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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

The Deadly Militia “Spotters” of Jenin

Filed under: Palestinians, Terrorism

The Deadly Militia “Spotters” of Jenin
A frame from Salim Awad’s 16-minute video shows the reporters walking toward the Israeli vehicles down the street and one of Awad’s dozen friends in the foreground. Note the tree on the right, under which Abu Akleh was shot seconds later.

A previous analysis – “Palestinian Militias in Jenin Deployed Teenage Girls to Report on Israeli Troop Movements during Combat“ (August 16, 2023) – focused on two teenage spotters in Jenin who were killed while filming the locations of Israeli army units on their cellphones.1

Another Jenin spotter, Salim Awad, who survived, was involved in the events that led to the death of veteran Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh on May 11, 2022, and in the aftermath.

The first spotter death occurred on December 12, 2022, and the second on June 21, 2023. Despite their young ages and supposed “civilian status,” the two provided intelligence that endangered IDF soldiers.

According to the authoritative “Law of War” Manual published by the U.S. Department of Defense (2023), “taking a direct part in hostilities…would deprive civilians who perform them of protection.” The Defense Department defines taking part in hostilities as “providing or relaying information of immediate use in combat operations, such as acting as an artillery spotter or member of a ground observer corps or otherwise relaying information to be used to direct an airstrike, mortar attack, or ambush; and acting as a guide or lookout for combatants conducting military operations.”2

The Danger from Palestinian “Spotters”

In recent months, Palestinian militias in the West Bank have introduced improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and roadside bombs into their arsenal. (Some bombs and IEDs are believed to be of Iranian origin or design.) Palestinian spotters alert other units of the approach of an Israeli vehicle so ambushes can be set and roadside bombs planted and triggered. Spotters can also detonate bombs remotely. Often, the IED bomb squad is accompanied by a photographer, as was the case in the photograph below.3

What is the spotter’s dream? The pictures below show Palestinian IED teams’ ambushes of IDF vehicles in Jenin.

An Israeli armored vehicle targeted by Palestinian explosive device in Jenin
“An Israeli armored vehicle targeted by Palestinian resistance explosive device in Jenin on June 19, 2023.” (Saraya Al-Quds – Jenin Battalion)
ambush of IDF vehicles by a Palestinian IED team
An armored Israeli troop carrier in Jenin approached an explosive ambush on June 19, 2023. (The Palestine Chronicle)
aftermath of the ambush of IDF vehicles by a Palestinian IED team
The remains of the Israeli armored troop carrier after it was towed from Jenin. (The Palestine Chronicle)

Another Jenin Spotter – Undisclosed until Now

Salim Awad is a Jenin waiter and much-quoted witness to Abu Akleh’s shooting, who hung out with his local buddies and the reporters, including Abu Akleh, before the shooting. He was a spotter par excellence. He was interviewed by CNN4 and bragged about that morning. He proudly showed Abu Akleh his 16-minute video of the Israeli vehicles down the street. Subsequently, parts of his video were broadcast on CNN.

According to CNN,

In one 16-minute cellphone video shared with CNN, the man filming [Salim Awad] walks toward the spot where the journalists had gathered, zooming in on the Israeli armored vehicles parked in the distance, and says: “Look at the snipers.” Then, when a teenager peers tentatively up the street, he shouts: “Don’t kid around…you think it’s a joke? We don’t want to die. We want to live.” [Emphasis added.]

A slightly different version of the CNN report appeared in the Tehran Times. It suggests that the region was less placid and peaceful than Awad described by CNN.

A Palestinian man who is filming is reported to be walking towards the spot where the journalists had gathered, zooming in on the Israeli armored vehicles (who had been preparing to raid the area) parked in the distance, and says, “look at the snipers.”5

Today, more than a year after Abu Akleh’s death, we recognize that Awad’s testimony contains troubling details that should redirect blame for the shooting onto him, a spotter. “The footage [from his video] shows a direct line of sight toward the Israeli convoy.” In other words, the group around Abu Aklah and Awad was also in a direct line of fire.

The CNN report quoting Salim Awad should be read carefully. It described the scene before the fatal shooting:

There was a frisson of excitement as the veteran journalist, a household name across the Arab world for her coverage of Israel and the Palestinian territories, arrived to report on the raid. About a dozen or so men, some dressed in sweats and flip-flops, had gathered to watch Abu Akleh and her colleagues at work. They were milling around chatting, some smoking cigarettes, others filming the scene on their phones. [Emphasis added.]

Salim Awad, the 27-year-old Jenin camp resident who filmed the 16-minute video, told CNN that there were no armed Palestinians or any clashes in the area, and he hadn’t expected gunfire, given the presence of journalists nearby.

[Awad, a militia’s spotter-intelligence operative, would never take responsibility for his comrades’ using the reporters as human shields. He even warned of snipers.]

“There was no conflict or confrontations at all. We were about ten guys, give or take, walking around, laughing and joking with the journalists,” he said. “We were not afraid of anything. We didn’t expect anything would happen because when we saw journalists [human shields] around, we thought it’d be a safe area.”

His video captures the moment that shots were fired at the four journalists…as they walked toward the Israeli vehicles. In the footage, Abu Akleh can be seen turning away from the barrage.

IDF vehicles
IDF vehicles (in yellow circle) at the end of the street where the reporters and their entourage stood. The picture tells us the spotter was filming and transmitting the location of Israeli armored vehicles. (Pierre Rehov’s documentary, Lies and Tears – A counter investigation into the death of Shireen Abu Akleh, Vimeo)

“We saw around four or five military vehicles on that street with rifles sticking out of them, and one of them shot Shireen. We were standing right there; we saw it. When we tried to approach her, they shot at us. [Perhaps as a spotter, he was the target?]

I tried to cross the street to help, but I couldn’t,” Awad said, adding that he saw that a bullet struck Abu Akleh in the gap between her helmet and protective vest, just by her ear. [How did he know this detail from across the road?]

Salim Awad, the Propagandist

The credit tag on a section of CNN’s video report on the shooting.
The credit tag on a section of CNN’s video report on the shooting.

In news reports after his CNN appearance, Salim Awad shows up more than a year after the Abu Akleh shooting as a correspondents’ go-to guy. “A massacre is taking place now in Jenin camp,” Awad told the Washington Post on July 2, 2023.6

He lied: 12 Palestinian combatants were killed in the fighting; there was no massacre and no civilian dead.

Awad’s report to the Washington Post about Israel destroying the iconic Freedom Theater in Jenin was also a lie and led to this Post retraction:

Awad's report

Unanswered Questions

The question of “Who Shot Shireen Abu Akleh?” will never be answered to everyone’s satisfaction. One thing is certain: Israel did not “deliberately assassinate” or “target” the famous American journalist. What benefit could come from such an act, and, as subsequently seen, it would only bring opprobrium, scorn, and a senseless FBI investigation?

“The IDF understands the enormous repercussions of such an action,” said historian Dr. Sheree Trotter of New Zealand. “The notion that Israel would kill a journalist for their reporting is not only laughable, but shows how disconnected the accusers are from the reality in Israel.” A member of the Māori tribe and co-director of the Indigenous Coalition for Israel, Dr. Trotter was interviewed for filmmaker Pierre Rehov’s documentary Lies and Tears, a Counter-Investigation into the Death of Shireen Abu Akleh.7

There are many theories about the shooter’s identity – Palestinian gunmen shooting wildly, a fundamentalist Islamic assassination of a Christian-American reporter, or a Palestinian Authority plot against the pro-Hamas Al Jazeera.

There are many arguments why the lethal bullet was not fired at Abu Akleh by an Israeli sniper – lack of motive, reports from scientific ballistic and acoustic experts who differ from those in the media indictment of Israel, and the profile of an authentic “sniper” who would use different bullets and would never fire a series of shots. [View Pierre Rehov’s documentary interviews with French experts.] The whole mysterious episode of the lethal bullet – not shared by the Palestinian pathologists, in terrible condition, no chain of custody, etc. – makes the case against Israel mute.

Israel had suggested to the Palestinian Authority a joint investigation, but PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas rejected the offer out of hand. “Abbas held Israel fully responsible for the killing of Abu Akleh,” said the Palestinian news agency WAFA.8 “We hold the Israeli occupation authorities fully responsible for the murder, and they will not be able with this crime to hide the truth, and this crime must not go unpunished.”

A plausible answer to the question of Abu Aklah’s death is that she stood between Israeli soldiers who believed they were in danger and spotter Salim Awad, filming their location and transmitting his video.

* * *



  2. 2023.PDF↩︎

  3. A copy of this video was sent to The Palestine Chronicle. “The Palestinian Resistance group Saraya Al-Quds, Jenin Battalion, provides evidence of the massive explosion that rocked one of Israel’s most fortified military vehicles.↩︎




  7. Lies and Tears – A counter investigation into the Death of Shireen Abu Akleh on Vimeo↩︎