A damning new report from a leading press freedom watchdog says it has found no accountability was taken by the Israeli military over its killings of at least 20 journalists over the past two decades.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) published the report on Tuesday, just two days before the one-year-anniversary of the death of Al Jazeera Arabic correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh, a 51-year-old Palestinian-American who was killed by a bullet to the head on May 11, 2022 while covering an Israeli military operation in Jenin.
The report says it found “a pattern of the killings of journalists by Israel Defense Forces (IDF), after which no accountability is taken,” according to a CPJ press release.
The press advocacy group said it had documented at least 20 journalists killed by Israeli military fire since 2001, adding 18 of those killed were Palestinian. “No one has ever been charged or held accountable for these deaths,” it said in the press release.
The CPJ said its report – titled ‘Deadly Pattern’ – found a “routine sequence” that takes place when a journalist is killed at the hands of the IDF.
“Israeli officials discount evidence and witness claims, often appearing to clear soldiers for the killings while inquiries are still in progress,” the CPJ said, describing the IDF’s procedure for examining military killings of civilians such as journalists as a “black box,” with the results of any such probe kept confidential.
“When probes do take place, the Israeli military often takes months or years to investigate killings and families of the mostly Palestinian journalists have little recourse inside Israel to pursue justice,” the CPJ said.
A CNN investigation in May last year unearthed evidence – including two videos of the scene of the shooting – that there was no active combat, nor any Palestinian militants, near Abu Akleh in the moments leading up to her death.
Footage obtained by CNN, corroborated by testimony from eight eyewitnesses, an audio forensic analyst and an explosive weapons expert, suggested that Israeli forces took aim at the journalist.
While the IDF admitted for the first time in September that there was a “high possibility” Abu Akleh was “accidentally” shot and killed by Israeli fire, its Military Advocate General’s Office said in a statement that it did not intend to pursue criminal charges or prosecutions of any of the soldiers involved.
Alleged failure to respect press insignia
Abu Akleh was wearing a helmet and a blue protective vest marked “Press” when she was fatally shot. The CPJ report found at least 13 of the 20 journalists killed “were clearly identified as members of the media or were inside vehicles with press insignia at the time of their deaths.”
The report finds that Israeli forces “repeatedly fail to respect press insignia, sending a chilling message to journalists and media workers throughout the West Bank and Gaza,” where all 20 of the journalists mentioned in the report were killed.
The CPJ said it sent “multiple requests” to the IDF’s press office to interview military prosecutors and officials, and that the military “refused to meet with CPJ for an on-the-record interview.”
Responding to the CPJ report, the IDF said it “regrets any harm to civilians during operational activity and considers the protection of the freedom of the press and the professional work of journalists to be of great importance.”
“The IDF does not intentionally target noncombatants, and live fire in combat is used only after all other options have been exhausted,” it stressed in a statement.
The IDF “regularly examines and investigates its actions through independent and in-depth inspection and investigation mechanisms, among them the Fact Finding Assessment mechanism,” it said, adding that in cases where “an allegation of unlawful harm to civilians is raised, including against journalists, an investigative procedure is initiated to clarify the allegation.”
“In cases where there is reasonable suspicion of a criminal offense, a criminal investigation will be opened,” the Israeli military said.
But Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, said, “The degree to which Israel claims to investigate journalist killings depends largely on external pressure,” according to the press release.
“There are cursory probes into the deaths of journalists with foreign passports, but that is rarely the case for slain Palestinian reporters. Ultimately, none has seen any semblance of justice,” Mansour added.
“The killing of Shireen Abu Akleh and the failure of the army’s investigative process to hold anyone responsible is not a one-off event,” Robert Mahoney, CPJ’s director of special projects and one of the report’s editors, was quoted as saying in the press release.
“It is part of a pattern of response that seems designed to evade responsibility. Not one member of the IDF has been held accountable in the deaths of 20 journalists from Israeli military fire over the last 22 years,” Mahoney said.