Posted by Kristin McCarthy on December 06, 2016 in Blog

Last week, the White House issued a long overdue response to the death of U.S. citizen Mahmoud Shaalan. In a letter from the State Department, the Obama administration issued its first and only substantive comments on Mahmoud's death at the hands of the Israeli army in the 10 months that have expired since. During the same time, President Obama signed a massive Memorandum of Understanding with Israel promising $3.8 billion in annual aid for the next 10 years. 

The letter is a disappointing admission that the U.S. is near powerless to ensure justice for Mahmoud. AAI President Jim Zogby said, "The State Department’s response to our request regarding the death of U.S. citizen Mahmoud Shaalan is weak and deeply disappointing. Mr. Shaalan and his family deserve answers, but more than that they deserve some sense of justice and a transparent review of the evidence. The State Department says that it still has 'concerns about the death of this American citizen and will remain engaged with the Government of Israel on this issue.' But that concern and engagement must translate into real political pressure or the Israelis will continue to stonewall. That is par for the course, and that is unacceptable." 

The 16-year-old was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier while approaching a check point near the Beit El settlement in the occupied West Bank. The official Israeli investigation cleared the soldiers of any wrong doing but did not release any information that contributed to that judgement. So, Mahmoud's death remains shrouded in uncertainty. The State Department acknowledged this, saying "We continue to have concerns about the death of this American citizen and will remain engaged with the Government of Israel on this issue."

Shaalan's family, eye witness testimony, and independent investigations into Mahmoud's death raise several logical questions regarding the veracity of the soldier's account of what transpired. The release of surveillance footage from the check point has been a central request of all parties who are concerned this incident might be a case of an extrajudicial killing or excessive use of force. Despite the ubiquitous presence of surveillance cameras at checkpoints and the regular public release of footage from violent altercations at checkpoints, no video footage has been released or acknowledges by the Israeli government. 

It is unconscionable that Mahmoud Shalaan's death at the hands of the Israeli army hasn't garnered more attention from U.S. elected officials who agree to provide the Israeli army with billions of taxpayer dollars each year. In light of U.S. aid, the Leahy Law demands a review of Shaalan's death above and beyond what has transpired to determine whether this was an extrajudicial killing. If so, aid to the unit responsible should be suspended. Accordingly, the U.S. government should call on the Israeli government to release all evidence in the case, including video footage, and to disclose the army unit that was involved in order for the Leahy vetting to take place.