This week, US President Joe Biden is visiting Israel and the occupied West Bank, where his schedule includes meetings with Israeli leaders, a tour of the airbase and a trip to the Holocaust Remembrance Center. There’s another meeting Biden should add to his itinerary; one with my family – the family of the late famous Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.
My aunt Shireen was killed in the early morning of May 11 in the Jenin refugee camp, just after she arrived to report on an Israeli operation. Although Israel initially tried to blame the Palestinians for his death, investigations by the Associated Press, CNN, Washington Post, New York Times, United Nations and the Israeli human rights organization the man B’Tselem all confirmed what my family already knew from the testimony of Shireen’s colleagues: an Israeli sniper shot my aunt in the head, right between her bulletproof vest (clearly marked PRESS) and her protective helmet. To make matters worse, Israel attacked mourners as they attempted to pay their last respects.
As a little girl, I often sat next to Shireen as she reported live from her home over the phone. After she signed, I would take her notebooks to my room, put on my plastic princess heels, perch on my red Lego table with my pink Barbie phone and mimic Shireen’s report, signing like her did – “Shireen Abu Akleh, Al Jazeera”. As I got older, Shireen would take me to the office with her and tell me about the stories she was working on while I followed her around. She sometimes invited me to the weekly Friday breakfasts that she shared with her colleagues. In fact, I joined Shireen in this Friday ritual just nine days before she was killed. I never imagined this would be my last visit with Shireen in her office.
There’s nothing the Biden administration can do to bring my aunt back. Biden won‘t be able to revive the plans Shireen and I had to travel to the United States this summer, or restore Shireen’s tradition of playing classical Arabic music for my siblings and I on long car trips, we guessing the name of the singer. He will not be able to give me back the person I considered not only my aunt, but also my confidante, my mentor and my best friend.
Nonetheless, we hope Biden will sit down with us and be willing to hear from us what we expect from the US government to ensure Shireen’s killer is held accountable.
First and foremost, the United States must refuse to allow Israel to sweep Shireen’s murder under the rug, as it has done with the unlawful killings of so many other Palestinians in the past.
Biden is expected to answer the call of the 57 members of Congress who have demanded a thorough and transparent investigation by the FBI and State Department into Shireen’s murder. We want this investigation to reveal not only the chain of command and the orders given when the shot was fired, but also what weapons were used in Shireen’s murder and how those weapons were purchased.
If the weapon that killed my aunt is tied to US military aid, Biden needs to explain to us why the US government finds it acceptable for a foreign government to kill US citizens with weapons purchased by US taxpayers.
In short, we would like Biden to do in Shireen’s case what his US administration and previous ones failed to do when other US citizens were killed by Israel: hold the killers accountable.
The US government did not do this for Omar Assad, a 78-year-old Palestinian-American, who was dragged from his car at a West Bank checkpoint six months ago, bound and gagged and left at a construction site in freezing construction in the early hours of the morning when he suffered a severe heart attack.
Nor did he seek accountability when Furkan Dogan, a 19-year-old Turkish American, was shot dead by Israeli soldiers attacking a boat en route to Gaza with humanitarian aid in 2010.
There has been no independent investigation or accountability for peace activist Rachel Corrie of Olympia, Washington, who was crushed to death in 2003 by an Israeli military bulldozer as she tried to protect the home of a Palestinian family in Gaza.
On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that he wanted us to travel to Washington, DC to voice our concerns. While we appreciate the offer, it’s not clear why this is necessary given that Shireen was killed here, by an Israeli soldier, and President Biden may demand accountability in his meetings with Israeli officials here.
More importantly, we want to tell Biden directly that meaningful justice for Shireen extends beyond my aunt. It is a step towards holding Israel accountable for the suffering of countless Palestinians who have been brutalized by decades of Israeli occupation and apartheid. This sends a signal that the United States will no longer pamper Israel as it further tightens its occupation of Palestinian lands.
Biden can’t bring Shireen back or ease my family’s grief — but if he truly takes our pain to heart, he can take meaningful action that will finally end the impunity Israel relies on for violating our rights humans and denies our freedom. Such action would protect future victims and prevent future suffering for families like mine.
That’s what my aunt would have wanted. This is what Shireen’s legacy deserves.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.