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SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

Deadly Pattern: 20 journalists died by Israeli military fire in 22 years. No one has been held accountable.

Wednesday , 10 May 2023
Photo credit: AP/Adel Hanna

The May 11, 2022, killing of Al-Jazeera Arabic correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh is part of a deadly, decades-long pattern. Over 22 years, CPJ has documented at least 20 journalist killings by members of the Israel Defense Forces. Despite numerous IDF probes, no one has ever been charged or held responsible for these deaths. The impunity in these cases has severely undermined the freedom of the press, leaving the rights of journalists in precarity. A CPJ special report. 

On May 11, 2022, Palestinian American television journalist Shireen Abu Akleh embarked on what would be her final assignment. At 6:31 a.m., she walked down a neighborhood road in the Israeli-occupied West Bank city of Jenin. She was accompanied by two other Palestinian journalists and her producer, Ali al-Samoudi. The group wore protective vests with the word “PRESS” in large white letters across their chests and backs. Ahead they could see several Israeli military vehicles. 

The journalists were there to report on the aftermath of an Israeli raid in the Jenin refugee camp after a string of deadly attacks by Palestinians in Israel. Video recorded by TikTok users and republished by The Washington Post showed Abu Akleh, a veteran Al-Jazeera Arabic correspondent, and her colleagues on the street. In the minutes before, the area was relatively quiet as local residents milled about, save for the sound of gunfire in the distance.

Suddenly, six shots rang out, one of them hitting al-Samoudi in the shoulder. The journalists ducked for cover and there was a second volley of fire. A bullet hit Abu Akleh in the back of her head in the gap between her helmet and her protective vest, killing her instantly. Several independent investigations by U.S. news outlets, including The New York TimesThe Washington Post, and The Associated Press, as well as Netherlands-based research collective Bellingcat, all came to the same conclusion: a member of the Israel Defense Forces likely fired the shot. CNN found evidence of a targeted attack. The London-based research group Forensic Architecture and the Ramallah-based human rights organization Al-Haq also found evidence that the Israeli army targeted Abu Akleh and her journalist colleagues with the intention to kill.

Five months after the killing, an IDF probe concluded there was a “high possibility” that one of its soldiers “accidentally” shot the journalist while firing on Palestinian gunmen, but did not rule out the possibility that she was shot by a Palestinian militant. To date, no one has been held accountable.

The killing of Abu Akleh, one of the Arab world’s most beloved and recognizable journalists, was not an isolated event. Since 2001, CPJ has documented at least 20 journalist killings by the IDF. The vast majority — 18 — were Palestinian; two were European foreign correspondents; there were no Israelis. No one has ever been charged or held accountable for these deaths. 

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