Amid a wide-ranging series of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders and others, a bipartisan congressional delegation visiting Israel demanded the bullet that killed a Palestinian-American journalist in the West Bank be turned over for an independent forensic investigation.
The group also raised concerns about the looming Iranian nuclear deal at a time when experts predict one of the leading sponsors of state terrorism in the Middle East appears to be on the verge of having a significant quantity of enriched uranium.
The delegation of eight included four Democrats and four Republicans and was led by Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-New Jersey) and Fred Upton (R-Michigan). Rep. Donald Norcross, a Democrat from south Jersey, was also in the group.
The trip was sponsored through the American Israel Educational Foundation, a private nonprofit organization affiliated with AIPAC. Helping to lead the trip, which returned July 1, was AIPAC President and Teaneck native Dr. Mort Fridman.
The group met with then-outgoing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, new Prime Minister Yair Lapid and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, along with business and educational leaders to learn about new opportunities resulting from the Abraham Accords with Arab nations The Ukrainian situation was also discussed, along with Saudi Arabia, in light of President Joe Biden’s upcoming trip to Israel later this month.
In a phone conversation from Israel, Gottheimer said he wasn’t at liberty to reveal details of what was discussed but said, “There was a lot of discussion by the two sides on terrorism, as you would expect.”
He also noted, “I raised the issue of the journalist who was tragically killed,” in a meeting with Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh.
He read a letter signed by a bipartisan group of 25 members of Congress to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken calling for an independent forensic investigation into the death of Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed in May while working for Al-Jazeera in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank. The PA has alleged she was shot by Israel Defense Forces but had refused to turn over the fatal bullet.
Gottheimer recently was lead on a letter from a bipartisan group of 25 members of Congress urging the Biden administration to push the PA to allow an independent investigation of the killing of Abu Akleh. “It really has to be a country like the United States that has to conduct it,” said Gottheimer. “Both sides could submit their evidence, and as I’ve said all along, there should be accountability.”
Although there appeared to be some reluctance, Gottheimer said the PA agreed in principle to an independent investigation and days later turned the bullet over to American officials to conduct a potentially definitive ballistic analysis of the shell. However, American forensics experts found that although the bullet likely came from the Israel Defense Forces, it was too degraded to reach a definitive conclusion.
Gottheimer said with negotiations progressing on a new Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) any new Iranian nuclear plan needed to be stronger than the previous 2015 deal.
There was “a lot of discussion” about how a nuclear Iran would affect the region since it is a known proxy of such recognized terrorist organizations in the region as Hezbollah, Palestinian Jihad and Hamas.
Among the other issues discussed that are critical to Israel’s security was the “pay to slay” program under which the PA pays the families of Palestinians killed in terrorism attacks or imprisoned in Israel for political crimes. “They said it was for humanitarian reasons,” said Gottheimer, claiming that the families would otherwise have no means of support.
However, he said the explanation was especially unsatisfactory in light of the Taylor Force Act passed by Congress in 2017, which cut off future U.S. economic aid to the PA if they didn’t end the practice. Force was an American Army veteran killed in 2016 by a Palestinian terrorist while on a study tour with Vanderbilt University.
By Debra Rubin