Israeli officials and the country’s military spokesperson rejected the conclusions of a CNN investigation into the death of Al Jazeera journalist which concluded that an Israeli soldier intentionally shot Shireen Abu Akleh.
The network conducted its own inquiry based on audio analysis, two new videos from the scene and testimony from eight witnesses. The results suggested that Abu Akleh – killed during a gun battle between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians in Jenin on May 11 – was “shot dead in a targeted attack by Israeli forces.”
Israel rebuffed the accusation. The Israel Defense Forces said any deadly fire from its own soldiers aimed at a journalist would have been accidental.
“In no way would the IDF ever target a civilian, especially a member of the press,” an unnamed senior Israeli security official told CNN. “An IDF soldier would never fire an M16 on automatic. They shoot bullet by bullet.”
Michael Oren, Israel’s former ambassador to the U.S. and former Knesset member, slammed the network for a biased report, labeling it as “anti-Semitic” because it targets just Israel.
“Since 1990, more than 2,600 journalists have been killed in combat but CNN investigated only one – a Palestinian,” Oren tweeted on Wednesday. “Ignoring the Palestinians’ refusal to cooperate with a full investigation, CNN condemned Israel.”
“The CNN report is, by definition, anti-Semitic,” Oren said referring to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism. “In 2002, when CNN aired a similarly anti-Semitic report, (former Prime Minister) Ariel Sharon closed its Israel office. Israel must stand with IHRA and the ADL and do the same.”
Oren was a contributor for CNN for several years after he concluded his tenure in Washington D.C.
The IDF called the claim of targeted gunfire “entirely unfounded” and called on the Palestinians to cooperate in a forensic examination along with American representatives to conclusively determine the cause behind Abu Akleh’s tragic death.
“11 Israeli civilians were killed in Israel in terror attacks in recent weeks that emerged from Jenin. IDF forces operated in Jenin in order to prevent further terror attacks, and armed Palestinians who were in scattered in the area fired hundreds of bullets indiscriminately, in an attempt to hit IDF soldiers and turned the area into an active war zone. The claim that the shooting was intentional deprived of any basis,” the Israeli military spokesperson said in response on Tuesday.
“As the IDF mentioned before and continues to note ever since the tragic death of Abu Akleh, it is impossible to reach a firm conclusion as for the source of the shooting that killed her, without completing a thorough and professional investigation like the one currently conducted by the IDF. Assertions regarding the source of the fire that killed Ms. Abu Akleh must be carefully made and backed by hard evidence. This is what the IDF is striving to achieve,” added the statement.
Palestinian officials have refused to transfer the bullet that hit Abu Akleh to Israel, but said they are willing to share the results of their own probe with other international parties.
The CNN report claimed that even without access to the bullet that hit Abu Akleh, there are ways to determine who killed her. With the headline, “They were shooting directly at journalists,” the network laid out its analysis of the evidence that allegedly proves its point.
The article described a 16-minute video in which Abu Akleh can be seen turning away from a barrage of bullets. It said the footage shows a direct line of sight towards an Israeli military convoy.
"We saw around four or five military vehicles on that street with rifles sticking out of them and one of them shot Shireen. We were standing right there, we saw it. When we tried to approach her, they shot at us. I tried to cross the street to help, but I couldn't," said Salim Awad, the eyewitness who filmed the video.
The CNN inquiry consulted with Chris Cobb-Smith, a British army veteran the network identified as a firearms expert. Cobb-Smith examined photos of bullet markings left on a tree just where Abu Akleh was hit. He believes that she was killed by controlled, targeted shots rather than “a burst of automatic gunfire.”
“The number of strike marks on the tree where Shireen was standing proves this wasn’t a random shot, she was targeted,” he said.
Cobb-Smith indicated that such shots must have come from Israeli forces and not Palestinian “random sprays.”
“The relatively tight grouping of the rounds indicate Shireen was intentionally targeted with aimed shots and not the victim of random or stray fire,” he added.
The Times of Israel reported that an initial inquiry by the Israeli military into the shooting floated two possibilities. The first scenario suggested that Abu Akleh might have been shot by Palestinian gunmen who were on the other side of the IDF convoy, recklessly firing hundreds of rounds.
The second scenario suggested that at least one Palestinian gunman was located on the road between the IDF troops and the journalists, “in the vicinity” of Abu Akleh. That gunman allegedly fired multiple times at one of the army vehicles, and a soldier returned fire from inside the vehicle, using a rifle equipped with a telescopic scope. The army’s probe focused on that rifle, but said it cannot determine who killed the Al Jazeera reporter without comparing the bullet to the weapon.
A separate investigation by The Associated Press deemed the second scenario as more likely, and asserted that Abu Akleh was shot by an Israeli gun. All of the witnesses who spoke to the AP insisted there were no Palestinian gunmen in the area between the reporters and the army.
Tal Heinrich is a senior correspondent for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS. She is currently based in New York City. Tal also provides reports and analysis for Israeli Hebrew media Channel 14 News.