A demonstrator in London holding pictures of Shireen Abu Akleh on May 14, 2022 (via Wikimedia Commons)

A new investigation has found that Israeli forces intentionally killed Shireen Abu Akleh, the Palestinian-American journalist for Al Jazeera who was murdered in early May while reporting in the city of Jenin in the northern West Bank. A preview of the results of the independent investigation by the multidisciplinary research group Forensic Architecture (FA) and the human rights organization Al-Haq was published on September 20.

The research incorporates previously unseen footage and unpublished autopsy reports in addition to witness accounts, open-source footage, images of the bullet that killed Abu Akleh, and drone photography of the site to conclude that Abu Akleh was the clear target of three rounds of ammunition fired from armored military vehicles belonging to the Israeli occupation forces (IOF). FA’s results add to those reached by probes conducted by news organizations including the Washington Post, the Associated Press, the New York Times, and CNN, all of which have ascribed varying levels of responsibility to Israeli forces for Abu Akleh’s death.

Digital reconstruction of the six shots with known trajectories, revealing the tight proximity of their dispersal and positioning all at above-shoulder height (image courtesy Forensic Architecture and Al-Haq)

“What our findings show is that what the Palestinian witnesses — the surviving journalists — said from day one is very accurate. They felt they were targeted directly,” Nour Abuzaid, co-lead researcher of the investigation, told Hyperallergic. “They identified that the shots came from the location of the military convoy. And they also testified that there were no other shots in the area — no crossfire, no Palestinian resistance.”

Forensic Architecture has previously investigated covert Israeli military operations, former Whitney Museum Vice Chairman Warren Kanders’s links to tear gas production, and the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp to dispel faulty claims perpetuated by Holocaust deniers. Al-Haq is an independent organization based in Ramallah that monitors violations in the region. 

At 6:31:06, a video shows the journalists, including Shireen, slowly walking towards the IOF’s position, following standard press protocols for self-identification. (photograph by Salim Awwad; courtesy Forensic Architecture and Al-Haq)

In the early morning on May 11, respected Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh and five others arrived in Jenin, the northernmost city in Palestine’s West Bank. Jenin, a city of population about 345,000, hosts a large refugee camp that around the time of Abu Akleh’s murder was known as a hub for resistance organizing. Abu Akleh and her colleagues had traveled to Jenin to report on a recent IOF raid at the camp. Before their arrival, the area was calm, with a noted wave of excitement accompanying the well-known journalist’s appearance.

But some registered the presence of snipers, and gunfire soon ensued. “Shireen and her fellow journalists were deliberately and repeatedly targeted, with an aim to kill,” the preliminary findings of FA’s report read.

By analyzing and synchronizing disparate recordings of the event, investigators were able to build a detailed timeline of the shootings as they unfolded, and alongside drone photographs, construct a three-dimensional model of the area. By reconstructing what the marksman would have been able to see through their viewfinder, they confirmed that the large letters spelling “PRESS” on the front and back of journalists’ vests would have been clearly visible. Researchers traced the arc of six of the 16 total shots fired, with each of those shots landing above shoulder level and fired when the journalists were within the shooter’s field of vision. 

Digital reconstruction of the first moment Shireen is seen lying on the ground, not far from where journalist Shatha Hanaysha is seen hiding behind a tree (image courtesy Forensic Architecture and Al-Haq)

“The shots were so close together. It’s not easy for them to be that close together: you need to be precise to shoot them that close together, all above shoulder height,” Omar Ferwati, co-lead researcher on the project, said to Hyperallergic.

Their findings also suggest that nobody was present in the space between the location where the journalists quickly sought cover and where the military vehicles were parked, directly contradicting Israel’s insinuations to the contrary. Sound analysis corroborates that no gunfire took place in the three minutes preceding the fatal shooting, and none of the footage indicates that any artillery originated from the area surrounding where the journalists were. Twice, a civilian attempted to approach Abu Akleh to provide medical aid; both times, a shooter deliberately prevented him from doing so by shooting at him.

“Our investigation goes beyond what’s been done so far in mostly journalistic accounts,” Ferwati said. “It’s a more rigorous methodology of analysis that encompasses both media and space. What we produce is admissible evidence in national and international courts.” 

In the aftermath of Abu Akleh’s death, global protests ensued in at least 39 cities including New York, London, Mogadishu, and Haifa as demonstrators denounced the killing and Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Over 100 artists signed an open letter penned by Artists for UK Palestine condemning Israel’s murder and calling for “full accountability for the perpetrators of this crime and everyone involved in authorizing it.”

Just yesterday, September 21, Abu Akleh’s family formally submitted a complaint to the International Criminal Court at The Hague. “The evidence is overwhelming. It’s been over four months since Shireen was killed. Our family shouldn’t have to wait another day for justice,” they wrote in a statement. FA enclosed an addendum to their complaint alongside a legal brief by Al-Haq.

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Jasmine Liu

Jasmine Liu is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she studied anthropology and mathematics at Stanford University.