The family of the killed Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh has allowed her death to be added to a legal complaint being taken to the international criminal court, arguing that Israeli security forces have been systematically targeting Palestinian journalists in violation of international humanitarian law.
The case originally submitted in April by Bindmans had focused on four Palestinian journalists wearing press helmets and vests, two of whom were maimed and two shot dead. It also covers alleged attacks on Gaza media infrastructure in May 2021.
Lawyers from Bindmans and Doughty Street Chambers announced the addition of the death on 11 May of Abu Aqleh to the existing claim at a press conference in London.
They said the case was vital owing to the repeated failure of the Israeli security forces to investigate such incidents and the inability of Palestinian reporters to secure reparations in Israeli domestic courts.
Jennifer Robinson, from Doughty Street said: “The ICC prosecutor must investigate our complaints and prosecute those responsible to send a clear message not just to the Israeli forces and government, but to all governments that targeting journalists is a crime and journalists are not fair game.” She said the ICC prosecutor needed to open the case because it was emblematic of a problem that has been continuing for many years.
The ICC will have to judge whether there is a prima facie case that the Israeli security forces have been deliberately targeting reporters, and whether its internal inquiries are consistent with natural justice. There will also be issues of jurisdiction. In February 2021, the ICC said its jurisdiction extended to Gaza and West Bank, making it more likely the ICC can take up the issue. Israel itself is not a party to the ICC, raising issues of enforcement of any eventual ruling.
The case is being supported by representatives from the International Federation of Journalists, the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate and the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians.
Tayab Ali, the Bindmans solicitor in the case, said “evidence was not lacking, but the political will”, adding “Israel in the past has been gifted immunity”.
He said: “Israel has enjoyed a devastating impunity against accountability for the actions of its armed forces, and has repeatedly demonstrated that it is a bad faith investigator. It has not managed to hold anyone to account for the tens of Palestinian journalists that have been killed or maimed so far”.
“A free press is the cornerstone of a democracy. The targeting of journalists in conflict zones anywhere in the world is unacceptable and must bring severe consequences for those that try to hide their crimes and violations by killing or maiming journalists.”
Abu Aqleh was shot dead by Israeli forces while she was covering an Israeli military raid in Jenin city. Ali al-Samoudi, her local producer, was wounded by a bullet to the back at the scene.
Separately on Thursday, the Palestinian Authority announced the results of an investigation into her death, saying it revealed Israeli forces deliberately shot and killed the reporter.
The Palestinian attorney general, Akram al-Khateeb, said Abu Aqleh was hit with an armour-piercing bullet, adding the inquiry “proves that at the scene of the incident, armed Palestinians were not present, and that Israeli forces were the only ones present”.
The bullet that killed Abu Aqleh was a 5.56mm round with a steel component used by Nato forces, he said. Al-Khateeb added that the shot was fired by a soldier who stood about 170 metres away. He also said that the Palestinian Authority will not hand the bullet over to Israel for examination.
Israel’s defence minister, Benny Gantz, responded to the Palestinians’ report, saying that “Israel finds the death of Shireen Abu Aqleh regrettable, and the IDF is carrying out an examination in order to arrive at a truthful examination. Any claim that the IDF intentionally harmed journalists or noncombatants is a blatant lie.”