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Shireen Abu Akleh: Al Jazeera takes Israel to ICC over killing of journalist

Media network files lawsuit at Hague court against Israeli forces over killing of veteran reporter
Banners depicting slain Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh hang on a building overlooking the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank on 14 July 2022 (AFP)

Al Jazeera has submitted a formal request to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate and prosecute the Israeli soldiers responsible for killing Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, the network announced on Tuesday.

Abu Akleh, 51, a veteran reporter for Al Jazeera Arabic and a household name across the Arab world, was shot dead on 11 May while covering an Israeli military raid in the Palestinian city of Jenin in the occupied West Bank.

Her death, which was widely condemned, sparked multiple investigations, including one by the UN, which concluded that Israeli forces likely killed her.

On Tuesday, the same day the request was filed, Israel's National Security Minister-designate, far-right leader Itamar Ben-Gvir, called for the expulsion of Al Jazeera from Israel.

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"Al Jazeera is an anti-Semitic and false propaganda network that works against the State of Israel in the world," he said. "They should be expelled from the country today and the anti-Israeli campaign of lies should be stopped from within Israel."

An Israeli army investigation into Abu Akleh's killing in September concluded that she was likely shot by an Israeli soldier but was not deliberately targeted.

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The Israeli Military Advocate General's Office said it would not open an investigation into any soldiers involved in the incident as there was "no suspicion that a criminal offence was committed".

According to Al Jazeera's lawyer, Rodney Dixon KC, the request was filed in the context of what the network perceives as a wider attack on Al Jazeera and journalists in Palestine, referring to incidents such as the bombing of the channel’s Gaza office on 15 May 2021.

“The focus is on Shireen, and this particular killing, this outrageous killing. But the evidence we submit looks at all of the acts against Al Jazeera because it has been targeted as an international media organisation and the evidence shows that what the [Israeli] authorities are trying to do is to shut it up,” Al Jazeera quoted Dixon as saying.

Al Jazeera spent six months investigating the incident and gathering eyewitness statements, video footage and other material to hand over to the Hague court. None of it has been made public.

Last week, Al Jazeera aired a documentary that showed how Abu Akleh and other journalists wearing protective helmets and bulletproof vests marked with the word “PRESS” came under fire.

The network's request follows a complaint submitted to the ICC by Abu Akleh’s family in September, together with the Palestinian Press Syndicate and the International Federation of Journalists.

The ICC decided in 2021 that is has jurisdiction over the occuppied West Bank. 

Multiple investigations

An investigation by NGO Forensic Architecture and the Ramallah-based human rights organisation Al-Haq in September found that Abu Akleh and her colleagues were explicitly targeted despite being identifiable as members of the press.

The source of the gunfire that killed Abu Akleh, according to their investigation, was an Israeli army marksman in an armoured vehicle. 

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Contrary to Israeli statements that said Abu Akleh was killed during a battle between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli soldiers, the organisations also found that there were no shots fired from Palestinian gunmen and no armed Palestinians present in the area in the moments leading up to her killing.

Once she was shot, the investigators found, the Israeli marksman continued to shoot at those trying to help Abu Akleh, deliberately preventing her from receiving medical care.

The FBI opened a probe into the killing of Abu Akleh last month. In response, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said on Twitter that Israel "will not cooperate" with the FBI, calling the investigation "a grave mistake". 

The White House denied any knowledge of the FBI investigation.

Dixon, the Al Jazeera lawyer, said that the ICC should investigate and prosecute the killing alongside the FBI, “so that this case doesn’t fall between the cracks, and that those responsible are identified and put on trial".

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