Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed by a gunshot to the head on May 11, 2022 while covering a raid being conducted by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in Jenin, a Palestinian city. Because her death occurred during a live conflict between Israeli forces and Palestinian opposition, responsibility for her death has caused international controversy.
Videos shared on social media surrounding the incident in Jenin show clashes in the area beginning at 6:00am approximately 120 meters east of where Abu Akleh would later be killed before the end of the hour. IDF body cameras and Telegram videos show that the IDF was in control of areas close to where Akleh was slain but that nearby side streets remained contested. Both sides dispute whether there was active shooting within the vicinity of Abu Akleh at the time of her death.
Abu Akleh joined Al Jazeera in 1997 as one of their first field correspondents, known for her coverage of the Israeli-Palestine conflict. The New York Times and NPR described her as a “household name” in Palestine.
After her death, Al Jazeera and the Palestinian Ministry of Health reported that the IDF killed her. Israeli authorities suggested that it was the Palestinians who killed her, however, they would later amend these suggestions by stating that the evidence was inconclusive.
The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCRC) released a statement on May 13, 2022 calling for a “prompt, transparent” investigation into her death. In the statement, the UN also notes, “Abu Akleh’s killing is a part of a continuation of the high rate of attacks against media works, particularly Palestinian journalists.” Since 2000, over 40 Palestinian journalists have been killed and no one has since taken responsibility for any of their deaths.
On April 25, the International Criminal Court (ICC) formally acknowledged receipt of a complaint filed earlier in the month by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) against the State of Israel. The complaint alleges systematic targeting of journalists working in Palestine and a failure to investigate killings of press members amount to war crimes. The OHCRC recommends that Abu Akleh’s killing be a part of the investigation and accountability can be derived from the ICC.
The IFJ’s complaint to the ICC alleges the systematic targeting of four Palestinian journalists killed or maimed by Israeli snipers while covering demonstrations in Gaza. Like Akleh, the four victims were wearing clearly visible “PRESS” vest at the time they were shot.
International tensions sweltered on May 13th during Abu Akleh’s funeral procession when viral videos showed Israeli authorities rushing into the crowd and attacking pallbearers. President Joe Biden immediately demanded an investigation of the incident with Secretary of State Blinken condemning the Israeli police’s actions. Israeli police defended their conduct on Twitter, “On Friday, about 300 rioters arrived at Saint Joseph hospital in Jerusalem and prevented the family members from loading the coffin onto the hearse to travel to the cemetery – as had been planned and coordinated with the family.”
On May 19th, Israel announced they will not be criminally investigating Abu Akleh’s killing. The Israeli Military Police Criminal Investigation Division believes an investigation that treats Israeli soldiers as suspects would be unpopular and lead to opposition in Israeli society. Israeli authorities initially pushed the blame on Palestinian men shooting down an alleyway, however third-party research cast doubt on this theory as Akleh’s position would have never been in their line of sight. Today, the going line is that there was “no suspicion” of a criminal act given that the soldiers may have thought they were firing at a Palestinian fighter. Witnesses present around Akleh during the time of her death report no shooting within her vicinity. Bullet fragments recovered from Abu Akleh’s body by the Palestinian Authority were not shared with Israel despite their request. The Palestinian Authority asserts that Israel has a long history of impunity concerning conduct of their own soldiers.
The ICC jurisdiction is complementary to national criminal jurisdictions, meaning that States have the primary competence and authority to investigate and prosecute international crimes. Pursuant to Article 17 of the Rome Statute, the ICC only takes cases in which a state having primary competence and authority to investigate is unable or unwilling to prosecution.
 Tahira Mohamedbhai, UN Rights Office Condemns Killing of Al Jazeera Journalist, JURIST, May 14, 2022.
 IFJ, Palestine: IFJ Teams up with leading human rights lawyers for ICC case over systematic targeting of Palestinian journalists, IFJ, November 2, 2021.
 Rich Calder, Israeli cops say they intervened in Shireen Abu Akleh’s Funeral due to Rioters, NY POST, May 14, 2022.
 Al Jazeera Staff, Israel Will not Investigate Shireen Abu Akleh’s Killing, AL JAZEERA, May 19, 2022.
 For a discussion of the rinciple of complementarity in the CC, see Informal expert paper: The principle of complementarity in practice (undated) chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/https://www.icc-cpi.int/sites/default/files/RelatedRecords/CR2009_02250.PDF