The family of slain Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was in Washington on Tuesday to lobby officials for justice and a full accounting of the veteran reporter’s death during an Israeli military raid in May.
Abu Akleh’s uncle, niece and other relatives met for several hours with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and members of Congress, including Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the powerful chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The family said after the visit that it remained disappointed and frustrated.
“We are here to demand justice and a credible investigation by the U.S.,” the journalist’s 27-year-old niece, Lina Abu Akleh, said in an interview after her meeting with Blinken. “Only the U.S. can hold Israel accountable. They have the power.”
She said she emerged with “no promises, no commitments” from Blinken.
Though wearing a flak jacket emblazoned with the word “PRESS,” Shireen Abu Akleh was shot in the head during the raid on the Palestinian city of Jenin. Israel initially said it believed Palestinians fired the deadly shot. But investigations by the United Nations, several U.S. news outlets and, finally, a U.S. government-led team concluded the opposite.
But U.S. officials have treaded gingerly when assigning blame, which has fueled the family’s frustration.
In its most definitive statement, released July 4, the State Department said the shot “most likely” came from Israeli “positions.” It said there was no indication that the shot was “intentional,” but didn’t explain how that conclusion was reached since the soldiers involved in the incident were not interviewed.
Lina Abu Akleh said Blinken offered condolences and promised “transparency” and “better communication” with the family, but no concrete actions.
“We want the soldier who pulled the trigger held accountable,” she said. “We want the person who gave the command held accountable. We want to change the system that allowed this to happen.”
Later, she said in a tweet that Blinken “told us that he has a duty to protect every U.S. citizen.”
“We will hold him to this,” she said. “Nothing short of a U.S. 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.”
The Israeli military continues to occupy or hold sway over parts of the West Bank, where dozens of Palestinians have been killed this year, along with a smaller number of Israelis.
Blinken did not immediately comment on the meeting. State Department spokesman Ned Price said that the U.S. continues to press for a “credible, transparent” investigation, but left Israel to take the lead.
“It’s our collective goal to do everything we possibly can, working with our [Israeli and Palestinian] partners, to see to it that something like this cannot happen again,” Price said.
Abu Akleh was a veteran reporter in the Palestinian territories who worked for the Al Jazeera television network for a quarter century. She was a household name for Palestinian families throughout the region.
Her relatives are convinced Israeli forces targeted her deliberately because of evidence showing gunfire continued even after she was languishing on the ground. Israel denies she was singled out.
“She was the voice of Palestine, the voice of truth, uncovering Israeli crimes,” Lina Abu Akleh said.