Al Jazeera journalist killed in West Bank raid

Israeli troops on Wednesday reportedly shot dead Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh during a West Bank raid. The 51-year-old Palestinian-American journalist was a household name across the Middle East for her coverage of the conflict. Josef Federman, Associated Press news director for Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan, joins John Yang to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    A prominent TV journalist was shot and killed today in the West Bank while reporting on a raid by Israeli troops. Her killing has raised tensions between the Israeli security establishment and the press, as a new wave of violence in the Holy Land between Israelis and Palestinians continues.

    Here's John Yang.

  • John Yang:

    A burst of gunfire.

    Al-Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh lies face down, motionless, shot in the head, then panicked calls for an ambulance. The 51-year-old Palestinian-American journalist was rushed to a hospital, but died from her wounds.

    In a career at Al-Jazeera that spanned a quarter-century, she was a household name across the Middle East for her coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Al-Jazeera, several journalists on the scene and the Palestinian Health Ministry said Israeli troops shot Abu Akleh and her producer, who is reported to be in stable condition.

    The Israeli defense minister said a full investigation is being conducted. Earlier, officials released a video they said shows Palestinian militants firing nearby. But open-source investigators said they doubted the video was taken at the scene of the killing.

    Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned against jumping to conclusions.

  • Naftali Bennett, Israeli Prime Minister (through translator):

    The Palestinian Authority was quick to blame Israel. There is a viable chance that the journalist was hit by the fire of armed Palestinians.

  • John Yang:

    Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said Israel was responsible Israel.

  • Mohammad Shtayyeh, Palestinian Prime Minister (through translator):

    Israel wants to silence the free voice and wants to silence the voice of the press and wants to silence the image that shows the ugliness of the Israeli occupation and the crime of this occupation.

  • John Yang:

    At Abu Akleh's home in Jerusalem, her family mourned her death and called for answers.

    Lina Abu Akleh, Niece of Shireen Abu Akleh: I never thought this day would come where the news would be about her, and she won't be the one who's covering the news.

  • John Yang:

    Israeli forces also appeared at Abu Akleh's home, but were shouted away.

    Abu Akleh was on assignment at the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank, where Israeli forces have regularly conducted raids. They say they're hunting for a Palestinian terrorist. It's a response to a recent uptick of violence against Israelis. Last week, two Palestinians from Jenin were captured after they allegedly killed three Israelis with axes in Elad, a predominantly Ultra-Orthodox town in Central Israel.

    And, last month, the rare convergence of Ramadan and Passover brought near daily clashes in Jerusalem's Old City at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a site revered by both Muslims and Jews, who call it Temple Mount.

    Though the conflict has not yet broken out into the all-out war scene in Gaza last May, so far this year, dozens of Palestinians and Israelis have been killed. Throughout the long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, critics have accused Israel of targeting journalists.

    A United Nations investigation found reasonable grounds to believe Israeli snipers had shot a journalist during 2018 protests in Gaza.

    For more on both Shireen Abu Akleh's death and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian violence, we're joined by Josef Federman. He's the Associated Press news director for Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan.

    Josef, thanks for being with us.

    First off, what — is there anything new? What more do we know about Shireen Abu Akleh's death?

  • Josef Federman, Associated Press:

    Well, we're still trying to figure out who's responsible for this.

    Early in the day, the Israelis were indicating, they were suggesting that perhaps she had been hit by Palestinian militant fire. Later in the day, they backed off that claim. They're now saying they don't know who's responsible. They're promising a full investigation.

    But, right now, what they're trying to do, they're trying to get ahold of the bullet that killed her. The Palestinians have that bullet. And, for the time being, they do not want to turn it over to the Israelis. So, there's sort of a dispute on how to proceed with this investigation.

  • John Yang:

    I think it's fair to say that there is a strained relationship between the Israeli military and the foreign press in particular.

    Earlier today, my colleague producer Dan Sagalyn spoke with Avner Gvaryahu, who is co-director of a group of veterans in Israel called Breaking the Silence — they are opposed to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories — talking about this relationship.

    Let's take a listen to what he had to say.

    Avner Gvaryahu, Breaking the Silence: The military and definitely big elements within the security establishment see the work of journalists, but also activists and human rights organizations and human rights defenders, as a threat.

    I think that there is a fear, a dangerous fear of exposing reality on the ground.

  • John Yang:

    Given that strained relationship, how does it affect the daily work of your reporters at the AP?

  • Josef Federman:

    Yes, it affects us on several levels.

    First of all, the foreign media, I don't want to say that we're viewed as hostile entity, but many elements in Israeli society and official Israeli society certainly look at the foreign media with suspicion. The foreign media has a different view — not a viewpoint, a different perspective than what you would see.

    The Israeli media, Israeli journalists are Israelis, and they see things through Israeli eyes. The foreign media looks at things in a more balanced way. We have Israeli staffers working for us, foreigners, like myself, but also Palestinian staffers. So that complicates the issue.

    And what happens is that Palestinian staffers, first of all, they are out in the field when there's conflict, when there are protests and so forth. So they come into — into contact with the Israeli forces, and they're often viewed not as journalists, but as Palestinians.

    So there's a basis for this tense relationship from the very beginning.

  • John Yang:

    Let's talk about what's going on in Israel and the Palestinian territories right now.

    This cycle of violence against Israelis, followed by raids, Israeli Defense Force raids, in the West Bank, followed by violence against Israelis, followed by raids, I mean, where is this going? Is this — could this escalate into a third intifada, an all-out war again?

  • Josef Federman:

    It's impossible to predict where this is going to happen.

    But we have gone through many of these cycles. And, sometimes, they do escalate. We saw it a year ago, exactly a year ago, where tensions in Jerusalem escalated and eventually spilled over into a full-fledged 11-day war with Gaza militants.

    Both sides, I think, have an interest in containing things and preventing things from spinning out of control. But you don't have full — you don't have full control over what's going to happen, because many of the attacks, many of these incidents originate with lone wolf attackers. They're not organized. And you never know what the effect, what the repercussions — what the repercussions will be afterwards.

  • John Yang:

    And Israel has a new government, a fragile coalition.

    What are the pressures, what pressure does this put on Prime Minister Bennett and his government?

  • Josef Federman:

    Well, the — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the former Prime Minister Netanyahu, always billed himself as Mr. Security.

    And he now is the opposition leader. And he is trying to take advantage of this. He's now trying to present this new government as being soft on what they call terrorism. And he is going to continue to hammer the government on that.

    What people don't always realize is that, when Netanyahu was in power, he dealt with the same threats and the same issues. They really only have a limited number of options on how to deal with these things. And it seems that, no matter who the prime minister is, you're always going to be dealing with this.

    We're in a conflict zone. Israel has controlled the West Bank, the Palestinian territories, for over half-a-century. And there will be — until there's a diplomatic process, until they figure out some way to settle this conflict, there's always going to be friction, and we're always going to go through these waves of violence.

  • John Yang:

    President Biden is scheduled to go to Israel probably later in the summer, probably in June, actually.

    What's the state of U.S.-Israeli relations right now, and in the wake of the alliance between President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu? And how might this violence affect that U.S. relations — the U.S.-Israeli relationship?

  • Josef Federman:

    Yes, relations became very close under Trump and Netanyahu. They were very similar in personality. They got along very well.

    But Bennett has done a very good job, actually, of making up with the Democrats. Under Netanyahu, relations became very strained with the Democrats. Bennett has made it a priority, I think, to strike up better relations with both sides. And the ties are quite good right now.

    Today's incident, it's a little bit of a strain. Shireen was an American citizen. You hear expressions of regret, condemnations from the American side. The secretary of state, Blinken, himself is a former journalist. So there's a lot of sympathy for journalists in this White House.

    But, that said, I don't see any long-term damage to the relationship. This relationship goes deep. There are strategic interests. There are personal relations. And the relationship, I think, will survive and thrive even after today.

  • John Yang:

    Josef Federman of the Associated Press from Israel, thank you very much.

  • Josef Federman:

    Thank you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, late today, a spokesman at the Israeli Embassy in Washington sent us a statement in response to the accusation leveled by the Israeli military veteran Avner Gvaryahu that you just heard about his belief that the Israeli security establishment fears exposing the reality on the ground.

    The spokesman wrote — quote — "This statement is a libelous accusation and could not be further from the truth. Israel values freedom of the press and human rights, and we are committed to protecting them."

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