Shireen Abu Akleh

Beats Covered:
Local or Foreign:

Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American correspondent for Al-Jazeera Arabic, was fatally shot in the head on May 11, 2022, while covering an Israeli army operation in the West Bank town of Jenin, according to a report by Al-Jazeera, a video of the aftermath of the shooting posted on Twitter by Al-Jazeera, and multiple news reports.

Abu Akleh, 51, was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead shortly afterward. In the videos of the incident, she is seen wearing a vest marked “Press.”

In a statement after her killing, Qatar-based Al-Jazeera alleged that Israeli forces had targeted Abu Akleh. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett disputed that allegation in a statement on Twitter. U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides in a Twitter post confirmed that Abu Akleh was an American citizen and called for a thorough investigation into the circumstances of her death.

Abu Akleh was honored in various Palestinian villages before she was laid to rest on Friday, May 13. Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas awarded her the “Star of Jerusalem” medal, usually reserved for dignitaries, at her state service in Ramallah on May 12, calling her a “martyr for truth and the free word.” On May 13, thousands of mourners attended her funeral in Jerusalem, when the Israeli police stormed the hospital where her body was kept, and attacked mourners carrying her coffin.

After her killing, CNN reported that the Israel Defense Forces initially said its forces had been operating in the area “to arrest suspects in terrorist activities,” and that both Palestinian suspects and Israeli forces were firing at the time. The Associated Press reported that in a statement issued later May 11, Israeli army chief Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi said, “at this stage, we cannot determine by whose fire she was harmed and we regret her death.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said in a tweet that Israel offered to conduct a joint investigation into her death with the Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority refused a joint investigation with Israeli authorities because “they are ones who committed the crime,” said Palestinian President Abbas at Abu Akleh’s May 12 memorial service. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki told Turkey’s Anadolu Agency May 23 that the Palestinian Authority has asked the International Criminal Court to investigate the killing. On May 27, Al-Jazeera also said that it will submit a case to the ICC.

An initial autopsy conducted by the Institute of Pathology at Annajah University in the West Bank city of Nablus concluded that Abu Akleh was not killed at close range, but did not immediately determine who fired the shot that killed her, according to The Wall Street Journal. On May 26, Palestinian Authority Attorney General Akram Al Khateeb announced the results of the Palestinian investigation finding that Israel “directly and deliberately” killed Abu Akleh; Israeli military chief Lieutenant General Aviv Kohavi denied this in a speech the same day, saying “no soldier fired intentionally at a journalist,” The Associated Press reported

An initial probe by Israeli forces said Abu Akleh was about 150 meters (490 feet) from Israeli troops when she was killed, and that soldiers from IDF’s Duvdevan Unit fired a few dozen bullets during their operation, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

A senior Israeli military official quoted by The Wall Street Journal said that IDF soldiers had clear lines of sight at their targets, but acknowledged that a bullet could have deflected off the ground or a wall and struck Abu Akleh.

In a report on May 19, Haaretz said that the Israeli army will not conduct a criminal investigation into Abu Akleh’s killing. According to a statement published by The Guardian, the Israeli military claimed that because Abu Akleh was killed in an “active combat situation,” an immediate criminal investigation would not be launched, although an “operational inquiry” would continue. The results of an initial Israeli investigation found that either Israeli or Palestinian fire killed Abu Akleh, the Israeli military said in a statement provided to CPJ.

According to The Associated Press, the Israeli military said on May 19 it identified a soldier’s rifle that may have been used to kill Abu Akleh, but said it cannot confirm it was the weapon unless the Palestinians produce the bullet for analysis, which they have refused to do.

In the weeks after the killing, in-depth news investigations from The Associated PressCNN, and open source outlet Bellingcat corroborated witness claims that Israeli military fire killed Abu Akleh. CNN said its investigation found “there was no active combat, nor any Palestinian militants, near Abu Akleh in the moments leading up to her death,” and said it had found evidence of a “targeted attack.”

Born January 3, 1971 in Jerusalem, Abu Akleh, studied journalism at Yarmouk University in Jordan. In 2020, she received a diploma in digital journalism from Bir Zeit University in the West Bank. In 1994, she co-established and worked for Voice of Palestine (Sawt Filasteen) radio station, according to Al-Jazeera.

Abu Akleh worked with UNRWA, Amman Satellite Channel, the Miftah Foundation, and Monte Carlo Radio before joining Al-Jazeera at age 26 in 1997 a year after the network’s founding. According to Anadolu Agency, she was one of the network’s first field correspondents and “she acquired a reputation for bravery, professionalism and a strict adherence to facts.” Called the “daughter of Palestine” and the “voice of Palestine,” she became known for her sensitive reporting about day-to-day Palestinian life under Israeli occupation, as well as her coverage of major news events like the second Palestinian uprising, or the Second Intifada, of 2000 to 2005. According to Al-Jazeera, she also covered the wars in Gaza, the Lebanese-Israeli war in 2006, and the 2016 U.S. elections.

CPJ emailed the Palestinian Ministry of Information but did not receive any response. The North America desk of the Israel Defense Forces said the Israeli military is continuing to investigate the incident in a statement emailed to CPJ.