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We Will Do Justice: The American Press Club honors Shireen Abu Akle

Washington DC – Al-Jazeera journalist Sherine Abu Akleh received, after her death, the National Press Club President’s Award in honor of her contribution to journalism, as calls continue to demand accountability for her murder.

Lina Abu Okla, Abu Okla’s niece, couldn’t hold back her tears when she received the award on behalf of the late reporter at a ceremony on Wednesday in Washington, DC.

Dozens of journalists attended a warm welcome to the young woman, Abu Akleh, as she climbed onto the podium.

“I wish Shireen was here to pick this up on her own. Unfortunately, we lost it too soon,” said Lina.

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Sadly, she was killed by an Israeli sniper while doing her job as a journalist. It is my honor to receive this award on her behalf, on behalf of my aunt who has been my best friend, role model and inspiration.”

Abu Akleh, a US citizen, was shot dead by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank in May, sparking international outrage and calls for an independent investigation into her killing.

The veteran reporter worked for 25 years at Al Jazeera and was a regular present on television screens across the Middle East, reporting on the stories and struggles of Palestinians living under occupation.

Lina Abu Akleh at the National Press Club lecture in Washington, DC.
Lina Abu Akleh, niece of Sherine Abu Akleh, receiving the National Press Club President’s Award on behalf of her late aunt on August 31, 2022 [Ali Harb/Al Jazeera]

calls for accountability

National Press Club president Jane Goodson said the award is not awarded every year but is awarded for an important achievement in journalism.

Judson told Al Jazeera that the club decided this year to award the President’s Award to Abu Okla because of her courage and legacy.

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“Another reason why it’s so important to give this to Shireen this year is just that she keeps the conversation going and keeps raising awareness for her,” she said.

Judson called on Washington to conduct its own investigation into the murder, saying that the longer time passed, the more difficult it would be to conduct an accurate investigation.

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For her part, Lina Abu Oqla expressed her disappointment with the US government’s handling of the killing of her aunt.

“Justice for two evils is linked to justice for the Palestinians,” Lina said.

We expected the US President to take the issue very seriously, as in similar cases. But we will never relent. She said, “We will bring justice to Shireen.”

Lina was one of the prominent voices calling for justice for her aunt. In July, she and other members of her family visited Washington to demand an independent investigation from US officials and lawmakers.

The family met Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and several members of Congress. But President Joe Biden failed to accede to a request to meet Abu Akle’s relatives either in Washington or Jerusalem when he was visiting Israel and the Palestinian territories earlier in July.

The National Press Club, which describes itself as “the world’s leading professional organization for journalists,” has joined other press freedom advocates in calling for an independent investigation into Abu Akle’s murder.

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On Wednesday, Goodson noted that Abu Okla was wearing full protective gear marked “press” when she was shot, and as a seasoned journalist, she took precautions in her reporting and did not endanger herself.

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“To kill her, a bullet must find its way under her helmet over her bulletproof vest; the opening is the size of your first three fingers,” Judson told the audience.

Despite growing calls for accountability, the Biden administration continues to resist the call for an independent investigation. Washington has not changed its initial position that Israel can be trusted to conduct its own investigation.

Israel has issued contradictory statements about a criminal investigation into the killing and has ruled out the possibility that the journalist was deliberately shot. It is not clear whether the Israeli investigation is currently underway.

Keep writing about it.

The US State Department acknowledged on July 4 that the bullet that fatally hit Abu Okla may have come from an IDF position, but portrayed the journalist’s killing as an “unintended consequence of tragic circumstances.”

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The US administration also said a “detailed forensic analysis” of the bullet had concluded that it was too damaged to determine its source.

The statement about the lack of intent to kill came despite the administration’s admission that it had not conducted its own investigation. Instead, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said at the time that the conclusion was based on a “summary” of investigations by the Palestinian Authority and Israel.

However, the investigation conducted by the Palestinian Authority found that the Israeli forces deliberately shot Abu Okla. Moreover, several investigations conducted by independent media concluded that there were no Palestinian militants or clashes in the vicinity at the time of the journalist’s killing.

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Advocates and lawmakers continued to stress that the July 4 US statement did not meet the criteria for an actual investigation.

“Any statement that Shireen’s killing was inadvertently is not based on a full, thorough, and independent investigation,” Judson said before presenting the award.

Asked how other journalists could help achieve accountability for the murder, Judson told Al Jazeera: “Keep on writing about it.”

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“Even if she is tweeting regularly or turning to social media where people are interested. I think as long as we can keep her name in the news, we can continue to demand an investigation.”

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