Abdelhalim Abdelrahman
Aspiring Middle East Analyst

The Politicization of Shireen’s Investigation

An undated photo released by the Al Jazeera network shows Shireen Abu Akleh, a journalist for the Al Jazeera network. Abu Akleh, a well-known Palestinian reporter for the broadcaster’s Arabic language channel, was shot and killed while covering an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank town of Jenin early Wednesday, the Palestinian health ministry said. (Al Jazeera via AP)

The Fatah-Hamas rivalry and Palestinians’ distrust of Israeli investigations into its alleged abuse of Palestinians are significant reasons why the Palestinian Authority (PA) denied an investigation with Israel into Shireen’s death. 

The death of legendary Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh has touched the hearts of Palestinians across the globe. Shireen is a widely revered icon among Palestinians for her coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After Shireen’s death during a firefight in Jenin between the IDF and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) militants, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) initially blamed PIJ gunfire for her death. However, the IDF did not rule out the possibility that they accidentally killed Shireen. To help ascertain the truth, Israel offered to conduct a joint investigation alongside the Palestinian Authority into the tragic matter. The United States reportedly pressed Palestinian Authority (PA) minister Hussein al-Sheikh to agree to Israel’s proposal. However, al-Sheikh refused, saying it would share its findings with the US, Qatar, and other relevant actors. Palestinian Authority President Mahmood Abbas subsequently stated that he might ask the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate Shireen’s death.

As a result, several political factors entered the Palestinian Authority’s calculus to reject Israel’s request for a shared investigation. Firstly, Palestinians believe that Israel cannot conduct transparent, objective investigations regarding misconduct toward Palestinians. Furthermore, the Palestinians believe that Shireen was “assassinated” by the IDF—a claim that has not been proven. Thus, from the PA’s perspective, an investigation with Israel would have been deemed illegitimate in the eyes of the Palestinian people. Being seen as too close to the Israelis on such a sensitive issue could have dire political consequences for the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority; whose primacy in the West Bank is in significant peril from Hamas. The latest polling from the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research indicates that although Fatah maintains a slight advantage over their rival, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh would defeat Mahmoud Abbas in a future presidential election. Furthermore, 73% of Palestinians want Abbas to resign as Palestinian President. Hence, based on the decisions coming from Ramallah, the PA most likely believes an investigation with Israel would make them more unpopular while running the risk of allowing Hamas to successfully leverage Shireen’s death against them.

Looking to capitalize on the Palestinian Authority’s weaknesses, Hamas is scrambling to seize the moment and bolster its self-anointed status as defenders of the Palestinian people. Earlier this week, Hamas leader of the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar, visited the Al-Jazeera office in Gaza to express his condolences. However, in a video posted by Foundation Defense for Democracies Analyst Joe Truzman, the conversation veered from Shireen’s death to how Sinwar is not hiding from Israel–downplaying Hamas’ fear that Israel wants Sinwar killed for inciting terrorism. Sinwar’s visit to Al-Jazeera in Gaza indicates that Hamas is exploiting Shireen’s death to show that the group is not afraid of Israel and still active in the Palestinian arena. Hamas is using Shireen’s death to capitalize on its strong presence at the Al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan and its recent incitement of terrorism. If Hamas executes its latest propaganda tour properly, they may be able to close the gap between them and the fractured Fatah party.

The Fatah-Hamas rivalry has derailed a proper investigation into Shireen’s tragic killing. Instead, both Fatah and Hamas officials will use this somber moment for their political gain at the expense of the truth.

About the Author
Abdelhalim Abdelrahman is a Middle East Research Assitant at Valens Global. Mr. Abdelrahman's professional goal is to work for the United States government with a concentration on terrorism and counter-terrorism. Abdelrahman also seeks to advocate for a two-state solution with the peaceful establishment of a Palestinian state
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