Recently, the Commanding Officer of the Central Command, MG Yehuda Fuchs, presented the Chief of the General Staff, LTG Aviv Kohavi, with the final conclusions of the investigation into the death of Journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh.
On May 11th, 2022, as part of Operation “Break the Wave”, IDF soldiers carried out a series of counterterrorism activities in the Jenin area to prevent terrorism. In the weeks preceding the operation, 19 people were murdered in terrorist attacks, 11 out of which were carried out by terrorists from the area of Jenin. The counterterrorism activity took place in a densely populated civilian area. During the activity, wild and indiscriminate gunfire was shot toward IDF soldiers by Palestinian gunmen, at the time and in the area in which Ms. Shireen Abu Aqleh was killed. The Palestinian gunmen also hurled explosives at the soldiers and IDF military vehicles. Near the end of the activity, the journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh was hit.
Since the devastating incident, the IDF has thoroughly reviewed the circumstances of Ms. Abu Aqleh’s death. For that purpose, the Chief of the General Staff appointed a dedicated task force, led by COL Meni Liberty, to examine the incident. The task force consists of IDF commanders and additional relevant personnel.
The preliminary conclusions from the interim examination were presented to the Chief of the General Staff immediately following the incident. According to the conclusions, it was not possible to unequivocally determine the source of the gunfire from which Ms. Abu Aqleh was hit and killed. Subsequently, the Chief of the General Staff instructed the continuation of the investigation with a commitment to transparency and revealing the truth of the incident, using all tools available to the IDF. For that purpose, a dedicated team from the Technological Array of the Special Operations Division of the Intelligence Directorate (J2), led by COL “R”, was added to the investigative task force.
As part of the investigation, IDF soldiers involved in incident were questioned, and a chronological analysis of the course of events, an analysis and examination of the sound from the scene of the incident in real-time, an analysis of the scene of the incident and an analysis of the area and in particular of the shooting area, which included a detailed simulation of the area, were conducted. Moreover, various forensic and ballistic findings from the scene of the incident were examined. The task force also examined additional information published regarding the incident, including materials from foreign media organizations as well as video and audio documentation.
After repeated requests, the bullet was transferred for examination from the Palestinian Authority. On July 2nd, 2022, a ballistic examination of the bullet was held in a forensic laboratory by Israeli experts in the presence of professional representatives from the U.S. Security Coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority (USSC).
The ballistic examination determined that in light of the poor physical state of the bullet, identifying the source from which it was fired is difficult. Therefore, it was also not possible to determine from this investigation whether or not the bullet was fired from an IDF rifle.
According to the investigations and their findings, it appears that it is not possible to unequivocally determine the source of the gunfire which hit and killed Ms. Abu Aqleh. However, there is a high possibility that Ms. Abu Aqleh was accidentally hit by IDF gunfire fired toward suspects identified as armed Palestinian gunmen during an exchange of fire in which life-threatening, widespread and indiscriminate shots were fired toward IDF soldiers. It is also important to emphasize and clarify that throughout the entire incident, IDF gunfire was fired with the intent of neutralizing the terrorists who shot at IDF soldiers. An additional possibility is that Ms. Abu Aqleh was hit by bullets fired by armed Palestinian gunmen toward the direction of the area in which she was present in.
Moreover, as part of the investigation, as with any operational review of this type, the standard operating procedures and their implementation were examined and no abnormalities were found.
The Chief of the General Staff received the findings of the review and concluded that the investigation held was thorough and comprehensive, and the investigative task force “turned over every stone” to reach the truth. Additionally, in accordance with the findings of the investigation, the Chief of the General Staff stated that at no point was Ms. Shireen Abu Aqleh identified and at no point was there any intentional gunfire carried out by IDF soldiers in a manner intended to harm the journalist.
After the completion of the review, the findings were transferred to the Military Prosecution for further examination. A detailed analysis of the collected findings was presented to the Military Advocate General, and a response was given to the questions addressed to the investigative task force for clarification. After a comprehensive examination of the incident, and based on all the findings, the Military Advocate General found that under the circumstances of the case, there is no suspicion of a criminal offense that justifies the opening of a Military Police investigation.
The IDF expresses its deep condolences over the death of Ms. Shireen Abu Aqleh. The freedom of the press and maintaining the safety of journalists are part of the primary components of Israeli democracy, which the IDF is committed to upholding.
Chief of the General Staff, LTG Aviv Kohavi said: “The death of Shireen Abu Aqleh is a devastating incident. The incident took place during operational activity intended to prevent Palestinian terrorism, which calls for the harming of Israeli civilians. The journalist was present in the area during an exchange of fire that lasted for almost an hour. At that time, armed Palestinian gunmen shot wild and indiscriminate gunfire toward IDF soldiers and in every direction, endangering their lives. The IDF operates in immensely complex areas at a professional and high-quality level every night, while taking actions to avoid harming non-combatants. The IDF takes great efforts to this end, while working to allow press coverage and the freedom of the press. The Palestinian terrorists hide and operate from within the Palestinian population, endangering their lives on an ongoing basis. This is an immense challenge for the IDF, but it is our professional and moral duty to stop and prevent terrorism, as well as achieving our goal - to defend Israeli civilians and the State of Israel."