By Ramzy Baroud
This month’s decision by the US Department of Justice to open an investigation into the May killing of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh is not a game changer, but it is important and worthy of reflection.
Based on the long trajectory of US military and political support of Israel and Washington’s constant shielding of Tel Aviv from any accountability for its illegal occupation of Palestine, one can confidently conclude that there will not be any actual investigation.
A real investigation into the killing of Abu Akleh could open up a Pandora’s box of other findings pertaining to Israel’s many other illegal practices and violations of international — and even US — law. For example, the US investigators would have to look into the Israeli use of American-supplied weapons and munitions, which are used daily to suppress Palestinian protests, confiscate Palestinian land, impose military sieges on civilian areas and so on. The US Leahy Law specifically prohibits “the US government from using funds for assistance to units of foreign security forces where there is credible information implicating that unit in the commission of gross violations of human rights.”
Moreover, an investigation would also mean accountability if it concluded that Abu Akleh, a US citizen, was deliberately killed by an Israeli soldier, as several human rights groups have already concluded.
That, too, is implausible. In fact, one of the main pillars that defines the US-Israeli relationship is that the former serves the role of the protector of the latter on the international stage. Every Palestinian, Arab or international attempt at investigating Israeli crimes has decisively failed simply because Washington systematically blocks every potential investigation under the pretense that Israel is capable of investigating itself, even alleging at times that any attempt to hold Israel accountable is a witch hunt that is tantamount to anti-Semitism.
According to Axios, this was the gist of the official Israeli response to the US decision to open an investigation into the murder of the Palestinian journalist. “Our soldiers will not be investigated by the FBI or by any other foreign country or entity,” outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said, adding: “We will not abandon our soldiers to foreign investigations.”
Though Lapid’s is the typical Israeli response, it is quite interesting — if not shocking — to see it used in a context involving an American investigation. Historically, such language was reserved for investigations by the UN Human Rights Council and by international law judges, the likes of Richard Falk, Richard Goldstone and Michael Lynk. Time and again, such investigations were conducted or blocked without any Israeli cooperation and under intense American pressure.
In 2003, the scope of Israeli intransigence and blind American support of Israel reached the point of pressuring the Belgian government to rewrite its own domestic laws to dismiss a war crimes case against then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Moreover, despite relentless efforts by many US-based rights groups to investigate the murder of American activist Rachel Corrie the same year, Washington refused to even consider the case, relying instead on Israel’s own courts, which exonerated the Israeli soldier who drove a bulldozer over the 23-year-old for simply urging him not to demolish a Palestinian home in Gaza.
Worse still, in 2020, the US government went as far as sanctioning International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and other senior prosecution officials who were involved in the investigation of alleged US and Israeli war crimes in Afghanistan and Palestine.
Bearing all of this in mind, one must ask questions regarding the timing and the motivation of the US investigation.
Axios revealed that the decision to investigate the killing of Abu Akleh was “made before the Nov. 1 elections in Israel, but the Justice Department officially notified the Israeli government three days after the elections.” In fact, the news was only revealed to the media on Nov. 14, following both the Israeli and US elections on Nov. 1 and Nov. 8, respectively.
Officials in Washington were keen on communicating the point that the decision was not political, nor was it linked to avoiding angering the pro-Israeli lobby in Washington days before the US elections or to influencing the outcome of Israel’s own vote. If that is the case, then why did the US wait until Nov. 14 to leak the news? The delay suggests serious backdoor politics and massive Israeli pressure to dissuade the US from making the announcement public, thus making it impossible to reverse the decision.
Knowing that a serious investigation will most likely not take place, the US decision must have been reasoned in advance to be a merely political one. Maybe symbolic and ultimately inconsequential, the unprecedented and determined US decision was predicated on solid reasoning.
First, US President Joe Biden had a difficult experience managing the political shenanigans of then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his time as vice president in the Obama administration from 2009 to 2017. Now that Netanyahu is poised to return to the helm of Israeli politics, the Biden administration is in urgent need of political leverage over Tel Aviv, with the hope of controlling the extremist tendencies of the Israeli leader and his government.
Second, the failure of the Republican so-called red wave to marginalize the Democrats as a sizable political and legislative force in the US Congress has further emboldened the Biden administration to finally reveal the news about the investigation — that is if we are to believe that the decision was indeed made in advance.
Third, the strong showing of Palestinian and pro-Palestinian candidates in the US midterms — in both national and state legislative elections — further bolsters the progressive agenda within the Democratic Party. Even a symbolic decision to investigate the killing of a US citizen represents a watershed moment in the relationship between the Democratic Party establishment and its more progressive grassroots constituencies.
Though the US investigation of Abu Akleh’s murder is unlikely to result in any kind of justice, it is a very important moment in US-Israeli and US-Palestinian relations. It simply means that, despite the entrenched and blind US support for Israel, there are margins in American policy that can still be exploited; if not to reverse the US backing of Israel, at least to weaken the supposedly unbreakable bond between the two countries.