Urge the Biden Administration to Hold Israel Accountable for Violations of International Law
Last week, Israel released the findings of its investigation of the May 11 murder of Al-Jazeera journalist and Palestinian American Shireen Abu Akleh. Local and international human rights organizations, as well as CNN and other media organizations that investigated the killing, concluded that Abu Akleh was killed by Israeli soldiers. However, until last week Israel denied any responsibility and tried to shift blame for the killing onto Palestinians.
In a new report Israel concludes that there was a “high possibility” that Abu Akleh was “accidentally hit” by an Israeli soldier, leaving open the possibility of other culprits. The report also states that “there is no suspicion of a criminal offense that justifies the opening of a Military Police investigation.”
Despite clear evidence showing Israeli responsibility for the killing of Abu Akleh, the United States’ response to the report makes clear that it will not pressure Israel or demand accountability in any way for Abu Akleh’s death, despite criticism of the Israeli report by B’Tselem and calls for an independent U.S. investigation. State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel said only, “We're going to continue to press our Israeli partners to closely review its policies and practices on the rules of engagement.” Abu Akleh’s family has continued to seek a meeting with President Biden, with no positive response to date.
Meanwhile, Israeli incursions into the occupied northern West Bank city of Jenin, which Abu Akleh was covering when she was killed, have continued into September, including raids of homes, killing and injuring of Palestinian civilians, and home demolitions.
This lack of accountability is nothing new. For decades, Israel has acted with virtual impunity in its disregard for international law and disrespect of human life.
This week marks the 40th anniversary of the Israeli-enabled massacre of hundreds of Palestinians, many of whom were women and children, in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut from Sept. 16 through 18, 1982, which followed the evacuation of Palestinian Liberation Organization fighters from Lebanon that August. The operation was led by then-Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, who “bore personal responsibility” for “not taking appropriate measures to prevent bloodshed,” according to the Kahan Commission of Inquiry’s report. Sharon later became Israel’s prime minister.
Most often civil society, including human rights organizations, are the most meticulous in documenting violations of human rights and international law. When such organizations are inhibited in their work, the facts are often lost and society suffers. In mid-August, Israeli forces welded shut the doors of internationally respected civic advocacy and human rights organizations in Ramallah, deemed “terrorist organizations” last October (without evidence) by the Ministry of Defense. The international community has not accepted this action, but neither has it held Israel accountable for its assault on these well-regarded groups.
By closing these groups down and working to cut off their funding, Israel hinders their necessary documentation of human rights abuses. Last week the organizations urged the Biden administration to “condemn the latest Israeli government actions aimed at delegitimizing and criminalizing Palestinian human rights defenders and civil society organizations” and to “demand [that] Israel rescind the designations under both Israeli civilian law and military law.”
It is past time for the U.S. to employ its leverage to hold Israel accountable for its continuing violations of international law and human rights. Urge President Biden and Secretary of State Blinken to use their influence to press for an independent investigation of Shireen Abu Akleh’s murder, to support civic advocacy and human rights organizations’ right to operate freely and provide necessary documentation of Israel’s violations, and to hold Israel accountable to international law.