Washington, DC – Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh has posthumously received the National Press Club President’s Award honouring her contribution to journalism, as calls continue to demand accountability for her killing.
Abu Akleh’s niece, Lina Abu Akleh, was not able to hold back tears as she accepted the award on the late correspondent’s behalf at a ceremony on Wednesday in Washington, DC.
Dozens of journalists in attendance gave the younger Abu Akleh a standing ovation as she took the stage.
“I wish Shireen had been here to receive this herself. Unfortunately, we lost her too soon,” Lina said.
“It is sad that she was killed by an Israeli sniper while doing her job as a journalist. It is an honour for me to receive this award on her behalf, on behalf of my aunt who was my best friend and my role model and my source of inspiration.”
Abu Akleh, who was a US citizen, was fatally shot by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank in May, sparking an international outcry and demands for an independent investigation into her killing.
Working for 25 years at Al Jazeera, the veteran correspondent was a regular presence on TV screens across the Middle East, conveying the stories and struggles of Palestinians living under occupation.
Calls for accountability
National Press Club President Jen Judson said the award is not given every year but is awarded for significant achievement in journalism.
This year, the Club decided to give the President’s Award to Abu Akleh because of her courage and legacy, Judson told Al Jazeera.
“Another reason why it’s so important to award this to Shireen this year, it’s just that it continues to keep the conversation going and continues to raise awareness for her,” she said.
Judson called on Washington to conduct its own investigation into the killing, saying the longer time goes by, the more difficult it will be to carry out an accurate probe.
For her part, Lina Abu Akleh voiced disappointment in the US government’s handling of her aunt’s killing.
“Justice for Shireen is linked to justice for Palestinians,” Lina said.
“We have expected from the US president to take the case seriously as in similar cases. But we will never relent. We will bring justice for Shireen,” she said.
Lina has been one of the leading voices calling for justice for her aunt. In July, she and other family members visited Washington to demand an independent probe from US officials and legislators.
The family met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and several Congress members. But President Joe Biden failed to fulfil a request for a meeting with Abu Akleh’s relatives either in Washington or Jerusalem when he was visiting Israel and the Palestinian territory 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 probe into the killing of Abu Akleh.
On Wednesday, Judson noted that Abu Akleh 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 put herself in danger.
“To kill her, a bullet would have to find its way under her helmet above her flak jacket; the opening is about the size of your first three fingers,” Judson told attendees.
Despite growing calls for accountability, the Biden administration continues to resist the demand for an independent investigation. Washington has not changed its initial position that Israel can be trusted to carry out its own investigation.
Israel has issued contradictory statements about a criminal probe into the killing and has ruled out the possibility that the journalist may have been shot intentionally. It is not clear whether an Israeli investigation is ongoing at this moment.
‘Continue to write about it’
The US Department of State acknowledged on July 4 that the bullet that lethally struck Abu Akleh probably came from an Israeli army position, but it framed the killing of the journalist as the unintentional “result of tragic circumstances”.
The US administration also said a “detailed forensic analysis” of the bullet concluded that it was too damaged to determine its source.
Declaring a lack of intentionality in the killing came despite the US administration’s acknowledgement that it did not conduct its own probe. Instead, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said at the time that the conclusion was based on a “summation” of investigations by the Palestinian Authority and Israel.
But a probe by the Palestinian Authority found that Israeli troops deliberately shot Abu Akleh. Moreover, several investigations by independent media outlets concluded that there were no armed Palestinians or clashes in the immediate area when the journalist was killed.
Advocates and legislators have continued to stress that the US statement on July 4 does not meet the standard of an actual investigation.
“Any statement that Shireen’s killing was unintentional isn’t based on a full and thorough and independent investigation; that hasn’t happened yet,” Judson said before presenting the award.
Asked how other journalists can help bring accountability for the killing, Judson told Al Jazeera: “Continue to write about it.”
Even if it’s tweeting on a regular basis or turning to social media where people do pay attention. I think as long as we can keep her name in the news, we can keep calling for an investigation.”