Biden will travel to Israel and Saudi Arabia next month on a trip that confirms that the worst of US policies in the Middle East remain unchanged. The visit to Saudi Arabia has rightly been the focus of much of the criticism in recent weeks, but the stop in Israel is just as outrageous in its own way. The White House announcement of the trip comes only a month after Israeli forces gunned down prominent Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Jenin. Just as Biden’s expected meeting with Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman shows that the US will do nothing to hold the Saudi government accountable for its many crimes, the visit to Israel underscores that the Israeli government can kill an American citizen with impunity.
Multiple reports have since confirmed what eyewitnesses said when the murder took place: Abu Akleh was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier, and there was no fighting in the vicinity when she was shot. That was always the most likely explanation, and all the available facts support it. It is a measure of the Biden administration’s cowardice that Secretary of State Blinken was still pretending last week not to know facts that had already been established. Given that she was wearing identification that she was with the press and she was with a group of her colleagues, it is more likely than not that she was targeted because she was a journalist. Regardless, it was an appalling murder that cries out for a swift response from our government. In the weeks since she was murdered, the Biden administration has failed to take any action to identify the Israelis responsible for her death, and it shows no signs of making any effort to bring her killer or killers to justice. That is a disgraceful abdication on their part, and it’s one that members of Congress and the public should not tolerate.
The murder of Shireen Abu Akleh is an outrage that demands a much sterner US response than we have seen, and there should be serious consequences for the relationship with Israel if her killer is not identified and put on trial. Since we know that the Israeli government is not going to investigate the matter and that any investigation they did conduct would be a sham, the US should open its own investigation. Many members of Congress have demanded this already, but the administration has not responded to their requests. As Yasmeen Serhan wrote last week, "Only a U.S. investigation could decide who shot Abu Akleh in a way that would put the matter beyond dispute. And if the shooter did prove to be an Israeli sniper, only the US has the influence to make Israel’s government hold those responsible to account." No one expects Biden to have the political courage to do any of this, but it is what the US ought to be doing.
Abu Akleh’s murder was not an isolated incident, but part of a pattern of crimes committed against Palestinian civilians, including dozens of other journalists over the decades, by Israeli police and military forces in the ongoing occupation of Palestinian territories. Her death is one of many examples of what US-enabled and US-funded systematic oppression does to the Palestinian people with our government’s blessing. US support and diplomatic protection for Israel help make such crimes possible and they make it much more difficult for the families of the victims to find justice anywhere.
Despite the efforts of pro-Israel propaganda to create confusion about what happened, there is no doubt that the Israeli military committed this crime. If the Biden administration lets Israel off the hook here, they will be inviting more attacks on civilians and on journalists by client governments that will assume that our government will do nothing to stand up even for one of our own citizens. It is standard practice for the US to indulge and whitewash Israeli abuses and crimes, but it is long past time that Americans demanded an end to this practice once and for all.
Because of the extensive aid that the US has provided over the decades, the US bears significant responsibility for creating the conditions that led to the murder and the routine abuses committed against the Palestinian people every day. The Israeli government knows that nothing it does will jeopardize the relationship with Washington, and it acts accordingly. Unless that government is forced to pay a political price for its outrages, it will just be a matter of time before another journalist or some other innocent bystander is killed. It is important to get justice for a murdered American citizen, but we must also insist on changing US policy so that it no longer enables the oppression that Abu Akleh spent her career documenting.
Daniel Larison is a contributing editor and weekly columnist for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.