Niece of Palestinian American Journalist Killed by Israel Asks to Meet Biden

The Israeli army has confirmed that Shireen Abakleh, a Palestinian American journalist was fatally shot by an Israeli soldier in a raid in the occupied West Bank in may. The conclusion to the internal investigation comes after months of outrage from Abu Akleh’s family and human rights activists at Israel’s initial claim that the bullet came from Palestinian fire. The U.S. responded to Israel’s initial claim that the bullet was caused by Palestinian fire, stating that it would press Israel to reconsider its rules of engagement. Abu Akleh’s family says it’s not enough, and is demanding a meeting with President Biden. “Real accountability includes holding the soldier who killed Shireen accountable … and changing the entire policy that continues to perpetuate violence against Palestinians,” says Shireen Abu Akleh’s niece, Lina Abu Akleh.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN:Israel has admitted that one of its soldiers may be responsible for Shireen Abu Akleh’s death. Shireen was a Palestinian American journalist who was killed while covering an Israeli raid at the Jenin refugee camp in occupied West Bank. Israel said Monday Abu Akleh may have been “accidentally” hit by Israeli troops’ gunfire after they came under fire from Palestinian fighters.

However, videos and eyewitness accounts of the area in which Shireen was killed don’t show a gun battle. She also wore body armor and a helmet clearly labeled ”PRESS.” Investigations by The New York Times, CNN, The Washington Post and other media outlets also challenge the official Israeli version of Abu Akleh’s killing. The Times said there were, quote, “no armed Palestinians near her when she was shot,” unquote. In Ramallah, Al Jazeera’s West Bank bureau chief rejected the Israeli claims about the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, its longtime reporter.

WALID AL-OMARI: [translated]It is obvious that they want to perpetuate confusion and deception on one hand while simultaneously clearing themselves of wrongdoing by claiming an exchange of fire. These claims are false because all the witnesses, videos and accounts disprove them.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, Israel still says it will not launch a criminal probe into Shireen Abu Akleh’s killing. Biden continues to face criticism for its response in the wake of her death. U.S. officials have been accused of trying to cover up for Israel. Vedant Patel, the deputy spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, spoke Tuesday.

VEDANT PATEL: We’re going to continue to press our Israeli partners to closely review its policies and practices on rules of engagement and consider additional steps to mitigate the risk of civilian harm, protect journalists and prevent similar tragedies in the future.

AMY GOODMAN:Tuesday was Democratic U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland dismissed the allegations from the Israeli army that Abu Akleh was killed in the midst of a gunfight between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians, tweeting, quote, “The crux of the ‘defense’ in this IDF report is that a soldier was ‘returning fire’ from militants. But investigations…found no such firing at the time.” Maryland Senator Van Hollen and Abu Akleh’s family are calling for the U.S. to launch an independent investigation.

For more, we’re joined in New York by Lina Abu Akleh, the niece of Shireen.

Lina, we are glad to have you. Democracy Now!First, we send our condolences for your loss and for your family.

LINA ABU AKLEH:Amy, thank you so much. Thank you for having us.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you’re here in New York, and you’ve been in Washington. You just spoke at National Press Club. Can you respond to Israel’s report saying that they may well likely have “accidentally,” the Israeli — an Israeli soldier, unidentified, killed your aunt? Can you talk about that report and what you’re calling for?

LINA ABU AKLEH:Yes. This statement, you know, did nothing but obscure the truth and avoid accountability. And time and time again, we’ve seen how Israel is unwilling to hold itself accountable for killings. We are furious as her family and as her niece. We were not expecting a statement from the Israeli government, the Israeli army, because we have seen how over the past months they’ve been changing the narrative and shifting the narrative.

Here is what we know. We have the facts. We know that Shireen was covering a raid in Jenin. She identified herself to the army along with her colleagues who were all wearing protective helmets and press vests. You know, we’re talking here about the most advanced army, one of the most technologically advanced armies, and they still were able to aim precisely in the area right beneath her head and shoot her. My aunt was also killed by continuous fires. Even though they tried to help my aunt, they were still being fired upon. To us, the statement is misleading and ambiguous. They still try to escape any responsibility.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I wanted to ask you, Lina, this — the fact that clearly this was an accurate hit by a soldier, most likely using a telescopic sight, he could shoot your aunt, but then, supposedly, not see that she was clearly marked with the words “press” on her?

LINA ABU AKLEH: You know, it wasn’t — there were “press” written in the front and the back. You know, they were identifying themselves before they were — before they started. They were about ready to report, but the area was very quiet at the time. And we’ve seen videos. We’ve seen Palestinian eyewitnesses who were in the scene. We see this as nothing more than trying to hide the truth and spreading disinformation. Shireen was a well-known journalist. For the past 25 year, she was reporting from Jerusalem and the West Bank. There is no way she could have been misidentified.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you’ve said that your aunt was killed twice, once in Jenin and once in Jerusalem. Could you please elaborate?

LINA ABU AKLEH:Yes, I believe Shireen was attacked twice in Jenin, on May 11th, and again in Jerusalem, during her funeral. The Israeli paramilitary force was armed to the teeth and attacked the mourners, my family, as well as the pallbearers of the casket. It was a very disturbing scene. It was extremely traumatizing to say the very least. I remember we were being pushed. We were being beat with batons to remember our dear aunt. Unfortunately, she was still being attacked even after her funeral. She was still trying hard to be silenced. This was a scene that will be ingrained in the hearts of all Palestinians as well as the rest of the world. Although it was not a new phenomenon, it was very disturbing. It was quite brutal, to put it mildly.

AMY GOODMAN: Lina, for people who aren’t familiar with what happened at the funeral, this was at the time Israel was saying it was Palestinians who had killed Shireen. And what the Israeli military or police did at the funeral, and also the Israeli government saying they had agreement with Tony, with Shireen’s brother?

LINA ABU AKLEH: Yeah. That was part of their plan to change the narrative and spread disinformation. They summoned Tony, my father, before the funeral and tried to place restrictions on how Shireen should be remembered. They limited the number of mourners, the number of gatherers, and restricted who could access the hospital. My father refused to agree to any of this. We didn’t have any agreement with them. We made it clear to them that this is not a family funeral, but a national one. Everyone loved and respected Shireen. Everyone was there to grieve her.

However, we were restricted from entering the hospital by multiple Israeli checkpoints. There was — it felt like an actual war zone outside the hospital. The Israeli forces attacked us as we tried to move the casket from the hearse into the hospital. They tried to stop the funeral procession from reaching the church. And it was in that moment where the entire world beared witness to what it’s like to be living under occupation and have our entire lives controlled. This is the same army the U.S. continues funding annually with $4 billion. That day will be a memory that will last a lifetime. Even at her funeral, Shireen, my aunt, was still reporting and her voice was stronger than any other moment in that particular day.

AMY GOODMAN:We wanted to play a montage featuring Shireen Abu Akleh, covering the Middle East. She did it for more then two decades for Al Jazeera. Let’s go to some of those reports.

SHIREEN ABU AKLEH: [translated]There have been several cases of suffocation. Numerous Palestinians were injured by the tear gas canisters. … This wall inhibits the view, the sun and communication between Palestinians. It is also threatening their dream to have a nation that is geographically continuous. … It might not be easy for me to change the reality of the situation on the ground, but at least I was able to contribute by helping those voices reach the world. I am Shireen Abu Akleh.

AMY GOODMAN: Shireen Abu Akleh. She was 51 years old and worked for Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera is a familiar face to the Arab world. Lina, you’re here in the United States. Your family wanted to meet President Biden when he visited Israel. Instead, you were invited into Washington. Tony Blinken was the one you met, is that correct? The secretary of state. But you’re demanding a meeting with President Biden? Can you talk about all that you’re demanding and the significance of Chris Van Hollen, the senator from Maryland, not accepting the Israeli report on her death and calling for that independent investigation?

LINA ABU AKLEH: Yeah, you know, when President Biden was in the Middle East, when he was in Jerusalem specifically, he was 10 minutes away from our house, from Shireen’s house, where she grew, where she was born. He refused to meet with us. Instead, our family went to D.C. and met Secretary Antony Blinken. We are still calling for a meeting between the U.S. President and Secretary Antony Blinken, as that will show that he cares about this case and is willing to take action.

Since my aunt was murdered, the U.S. State Department and U.S. administration have only released empty words, with no action, since then. And that’s why we will continue to demand an investigation, a U.S.-led investigation, for the killing of a U.S. citizen, because this is what would have happened if it was any other U.S. citizen killed abroad, and this is what usually happens, and, second, because a U.S. investigation will inevitably show the same as — will inevitably conclude the same as all reputable reports have shown, that Shireen was killed, she was targeted by an Israeli soldier, and will help identify this soldier and have accountability. This is not only about Shireen. It’s about ensuring no other family, any other U.S. citizens, or Palestinians, has to suffer, go through what we have. Therefore, it’s so important that the U.S. opens up an investigation, a transparent investigation, to hold the Israeli soldier accountable, the Israeli army accountable for the killing of Shireen.

And this is not our only — we are not the only ones demanding this. But, as you stated, we have members of Congress, senators, representatives, all — a majority of them are backing our calls. We saw how Senator Van Hollen dismissed this statement. We also saw how Representative André Carson, as well, he was stating that this is not enough, it falls short of any form of accountability. Real accountability means holding the soldier responsible for killing Shireen, the person who pulled the trigger, and changing the whole system, which perpetuates violence against Palestinians.

AMY GOODMAN:Lina Abu Akleh, my niece Shireen Abu Akleh, thank you for being here. We will continue to report on this story, of course. Again, our condolences go out to your family.

LINA ABU AKLEH:We are so grateful.

AMY GOODMAN:In a victory for Trump: A federal judge he appointed granted his request for a special Master to review classified documents. FBIMar-a-Lago. We’ll get response from Elie Mystal, author of Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy’s Guide to the Constitution. Stay with us.