Reports say that the FBI has opened an investigation into the death of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed by Israeli soldiers last May while covering an Israeli raid in Jenin, a major city in the occupied West Bank.
The revelation, which was first reported by Israel’s Channel 14 and confirmed by Axios, emerged after American officials notified Tel Aviv’s Justice Ministry of the investigation. Neither the Department of Justice nor the FBI have yet confirmed the existence of the probe.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who has helped lead the charge for accountability for Abu Akleh’s death, praised the FBI’s decision, calling it “an overdue but necessary and important step in the pursuit of justice and accountability.”
The unprecedented move could open Israeli soldiers to U.S. legal liability for any involvement in the killing, a fact that will surely add to brewing tensions between the Biden administration and the incoming government of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which is expected to include several ministers from a far-right, Jewish supremacist party.
One such member, Itamar Ben-Gvir, will likely take over as minister of public security in a Netanyahu government. Ben-Gvir’s likely appointment has drawn significant backlash given his history of support for Jewish extremists, including the perpetrator of a 1994 terrorist attack on a mosque in Hebron that left 29 worshippers dead and 125 injured.
Even Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), a strong supporter of U.S.-Israel ties, has reportedly warned Israeli officials that making Ben-Gvir a minister would damage the relationship between the two countries.
The FBI investigation comes after US and Israeli officials separately determined that Abu Akleh had most likely been killed by a stray Israeli bullet. A range of activists and politicians have fought that conclusion, with some arguing that soldiers may have intentionally killed the prominent Palestinian journalist.
Notably, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has previously threatened that Abu Akleh’s killing could imperil Washington’s massive annual military aid to Tel Aviv. “Unfortunately, there has been no independent, credible investigation,” Leahy said in September, adding that there is “a history of investigations of shootings by IDF soldiers that rarely result in accountability.”
A number of questions remain about the investigation. As Jamil Dakwar of the ACLU noted on Twitter, it remains “unclear if Israeli authorities would fully cooperate with the FBI,” which could complicate efforts to reach a definitive conclusion about why and how Abu Akleh was shot.