After shifting goalposts and changing its versions of the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, experts say Israel's joint probe request is meant to "quieten the public outcry" and muddy the investigation outcome.

Palestine rejects holding a joint probe with Israel, saying Israel can't be trusted and is
Palestine rejects holding a joint probe with Israel, saying Israel can't be trusted and is "completely responsible" for Abu Akleh's killing. (AFP)

As Israel continues to seek a joint investigation with Palestine into the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, experts say such a probe would not lead to the truth owing to Israel's history of denials and deflections in incidents involving high-profile civilian killings.

"It is expected from the Palestinian Authority and all Palestinians not to give Israel the chance to whitewash its crime by presenting itself as someone who cares for justice," Basem Naim, a former health minister in the Palestinian National Unity Government told TRT World.

"How can you make someone who is on the criminal side to be part of any investigation committee? This is contradictory to basic justice," Naim, who heads the Council of International Relations in besieged Gaza, said.

"She has been killed in front of the whole world. They have not only committed a crime by killing her, but also by attacking her funeral and the pallbearers," Naim added.

On May 11, Abu Akleh was shot dead during coverage of an Israeli raid on a refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. Qatar-based Al Jazeera TV channel and her colleagues, who were with her at the time, immediately blamed Israeli soldiers for the "cold blood" killing. They said she was targeted despite wearing a helmet and a bullet-proof vest marked with "PRESS" on it. 

Ali Al Samoudi, a colleague of the slain journalist and eyewitness, recalled Israeli troops firing bullets at journalists.

As Abu Akleh arrived, the Israeli troops fired the first bullet toward them, which did not hit anyone, he recounted. The second bullet struck him in the shoulder, he said, after which Abu Akleh shouted: "Ali got injured." The third bullet hit Abu Akleh's head and killed her, Al Samoudi said.

"The Israeli army directly and deliberately targeted us, and no Palestinian gunmen were in the area," Al Samoudi said.

READ MORE: UN Security Council unanimously condemns killing of Palestinian journalist

Narrative control 

But Israel continued to change goalposts and offered multiple versions of the incident.

Initially, it circulated a video showing Palestinian fighters firing indiscriminately and blamed them for killing the Palestinian-American journalist. But a counter-video circulated on social media showed Abu Akleh was nowhere near the site. 

Tel Aviv immediately backtracked and said she may have been hit by an errant Israeli fire.

As pressure mounted, Israel said its military identified a soldier's rifle that may have killed Abu Akleh. 

Then, its preliminary probe offered two possible scenarios. One, the journalist may have been shot by Palestinian gunfire. Two, an Israeli soldier might have shot her while aiming for a Palestinian fighter who was shooting at the vehicle. 

In its latest statement on Monday, Israel said that even if an Israeli soldier fired the bullet that killed the journalist, it did not appear that the soldier was guilty of criminal misconductwhile making the bullet that killed Abu Akleh the central point of contention with Palestine which has refused to handover the projectile to Tel Aviv and is conducting its own probe.

READ MORE: Palestine hands report to ICC over Shireen Abu Akleh's 'execution'

Israel stresses ambiguity

The Palestinian Authority is concerned "it might lose the public outcry" if it decides to participate in a joint probe with Israel, Richard Falk, international law and international relations scholar, told TRT World.

"The Palestinian Authority rightly believes its participation would both quieten the public outcry over the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh and would ensure Israeli control of
the outcome of any investigation, which undoubtedly stresses the ambiguity and unintentional nature of the incident," said Falk who is also chairman of the board of trustees at Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor.

Last week, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that officials appeared to believe that a criminal investigation into the killing — which Palestinian authorities have blamed on Israel's troops — will not generate any result.

Falk said the Israeli military by deciding not to investigate "is presumably trying to cut off public pressure and make the issue disappear by the due course as other events command attention."

While Aljazeera may not have a chance if it sues Israel in an Israeli court or sues it in a country that doesn't have any jurisdiction over Israel, Falk said Aljazeera still can do things that might further dent the Israeli government's international image.

"Al Jazeera could do an investigation of its own, publish a report, approach associations for the protection of journalists, and plead for international protection of journalists and the establishment of remedies.," he said.

"It might also seek support from the government of Qatar, and seek a formal diplomatic protest, which if forthcoming, could have a strong effect."

READ MORE: Israeli military doesn't plan criminal probe into Abu Akleh's killing

Targeting of journalists 

At least 19 journalists have been killed in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories since 1992, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. 

"Israel's credibility is not great in situations like this," Israeli Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai said recently. Experts also say Israel's credibility in probing the shooting of journalists is questionable.

"There has not been any serious investigation of prior shootings of journalists, so it was perhaps reasonable for the Palestinians to decline to participate in a joint probe," John Quigley, a legal scholar and a law professor at Ohio University, told TRT World.

"And I think the issue of the bullet is not very important now because the Israeli government doesn't want to do an investigation," Quigley explained.

That leaves all eyes on International Criminal Court (ICC), which has been approached by Palestine. On Monday, Palestine submitted its report to the world court on the "execution" of Abu Akleh.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry said it "called on the ICC to adopt this report in order to expedite its investigations and bring criminals and murderers to international justice."

But given the historic Western bias towards Israel and the slanted western media reportage over the incident, Quigley fears ICC might be influenced.

"The major western powers have tried to deter the ICC from investigating anything regarding Palestine," Quigley noted, but said, "The International Federation of Journalists, even before Abu Akleh's killing, has filed a complaint about the shooting of Palestinian journalists by the Israeli military. So this is already before the prosecutor."

He said the case has had more visibility than others, been a subject of discussion at the United Nations Security Council, and major governments have made statements calling for an investigation.

"That leads to some hope this one will be taken seriously."

READ MORE: Independent probe points to Israeli bullet in Shireen Abu Akleh's killing

Source: TRT World