Shireen Abu Akleh was well-known for her reporting for Al Jazeera. Photo: Al Jazeera/AP

Column: Israel, Presumed Guilty

Israel is presumed guilty even after it proves itself innocent.

It is fair to conclude that the Palestinians sent this very message when the American government announced that a Palestinian-American journalist was probably shot to death unintentionally by a bullet fired from Israeli military lines. Washington also stated that the fatal bullet was too damaged to match it with a specific rifle, The New York Times reported.

The United States’ findings were not, predictably, good enough for the Palestinians. The American assessment “provided the occupying state with a safe way of evading responsibility for killing Abu Akleh, using flimsy and feeble pretexts,” the Palestinian Authority’s ministry for foreign affairs said in a statement last Tuesday (July 5), according to the Times.

What pretexts? The U.S. had nothing to go on.

The ministry’s response means only that: Arabs will splatter any accusation against the wall no matter how alarming and devoid of hard evidence.

So far, no proof has emerged explaining how Shireen Abu Akleh died during a clash on May 11 between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian terrorists in the West Bank city of Jenin. The best hope for proof was an examination of the bullet that struck Abu Akleh, a popular 51-year-old broadcaster.

The Palestinian Authority refused to allow any outside entity to inspect the bullet until nearly two weeks ago, Saturday, July 2, when it turned over the bullet to the United States. By Monday, July 4, the State Department released an assessment describing the fatal bullet as too damaged to match it with a specific rifle.

The authority must have known that the condition of the bullet would shed no further light on the incident. Had they turned it over to Israel or America when it investigated, the authority could not have gained an independent judgment that Israel was responsible.

The Arabs were robbed of an opportunity to impugn Israel with factual evidence. So inconvenient.

If this was a formal trial under America’s legal standards, a fair and reasonable jury would likely reach a verdict of not guilty. Jurors could not be certain if an Israeli soldier shot her and, beyond that, if an Israeli soldier intentionally targeted her.

The State Department assessment did suggest that an Israeli soldier probably shot her, but not intentionally.

The episode was literally tried in the press as media investigations provided support to witness accounts that Israeli forces killed her, including the Times, the Associated Press, The Washington Post and CNN.

If possible, we should learn the truth no matter where the chips may fall. However, gathering evidence in a war zone is far different from solving crimes in a more orderly society, and accounts from witnesses who are hostile to Israel are hard to trust. Granted, the Palestinians speak similarly about Israeli sources.

No matter how extensive their reporting, the media investigations still amount to speculation. That is not sufficient to reach any conclusions.

One passage from the Times is bothersome: “American investigators believe that Ms. Abu Akleh’s killing was the unintentional result of crossfire, said a senior U.S. official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and requested anonymity.

“But evidence reviewed by The New York Times showed that there were no armed Palestinians near Ms. Abu Akleh when she and her colleagues came under fire.”

That American investigators “believe” she was killed in a crossfire means they are not certain.

The Times review of “evidence” omits the possibility that “armed Palestinians” might yet be “near” Abu Akleh and that one of them shot her. The Times could have missed this “evidence.”

By presuming Israel guilty, will Palestinians model their own legal system on this approach should they ever form an independent state?

About Bruce Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker, who writes from Philadelphia, also blogs for The San Diego Jewish World and Smirking Chimp and previously for the suspended Philadelphia Jewish Voice. He was previously a reporter and copy editor for daily newspapers in eastern Pennsylvania.

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