The death of Al Jazeerah journalist Shireen Abu Akleh on May 11 made headlines again this week. Media across the globe reported the results of a US ballistic investigation that finally took place at the US Embassy in Jerusalem.
However, this US investigation seemed to be deeply flawed and the conclusions were most likely influenced by political considerations, as we shall see.
Nearly two months after Abu Akleh was killed during a gunfight between Palestinian terrorists and Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers in the city of Jenin, it remains unclear what happened exactly.
The death of the Palestinian journalist sparked violent riots in Arab cities within Israel and triggered more gun battles in the Jenin area, which is known as a bastion of terror.
PA and Al Jazeera conclusions unfounded
The Palestinian Authority (PA) and Al Jazeera were quick to accuse the IDF of deliberately killing Abu Akleh, a veteran Christian Palestinian journalist who often worked on the front lines.
This conclusion was drawn despite the lack of a forensic crime investigation at the site where Abu Akleh was hit in the head and succumbed to her injuries.
Such an investigation is standard practice in normative states such as the European countries, the United States and Israel.
The PA from the outset rejected an Israeli proposal to launch a joint forensic and ballistics investigation to be attended by American and other foreign experts.
The PA initially also refused to release the bullet that it claimed had killed the Al Jazeera journalist.
Al Jazeera later published a photo of the damaged bullet that allegedly killed Abu Akleh.
That was on June 16, and the Qatar-based TV station again rushed to blame the IDF for the death of its reporter because the bullet seen on the photo had a caliber of 5.56 mm.
The IDF uses this type of ammunition for the M-16 rifle with which many of its soldiers are equipped.
However, this premature claim by Al Jazeera neglected two things.
- The M-16 rifle is also widely used by the PA security services, and by Palestinian terrorists who steal the weapons from the IDF and then smuggle them into Judea and Samaria.
- Statements from the IDF and others have revealed that soldiers closest to Abu Akleh were snipers.These snipers do not use the M-16 rifle and always fire a single shot, while during the gunfight in Jenin many salvos were clearly audible in recordings of the battle.
Since the incident, various media (official and alternative) have published investigations that should show whether or not the IDF was indeed responsible for Abu Akleh’s death.
These investigations were solely based on open source intelligence (OSINT).
For example, pro-Israel blogger Elder of Ziyon regularly wrote blog posts in which he presented new OSINT-based material that would prove the IDF’s innocence.
The blogger mainly focused on photos and video recordings showing Palestinian gunmen on the rooftops near the spot where Abu Akleh died, as well as forensic audio material.
CNN was one of the mainstream media that early on reached the conclusion that the bullet that killed Abu Akleh came from an IDF position and based its conclusions on other OSINT material.
This week it became clear that the Abu Akleh case is being exploited for political ends after the PA finally decided to release the bullet that “assassinated the martyr Abu Akleh” for a ballistic investigation by an experienced team of US experts.
That investigation was eventually conducted at the US Embassy in Jerusalem and was reportedly attended by Israeli experts.
Thereafter the US State Department issued a statement saying it could not draw a definitive conclusion as to exactly where the bullet came from, due to the fact that the bullet was seriously damaged.
The statement went on to say that the US investigators had been given full access to the investigations that the IDF and PA were conducting, and in the case of the IDF, are still conducting.
According to the State Department, the US security coordinator in Israel had concluded that gunfire from IDF positions was likely responsible for the death of Shireen Abu Akleh.
This section of the statement made it clear that there was a political rationale for the US security coordinator’s conclusions.
Israeli expert exposes serious flaws in US and PA investigation
This was demonstrated Monday evening by Israeli expert Lior Nadavi, a ballistics forensic crime investigation expert who previously worked for the Israel Police.
Nadavi said the following about the investigation at the US Embassy in Jerusalem:
“Basing an entire case on one bullet is completely wrong from an investigative point of view. You should start with the crime scene investigation. Many details are missing here.
“For example, what was Shireen’s position when she was hit?
“Was she facing Israeli soldiers?
“Was her back to them or to the side of her body? She was standing next to a wall; are there bullets hitting the wall? That can be checked. The bullet that hit her could be a ricochet, and then the whole story takes a turn.”
Nadavi also said X-rays of the woman’s head and the autopsy report could have determined whether Shireen was hit by this particular bullet or not.
Nadavi explained why the US investigation was flawed during a Zoom conference hosted by Media Central in Jerusalem. He added:
“They could have taken any bullet from the scene and then say it came from the Israeli side.
“The bullet is supposed to break apart when it hits and cause greater damage. The fact that this didn’t happen means it could have hit something and then lowered its velocity. There are so many variables in this case that we just don’t know.”
US tries to please both sides, but fails
This reporter attended the aforementioned conference and heard from another expert that he got the impression the US wanted to please both sides over the death of Abu Akleh ahead of President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel on July 13.
The claim that the IDF was allegedly responsible for the gunfire was intended to placate the PA, while the first part of the statement showed the Israelis are right about the bullet and the ballistics.
The PA released a statement on Sunday night saying that the Americans’ conclusions were incorrect and that the bullet that killed Abu Akleh was not damaged at all.
In the same statement, the PA said it would now take the matter to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Right after Abu Akleh’s death, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas said the same thing, and vowed to prosecute “the criminals,” meaning IDF soldiers.
That has been said before and it will not surprise anyone if the threat is not carried out this time, too.