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A year after Palestinian American journalist's death, her family still seeks answers


A Palestinian American journalist and role model for female journalists in the Mideast, Shireen Abu Akleh, was killed one year ago today. She was reporting on an Israeli military raid in the occupied West Bank. Israel says a soldier likely shot her by accident, and no one was punished. But the U.S. and her family do not consider this case closed, as NPR's Daniel Estrin reports from Jerusalem.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Shireen Abu Akleh was wearing a helmet and protective vest, marked press, when she was shot last May in the occupied West Bank. Israeli police interrupted her funeral procession and beat the pallbearers. Her coffin nearly fell to the ground.

ANTON ABU AKLEH: Definitely, it was a very difficult year for the family. It was a big loss. You know, Shireen was a pillar - major pillar in the family. We've been, you know, pursuing justice for her all this time. It was very difficult here.

ESTRIN: Her brother, Anton Abu Akleh. He traveled to Washington and met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, seeking a U.S. investigation into her killing. Under U.S. pressure, Israel said one of its soldiers most likely killed her, mistaking her for a gunman, but it did not prosecute anyone. Naftali Bennett was Israel's prime minister at the time of her killing and addressed the Foreign Press Association in Jerusalem last week. I asked him what can be done to ensure journalists are not shot again.

NAFTALI BENNETT: At the end of the day, it's a very dangerous place to be in there. What I can say is Israel and Israel's Defense Forces never did and never will deliberately harm or try and hit the reporters.

ESTRIN: He also said there was no reason to prosecute a soldier for shooting Abu Akleh.

BENNETT: Bad things happen. Civilians die, sometimes deliberately, in which case you need prosecution, and sometimes not deliberately, in which case, no, I don't think - if there's a battle going on and there's collateral damage that is not deliberate - all right? - then no.

ESTRIN: There had been gun battles that day, but Abu Akleh was filmed slowly walking with her crew during minutes of calm when she was shot. Anton Abu Akleh.

ABU AKLEH: This is really sad to hear this from the previous Prime Minister. I know that the U.S. asked them to review the rules of engagement, but this is not enough. For us, accountability means anyone involved in Shireen's killing, from the soldier who pulled the trigger all the way up the chain of command, are held accountable.

ESTRIN: The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says in a new report it's found a pattern of impunity in cases where Israeli troops have shot and killed Palestinian journalists. And the Israeli military's procedures are unclear, says CPJ's Robert Mahoney.

ROBERT MAHONEY: When we have brought out cases of, for example, journalists who have been killed or detained by the U.S. forces, whether in Iraq or Afghanistan, there has been a positive response. And we have held the U.S. Army to account for its procedures, and there have been investigations. The problem with the Israeli Defense Forces investigation is that we do not know, for example, the IDF rules of engagement when it comes to how they interact with journalists who are covering their operations.

ESTRIN: The FBI started an investigation months ago since Abu Akleh was an American, but Israel says it's refusing to cooperate. This month, her family will be back in Washington, meeting with senators to press for more answers. They've been touched that several universities in the region established scholarships for female journalism students in Shireen Abu Akleh's name. And the street where her Al Jazeera news bureau is located in the Palestinian city of Ramallah has been renamed Shireen Abu Akleh Street. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Jerusalem.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.
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