May 05, 2023

In Response to Van Hollen Questioning, Administration Official Acknowledges Need for Accountability in Shooting Death of Shireen Abu Akleh

Van Hollen also reiterates United States’ position on settlements in the West Bank

Yesterday, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) questioned Yael Lempert, nominee to be U.S. Ambassador to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, regarding the lack of accountability in the shooting death of American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and the delayed release to Congress of the new report compiled by the U.S. Security Coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority on her death, following his letter on this issue sent Monday. A transcript of his remarks is available below and video is available here.

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-Md.): Yesterday was World Press Freedom Day. And the reports that came out showed that journalists are experiencing increased threats on their life. President Biden spoke eloquently the other night at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner about the need to protect the safety of journalists. So, I want to ask you about a case of an American citizen, a respected journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh – who was killed in a shooting, by shooting, covering an IDF operation in Jenin on the West Bank, about a little less than a year ago. At the time, the President made clear – and the Secretary of State made clear – that the United States was going to insist on accountability. Both because we wanted to protect journalists and because we were dealing with a U.S. citizen. In fact, a letter that the State Department sent to me and others said, “As the President made clear during his visit to the region, we will continue to insist on full accountability of Ms. Abu Akleh’s tragic death.” They go on to say, “In this case, just as with any wrongful death, but particularly of an American citizen, we have made clear that we expect accountability.” My question to you is: Have we seen that accountability as of today?

YAEL LEMPERT, NOMINEE TO BE U.S. AMBASSADOR TO JORDAN: Senator, thank you for raising this question. Shireen Abu Akleh’s death almost one year ago – I think next week it will be one year – was a tragedy. Not only was Shireen an American citizen, but she was, as you pointed out, a renowned reporter, who earned the respect of audiences around the world. I was honored to be in the Secretary of State’s meeting last year with the Abu Akleh family, where we underscored our deepest condolences for their loss. I can tell you that we continue to underscore – at the level of the Secretary of State – the importance of accountability in her killing, and we will continue to do so.

VAN HOLLEN: Now I appreciate that response. And of course, your answer indicates that we have not yet seen any accountability in her shooting death. The U.S. Security Coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority recently updated his report – he submitted a summation report – on the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh. You’re aware of that, right?

LEMPERT: I’m aware of that document. I have not yet seen it myself. 

VAN HOLLEN: You’ve not yet read it? 

LEMPERT: [Shakes head indicating no.]

VAN HOLLEN: Well, we requested this document from the Administration for well over – almost two weeks now. And we were told that they were going to send it back to the coordinator for “technical changes” which they say deal with classification issues – which is fine. I just want to be really clear that we – I and maybe other members of the Committee – want to see that report. And we want to see that report in full, without any substantive changes or edits. Can you commit to that?

LEMPERT: Yes, Senator. I understand that the Department has been in touch with your staff about the document in question and is working through those technical issues. Unfortunately, the document is still being reviewed for appropriate classification. The Administration is working to have it completed as soon as possible. I want to assure you that the Department has not and will not make any substantive changes to the document. The Administration is only working to address the classification issue. And again, it’s my understanding that my colleagues are in touch with the Committee to ensure that you are able to review the full document as soon as possible.

VAN HOLLEN: Thank you. Look forward to getting it right away, thank you.

In his questioning, Senator Van Hollen also pushed back on Senator Cruz’s earlier statements on Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Video of those remarks is available here.

VAN HOLLEN: Let me just briefly say in response to Senator Cruz – I think it’s always been envisioned that any two-state solution, would, as you said, involve land swaps. I would also point out that the Bush Administration was very clear about objecting to expansion of settlements, for example E1 specifically, Secretary Condoleezza Rice was very strongly opposed to.