On May 11, 2022, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) shot and killed veteran Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh while she was covering a military raid on a Palestinian refugee camp outside the West Bank city of Jenin. Dressed in jackets and helmets clearly labeled with the word “PRESS,” Abu Akleh’s Al-Jazeera colleagues captured her murder on camera and filmed the ensuing events where a sniper continued to shoot at the other reporters attempting to retrieve her body.
After Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem debunked Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s claims that a stray bullet fired by Palestinians struck Abu Akleh, the Israeli government called for a joint probe with the Palestinian Authority (PA) into the journalist’s murder. To commence the investigation, the Israeli government has requested the handover of the bullet and Abu Akleh’s body to conduct an autopsy. The PA, however, has refused to participate in a joint probe, citing the historic lack of transparency and accountability in investigations of other civilian murders past and the illegal occupation of the IDF in the Palestinian Territories. Consequently, the two parties will carry out independent probes into Abu Akleh’s murder.
The PA’s investigation concluded that the bullet matched a weapon regularly used by the IDF, the Ruger Mini-14. Al Jazeera correspondent Nida Ibrahim reported that according to the PA probe’s findings, the bullet that killed Abu Akleh “was 5.56mm, and it corresponds with Mini Ruger sniper fire weapon.” On the other hand, the Israeli probe claims to have made no progress in identifying the bullet’s origins.
Silence from the States
A small number of Congressmen, led by Reps. André Carson, D-Ind., and Lou Correa, D-Calif., have penned a letter requesting the Biden administration conduct an independent investigation into Abu Akleh’s murder. “We…request the U.S. Department of State determines whether any U.S. laws protecting Ms. Abu Akleh, an American citizen, were violated,” reads the letter. “As an American, Ms. Abu Akleh was entitled to the full protections afforded to U.S. citizens living abroad.”
Despite the extrajudicial murder of an American citizen and journalist, the Biden administration has refused to conduct its own independent investigation. Instead, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has stated his intention to rely on the results of the Israeli probe, which refuses to proceed without Abu Akleh’s buried body.
This is not the first time the U.S. Federal Government has refused to investigate the death of an American citizen at the hands of the IDF, with the 2003 murder of activist Rachel Corrie in Gaza deliberated by Israeli courts.
The call for U.S.-led investigations into IDF war crimes in its illegal occupation of the Palestinian Territories has fallen on deaf ears for many years. The IDF receives $3.8 billion of American taxpayer dollars annually, as per the renewed 10-year Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Obama administration in 2016. A U.S.-led investigation into the murder of Abu Akleh could open legal avenues for Palestinian and American activists and politicians to challenge this continued financial support to the IDF.
In fact, the U.S. government by law is required to protect the safety of American journalists internationally. The freedom “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of choice” is protected by Article 19(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of which the US and Israel are signatories.
What’s more, as per Leahy Law, the U.S. federal government is prohibited from providing “assistance…to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.” With Article 19 in mind, in the case of the murder of Abu Akleh, the contention here is what is considered “credible information”, which Blinken has made clear will be regarded as the findings of the Israeli probe.
Therefore, the push for a U.S.-led investigation is crucial for not only holding the IDF accountable for Abu Akleh’s murder and those of 86 journalists reporting from the Palestinian Territories since 1967 but for Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian Territories.
The Military-Industrial Complex and the Murder of Shireen Abu Akleh
Given the United States’ long history of granting diplomatic immunity to Israel, having vetoed at least 53 United Nations Security Council resolutions critical of Israel in the past five decades, the lack of accountability for the murder of Abu Akleh and the U.S.’ unconditional support for the IDF’s stance on the probe comes as no surprise. However, outside of the well-covered reasons for American impunity towards Israel, one underreported facet is the vested interest of the American Military-Industrial Complex – the mutually beneficial relationship between the US military and the private defense and weapons industry – in arming the IDF.
The sniper rifle used to murder Abu Akleh, the Ruger Mini-14, is manufactured and sold by American weapons manufacturer Sturm, Ruger & Co., which has a distribution dealership in Israel and promotes its firearms by highlighting the IDF’s use of them.
Israel is the 14th largest importer of weapons globally, with 92% of its imports coming from the U.S. Effectively, U.S. military aid to Israel is used to purchase weapons from American manufacturers and defense contractors, thus contributing to the American economy. As sociologist Max Ajl writes “U.S. ‘military assistance,’ more accurately understood as a circular flow through which U.S. weapons firms profit off the colonization of Palestinian land and Israeli destabilization of the surrounding states, is a long-term structuring element of the U.S.-Israel ‘special relationship.'”
Therefore the possibility of a U.S.-led investigation into Abu Akleh’s murder and, as per Leahy Law, the potential legal obligation to end continued military aid to Israel poses a threat not only to US foreign policy regional interests in the region but to the profits of the Military-Industrial Complex.
According to Open Secrets, between 2001 and 2021, American defense contractors and weapons manufacturers – including companies such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon Technologies and General Dynamics – have directed “$285 million in campaign contributions and $2.5 billion in lobbying spending to influence defense policy.”
Among the most prominent lobbyists for both domestic and foreign arms sales are the infamous National Rifle Association (NRA) and the lesser-known National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), whose president, Steve Sanetti, was previously a chief executive and later president of Sturm, Ruger & Co. for 30 years, the manufacturer of Abu Akleh’s murder weapon.
Despite this, to insinuate that American defense contractors and weapons manufacturers condone the killing of American journalists reporting in the countries they operate in can be seen as a stretch in the public eye. But a look at the corporate prosecution of human rights lawyer Steven Donziger attests to its plausibility.
The Corporate War on Free Speech
It appears then that the corporate collusion that sees weapon manufacturers lobby congress for loose gun control laws also applies this callous profit-chasing motive in the area of U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. federal government has not only stood by but actively provides its state power to facilitate these private profits and silence the free speech of U.S. citizens critical of it (as seen in the show trial prosecution of Donziger and the State Department’s refusal to investigate Abu Akleh’s murder and pursue Article 19 and Leahy Law).
Our news cycles are dominated by talk of “cancel culture,” and yet most people pay little attention to cases like Abu Akleh’s and Donziger’s. If the mainstream conversation is going to center on free speech, it should highlight the blatant collusion between neoliberal governments and multinational corporations to silence journalists and activists challenging exploitation and injustice around the world.
Edited by Osama Alshantti