We need to show Israel the time for accountability has arrived
Israel should not be allowed to whitewash the killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh with yet another sham ‘investigation’.
The only possible response to the hasty offer Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid made to the Palestinians to conduct "a joint pathological investigation" into the killing of renowned Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh can be rage. Such "investigations" conducted by Israel serve not to uncover the truth but to bury it, not to establish accountability but to preserve impunity, not to indict the perpetrators but to protect them.
That the offer for a "joint investigation" into the killing of Abu Akleh came directly from Foreign Minister Lapid - and was later repeated by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett - speaks to the magnitude of Israel's concern about the public relations crisis it is now facing. Such offers for "investigation" and "analysis" are normally left to lower-ranking officials in Israel's whitewash apparatus.
Indeed, Israel only engages in such high-level whitewash if it believes the killing of a Palestinian can damage the country's image. Otherwise, it doesn't even bother with such empty gestures. B'Tselem tried in good faith to engage Israel's domestic investigation mechanisms for decades. Over the years, we have made hundreds of applications to relevant authorities for cases of Palestinians killed by Israeli security forces to be investigated, but meaningful accountability was never realised. Six years ago, we concluded that what we were dealing with is not merely a dysfunctional investigation mechanism but an organised, systemic whitewash operation. As a result, we made the decision to continue our work on such killings - but without ever engaging in Israel's so-called "investigations".
Israel's investigation mechanism is clearly a charade. Even if an investigation into the killing of a Palestinian at the hands of Israeli forces is opened, it almost never conclude with someone being charged. The entire mechanism is a charade because its flaws are, in fact, its essential features - the ones that enable it to deliver impunity. To begin with, the army is tasked with investigating itself.
Soldiers are typically interviewed without being challenged, almost no effort is made to collect external evidence, and "investigations" are drawn out for years. On top of all this, even the sham described above is directed only at low-ranking soldiers - those who make the policies that enable soldiers to pull the trigger on Palestinians never face any scrutiny. All this, despite in many cases fatalities being caused not because of any deviations from the policies of the Israeli military but the criminal policies themselves.
Take, for example, the cases of Israeli snipers shooting at unarmed Palestinians at the Gaza fence during the Great March of Return demonstrations. Israel conducted "investigations" into certain specific cases of shooting by snipers. But no one investigated - and no one in Israel will - the rules of engagement themselves. Israel's military advocate general - the very same person in charge of Israel's military investigations - is tasked with giving the green light for such policies. Thus, obviously, nobody is being held to account for giving snipers those flagrantly illegal orders.
Israel needs impunity to maintain its apartheid regime. It cannot maintain control over a subjugated population without state violence. Thus it is essential for the regime to provide itself with blanket impunity - while performing what looks like investigations, to appease international expectations.
Impunity paves the way for more killings. Don't fall for Israel's propaganda, its promises to "investigate". Israel will not hold itself to account, just like its apartheid regime won't dismantle itself. International stakeholders who do not call this out simply cast themselves as a cog in Israel's whitewashing machine. The grotesque US pressure on Palestinians to accept a "joint" investigation and the statement by US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides vaguely "encouraging" an investigation, only demonstrates the extent to which the Biden administration continues to serve as such a cog.
Shireen Abu Akleh once said while it "might not be easy to change reality", she could at least bring "the voice of the people to the world". To keep that voice alive, to honour her legacy and to demand justice, please: Say no to Israeli propaganda, view reality with clarity, and demonstrate to Israel that the time of accountability has finally - even if belatedly - arrived.
Hagai El-Ad, Executive Director of B'Tselem