Funeral of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh
Funeral of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90

57 US lawmakers are demanding the US State Department and Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) launch an investigation into the death of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh, who held American citizenship and was killed during an exchange of gunfire between IDF troops and Palestinian Arab terrorists in Jenin last week.

In a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and FBI Director Christopher Wray, quoted by Haaretz on Friday, the lawmakers — one fourth of all House Democrats led by Reps. Andre Carson, Lou Correa and Bill Pascrell — noted they were "deeply concerned" by her death, highlighting the conflicting reports from the IDF and international media and eyewitnesses to her killing.

"As an American, Ms. Abu Akleh was entitled to the full protections afforded to US citizens living abroad," the lawmakers wrote, urging Blinken and Wray "to uphold the values that our nation was founded on, including human rights, equality for all, and freedom of speech. We have a duty to protect Americans reporting abroad."

"Journalists worldwide must be protected at all costs," they wrote, welcoming both the State Department's description of her killing as “an affront to media freedom” and its actions and statements to date supporting a thorough investigation by the Israeli government.

"However, given the tenuous situation in the region and the conflicting reports surrounding the death of Ms. Abu Akleh, we request the State Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) launch an investigation into Ms. Abu Akleh’s death," they wrote. "We also request the U.S. Department of State determines whether any US laws protecting Ms. Abu Akleh, an American citizen, were violated."

Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Michael Herzog, responded to the letter on Friday.

“I was disheartened to read the letter published today by members of Congress that calls for an investigation by the F.B.I. and the State Department into the tragic death of Shireen Abu Akleh. This letter does not offer a fair representation of the case, ignores important context of the events leading to Ms. Abu Akleh’s tragic death and reaches the wrong conclusion,” he said.

“Israel is fighting a deadly wave of Palestinian terror attacks in its cities, which has claimed 19 innocent lives in recent weeks. Many of these deadly attacks originated from Jenin in the northern West Bank, with the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) having lost effective security control over the city. On May 11, 2022, Israeli security forces operated in Jenin to thwart yet another impending terror attack and were confronted by heavily armed Palestinian militants, most of them affiliated with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad - a U.S. designated terror organization. Shireen Abu Akleh died in the exchange of fire in this charged environment,” added Herzog.

“The letter ignores the fact that Israel has, from the outset, called for an impartial joint Israeli-Palestinian investigation with the U.S. in an observer role. Our call was flatly rejected by the P.A., which is cynically using the Ms. Abu Akleh’s death to instigate an anti-Israel propaganda campaign. The lack of acknowledgement of Israel’s call for an investigation gives room to the false impression that Israel opposes a genuine investigation, while our primary interest is finding the truth.”

“To this day, the P.A. has refused to give Israel access to the bullet that killed Ms. Abu Akleh, making it impossible to conduct a ballistic examination that would determine whether the bullet was shot by an IDF weapon - only the IDF can carry out such an investigation. Those who were quick and avid in blaming Israel without knowing all the facts, while absolving the Palestinian side of the same level of scrutiny, have sinned in partiality,” stated Herzog.

“The letter highlights the claim by parties with a particular agenda that there were no clashes or shooting in the immediate area (a claim that insinuates an intentional targeting of Ms. Abu Akleh by IDF soldiers). At the same time, it omits significant evidence, including Palestinian Islamic Jihad statements and ample footage, documenting the exchange of fire at the scene.”

“By implication, Israel is pointed at as the primary suspect in Ms. Abu Akleh’s tragic death and one that cannot be trusted to conduct an honest investigation, thereby delegitimizing Israel’s strong, credible and independent judicial system. As was stated by the State Department: ‘[t]he Israelis have the wherewithal and the capabilities to conduct a thorough, comprehensive investigation.’”

“No journalist should die in the line of duty. Israel holds freedom of the press in the highest regard and sees the protection of journalists as a fundamental part of our democracy. IDF troops would never intentionally target members of the press. To our friends in Congress, we say: Rather than sending unconstructive messages, truth and justice would be better served by calling on the P.A. to give Israel access to the bullet and allow for the completion of the investigation with the U.S. in an observer role,” concluded Herzog.

(Israel National News' North American desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Israel National News articles, however, is Israeli time.)