samodi, had been pinned down by Israeli snipers, who did not cease firing even after Shireen fell, preventing her from pulling her in. Al Jazeera reiterated that Shireen had been wearing a helmet and was shot in an unprotected area under her ear, demonstrating “deliberate targeting”.

Boris Johnson’s Government’s response to her killing has instead been branded “pathetic and inadequate” during a heated Parliamentary debate on May 16, in which a Government Foreign Minister was repeatedly pressed on what action the Government had taken in response and why the Israeli Ambassador was not summoned for questioning.

In line with the US, the UK has not called for an independent investigation. US Department of State Spokesperson, Ned Price, confirmed that Washington trusts Israel to investigate itself merely telling reporters that “those responsible for Shireen’s killing should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

The UK’s Foreign Undersecretary, Vicky Ford, opened the debate by telling Parliament that “the Foreign Secretary and UK Ministers made clear our concern and we have called for a thorough investigation into the events.

On May 13, in company with the other members of the United Nations Security Council, we strongly condemned the killing and stressed the importance of an immediate, thorough, transparent, fair, and impartial investigation. We also stressed the need to ensure accountability.”

However, relaying distressing events in the Occupied Territories, Andy Slaughter, Shadow Solicitor General for England and Wales, said, “Another journalist is murdered in occupied Palestine. Next, the occupying power raids her family home, and then its forces brutally attack pallbearers and mourners at Shireen’s funeral. In light of that, the Government’s response has been pathetic and inadequate.

The Minister will not even call for an independent investigation—that is, independent of the Israeli forces, who have whitewashed previous deaths in this way. Will she do that? Will she say what single step the Government have taken—not said, but taken—to oppose the occupation of Palestine, which is at the root of this violence? Will they recognise Palestine? Will they ban trade with illegal settlements? Will they sign up for the ICC inquiry? If not, her words are completely empty.”

The Shadow Minister for the Middle East Government, Bambos Charalambous, who requested the debate, asked, “Has the Minister made any representations to her Israeli counterparts on the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh? Will she condemn the violence at Shireen’s funeral? Can she confirm that her Department will stand up for international and human rights by encouraging an independent inquiry into Shireen’s killing so that we can ensure that there is accountability for her death?”

While the SNP’s Brendan O’Hara took it one step further and asked the Minister why the UK is not supporting calls for the International Criminal Court to investigate the killing “so that the person responsible for this awful crime can be found, tried and, if convicted, given an appropriate sentence?

What sanction against Israel does she think would be appropriate in those circumstances? Finally, will she also unreservedly condemn the disgraceful actions of the Israeli police when on Friday they attacked Shireen’s cortege with batons and stun grenades, denying her even in death any sort of dignity or respect?”

Former Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott, said, “There has been talk of the necessity of establishing the facts. Does she appreciate that the facts of the terrible scenes at Shireen’s funeral are beyond doubt? Millions of people around the world have seen those images.

Finally, does she understand that it is no use telling us that Shireen’s death is a tragedy? We know that. We will take her words seriously only when she commits this afternoon, in this House, to calling the Israeli Ambassador to the Foreign Office. Otherwise, her words are just words.”

Meanwhile, PM Johnson’s spokesman said the PM was “appalled at her death” and “his thoughts are with her friends and family. However, he did not call for an independent inquiry and instead said that it “was an issue for the locals to decide.”

As to the issue of the Israeli police attack on the funeral ceremony, the PM spokesman said while “those were distressing scenes for anyone to watch” it was for “the police authorities to answer”.

Citing Israeli police doctoring of a video to show Palestinians throwing stones during Shireen’s funeral and the IDF claim that a video in Jenin showed Palestinians killing her, which was debunked by an Israeli human rights group, Palestinian and journalist rights advocates have said that when Israel is left to investigate its own forces’ misconduct, accountability is seldom the outcome.

The Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, said that Palestinians would not participate in a joint investigation and repeated eyewitness claims that Israel was responsible for the death of the journalist.

“They committed the crime and we do not trust them,” Abbas said, adding that the PA will instead “turn immediately to the International Criminal Court to prosecute the criminals.”
“We hold the Israeli occupation authorities totally responsible for her killing,” Abbas said. “This crime cannot go unpunished.”

The IDF announced an investigation into her death, but IDF spokesman Amnon Shefler said Israeli soldiers “would never deliberately target non-combatants,” while Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, said there was “a considerable chance that armed Palestinians, who fired wildly, were the ones who brought about the journalist’s unfortunate death.”

Bennett’s statement contradicted multiple eyewitnesses, including two journalists, one of whom an AFP photographer, standing next to Shireen, who reported that the area had been quiet immediately prior to her death and no Palestinians, civilian or otherwise, were present.

The Israeli Occupying Force also has a record of killing over 50 Palestinian journalists since 2001 (Palestinian Journalism Syndicate) and wounding over 144 journalists in just the last four years (Reporters Without Borders).

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said it “is not satisfied with Israeli Foreign Minister, Yair Lapid’s proposal for a joint investigation into this journalist’s death.”

RSF Secretary-General, Christophe Deloire, called for an independent international investigation into the killing, which he classified as a violation of the Geneva Conventions and UN Security Council resolution 2222 on the protection of journalists.

“No one should believe the Israeli promises protecting “investigate” what has happened because the promise of investigations is nothing but the first step in Israel’s organised whitewash,” said Hagai El-Ad, Executive Director of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, who in 2016, stopped sending the IDF complaints of alleged IDF war crimes in the West Bank because it alleged, “the IDF was whitewashing the complaints.”

“Israel is unable and unwilling to conduct such investigations, which opens the door to international legal responsibility.”

Ahmad Abuznaid, Executive Director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, said calls for US investigations are “empty gestures” if the probe is to be left to Israel.

“You can’t ask the Israelis to investigate themselves when they’ve been abusing human rights for over 70 years and expect them to arrive at a different result than what they’ve been arriving at after all these decades,” said Abuznaid.

Price said repeatedly when pressed by reporters at a State Department briefing that Israel has the “wherewithal and the capabilities to conduct a thorough, comprehensive investigation” into the killing of Shireen.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, called for accountability and an end to impunity. “Footage of Israeli police attacking mourners at the funeral procession of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in East Jerusalem on Friday 13 May was shocking. Reports indicate that at least 33 people were injured,” she said.

Bachelet said the Israeli use of force, which was being filmed and broadcast live, appeared to be unnecessary and must be promptly and transparently investigated.

“There must be accountability for the terrible killing, not just of Shireen Abu Akleh but for all the killings and serious injuries in the occupied Palestinian territory,” she said.

The UN rights chief reported that 48 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces so far this year.

“As I have called for many times before, there must be appropriate investigations into the actions of Israeli security forces,” said Bachelet.

“Anyone found responsible should be held to account with penal and disciplinary sanctions commensurate to the gravity of the violation. This culture of impunity must end now.”

The journalist was shot even though she wore a vest that identified her as a member of the press corps. Her producer was also wounded. The UN Security Council issued a statement denouncing her killing, reiterating that journalists should be protected as civilians. The Council also called for an immediate, thorough, transparent, fair, and impartial investigation into her killing, and stressed the need to ensure accountability.

The EU has also demanded an independent investigation into the circumstances of her death.
In a statement, the EU’s External Action Service said, “It is essential that a thorough, independent investigation clarifies all the circumstances of these incidents as soon as possible and that those responsible are brought to justice.”

“It is unacceptable to target journalists while they perform their job. “It continues: Journalists covering conflict situations must be ensured safety and protection at all times.”

The Israeli military announced on May 19 that it would not be opening a criminal investigation into Shireen’s death. In a statement to The Jerusalem Post, the military said that given ‘the nature of the operational activity, which included intense fighting and extensive exchanges of fire, it was decided that there was no need to open a Military Police investigation at this stage.’

The statement added the decision was made under ‘the Judea and Samaria investigative policy, as approved by the Supreme Court, according to which it does require the opening of a criminal investigation into the death of a Palestinian during operational activity with real combat unless there is real suspicion of a criminal offence.’

Photo: The Israeli police officers’ attack on mourners carrying the casket of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who according to witnesses was shot by the Israeli army, has provoked worldwide condemnation. (Credit: Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency)
Inset: Shireen Abu Akleh  (Credit: Anadolu Agency archive)

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