JERUSALEM, Israel – The bullet that killed well-known Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in May likely originated from errant Israeli gunfire, although an independent ballistic analysis could not say for sure, the United States said on Monday.
The State Department issued a statement saying American officials oversaw “an extremely detailed forensic analysis” on the bullet that was ultimately inconclusive.
“Ballistic experts determined the bullet was badly damaged, which prevented a clear conclusion,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said.
American officials were also “granted full access to both Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Palestinian Authority (PA) investigations over the last several weeks. By summarizing both investigations, the (US Security Coordinator) concluded that gunfire from IDF positions was likely responsible for the death of Shireen Abu Akleh. The USSC found no reason to believe that this was intentional but rather the result of tragic circumstances during an IDF-led military operation against factions of Palestinian Islamic Jihad on May 11, 2022, in Jenin, which followed a series of terrorist attacks in Israel,” the statement continued.
Abu Akleh, a Christian, was killed during an Israeli counterterrorism raid in the West Bank. Her death set off international backlash and finger-pointing among Israelis and Palestinians over who was responsible.
Witnesses and Palestinian officials say Israeli troops deliberately targeted Abu Akleh while she was reporting on the raid. Israel said she was killed during a shootout with Palestinian terrorists and called the accusation that its forces intentionally killed Abu Akleh a “blatant lie.”
Initially, Israel blamed Palestinian terrorists for her death, then said it was possible one of its soldiers unintentionally shot her. Israel identified a soldier’s rifle that could have killed Abu Akleh but said it was impossible to determine who killed her without the matching bullet.
For months, the Palestinian Authority refused to release the bullet from its custody and rejected calls for a joint investigation into her death. The Palestinians don’t trust Israel to investigate its own forces and worry Israel would falsify facts. Likewise, Israel doesn’t trust the Palestinians to conduct a fair and independent investigation.
The Palestinians made an about-face this weekend when they handed over the bullet to American officials for ballistic analysis. The Palestinians said US experts would examine the bullet. However, Israel’s military said although the bullet remained in US custody during the entire process, Israeli officials examined it.
The Palestinian Authority criticized the United States’ conclusion that the bullet was too damaged to definitively say Israeli forces shot Abu Akleh.
“We were surprised by these statements. The technical data in our possession indicates that the condition of the shell is viable for matching with the firearm [that shot it],” PA Public Prosecutor Akram al-Khatib said in a statement.
Palestinian officials also rejected Washington’s conclusion that Israeli forces likely unintentionally shot Abu Akleh.
Abu Akleh's family said in a statement that the US announcement was “insulting to Shireen’s memory.”
“All available evidence suggests that a US citizen was the subject of an extrajudicial killing by a foreign government that receives billions of dollars in American military aid each year to perpetuate a prolonged and entrenched military occupation of millions of Palestinians,” they said.
Abu Akleh's former employer, Al Jazeera, also rejected the results of the analysis.
“This bullet is not the only evidence of the crime. There are six different investigations, and witness testimony, and videos,” said Walid al-Omari, Abu Akleh’s former boss at Al Jazeera.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid released a statement emphasizing that the Israel Defense Forces probe could not determine who killed her.
“The IDF investigation was unable to determine who is responsible for the tragic death of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, but it was able to determine conclusively that there was no intention to harm her.
He did not address the US conclusion that an Israeli bullet likely ended her life.
The Times of Israel reports that behind closed doors, Israel is frustrated with the State Department’s findings. The Times cited two unnamed officials familiar with the matter who said Jerusalem did not appreciate that the US believes the lethal bullet likely came from Israeli troops, given that that ballistic analysis was inconclusive.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s statement said Palestinian gunmen operating “from within population centers” in the Jenin refugee camp where Abu Akleh was killed were ultimately responsible.
Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi instructed the military to continue to investigate “using all means at our disposal and with a commitment to transparency and seeking the truth,” an army spokesperson said.
Any decision to open a criminal probe will be made after the IDF completes its investigation, the military said.
Meanwhile, Palestinian officials say they will continue pursuing Abu Akleh’s case before the international courts.