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Shireen Abu Akleh's brother calls on the U.S. to investigate his sister's killing


The Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was wearing a blue vest with the word press on it when she was shot and killed while covering an Israeli military raid in the West Bank. That was more than a month ago. And among the many people around the world pushing for accountability for her death is her brother. NPR's Daniel Estrin has been to the family's home and is here to tell us about his conversations as well as the latest developments in this case. Hi, Daniel.


PFEIFFER: Israel says Shireen Abu Akleh could have been shot by one of its soldiers or by a Palestinian gunman in the area. There have been some outside attempts to investigate and they point to the likelihood that it was a soldier. But Israel criticizes those findings and released a statement today. What's the latest on this?

ESTRIN: Yeah. Israel said that those investigations are biased. CNN and The Washington Post analyzed video and audio at that time. They say the evidence suggests the Israeli army killed her. Israel says it's still looking into it and even expanding its own investigation, but it's blaming Palestinian officials for refusing to transfer the bullet to them and to hold a joint investigation with an American observer. When I spoke to Shireen Abu Akleh's brother, he told me, you can't have the suspect investigate the case. So there's just a lot of mistrust.

PFEIFFER: Shireen Abu Akleh was a well-known journalist beyond that region. She was also a U.S. citizen. Given that, what other countries are getting involved?

ESTRIN: Well, the U.S. is showing no intention of getting involved even though she was a U.S. citizen. The U.S. wants Israelis and Palestinians to share evidence between each other. And, no, no other countries are stepping in. The Palestinian Authority hasn't asked the U.S. to step in. So the case is in limbo, and that is very similar to other times when Palestinian civilians have been killed. You look at the army's statistics, and they show that Israel rarely releases definitive conclusions. Soldiers are mostly not punished. There is pressure from members of Congress to keep this on the radar. And so Anton Abu Akleh, her brother - he's 58 years old. He wants the U.S. to get more involved. That was his main message when I visited him in East Jerusalem.

PFEIFFER: Daniel, you were there on Wednesday. Let's hear about your visit.


ESTRIN: You learn about the tenacity of the Abu Akleh family when you enter their small childhood home.

ANTON ABU AKLEH: Yeah. We would gather every Sunday on this table for a lunch or early dinners.

ESTRIN: In this small dining room, Anton Abu Akleh remembers his parents arguing with his sister Shireen when she was in college. Why did you give up engineering to study journalism?

ABU AKLEH: At that time, we had only three newspapers - local papers here in Jerusalem. And they told her, what are you going to do - just report to these papers, you know? She said, I liked it, and I think I will do good in it. That's what I remember. And I can't recall myself, and they're trying to argue this and telling him, you know, just let her choose. You know, she might do well in it.

ESTRIN: And she did do well. She joined the Voice of Palestine in the 1990s when Israel agreed to let Palestinians have partial autonomy and a radio station. Her mom would hear her voice fill this house.

ABU AKLEH: For my mom, who was very upset when she switched to journalism, listening at her on the radio was something she started - she started to like it.

ESTRIN: Tony, as his family calls him, spent years in New Jersey working at his family's travel agency, shuttling Palestinians back and forth to the U.S. When the Palestinian uprising erupted in 2000, he switched to shuttle diplomacy for the United Nations, arranging travel for peace missions, first in Jerusalem, then Sudan and Yemen. Nowadays, he handles administration for the U.N. in Mogadishu, Somalia. Back home, Shireen worked for Al Jazeera covering conflict.

ABU AKLEH: When I wanted to make sure she's fine, I would open the - even when I wanted to call Shireen, I would open the TV to see if she's live or not to make sure I'm not disturbing or imposing. So - but now, you know, I don't even feel like watching the news anymore.

ESTRIN: The TV in the living room is dark. The walls here are adorned with small icons of Christian saints. The newest icons are posters of Shireen wearing her protective press vest.

ABU AKLEH: She's a media icon here in Palestine and, I think, in the Arab world. We received lots of calls from presidents, from dignitaries, from the Arab world, the U.S., Australia, Europe, paying their respect. And that was really touching, you know?

ESTRIN: But he's not satisfied with thoughts and prayers.

ABU AKLEH: We want whoever is in charge of this, whoever gave the order to shoot Shireen, to assassinate Shireen - he should be put - held accountable for this. It's simple. We need justice to ensure it's not repeated and to ensure safety for other journalists in the field. It's not about the soldier or a specific soldier. It's about the policy. It's time to end these double standards which Israel has been enjoying. You know, you do something wrong; you have to pay for it.

ESTRIN: Abu Akleh wants help on the ground from the U.S.

ABU AKLEH: There should be a U.S. investigation helmed by expert - international expert, by U.S. expert. The FBI can do this and give us what they believe. Whatever the results of this investigation is, we accept. We'll accept it as long as Israel is not involved in this.

ESTRIN: Abu Akleh spoke with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and asked for an American investigation into her killing.

ABU AKLEH: He was very supportive to me, to the family. But we want this - we want to see the U.S. more concerned. Shireen is an American, and we want the U.S. government to be more involved in this.

ESTRIN: The U.S. has not started an investigation or called for any third-party probe. The State Department urges Israeli and Palestinian officials to share evidence with each other. But this case is far from the only shooting on peoples' minds here. Palestinian officials say Israeli forces have killed more than 60 Palestinians this year, including a woman in her 40s and some teenagers and some who Israel says were involved in attacks. Investigations into Palestinian civilian casualties rarely provide answers.


UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Singing in non-English language).

ESTRIN: Across the street from the Abu Akleh home is a martial arts shop where Palestinian Mirvat Kurdi works.

MIRVAT KURDI: We have heard about a lot of cases like Shireen, like Khashoggi.

ESTRIN: She compares it to the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents. As for Shireen Abu Akleh...

KURDI: Regarding to the governments, the people, the world, nobody will change anything. They buried her, and her story - closed.

ESTRIN: Shireen's brother refuses to accept that. He spent years working in diplomacy.

ABU AKLEH: I have to keep some optimism in me. Justice is important.

ESTRIN: He thinks it's time to wrap up his U.N. post in Mogadishu, settle permanently back home in Jerusalem, and make sure what happened to his sister Shireen doesn't become yesterday's news. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.

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