The American president takes off on Tuesday for his first trip to the Middle East since taking office. Before going to Saudi Arabia, a delicate step that arouses many criticisms, Joe Biden is going to Israel, where he risks being caught up in the case of the assassination of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh on 11 last May.
Joe Biden is due to fly away on Tuesday, July 12, for the first trip to the Middle East since his election – a trip which will therefore be particularly scrutinized by observers in the region. The American president is expected from July 13 to 15 in Israel, the first leg of his tour, where the deepening of the normalization process between the Jewish state and certain Arab countries, and the strengthening of regional cooperation against Iran will be schedule of his talks with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid.
But it is a Joe Biden under pressure who begins his Middle Eastern journey, caught up in the case of the assassination of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh on May 11.
Al-Jazeera’s star correspondent in the Palestinian territories was shot and killed while wearing a bullet-proof vest marked with “Press” and wearing a protective helmet, covering an Israeli military operation in Jenin, in the occupied West Bank.
This affair, very delicate from a diplomatic point of view for the Biden administration, risks tainting its visit to the Israeli ally. Not only because of the emotion and anger caused by the tragic death of Shireen Abu Akleh, in the region and in the journalistic sphere, but also and above all because the journalist recognized for her courage and her professionalism is an American citizen.
The Abu Akleh family speaks directly to Joe Biden
It is by emphasizing this precise point that the family of the journalist, elevated to the rank of Palestinian icon since his assassination, directly challenged the American president in an open letter made public on July 8.
A letter in which she says she is “sorrowed, outraged and feels betrayed by the abject response” from Washington on the circumstances of the journalist’s death.
In fact, the relatives of Shireen Abu Akleh did not take off against the State Department which indicated, on July 4, that the American analysis of the bullet which killed the correspondent of Al-Jazeera had not been able to reach definitive conclusion as to the origin of the projectile, presented as being “very damaged”.
“The actions of your administration demonstrate an apparent intention to undermine our efforts for justice,” asserts Anton Abu Akleh, the journalist’s brother, in the letter he signed on behalf of his family, accusing the United States to want to “exculpate the Israeli forces”, although “all existing evidence suggests that Shireen, an American citizen, was the victim of an extrajudicial execution”.
While US experts concluded Shireen Abu Akleh was ‘likely’ fired from an Israeli position, they added they had ‘no reason’ to believe it was a shot intentional.
In conclusion of the text also addressed to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the family calls on President Biden to meet with them during his visit to the region in order to “listen directly to their concerns and their demands for justice”.
She also calls on the tenant of the White House to provide her with “all information gathered so far by his administration on the murder of Shireen”, and to urge the Department of Justice and the FBI to look into “the extrajudicial execution of Shireen”.
And to conclude: “Finally, and it should be needless to say, we expect the Biden administration to support our efforts to find those responsible and obtain justice for Shireen.”
A president overtaken by Realpolitik
The family’s letter, which was also embittered by the examination of the fatal bullet by the Israeli army, when the Palestinian Authority had only agreed to hand it over to American authorities, found some echo in the media and social networks, which hastened to relay and comment on it.
“All American citizens are equal before the law, except Arab Americans. They can be killed by US allies (like Israel) or kidnapped and held hostage by US allies (like Saudi Arabia) and the US administration will just smile and shake hands with the criminals,” Iyad el-Baghdadi, an influential pro-democracy activist of Palestinian origin, who has enjoyed some notoriety since the Arab uprisings in 2011.
All US citizens are equal before the law, except for Arab Americans. They can be killed by US allies (like Israel) or kidnapped & held hostage by US allies (like Saudi Arabia) and the US admin will just smile and shake hands with the criminals. “With liberty & justice for all”.
— İyad el-Baghdadi | إياد البغدادي (@iyad_elbaghdadi) July 7, 2022
Even more embarrassing for the White House, the affair took a political turn in the United States since elected officials from the Democratic Party also arrested President Biden before his departure for Israel.
Thus, the elected American Democrat of Palestinian origin Rashida Tlaib published a statement on July 8 in which she called for “a criminal investigation free of any political consideration or influence of foreign governments into the assassination of Shireen Abu Akleh”.
The elected official, known for having had an arms pass with the Jewish state in August 2019, after her entry into Israeli territory had first been refused to her, denounced the “message” of impunity returned by the administration Biden, while more than 80 members of Congress have demanded, in writing, the opening of such an investigation.
Signatories included Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jamaal Bowman, Ilhan Omar and Cori Bush, among others.
“At his next meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, President Biden must obtain the names of the soldiers responsible for Shireen’s murder, as well as their commander, so that these individuals can be fully prosecuted for their crimes by the ministry. Justice,” she concluded.
This stroke of pressure falls badly for an American president already very criticized in the United States because of the continuation of his visit which will take him, from Friday, to Saudi Arabia. A historical partner of the United States in the region which he intended, during his campaign, to treat as a “pariah” state because of the assassination, in October 2018, of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
A sign of the discomfort of the White House, Joe Biden deemed it necessary to justify, in a column published on July 9 by the daily The Washington Post, his next meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
And this, while he himself had declassified, in February 2021, a report from the American intelligence services concluding that “MBS” had “validated” the operation aimed at “capturing or killing” the journalist … then resident in the United States and columnist for the same American daily.
“I know that many people disagree with my decision to go to Saudi Arabia, writes the President of the United States. My views on human rights are clear and ancient, and fundamental freedoms are always on the agenda when I travel abroad, as they will be on this trip, just as they will be in Israel and the West Bank.”