LONDON — A Palestinian American journalist was killed on Wednesday while covering an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank — and news network Al Jazeera claims the reporter was shot dead by Israeli forces.
Shireen Abu Akleh, a 51-year-old U.S. citizen who was working for the Qatar-based news outlet’s Arabic language channel, was struck in the head with a live bullet while standing with other journalists in the city of Jenin’s refugee camp, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry and Al Jazeera. She had been wearing a press vest.
Another Al Jazeera reporter who was working as Abu Akleh’s producer, Ali Samoudi, was injured during the attack. He is reportedly in stable condition.
Al Jazeera said in a statement: “We pledge to prosecute the perpetrators legally, no matter how hard they try to cover up their crime, and bring them to justice.”
The circumstances surrounding Abu Akleh’s death have been disputed by the Israeli military, which tweeted that the incident was being investigated and that it was possibly due to “Palestinian armed gunfire.”
The Israel Defense Forces said on Twitter that it was conducting “counterterrorism activity” in the refugee camp to “apprehend terrorist suspects.”
“During the activity, tens of Palestinian gunmen fired at and hurled explosive devices toward the soldiers,” the IDF claimed. “The soldiers responded with fire toward the gunmen, and hits were identified.” Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said it was likely to have been “armed Palestinians” who were “firing indiscriminately.”
According to the Washington Post, the Israeli army’s assessment was based on a video that was posted to the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Twitter page on Wednesday. “This morning, in Jenin, terrorists heard saying: ‘They’ve hit one, they’ve hit a soldier, he’s laying on the ground,’” the ministry said of the video, adding: “But no IDF soldier was injured in Jenin.” It is unclear when and where the footage was filmed.
Israel’s defense minister, Benny Gantz, said that preliminary findings from the investigation, conducted by the Israel Defense Forces, found that “no gunfire was directed at the journalist” but that the “investigation is ongoing.”
Al Jazeera producer Samoudi said that no Palestinian gunmen were in the area at the time of the shooting. “We were going to film the Israeli army raid, and suddenly they shot us without asking us to leave or stop filming,” he said.
“The first bullet hit me and the second bullet hit Shireen. They killed her in cold blood because they are killers and they specialize in killing only the Palestinian people,” Samoudi alleged. “There was no Palestinian military resistance at all at the scene.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called Abu Akleh’s death an “assassination” and said he held Israel responsible.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted later on Wednesday: “We are heartbroken to learn of the killing of Palestinian-American journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, and injuries to producer Ali Samoudi, today in the West Bank. We send our deepest condolences to her family, friends, and strongly condemn her killing.
“Shireen was a reporting legend, followed closely by those who care about the region and is mourned by all who knew her,” Psaki said of Abu Akleh’s “heart-wrenching” death.
She went on to say the Biden administration is calling “for an immediate and thorough investigation and full accountability. Investigating attacks on independent media and prosecuting those responsible are of paramount importance.”
“Her death is a tragic loss and an affront to media freedom everywhere,” Psaki added.
In April, the International Federation of Journalists filed a case to the International Criminal Court over Israel’s alleged systematic targeting of journalists who have worked in Palestine. “If we demand justice for the Russian targeting of Ukrainian journalists we must demand an end to, and justice for, Israeli targeting and killings of Palestinian journalists,” the report said. Anthony Bellanger, the organization's secretary, claimed that Abu Akleh’s killing was “a deliberate systematic targeting of a journalist.”
Cover thumbnail photo: Hazem Bader/AFP via Getty Images