Why CNN’s Claim that the IDF Killed Shireen Abu Akleh in a ‘Targeted Attack’ is False

The key is in the bullet that Palestinians refuse to surrender for examination.

Shireen Abu Akleh is the Al Jazeera journalist who was killed while covering the fighting around Jenin between the IDF and Palestinian fighters. Everyone knows the story by now, what we know and what the Palestinians, by withholding critical evidence, will not allow us to know, and should be clear that assigning responsibility makes no sense as long as the bullet cannot be examined, if not by Israeli forensic experts than by Americans. For the bullet is key to determining whether an IDF rifle fired the fatal shot, or one of the guns used by the Palestinian fighters.

Here’s the latest on this continuing story: “CNN suggests Al Jazeera journalist was killed in ‘targeted attack’ by IDF troops,” Times of Israel, May 24, 2022:

CNN said Tuesday it had conducted its own inquiry into the death of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Jenin on May 11, and said the results suggested she was deliberately targeted by Israeli forces.

Let’s assume that an IDF bullet struck the journalist. How can CNN know whether or not the IDF “deliberately targeted” her? That requires it to read the minds of the Israeli soldiers in the middle of a situation where Palestinians are wildly firing hundreds of times in the direction of those soldiers. CNN should ask itself why the IDF would target her. What conceivable benefit would that bring Israel? Killing Shireen Abu Akleh, or any journalist, would of course do great harm to Israel in the court of international public opinion. The Israelis are not stupid. They might accidentally kill a journalist but would never do so deliberately. The only side that benefits from Abu Akleh’s death is that of the Palestinians.

The IDF said the allegation was “entirely unfounded.”

Abu Akleh was shot dead while covering clashes between soldiers and Palestinian gunmen during an IDF operation in the city. The Israel Defense Forces has not ruled out that Abu Akleh was accidentally killed by Israeli fire, but says Palestinian gunmen may also be at fault. It has said it can make no determination while Palestinians refuse to hand over the bullet that killed her for forensic examination.

In an item headlined, “‘They were shooting directly at the journalists’: New evidence suggests Shireen Abu Akleh was killed in targeted attack by Israeli forces,” the CNN network said it had conferred with experts to support the claim.

First, using audio from a video of the moment the journalist was killed, the network said forensic audio experts had identified that the shots came from about 200 meters away — the alleged distance between Abu Akleh and nearby IDF forces at the time of her shooting.

Second, it cited Chris Cobb-Smith, a security consultant and British army veteran the network identified as a firearms expert. Cobb-Smith looked at photos of bullet markings left on a tree just where Abu Akleh was hit, and said that they were indicative of controlled, targeted shots rather than stray bullets.

The number of strike marks on the tree where Shireen was standing proves this wasn’t a random shot, she was targeted,” he said, while noting that evidence of Palestinian fire during the exchanges showed “random sprays.”

Is it at least conceivable that a Palestinian, even if firing wildly, got off a series of shots in the direction of Abu Akleh, one of them striking her and the others within seconds hitting the tree that she was standing in front of? I do not claim the shots “targeted” Abu Akleh – I am sure the Palestinians would not have deliberately done this – but it’s not impossible that someone firing wildly might nonetheless get off several shots while holding the rifle In the same position.

From the strike marks on the tree, it appears that the shots, one of which hit Shireen, came from down the street from the direction of the IDF troops. The relatively tight grouping of the rounds indicate[s] Shireen was intentionally targeted with aimed shots and not the victim of random or stray fire.”

No, the “tight grouping” does not mean Abu Akleh was deliberately targeted; it only means that the gunman did not move his weapon while getting off several shots, one of which struck the journalist and the others striking a tree. 

The Israel Defense Forces has said that any deadly Israeli fire would have been accidental.

An unnamed senior Israeli security official told CNN: “In no way would the IDF ever target a civilian, especially a member of the press.”

In a statement later Tuesday on the CNN report, the IDF said it had been thoroughly investigating the incident since it occurred and that its interim findings had been unable to definitively determine the origin of the fatal shot; it reiterated that an examination of the bullet would likely enable a firm determination, but that the Palestinian Authority has refused to make the bullet available. “The claim that the gunfire was aimed [at Abu Akleh] is entirely unfounded,” it said.

It defies all logic that the IDF would want to kill a journalist – any journalist – but perhaps especially one so well known all over the Arab world, who worked for Al Jazeera, the second largest news outlet in the world. How could killing Abu Akleh possibly help Israel? We see what damage the charge has done to Israel, how much it has damaged the image of the Jewish state.

Meanwhile, almost two weeks after the death of the veteran Palestinian-American reporter, The Associated Press said Tuesday that a reconstruction it carried out lends support to assertions from both Palestinian authorities and Abu Akleh’s colleagues that the bullet that cut her down came from an Israeli gun.

It did not, however, accuse Israel of intentionally targeting her. It also stressed that its findings were indefinite.

AP had least had the decency — unlike CNN — not to charge Israel with deliberately targeting Abu Akleh. And, again unlike CNN, it said that its “findings are indefinite.” It recognized, that is, the need for others to study the bullet that the PA continues to withhold.

Can CNN, or the AP, explain why, after two weeks, the Palestinians continue to refuse to let any others – not necessarily Israelis – to examine the fatal bullet? If it came from an Israeli rifle, surely the Palestinians would want that to be proved definitively, which only an analysis of the bullet can provide. That would be quite a photo op, of the PA handing the bullet over to the Americans, so that the FBI could perform its own analysis. Why didn’t CNN reporters ask, as part of their report, the following: “Two full weeks after Shireen Abu Akleh was killed, the Palestinians still refuse to let the Israelis, or the Americans, or anyone else, examine the fatal bullet. This remains a mystery. The only explanation we can come up with is that the Palestinians have something to hide. Israel keeps calling for the bullet to be made available, to them and to others for analysis. We agree.”

That’s all Israel is asking. Considering the enormous toll this story is taking on its image, it’s a very modest request. 

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