Skip to main content

Slain Palestinian reporter's family 'outraged' as Biden arrives in Israel

Lina Abu Akleh, the niece of slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, watches at the family home in occupied east Jerusalem as US President Joe Biden speaks upon his arrival at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport
— Jerusalem (AFP)

The niece of slain Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh expressed "outrage" Wednesday as US President Joe Biden arrived in Israel, condemning Washington for inaction over her killing.

Lina Abu Akleh watched on television from her home in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem as Air Force One touched down near Tel Aviv, just over two months after her aunt, a veteran Al Jazeera correspondent, was shot in the head while covering an Israeli army raid in the occupied West Bank.

The United Nations concluded she was killed by Israeli fire in Jenin, while wearing a helmet and vest marked "Press". The family is adamant she was deliberately targeted, which Israel denies.

Drawing on rival probes by the Israelis and Palestinians, the US State Department concluded on July 4 that she was likely shot from an Israeli military position, but said there was no evidence of intent to kill.

"Sadness, outrage and, just, upset," said Lina on watching Biden arrive, describing feelings stemming from "the lack of action they (the US) have taken towards the case of Shireen."

"The amount of power that the US administration has to make a change, yet not taking that political choice to do that, is very frustrating," said the 27-year-old, dressed in black.

"They either choose their interests with Israel, or they carry out a meaningful effort towards accountability and justice for Shireen," she added.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Lina while en route to Tel Aviv with the president, inviting the family to Washington.

Abu Akleh was shot in the head during an Israeli army raid on May 11. A UN probe found that she was killed by Israeli fire

But Lina said they are still awaiting a response to their request to meet with the president during his time in Jerusalem.

Portraits of Shireen hang at the entrance to their home, while the journalist's dog lay at Lina's feet.

As Al Jazeera broadcast footage of Biden's arrival, Lina said she has still not got used to the absence of her aunt's voice on the network.

"It's so weird watching this because Shireen would have been the one" covering such events, she said.

- 'Still in grief' -

During Biden's talks with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, the Abu Akleh family hopes the president will press his host for details about the journalist's killing on May 11.

Lina said that the Israeli authorities have the name of the soldier who shot her aunt.

Rashida Tlaib, a US congresswoman of Palestinian origin, has said the president "must obtain the names of the soldiers responsible for killing Shireen, along with that of their commanding officer."

The Democrat lawmaker has also echoed the Abu Akleh family's call for US authorities to launch their own probe, one that would see "these individuals... fully prosecuted for their crimes by the Department of Justice".

Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said last week it remained impossible to determine the source of the shooting, and "the investigation will continue."

The Israeli army's top lawyer has not ruled out criminal charges against an individual soldier over Abu Akleh's killing but said prosecution was unlikely, as she was shot in what the military deemed a scene of active combat.

Lina Abu Akleh, surrounded by pictures of her aunt, is still getting used to the fact that the veteran correpondent will never again report for Al Jazeera

Biden did not mention the case in his remarks on landing in Israel, before embarking on his two-night stay during which he will also meet with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

In Jerusalem, the Abu Akleh family is still coming to terms with the killing of the star reporter.

"We're mourning, we're still in grief. It's a huge shock," said Lina, with a badge of Shireen pinned to her chest.

"But we are not discouraged -- we will continue our fight for justice and accountability for Shireen."