First published by the Middle East Monitor on 11/5/2022
People gather at the Al Jazeera offices in the West Bank city of Ramallah on May 11, 2022 following the killing of veteran journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh, who was shot dead as she covered a raid on the West Bank’s Jenin refugee camp. [RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP via Getty Images]
Israeli forces today assassinated a Palestinian icon. She was not the leader of a political faction or a member of a resistance group. Shireen Abu Akleh was a Christian female Palestinian journalist and reporter for Al Jazeera who came to be known to the Arab world during the Israeli reoccupation of the territories it had left after the Oslo Accords. She reported brilliantly on the violent events and the siege on then leader Yasser Arafat, becoming the face of Al Jazeera in Palestine.
She often reported from the front-line dodging Israeli live bullets, rubber coated metal bullets and gas and sound grenades. She was able to avoid serious injury or death since she joined Al Jazeera in 1997. Little did she know that it would take one bullet to bring her life to an end despite her wearing ‘press attire and protective helmet and body armour’. The bullet entered the gap between the helmet and the vest, just under her ear. A pretty accurate hit, which confirms it was shot by a sniper.
Shireen had gone to the Jenin refugee camp early this morning – four days before the Palestinians were due to commemorate the Nakba of 1948 – to report on another Israeli attack on the camp. Her death became a part of the continuing Nakba.
Shireen is not the first Palestinian journalist to be killed by a state that continues to act above the law and which sees all Palestinians as subhuman. This is partly what led three human rights groups B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International to conclude that Israeli policies meet the definition of Apartheid in the Rome Statute.
I recall writing about Yaser Murtaja, a journalist in Gaza who was also murdered by an Israeli sniper in Gaza in 2018. This was only a few months after a young medic Razan Al-Najjar was also killed by Israeli fire at the fence which separates Gaza from the villages and towns the 80 per cent of Gaza’s residents hail from. No Israeli has been brought to justice for killing Razan or Yaser. Does anyone expect the killer of Shireen to face justice for killing a journalist?
There is of course a difference in the language used by western leaders that have reacted to Shireen’s murder. She was a Palestinian but also an American citizen. The US Ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides, tweeted his ‘sadness’. He does not normally express any sadness about Palestinian deaths. I assume that he was embarrassed into commenting because she holds American citizenship. His sadness will not bring Shireen back to life. There was no demand of Israel to do anything but he almost apologetically “encouraged a thorough investigation into the circumstances of her death”.
The British Ambassador to Israel, Neil Wigan, who was recently remembering the ‘fallen Israeli soldiers’, many of whom killed Palestinians on the day Israel commemorates, tweeted: “I am deeply saddened by the tragic death of Al Jazeera’s @ShireenNasri in Jenin this morning.” No condemnation of Israel’s actions. There was no summoning to the British Foreign Office of the racist Israeli ambassador to demand an investigation into this murder.
It was left to the Israeli authorities to immediately lie by claiming Shireen was killed by Palestinian bullets. The claim they used to distort the truth about the killing of Mohammad Al-Durrah and many who lost their lives under Israeli bombs in Gaza, including the football four. A state that was built on a lie that Palestine was a land without a people for a people without a land continues to lie. It is how Israel tries to introduce a doubt in people’s minds to deflect from its deadly evil actions.
The real context here and the reason Shireen was killed is the continuing illegal occupation of Palestine by Israel and the hypocritical treatment of them and their cause by the so-called international community, when compared with the situation in Ukraine. A days long occupation by Russia has brought thousands of sanctions on the perpetrator and occupier, Russia, whereas a seven-decades long occupation and expulsion of the Palestinians is not seen in the same light.
Attempts to ethnically cleanse Sheikh Jarrah, attacks on peaceful worshippers in Al-Aqsa Mosque two Ramadans in succession, the planned ethnic cleansing of Masafer Yatta, the announcements of further settlement construction, the new regulations on entry to the West Bank, and the demolition of the Al-Rajabi family home in Silwan all go unchecked let alone punished by the international community. Israel is given a free hand to oppress, steal, demolish, imprison, restrict movement, deny entry, deny exit and label human rights organisations as terrorist organisationsbecause it claims all these measures as necessary for its security. But why does the international community allow it to pass the murder of civilians, especially journalists and medics, as a means of self-defence?
Journalist organisations across the world should stand with Palestinian journalists without reservation as they do their duty to tell the world about Israeli crimes. Governments should go further than expressing sadness about Shireen’s murder and demand the perpetrators of her assassination are brought to justice.
I met Shireen in Ramallah many years ago and found her to be an ultimate professional and a lovely human being. She did not deserve to be killed simply doing her job. While Israel will think that it will deter other journalists from covering its crimes, Shireen’s murder will only inspire more Palestinians to follow in her footsteps, to be a voice for truth and decency continuing to demand that the world sees Israel for what it is, a state which heaps terror on another people with impunity. That impunity must come to an end. Sanctions should be imposed on Israel now, if Shireen’s death isn’t to be in vain.