An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Israel says one of its soldiers likely killed a Palestinian-American journalist


Israel's army, the IDF, released a statement today saying there is a high possibility that one of their own fired the shot that killed Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in May. She was a longtime Al Jazeera correspondent covering clashes between Israel and Palestinian gunmen near the city of Jenin when she was killed. NPR's Daniel Estrin has been covering the story. Hey, Daniel.


SHAPIRO: How has this high-profile case unfolded up to now?

ESTRIN: It's been a months-long saga, Ari, all the way back since when Shireen Abu Akleh was killed in May. The case has gotten a lot of attention. Shireen Abu Akleh was a veteran reporter for Al Jazeera. And she had American citizenship. And the U.S. has been pressing for answers. She was killed on a morning of an Israeli military operation on Palestinian suspects. She was there covering it. Israeli soldiers are facing scores of bullets from Palestinian gunmen and vice versa. And there has been this long saga over who was responsible for her killing, which was caught on tape and seen throughout the world.

Israel said it could have been our soldier, or it could have been a Palestinian gunmen. We have to investigate. But media - CNN, The Washington Post, The New York Times - all had experts analyze the video and tracked where the soldiers and the gunmen were known to be and determined that Israeli soldiers were likely responsible for the bullet. But Israel said they were still investigating. So the U.S. got involved and oversaw a forensic investigation of the bullet. It was inconclusive. The bullet was too damaged to determine which gun had fired it. But the State Department said it was likely Israel responsible, and the U.S. continued to call for accountability. So finally now, Israel has come out with its final conclusions of its own investigation.

SHAPIRO: And that conclusion is that there is a high possibility, in the words of the report, that an Israeli soldier fired the fatal shot.

ESTRIN: That's right. But there are still many unanswered questions in these conclusions - quote, "high possibility." But the military says it found nothing wrong in its soldiers' actions, found no reason to open a criminal investigation, no reason to revisit the standard operating procedure. Reporters spoke with a senior military official earlier today, who said the soldier who fired the shot was in a vehicle with minimal visibility. He thought he was firing at, quote, "a terrorist" on a day where soldiers were under very heavy gunfire. But when you look at the video footage, Ari, it shows minutes leading up to the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh where there were no gunshots at the scene. So we have still unanswered questions about why the soldier fired that shot.

SHAPIRO: How has Shireen Abu Akleh's family responded to this?

ESTRIN: They say Israel is trying to, quote, "avoid responsibility." They've called for the U.S. to step up and to continue to demand accountability. But they're also asking for an international criminal court investigation. And Israel's leading human rights group, B'Tselem, also slammed the Israeli army's conclusions and said there was enormous public international pressure, like the U.S., to bring Israel to this point, to say it was a high probability that one of its soldiers shot the fatal bullet, but that this is an ongoing campaign. Israel continues nightly incursions. And in the last couple of months, more than 80 Palestinians, both gunmen and uninvolved civilians, have been killed.

SHAPIRO: Is this the final word on this investigation?

ESTRIN: That is probably going to be up to the U.S. The U.S. has been the main driver in demanding answers and accountability from Israel. We'll have to see whether the U.S. asks Israel to change its standard operating procedure or announce any kind of measures it's going to take to change the way that its soldiers operate in the field where journalists are there covering. So far, we haven't heard anything from Israel that they are considering changing any of their soldiers' procedures.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Daniel Estrin in Tel Aviv. Thank you.

ESTRIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.