Abu Akleh family to keep pushing for justice after meeting Blinken

Family of Palestinian-American journalist killed in West Bank visits Washington to call for accountability

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken holds a meeting with the family of Shireen Abu Akleh. Photo: US State Department
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The family of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed while covering an Israeli military raid in the West Bank, will continue to fight for justice and accountability, her nephew told The National on Wednesday.

Several members of Abu Akleh's family flew to Washington this week and met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday to demand an independent investigation into her May 11 death.

Her brother, Anton, and her niece and nephew, Lina and Victor, pressed Mr Blinken on several key issues including a US State Department report that the family believes let the Israeli Defence Forces off the hook.

Abu Akleh, a well-known Al Jazeera reporter, was killed by a single bullet while covering an Israeli military raid in the West Bank city of Jenin.

Several reports, including one by the UN, said the journalist had been killed by Israeli fire. But a US report released on July 4 claimed that while Israeli forces were “likely responsible”, there was “no reason to believe [the killing] was intentional”.

The US report outraged the Abu Akleh family and prompted them to address a letter to President Joe Biden in which they asked for a meeting and a full investigation into the journalist's death.

“We asked them to take back the statement that they released on July 4 and to make changes to it to clearly state what happened,” Victor Abu Akleh, told The National in Washington.

The family had initially hoped to meet Mr Biden in Jerusalem during his trip to the region this month. They accepted an invitation from Mr Blinken to meet in Washington.

In a private meeting with Mr Blinken, Mr Abu Akleh, a 28-year-old software engineer, challenged the US government’s findings.

“I questioned them specifically about the intentional part. I asked him how did you determine the intent just from the bullet,” Mr Abu Akleh said in a phone interview.

“His answer was they couldn't determine intent, actually, and I pressed him on as to why they released the statement saying it was unintentional. He again deflected and repeated the same rhetoric.”

While the family appreciated the meeting, they feel it bore little fruit and that Mr Blinken stuck to talking points.

“It mostly felt like he was just meeting with us because of the pressure that was mounting on them to have a meeting with us and he just wanted to get it out of the way,'' Mr Abu Akleh said.

The family have, however, found a more receptive audience with members of the US Congress and have met with Democrats including Cory Booker and Bob Menendez, who heads the influential Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

“We really felt like we were getting much better support from them,” Mr Abu Akleh explained.

“It's been really meaningful to us just knowing that someone is supporting us and trying to do their best to prevent this from happening again to another American citizen abroad.”

The family hopes to see a full, US-led investigation into their loved one's death.

“Nothing short of a US investigation that leads to real accountability is acceptable, and we won’t stop until no other American or Palestinian family endures the same pain we have,” Lina Abu Akleh said in a tweet.

The family meanwhile still hopes to meet Mr Biden, despite having heard nothing from his office.

“We haven't heard from the president at all, and we haven't received his support in any way,” Mr Abu Akleh said.

Updated: July 27, 2022, 7:25 PM