Last month, Israeli soldiers shot and killed Shireen Abu Akleh, an American-Palestinian journalist, while she was reporting for Al Jazeera on an Israeli military operation in the West Bank city of Jenin. She was wearing a helmet and vest clearly marked “PRESS.”

Following Abu Akleh’s death, Israeli officials — after changing their official narrative and backtracking on their original claims that unidentified Palestinian militants had killed her — announced that they would not investigate the circumstances around her murder.

This decision is part of a longstanding pattern: Israeli forces have routinely targeted journalists — Palestinian journalists, in particular — and have bombed media offices, including the bureaus of Al Jazeera and the Associated Press in May 2021. And yet, despite all of this, there is little evidence that the Israeli government or its military have taken any steps to meaningfully investigate or stop these attacks.

If Israeli authorities don’t act, then the international community must. How the international community responds to Abu Akleh’s killing will resonate far beyond Israel and Palestine. Globally, governments and non-state actors alike are increasingly targeting journalists, and local authorities cannot always be counted on to investigate journalists’ killings — either because they lack the capacity, or because the authorities themselves may be implicated.

Impunity is a dire threat to global press freedom and represents an urgent crisis for the international community. Israel may be the latest example, but there are many others, including the 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi, in which Saudi Arabian security and intelligence officials killed and dismembered Khashoggi in Istanbul. The Saudi government vowed to hold the killers accountable — and then, predictably, didn’t.

And just this year, Turkish authorities agreed to transfer their own trial of Khashoggi’s murder to Saudi Arabia, effectively sacrificing the last semi-independent investigation into his death.


All of these killings demonstrate that it is often tragically unrealistic to expect local and national authorities to hold themselves accountable for violating press freedoms and human rights. This time, the onus of investigating Abu Akleh’s death must fall on the international community. The United States should take the lead, given its close relationship with the Israeli government, and Abu Akleh’s U.S. citizenship.

There is precedent for U.S. leadership in seeking accountability for the killings of journalists: In 2019, a U.S. federal court found that the Syrian government was culpable in the killing of Marie Colvin, and this year, another U.S. federal court found El Shafee Elsheikh guilty for his participation in James Foley’s murder.

At a minimum, the United States and other allies of the Israeli government should cooperate with and support the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on human rights abuses in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. The United States and other nations should also reconsider their long-standing opposition to the International Criminal Court.

Ultimately, a mechanism for truly independent investigations must be internationalized and institutionalized. This requires the U.N. and its member states to initiate formal proceedings when such killings happen. Bringing these crimes to light on the world stage is the best path we have for real justice.

— Tribune Media Services

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