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Media Jump the Gun: Who Killed Palestinian Sameh Aqtash?

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Still 'fine-tuning' our process. You can get to the original article HERE

Reprinted from Honest Reporting.

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Did gullible journalists once again echo Palestinian charges against the Israel Defense Forces before checking the facts?

Sheik Sameh Aqtash was allegedly shot on February 26 under disputed circumstances, as the IDF and police worked to contain vigilante violence in the wake of a terror attack in Huwara that saw two Israeli brothers murdered. However, an ambiguous video clip lasting a mere 70 seconds is the sole evidence tying Israeli security forces to the Islamist activist’s death during confrontations outside the West Bank village of Za’tara near Nablus.

According to a widely-cited statement by Aqtash’s brother Abdel Moneim, he was shot in the abdomen by Israeli troops, “not the [civilian] settlers” who were rioting in the area (see, for instance, Agence France-PresseThe Guardian, and the BBC’s coverage). The British public broadcaster furthermore quoted Palestinian officials as saying that “Sameh Aqtash was shot dead by the Israeli army, when soldiers entered their village with settlers.”

But even minimal scrutiny of the available evidence reveals cracks in the prevailing media narrative.

Conflicting Accounts Fail To Corroborate Palestinian Claims

The scarce footage of the events that night, captured by Sameh’s brother Abed Aqtash and distributed by Sicha Mekomit (Local Call), shows Israeli civilians and soldiers walking on the access road to Za’tara. Then, seven loud bangs can be heard, followed by shouts of “Ambulance, ambulance!” The Aqtash family was reportedly gathered in a fenced-off compound when the apparent shooting took place.

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Crucially, the grainy and dark video recording does not corroborate the Palestinian claims, as it fails to establish that any Israeli — soldier or civilian — entered Za’tara and used live ammunition.

The IDF denies its troops went into Za’tara and opened fire at Palestinians that night.

Eyewitnesses have also given conflicting accounts as to where the claimed shooting originated. For instance, in a February 27 article published on the Arabic website of the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) official news agency, Ayman Aqtash stated that “the occupation forces [sic]… started shooting madly, until my cousin Sameh was shot in the stomach.” Yet six days later, he told +972 Magazine, “I don’t know who shot, settlers or soldiers… Everything was dark.”

Another cousin, who is employed as a PR consultant by the PA and last year signed on to a controversial letter criticizing HonestReporting, actively misled the public in the aftermath of the incident. In two Twitter posts written barely 40 minutes apart, Nour Aqtash inculpated the “occupation” [Israel, sic] in English, while blaming “terrorist settlers” in an Arabic-language entry.

And although Abdel Moneim took to the international press to accuse the IDF of shooting the sheik, the brother who taped the video recounted to journalists that he “didn’t see if the person who murdered my brother was a soldier or a settler.” Meanwhile, witnesses unrelated to the family told Israel’s Haaretz daily that a security guard of a nearby Jewish community shot Sameh Aqtash.

Will the Truth Ever Come To Light?

To recap: Abdel Moneim Aqtash’s absolute insistence that IDF forces shot his brother, which many news organizations parroted, cannot possibly be verified at this point, and there’s a chance Sameh Aqtash wasn’t hit by Israeli fire at all.

It certainly wouldn’t be the first time reporters echo baseless Palestinian accusations against Israel’s army. Over the past months alone, HonestReporting exposed multiple attempts to blame the IDF for the death of Palestinians who passed away due to causes unrelated to Israeli security activities.

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Notably, the alleged killing of Sameh Aqtash happened in Area C of the West Bank, where Israel has full civil and security jurisdiction, but the family did not file a complaint with the police.

Nevertheless, as a country that respects the rule of law, the Jewish state is compelled to investigate allegations of wrongdoing by soldiers and civilians alike. In a conversation with HonestReporting, a spokesperson for the Israel Police said it proactively opened a probe in response to questions from the foreign press.

Unfortunately, the Palestinians’ refusal to cooperate means the truth might never come to light. Arab social media pages reported that Aqtash was buried within four hours — before the cause of death could be determined. At the request of his relatives, no autopsy was carried out.

The Palestinian Authority Justice Ministry, as well as the Forensic Medicine Institute at Nablus’ An-Najah National University, did not respond to our queries about whether any other scans or tests were conducted before burial. Our emails to the family’s lawyer, associated with the terror-linked Society of St. Yves, likewise went unanswered.

HonestReporting has repeatedly stressed that the February 26 Jewish riots in and near Huwara were unacceptable and that the perpetrators must be held accountable for taking the law into their own hands. However, it appears the media figuratively jumped the gun to blame Israel for Sameh Aqtash’s death before the facts could be established.

Once again, we urge reporters to use caution when relying on conflicting “Palestinian eyewitness reports.”

Related Reading: It’s Time For A Fact-based Conversation About Israeli ‘Settler Violence’

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Honest Reporting is a website that seeks to bring balance to the left slant in the major news media.

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