The US president takes off on Tuesday for his first trip to the Middle East since taking office. Before going to Saudi Arabia, a delicate passage that arouses much criticism, Joe Biden goes to Israel, where he risks being involved in the case of the assassination of the Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh on 11 May.

Joe Biden will leave on Tuesday 12 July for the first trip to the Middle East since his election, a trip that will therefore be particularly scrutinized by observers in the region. The American president is expected from 13 to 15 July in Israel, the first stage of his tour, where the deepening of the normalization process between the Jewish state and some Arab countries and the strengthening of regional cooperation against Iran will be scheduled. with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid.

But it’s a pressured Joe Biden who begins his journey to the Middle East involved in the murder case of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh on May 11.

Al-Jazeera’s main correspondent in the Palestinian territories was shot dead while wearing a bulletproof vest marked “Print” and wearing a protective helmet while covering an Israeli military operation in Jenin, in the occupied West Bank.

This affair, which is very delicate from a diplomatic point of view for the Biden administration, risks undermining its visit to its Israeli ally. Not only for the emotion and anger caused by the tragic death of Shireen Abu Akleh, in the region and in the journalistic field, but also and above all because the journalist recognized for her courage and professionalism is an American citizen.

The Abu Akleh family speaks directly to Joe Biden

It is precisely underlining this precise point that the journalist’s family, elevated to the rank of Palestinian icon since his assassination, directly challenged the American president in an open letter made public on July 8.

A letter in which she says she is “saddened, indignant and feels betrayed by the abject response” from Washington on the circumstances of the journalist’s death.

In fact, the relatives of Shireen Abu Akleh did not take off from the State Department which indicated, on July 4, that the American analysis of the bullet that killed the Al-Jazeera correspondent had failed to reach a definitive conclusion how much at the origin of the bullet, presented as “very damaged”.

“The actions of his administration show an apparent intention to undermine our efforts for justice,” says Anton Abu Akleh, the journalist’s brother, in the letter he signed on behalf of his family, accusing the United States of wanting “clear the Israeli forces”, even though “all the existing evidence suggests that Shireen, an American citizen, was the victim of an extrajudicial execution”.

While US experts concluded that Shireen Abu Akleh was “probably” fired from an Israeli position, they added that they “had no reason” to believe it was an intentional hit.

At the conclusion of the text also addressed to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the family invites President Biden to meet them during his visit to the region to “listen directly to their concerns and their demands for justice”.

She also asks the White House tenant to provide her with “all information collected so far by her administration on the Shireen murder” and to urge the Justice Department and the FBI to look into “Shireen’s extrajudicial execution.”

And to conclude: “Finally, and it should go without saying, we expect the Biden administration to support our efforts to find those responsible and get justice for Shireen.”

A president overtaken by Realpolitik

The letter from the family, also embittered by the Israeli army’s examination of the fatal bullet, when the Palestinian Authority only agreed to hand it over to the American authorities, found an echo in the media and social networks, which they hastened to broadcast. and comment on it.

“All American citizens are equal under the law, except American Arabs. They can be killed by US allies (such as Israel) or kidnapped and held hostage by US allies (such as Saudi Arabia) and the US administration will limit itself to smile and shake hands with criminals “, Iyad el-Baghdadi, an influential pro-democracy activist of Palestinian origin, who enjoyed some notoriety after the 2011 Arab uprisings.

Even more embarrassing for the White House, the affair has taken a political turn in the United States since elected Democratic Party officials also arrested President Biden before his departure for Israel.

Thus, the elected American Democrat of Palestinian origin Rashida Tlaib published a statement on July 8 in which she called for “a criminal investigation free of any political consideration or influence of foreign governments on the assassination of Shireen Abu Akleh”.

The elected official, known for having had a handover with the Jewish state in August 2019, after her entry into Israeli territory was previously refused, denounced the “message” of impunity returned by the Biden administration. while more than 80 congressmen have requested, in writing, the opening of such an investigation.

The signatories included representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jamaal Bowman, Ilhan Omar and Cori Bush, among others.

“At his next meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, President Biden must obtain the names of the soldiers responsible for Shireen’s murder, as well as their commanding officer, so that these people can be fully prosecuted for their crimes. from the ministry. Justice, “he concluded.

This pressure blow falls badly for an American president who is already heavily criticized in the United States for the continuation of his visit that will take him, from Friday, to Saudi Arabia. A historical partner of the United States in the region that it intended, during its election campaign, to treat as a “pariah” state following the October 2018 assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

A sign of the White House’s unease, Joe Biden found it necessary to justify, in a column published on July 9 by The Washington Post newspaper, his next meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

And this, while he himself had declassified, in February 2021, a report by the American intelligence services concluding that “MBS” had “validated” the operation aimed at “capturing or killing” the journalist … then resident in the United States and columnist for the same American newspaper.

“I know many people disagree with my decision to go to Saudi Arabia, writes the President of the United States. My views on human rights are clear and ancient, and fundamental freedoms are always on the agenda when trip abroad, what it will be like to be on this trip, just as it will be in Israel and the West Bank. “

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