Killing of Palestinian journalist threatens to overshadow Biden’s trip to Israel
Joe Biden flies to the Middle East on Tuesday for his first trip to the region since entering the White House. Ahead of a visit to Saudi Arabia – which reawakens the age-old foreign policy dilemma of realpolitik versus human rights – the US president is heading to Israel, where he risks being entangled in the storm that surrounded the shooting death of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in May.
Biden will be in Israel from Wednesday to Friday on the first leg of his Middle East tour – and is expected to talk with new Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid about deepening ties between Tel Aviv and some Arab states, as well as US attempts to revive some form the nuclear deal abandoned by his predecessor Donald Trump.
But whatever those intentions, Biden’s visit risks being caught up in anger over the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, the Al-Jazeera reporter who was shot on May 11 while covering a military operation. in the West Bank city of Jenin, despite wearing a hard hat and body armor labeled “Press.”
The controversy is particularly likely to overshadow Biden’s visit because the highly respected Abu Akleh – who has become a Palestinian icon since her tragic death – was an American citizen.
Abu Akleh’s family appealed directly to Biden in an open letter published July 8, expressing their “sorrow, outrage, and sense of betrayal over your administration’s abject response to the extrajudicial killing of our sister and aunt by the Israeli forces“.
US officials concluded in a report last week that a shot fired from Israeli positions likely killed her, although there is “no reason to believe” her firing was intentional. But the report also said the ball was “severely damaged”, preventing a “clear conclusion”.
The late journalist’s brother, Anton Abu Akleh, wrote in the letter on behalf of his family that “the United States has made every effort to erase any wrongdoing by Israeli forces” and – addressing Biden and Secretary State Antony Blinken – “your administration’s commitment has served to whitewash Shireen’s murder and perpetuate impunity”.
The text ends with requests for the US Department of Justice and the FBI to “take action” on what the family considers an “extrajudicial killing”, alongside a request that Biden meet with his family to discuss the matter. in person.
The open letter drew a sympathetic response from pro-Palestinian activists, including Iyad el-Baghdadi, an influential Palestinian-born pro-democracy activist, who accused the United States of making an exception to equality before the law as it relates to Arab Americans.
Saudi visit controversy
Even more embarrassing for the White House, the anger over Abu Akleh’s murder further exposes the Democratic Party’s split between leftists and moderates.
Democratic Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-born progressive, released a July 8 statement calling for an independent U.S. investigation into the murder — condemning the Biden administration and the State Department, saying they “admit that Shireen was probably killed by Israeli forces, but extend the benefit of the doubt to a government that has not won”. More than 80 members of Congress have demanded such an investigation, including congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar.
Tlaib concluded his statement by saying that when Biden meets with Lapid, he “must obtain the names of the soldiers responsible for Shireen’s murder, as well as their commanding officer, so that these individuals can be fully prosecuted for their crimes by the Department of Justice.” Justice”. ”.
It comes as Biden faces criticism from similar quarters for his visit to Saudi Arabia, a historic US partner the president has vowed to turn into a ‘pariah’ over his alleged role in the murder of the dissident journalist. exiled Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018. Biden in February 2021 declassified a US intelligence report finding that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman “approved” of the operation to “capture or kill” Khashoggi, then a Virginia resident and Washington Post columnist .
Biden defended his decision in an op-ed piece for The Washington Post: “My views on human rights are clear and long-standing, and fundamental freedoms are always on the agenda when I travel internationally. abroad, as they will be on this trip, just as they will be in Israel and the West Bank,” he wrote.
This article has been translated from the original in French.