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How To Get Away With Murder: Israel-Style

With its callous refusal to investigate Shireen Abu Akleh’s murder, the settler-colonial apartheid regime is flaunting all elements of accountability.

With its callous refusal to investigate Shireen Abu Akleh’s murder, the settler-colonial apartheid regime is flaunting all elements of accountability.

This article was originally published on Al Mayadeen English, found here. Republished with permission from the author. Minor editorial changes have been made by TMV.


In the criminal law of common law legal systems, all crimes can be broken down into different elements which all need to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict. In the US, most crimes require three elements to be present: the criminal act (known as the actus reus), the criminal intent (mens rea), and the concurrence between the former two.

The purpose of any justice system, be it retributive (emphasizing punishment of the offender) or restorative (emphasizing the healing of all interconnected parties affected by harm committed, e.g. the victim, the offender, the community at large, by non-punitive means), is to ensure accountability.

Merriam-Webster defines accountability as “an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or accountability for one’s actions” (a definition surprisingly critical of coercive justice systems that equate accountability with the harm of incarceration or even capital punishment).

As with crimes, accountability can also be broken down into different elements. Kay Pranis, a prominent restorative justice practitioner from Minnesota, USA, recognizes the following five elements which make up individual accountability:

  1. The offender’s acknowledgment of a harm caused by their action
  2. Acknowledgment of one’s own agency in committing these actions
  3. Understanding the full impact of one’s actions on anyone affected by them
  4. Taking “steps to repair the harm and make amends”
  5. Identifying “patterns or habits that led to causing harm and take steps to change those habits.”

Israel’s egregious murder of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh on May 11 and the way the settler-colonial apartheid state has handled the murder since – the end result being the country’s refusal to investigate the murder – has once again made a mockery of the notion of accountability by flaunting every single one of its elements.

Blaming the victim, discrediting the witnesses, then establishing third-party culpability

From the outset, the Israeli military as the offending party denied any involvement in the killing, let alone acknowledge that harm had been caused in the first place by its own action or the agency thereof, thus avoiding the first two elements of accountability.

This despite multiple eyewitness accounts reiterating that Israeli snipers directly targeted Abu Akleh who was on assignment in Jenin refugee camp to cover an Israeli military raid and was shot in the face, right below her ear in the narrow space between her helmet and the protective press vest she was wearing that visibly marked her as a non-combatant.

Since then, preliminary forensic analysis conducted by various independent civil society groups has corroborated the eyewitness testimonies, coming to the conclusion that Abu Akleh’s killing was deliberate and that Israel was undoubtedly behind it, as there were no other persons in the area that could have fired the shot.

Character assassinating the victim as well as any witnesses for the prosecution is Criminal Defense 101, and Israel, defending itself in the court of public opinion, wasted no time in executing this foreseeable strategy.

Far-right member of the Knesset Itmar Ben-Gvir, a notorious anti-Palestinian agent provocateur, tweeted “When terrorists fire on our soldiers in Jenin, they must return fire with full force, even if there are ‘journalists’ in the area from Al Jazeera who often deliberately stand in the middle of the battle and disturb the soldiers.”

A day after the murder, the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) posted a video statement also riddled with lies and slander to their Instagram account that featured a military spokesman describing Jenin refugee camp as “a lawless terrorist stronghold”, its residents as “terrorists” and its unprovoked attack on the camp a “counter-terrorism operation”, falsely describing Abu Akleh’s murder as a result of “an intense firefight” between the IOF and “dozens of Palestinian gunmen” who “attacked with heavy gunfire and explosives.”

This third-party culpability defense is yet another textbook move out of the criminal law playbook, and a particularly risky one if your strategy of redirecting liability is based on easily debunked lies, as there was not a single “Palestinian gunman” in the vicinity of the murder. How sheepishly an over-confident Israel had to backpedal after poking holes in its own defense!

For an entity hell-bent on not investigating itself formally, the Israeli military sure does spend a lot of time and effort in defending its indefensible actions.

The holism of Palestinian liberation

I would argue that Israel fully understands the third element of accountability, namely the full impact of its sadistic acts of violence, which are wholly in keeping with its Zionist character, and that it has a keen awareness of all parties affected by its harmful actions. Israel simply doesn’t care.

The apartheid state knows that Shireen Abu Akleh was not only a person, but also a symbol of Palestinian resistance, which must be crushed in its entirety. This is why it was not enough to assassinate her: the Israeli military later went on to attack her funeral procession, widely circulated video footage showing Israeli soldiers beating one of the pallbearers who despite his body being bludgeoned, did not once let go of the coffin.

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Even this act of aggression in plain view of an international media spotlight did not satisfy Israel’s addiction to racist violence, going even further in testing the accepted boundaries of its own barbarity: enabled by a predictably lackluster Western condemnation of both the murder and the attack on the funeral procession, Israeli forces went on to raid Abu Akleh’s house and also arrest the valiant pallbearer who held her coffin high while fending off repeated beatings.

Israel is not stupid, it is acutely aware of the holism of the Palestinian cause, one that operates not as a collection of independent parts, but as an interconnected whole, which makes it so much more hazardous to the survival of Zionist, settler-colonial rule in Palestine.

Israel knows that Abu Akleh’s heinous murder by one of their own is not only “devastating for Shireen’s colleagues, for her family, her friends”, as Yumna Patel, the Bethlehem-based Palestine News Director for Mondoweiss commiserated in an interview following the killing, but that it also affects many other stakeholders in the situation as well.

This includes to name but a few, Palestinians as a nation (whether living under Israeli occupation, in refugee camps in neighboring countries, or in diasporic communities across the Western world); the Palestinian Christian community (Abu Akleh having been a Christian) which faces the same daily degradations of Israeli military occupation and its Apartheid system of control as do the Muslim majority of Palestinians; Palestinian journalism (Israel has killed over 50 Palestinian journalists in the last two decades and in its 2019 World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders ranked Israel 88th out of 180 countries).

This is why Israel counters the holism of Palestinian resistance with equally holistic, all-encompassing warfare, characterized by an unhinged overkill of violence and infliction of suffering.

Israel is not a democracy

If one already botches steps one to three on the accountability ladder, how can one live up to the fourth element, taking “steps to repair the harm and make amends?” The answer is, that one can’t. And Israel hasn’t.

Instead of seeking justice for the victim and the bereaved, Israel – as is the norm – skirted accountability by declaring that it would not go forward with an investigation on the grounds that there was no suspicion of a criminal act and that an investigation would lead to controversy and opposition within Israeli society.

Translation: In allegedly “democratic” Israel, assassinating a Palestinian journalist is not only considered not a crime, but “justice” is also wholly beholden to the public opinion of a racist society that will do everything to protect the Palestinian-hating killers in its midst.

Like accountability, the separation of powers is central to a democracy, providing checks and balances against the abuse of state power. In Israel, considered by its Western backers as the only democracy in the Middle East, all three powers, the legislative, executive, and judiciary, as well as the fourth estate, the media, work in anti-democratic tandem to achieve one simple goal: consolidating settler-colonial Zionist supremacy over Palestine through repetitive organised violence and a hydra-like apartheid system of racist and oppressive laws, regulations and rules designed to make the lives of indigenous Palestinians a living hell.

Far from repairing the harm caused by Abu Akleh’s murder and making amends, the Israeli regime proceeded to double down and add insult to injury: next to Ben-Gvir’s despicable tweet mentioned above, Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett repeated the lazy and transparent propaganda of the IOF, also pointing the finger at the chimera of invisible Palestinian militants and going on to blame the Palestinian Authority for obstructing an investigation into the killing, even though Palestinians, including the victim’s family, are doing the exact opposite, namely calling for a full-scale independent investigation, as they justifiably do not trust their oppressor to adequately investigate itself.

Israeli media network Arutz Sheva, which publishes the weekly Hebrew-language B’sheva, the country’s largest circulation newspaper in the religious sector, headlined an article with “The death of an antisemitic journalist – should we mourn?”, followed by an equally mendacious and downright venomous subtitle, saying that Abu Akleh “worked for Jew-hating Al Jazeera, went to a live battle scene and met her death. That’s the story.”

The I in “Israel” stands for impunity

Where the Israeli regime has failed to “identify patterns or habits that led to causing harm and take steps to change those habits”, the final element of accountability, others have stepped in and done Israel’s job for it, at the risk of being defamed as anti-Semitic by the Zionist regime and its Western protectors.

From human rights organizations such as Al-Haq and B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International that have all blown the whistle on Israel”s apartheid system to the persecuted Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) as a peaceful and pragmatic means of changing the violent patterns and habits of Israel’s settler-colonial behavior; from anti-colonial political parties and pro-Palestine solidarity movements across the Global South and even the Western world to international forums such as the United Nations Human Rights Council and the International Criminal Court, there is no shortage of second and third-party agency in identifying and seeking to rectify the harms committed by Israel.

But the first party, the offender, continues to elude not only this last element of accountability but all other ones as well. In the words of the American civil society group Jewish Voice For Peace: “A settler-colonial apartheid state will never hold itself accountable for killing people it must dominate and eliminate in order to exist,” it wrote in reaction to news breaking about Israel’s refusal to investigate Shireen Abu Akleh’s murder, the latest tragic example of the Olympian realms of impunity an international “community” dominated by Western imperialism allows Israel to move in.

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