Independent investigation points to Israeli fire in journalist’s death

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday that he had spoken to Abu Akleh’s family to express condolences and respect for their work “as well as the need to have an immediate and credible investigation” into his death.

Palestinian officials and witnesses, including journalists who were with her, say she was killed by army fire. The army, after initially saying that Palestinian gunmen may have been responsible for her, later backtracked and now says she, too, may have been hit by errant Israeli gunfire.

Israel has called for a joint investigation with the Palestinians, saying the bullet must be analyzed by ballistics experts to reach firm conclusions. Palestinian officials have refused, saying they do not trust Israel and have invited other countries to join the investigation. Human rights groups say that Israel has a poor record in investigating wrongdoing by its security forces.

With the two sides at loggerheads over the Abu Akleh investigation, several human rights and investigative groups have launched their own investigations.

Over the weekend, Bellingcat, an international consortium of researchers based in the Netherlands, published an analysis of video and audio evidence collected on social media. The material came from both Palestinian and Israeli military sources, and the analysis looked at factors such as timestamps, video locations, shadows, and a forensic audio analysis of the gunshots.

The group found that while both gunmen and Israeli soldiers were in the area, evidence supported witness accounts that Israeli fire killed Abu Akleh.

“Based on what we were able to review, the IDF (Israeli soldiers) were in the closest position and had the clearest line of sight to Abu Akleh,” said Giancarlo Fiorella, lead researcher on the analysis.

Bellingcat is among a growing number of companies using “open source” information, such as social media videos, security camera footage and satellite imagery, to piece together events.

Fiorella acknowledged that the analysis cannot be 100% certain without evidence such as the bullet, the weapons used by the army, and the GPS locations of the Israeli forces. But she said the appearance of additional evidence usually bolsters preliminary conclusions and almost never overturns them.

“This is what we do when we don’t have access to those things,” he said.

The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said it is also conducting its own analysis. Last week, the group played a key role in pushing back the military from its initial claims that Palestinian gunmen appeared to be responsible for his death.

The Israeli claim was based on a social media video in which a Palestinian gunman fires into a Jenin alley, and then other militants come running to claim they shot a soldier. The army said that since no soldiers were injured that day, the gunmen could have been referring to Abu Akleh, who was wearing a protective helmet and bulletproof vest.

A B’Tselem investigator went to the area and took video showing that the Palestinian gunmen were about 300 meters (yards) away from where Abu Akleh was shot, separated by a series of walls and alleys.

Dror Sadot, a spokeswoman for the group, said B’Tselem has begun collecting witness testimony and may try to reconstruct the shooting with video from the scene. But she said at this time no conclusion could be reached about who was behind the shooting.

Sadot said that any bullet would have to match the barrel of the gun. The Palestinians have refused to drop the bullet and it is unclear whether the military confiscated the weapons used that day.

“The bullet alone can’t tell much” because it could have been fired from anywhere, he said. “What you can do is match a bullet to the barrel,” she said.

The Israeli military did not respond to requests for interviews to discuss the status of its investigation.

Jonathan Conricus, a former Israeli military spokesman and military affairs expert, said reconstructing a shooting in densely populated urban terrain is “very complex” and said forensic evidence, such as the bullet, is crucial to reaching firm conclusions. He accused the Palestinian Authority of refusing to cooperate for propaganda purposes.

“Without the bullet, any investigation will only be able to reach partial and questionable conclusions,” Conricus said. “One might assume that the Palestinian Authority’s strategy is exactly that: to deny Israel the ability to clear its name, while taking advantage of global sympathy for the Palestinian cause.”

Meanwhile, Israeli police over the weekend launched an investigation into the conduct of officers who attacked mourners at Abu Akleh’s funeral, causing the pallbearers to almost drop his coffin.

Sunday’s papers were filled with criticism of the police and what was described as a public relations debacle.

“Friday’s images are the complete opposite of good judgment and patience,” wrote commentator Oded Shalom in the Yediot Ahronot daily. “It documented a shocking display of rampant brutality and violence.”

Nir Hasson, who covers Jerusalem issues for the daily Haaretz, said the problems run much deeper than Israel’s image.

“This was one of the most extreme visual expressions of the occupation and humiliation experienced by the Palestinian people,” he wrote.

Add Comment