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Ron Ben-Yishai
Photo: ‏‎Gil Yohanan‎‏
Shireen Abu Akleh

IDF's Abu Akleh probe is essential in war over legitimacy of our army's actions

Opinion: Publishing conclusions of investigation into death of Al Jazeera journalist was not in IDF's best interest, but it was the right call since our military is in constant race against time to prove it is only protecting its citizens

Ron Ben-Yishai |
Published: 09.06.22, 23:28
Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh joined a long and tragic list of thousands of non-combatants, killed each year in areas of military conflict across the globe.
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  • I don't mean those civilians who are deliberately targeted by both sides of the conflict, but those who are caught up in fire exchanges and harmed accidentally.
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    שירין אבו עאקלה
    שירין אבו עאקלה
    Shireen Abu Akleh
    (Photo: AFP)
    Not only uninvolved civilians have been harmed on many occasions in recent years, but dozens of journalists have actually been killed, including over the past year during the war in Ukraine.
    In my opinion, Abu Akleh was killed because she was at the wrong place at the wrong time. She was at the scene where Palestinians were exchanging fire with IDF troops because she wanted to report what truly happened there - as a journalist who covers military conflicts - and her being harmed had nothing to do with her nationality.
    This incident became international news for two reasons: Firstly, because Palestinians were quick to accuse IDF soldiers of deliberately killing her. This claim immediately caught headlines around the world, especially among the progressive news outlets, some of which hide their covert antisemitism by opposing "the Israeli occupation" and the very existence of the State of Israel.
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    גופתה של שירין אבו עאקלה
    גופתה של שירין אבו עאקלה
    Abu Akleh lying on the ground after being shot
    (Photo: Reuters)
    Secondly, Abu Akleh is an American citizen. U.S. President Joe Biden is very sensitive to criticism of progressive members of his Democratic party toward his support of Israel. Thus, any slightest transgression made by Israel has to be scrutinized by the president in order for him to maintain the support of the increasingly anti-Israel progressive Democrats.
    Therefore, the IDF did well by conducting a thorough investigation of the incident in cooperation with American ballistics experts, which examined the bullet - which allegedly killed the Al Jazeera journalist - that the Palestinians gave them after many requests and considerable delay. However, the bullet was severely damaged, preventing the experts from making a unanimous conclusion.
    During the incident itself, there were armed Palestinians at a distance of 100 to 200 meters (328 - 656 feet) from Abu Akleh, who was hiding behind a tree, which is clearly visible in the footage provided by her cameraman. From such a distance it is difficult to notice the word "press" on the vest worn by Abu Akleh.
    So, it is quite clear that the soldier, who may have shot her, could not distinguish whether it was a journalist or an armed Palestinian man dressed in civilian clothing and hiding behind a tree.
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    אביב כוכבי בטקס הענקת פרס מצטייני הרמטכ"ל ליום העצמאות
    אביב כוכבי בטקס הענקת פרס מצטייני הרמטכ"ל ליום העצמאות
    IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi
    (Photo: Yair Sagi)
    The investigation into Abu Akleh's death is part of two important campaigns the IDF has been conducting since the establishment of Israel and the War of Independence - for international legitimacy and the moral and law-abiding image of our military.
    IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi made the right call to order a unilateral IDF investigation into the incident after the Palestinians refused to participate in a joint probe. Even though the results were not good, the main conclusion was that Abu Akleh, most likely, was accidentally hit by a stray bullet fired by an IDF soldier. The decision to investigate was correct because unlike any other army in the world, the IDF constantly needs to prove its legitimacy to defend its citizens and the sovereignty of the State of Israel.
    There is no other military that takes such careful legal and operational measures to avoid harming uninvolved civilians, precisely because of the need to prove it has the legitimacy to operate. But not only because of that. The military's senior officials have another reason and it is the need to maintain the motivation of IDF soldiers, which stems from the belief in the righteousness of the army's actions.
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    כוחות צה"ל בכפר רומאנה
    כוחות צה"ל בכפר רומאנה
    IDF soldiers operate in the West Bank
    (Photo: EPA)
    The anti-Israel crowd often mocks our military's motto - "the most ethical army in the world."
    I'm not familiar with even one serious study that examined the adherence to international laws and principles of ethics of armies around the world. But there is no army in the world that follows international law and code of ethics as closely as the IDF, because if our soldiers were to behave differently, sooner or later, the only troops we would have left would be those whose service we do not want.
    It is also why the IDF published the findings of its probe into Abu Akleh's death, admitting she was hit by - albeit stray - an IDF bullet. And whoever refuses to accept this version, should remember the recent incident in which IDF soldiers shot and wounded severely our own troops during an arrest of a wanted Palestinian.
    Anyone who knows anything about violent confrontations that involve firearms knows that friendly fire and errors in identification are an integral part of the battlefield.
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