(May 26, 2022, JNS Wire)
On May 11, Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed by gunfire in the West Bank city of Jenin. Her death is a tragedy that never should have happened. Members of the press must be protected as they carry out their job of reporting news.
Abu Akleh had been reporting on IDF activity in Jenin, including intense gun battles between IDF troops and armed Palestinian fighters. The IDF was there to arrest suspected terrorists because the “city and refugee camp have become strongholds of Islamic Jihad and Hamas members who have carried out deadly attacks in Israel.” Palestinian terrorists have murdered nineteen people and injured many more in Israeli cities and communities throughout the spring of 2022.
After Abu Akleh was shot, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and others around the world immediately blamed the IDF. Israeli authorities said she was either shot by Palestinian terrorists or unintentionally by the IDF in response to Palestinian gunfire. The director of the Palestinian forensics institute in Ramallah initially stated that there was insufficient evidence to determine who shot her.
It has been widely reported that the key to determining what happened is to match the bullet to the gun. Because the PA has the bullet, Israel called for a joint investigation and offered to have the U.S. involved as well. PA leaders have refused, saying they do not trust Israel and claim they already know the IDF is guilty.
In the absence of a credible joint investigation, news outlets and others have attempted to determine who is responsible for Abu Akleh’s death independently.
In this context, CNN irresponsibly published a report on May 24 claiming the IDF not only killed Abu Akleh but did so intentionally. Many of the claims made in CNN’s report are unfounded, and the sources used throughout are highly problematic.
The report relies heavily on eyewitnesses and “expert” sources, yet the physical evidence needed to draw such conclusions has not been made available by the PA. Despite recognizing the necessity of examining the bullet that killed Abu Akleh, CNN strongly implies that Israel is guilty.
CNN’s sources include Chris Cobb-Smith, who is described as a weapons expert. However, the article fails to mention Cobb-Smith’s long record of anti-Israel bias, including false accusations of war crimes.
Another expert cited is Professor Robert Maher, who spoke with CNN about the estimated distance between Abu Akleh and the shooter. Maher places Abu Akleh approximately 177 to 197 meters away from the shooter, using an audio recording to determine the estimated speed of the bullet. CNN then links this distance to the location of an Israeli sniper. Maher, however, also contributed to a report by Bellingcat, a Dutch investigative journalism organization. In the Bellingcat report, Maher explains that several possible variables, such as air temperature, could significantly change the estimated distance. The many caveats Maher lists in the Bellingcat report are not mentioned in CNN’s reporting.
Finally, CNN quotes Jamal Huwail as a witness in the article and the headline, “They were shooting directly at the journalists.” Huwail is identified by CNN as a professor at Jenin’s Arab American University and a Fatah member. Not mentioned are the seven years Huwail spent in an Israeli prison for his actions in the 2002 Battle of Jenin or his support for terrorist attacks, including the recent attack in Beersheba in which four Israeli civilians were murdered.
In light of the above facts, CNN should retract or make significant corrections to its report. This is important not only for journalistic integrity but to avoid fanning the flames of violence that have already taken too many lives.
Israel’s Military Advocate General, Brig. Gen. Yifat Tomer-Yerushalmi, has stated that the “fog of war” doesn’t “relieve us of the duty to strive for the truth and to act to clarify any doubt.” However, she acknowledged that this would be impossible without access to the bullet.
What truly happened in this tragic incident will remain unclear until a thorough investigation determines who shot Abu Akleh. Dealing in speculation and unfounded claims, as CNN has done in their report, does nothing to bring answers—and everything to fuel further conflict and distrust.