WASHINGTON (JTA) — Israel will not cooperate with an FBI investigation into the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, the Palestinian American journalist who died in May in an exchange of fire between Palestinian and Israeli troops, Israel’s defense minister said.
“The American Justice Department’s decision to investigate the regrettable death of Shireen Abu Akleh is a grave mistake,” Benny Gantz, Israel’s defense minister, said Monday on Twitter. “I made clear to American representatives that we stand behind Israeli soldiers, we will not cooperate with any outside inquiry and we will not allow interference in Israeli internal matters.”
Such an investigation is significant because the Biden administration’s State Department has already signed off on Israel’s finding that an Israeli soldier likely shot the fatal bullet, and that there was no evidence that the killing was intentional. The FBI may be ready to investigate whether the shooting was intentional, as Palestinian officials and Abu Akleh’s family have alleged. Gantz, who deleted and then reposted his tweets, said the Israeli inquiry was “independent and professional.”
The FBI routinely investigates alleged crimes against American citizens overseas and even has a dedicated department for such investigations. But it is rare if not unprecedented for the agency to investigate whether a soldier in an allied army is liable for a killing.
Reports of the FBI investigation first appeared Monday in multiple outlets, including Haaretz and by Axios’ Israel-based correspondent, Barak Ravid, and mostly cited Israeli sources. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency has asked the White House, the State Department, and the FBI for confirmation.
A State Department spokeswoman referred JTA to the Justice Department but added: “Our thoughts remain with the Abu Akleh family as they grieve this tremendous loss. Not only was Shireen an American citizen, she was a fearless reporter whose journalism and pursuit of truth earned her the respect of audiences around the world.” A Department of Justice spokesman declined to comment.
“This is an overdue but necessary and important step in the pursuit of justice and accountability in the shooting death of American citizen and journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat from Maryland who spearheaded calls for further investigation of Abu Akleh’s killing, wrote on Twitter, where he shared a news report about the FBI investigation.