WASHINGTON (JTA) — A bipartisan group of 25 U.S. congressmen, a number of whom are close to the pro-Israel community, has called on the Biden administration to pressure the Palestinian Authority to release the bullet that killed Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh for an independent investigation.
Abu Akleh was killed last month while covering clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen during an Israel Defense Forces operation in the West Bank city of Jenin.
Palestinian investigators have blamed Israel for his death, while Israel says only a ballistic analysis of the bullet – which is held by the Palestinian Authority – and the soldiers’ weapons, can determine whether any of them fired the fatal blow. The Palestinian Authority refused to hand over the ball, saying it did not trust Israel.
“We urge you to call on the Palestinian Authority to provide access to forensic evidence of Abu Akleh’s death for an independent investigation so that all parties can come to a definitive conclusion on the events leading up to his death. and hold all parties accountable,” said the letter sent Friday and led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a Jewish Democrat from New Jersey.
The signatories, 14 Democrats and 11 Republicans, include lawmakers known for their close ties to the center-right pro-Israel community, including Democrats Gottheimer and Donald Norcross of New Jersey; Virginia Democrat Elaine Luria; and Democrat Juan Vargas and Republican Young Kim, both of California.
Israel has called for a joint investigation into the murder of Abu Akleh, a revered Al Jazeera journalist, with the Palestinian Authority on May 11, and has suggested that the United States act as an observer. The Palestinian Authority rejected any Israeli role in the investigation and asked the International Criminal Court to initiate proceedings against Israel.
Thank you to lawmakers who urged the PA to provide access to key evidence in Abu Akleh’s tragic death. The PA refused Israel’s offer for a joint investigation but without the bullet that killed her, it is impossible to determine who fired it. pic.twitter.com/91lmLWAUly
— Democratic Majority for Israel (@DemMaj4Israel) June 3, 2022
Abu Akleh was an American citizen, but the United States said it would not conduct its own investigation into her death and would continue to advise the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority on their own respective investigations into the incident.
Last month, 57 Democrats sent a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the FBI demanding a US investigation. The letter seemed to give more credence to versions of events that blamed Israeli soldiers for the shooting. Two major US media outlets, CNN and Associated Press, said Israeli soldiers were the likely culprits.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid told Blinken that the CNN and Palestinian Authority investigations were “biased”, and that Israel firmly rejected all accusations that Israeli troops deliberately targeted Abu Akleh as a “blatant lie”.
Gottheimer’s letter said an investigation was “essential” to solving a problem that was encroaching on freedom of the press.
“Ms. Abu Akleh was one of eighteen journalists who lost their lives this year in the course of their work,” the letter reads. “A free press is vital for an accountable and democratic government. No journalist should face threats or violence for doing their job.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.