Photo Credit: YouTube screenshot
Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

The initial findings of an autopsy on the body of 51-year-old Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh were “inconclusive,” it was announced Wednesday night.

The journalist was shot and killed earlier in the day during a shootout between Israeli forces and Palestinian Authority gunmen in the terrorist hotbed city of Jenin, in Samaria.

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Abu Akleh, a US citizen who was living in the northern Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina, has been covering the Middle East for several decades.

Dr. Ryan al-Ali of the Pathological Institute at a-Najah University in Shechem (Nablus) was quoted Wednesday night by al-Jarmak TV as saying the veteran reporter had died after a bullet hit her in the head, having been fired from a distance of several meters.

However, the pathologist added that it was impossible to determine who had fired the fatal shot.

The bullet fragment retrieved from Abu Akleh’s body was a bullet from an M-16 assault rifle — a weapon used by both Israeli forces and Palestinian Authority gunmen.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement to the Knesset during the day that Tuesday night the IDF conducted an “extensive” operation in northern Samaria as part of the effort to stop the current, deadly wave of terrorism.

“During the engagement, armed Palestinians shot in an inaccurate, indiscriminate and uncontrolled manner. Our forces from the IDF returned fire as accurately, carefully and responsibly as possible.

Sadly, Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed in the exchange. The Palestinian Authority rushed to blame Israel for her death, and the president of the PA made unfounded accusations against Israel before any investigation had been carried out,” Bennett pointed out.

Israel called on the Palestinian Authority to conduct a joint forensic analysis based on all the documentation and findings available “in order to uncover the truth,” Bennett emphasized. “As I said, the Palestinians are refusing, and I expect them to cooperate and refrain from any actions that may contaminate the investigation,” he added.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz likewise told the Knesset that the State of Israel “values the protection of human life above all, as well as freedom of the press. IDF troops would never intentionally harm members of the press, and any attempt to imply otherwise is baseless.

“We do not currently have a way to conduct a full forensic investigation, so we asked the Palestinians to provide us with the bullet head they have found … that killed Shireen according to their assessment. And I hope that we will get their cooperation, and we want to conduct, not just a military debriefing but a full-scale investigation on our side to include a forensic analysis and process, which is very important.

“We are now in a full investigation process, and I hope to come to a conclusion, because currently our initial findings from the investigation cannot indicate what gunfire was directed at Shireen and I cannot exclude any option under the operational chaos that was on the ground. We have offered the Palestinian Authority to conduct a joint debriefing and to share our findings. As I said, we are committed to uncovering the truth and we will communicate all of our findings in a clear and transparent manner to both our American friends and to the PA,” Gantz said.

IDF Chief of Staff Major-General Aviv Kochavi, who toured the Judea and Samaria Division and the Seam Area during the day, conducted a preliminary investigation into the operational activities carried out overnight in Jenin.

Kochavi said in a statement that the IDF is sorry for the death of the reporter. “At this stage, it is not possible to determine whose gunfire hit her,” he noted, vowing to fully investigate the incident.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid likewise issued a statement, as did Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan.

“We are saddened by the death of senior Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh during a heavy exchange of fire in the midst of a counter-terror operation in Jenin,” said the statement issued by the Foreign Ministry. “A free and fair press is fundamental to Israel and all democracies, and as such, journalists must be protected… Israel will be conducting a thorough investigation. We call on the Palestinian Authority to cooperate with said investigation to get to the truth.”

Erdan pointed out “Protecting freedom of the press is of critical importance to Israel, and noted that Abu Akleh was killed in Jenin, “where many of the Palestinian terrorists who recently murdered 19 Israelis came from. She was killed during a counter-terror operation and we express sorrow for her loss.

“The Palestinian Authority rushed to blame Israel without even the ability to know the facts,” he said. “That is why we called on the Palestinian Authority to be transparent and agree to a joint investigation. They have refused. Her death is a tragedy but no one should use it for political gains, especially those who violate human rights on a daily basis.”

None of the statements appeared to impress anyone in the international community.

“We are heartbroken by and strongly condemn the killing of American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in the West Bank,” wrote US State Department spokesperson Ned Price in a tweet, using the Jordanian term for Judea and Samaria. “The investigation must be immediate and thorough and those responsible must be held accountable. Her death is an affront to media freedom everywhere,” he wrote.

US Representative Rashida Tlaib, a child of Palestinian Authority Arab parents, held a moment of silence for the deceased reported during Wednesday’s session of Congress — but that did not appear to appease her rage.

Without any evidence whatsoever, Tlaib said “Apartheid Israel … continues to murder, torture and commit war crimes,” claiming the journalist “was murdered by a government that receives unconditional funding by our country with zero accountability.”

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the killing “an horrific tragedy,” in a tweet. “A thorough, objective investigation is needed now. Congress is committed to the defense of press freedoms worldwide and protection of every journalist, particularly those in conflict zones,” she wrote.

The European Union has also condemned the killing and called for an independent investigation of the incident.

Some Perspective
To put this tragedy into perspective, one has to also acknowledge the fact that when a journalist enters a theater of combat, he or she is taking a calculated risk, no matter what the circumstances.

Since January 1 of this calendar year, 28 journalists have been killed worldwide, according to the International Press Institute. This week alone, two journalists were shot to death in Mexico, raising the total number of slain journalists in that country to 11 since January 1. A journalist was also killed in Mexico last week.

Forty-five journalists were killed last year worldwide and 55 journalists were killed in 2020.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.
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