The soft-spoken voice of Shireen Abu Akleh has been silenced
The soft-spoken voice, the emotionless face and the factual words of Shireen Abu Akleh will be forever imprinted in the hearts and minds of most Arabs.
The strong and confident field reporter for the Al Jazeera network was part of the daily intake of anyone following the news of Palestine. A courageous professional journalist, Abu Akleh was a permanent fixture in her hometown of Jerusalem during the events of Sheikh Jarrah, Al-Aqsa and Damascus Gate, as well as throughout Palestine. Most adults in the Arab world grew up following her during the first and second Palestinian intifadas.
Despite the high emotions of the Palestinian protests, deaths, house demolitions and human rights violations she covered, Abu Akleh’s demeanor was always professional. She rarely showed any emotion on camera as she went about her job of covering the actions of the Israeli occupiers, the hooliganism of Israeli settlers or the anguish of Palestinian victims.
A Christian Palestinian, Abu Akleh covered events inside both Islamic and Christian holy places with respect and was at the forefront of the coverage of daily Palestinian protests and repressive Israeli responses from Rafah in the south of Palestine up to Jenin in the north.
Sadly, it was just outside the Jenin refugee camp on Wednesday morning that Abu Akleh was last seen alive. Photos were shared online of her wearing a helmet and flak jacket — with the word “PRESS” clearly visible — as she stepped out of her work vehicle to cover the latest attempt by the Israeli military to infiltrate the Palestinian nationalist stronghold of Jenin camp.
In her last email, Abu Akleh sent a message to Al Jazeera’s Ramallah bureau at 6:13 a.m. local time on Wednesday, in which she wrote: “Occupation forces storm Jenin and besiege a house in the Jabriyat neighborhood. On the way there — I will bring you news as soon as the picture becomes clear.”
Born in Jerusalem in 1971, Abu Akleh studied journalism at Jordan’s Yarmouk University and joined the Al Jazeera Media Network a year after it was launched in 1996, as one of the Qatar-based Arabic-language network’s first field correspondents. She went on to gain fame for her coverage of the Second Intifada in 2000.
She began her journalism career working for Radio Monte Carlo and Voice of Palestine. She also worked for UNRWA, Amman TV and the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy, known as MIFTAH.
Israeli officials presented different explanations for her killing. Initially, they said she was killed by random shots fired by the Islamic Jihad fighters in the camp. Later, Israel said there was crossfire going on at the time, although fellow journalists who were with her have reported that there was no exchange of fire. Palestinian doctors say that the fatal bullet hit her below her ear — an area not covered by her helmet and a sign that this was the act of a well-trained Israeli sniper, debunking Israeli claims that she was hit by a stray bullet from Palestinian resisters.
Tel Aviv claims that the Jenin camp is the inspiration for the latest round of attacks, even though the 18 Israelis killed over the last few months have come from different locations, including from inside the state of Israel.
Although Abu Akleh, who was a dual American Palestinian citizen, was accredited by the Israeli government press office, it is important to note that Israel has never recognized Palestinian journalists working for Palestinian media.
Her death triggered anger in Palestine, nearby Jordan and in many other parts of the Arab world, where Abu Akleh had become an icon.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has ordered that Abu Akleh’s funeral procession, which is planned for Thursday, begin at the official presidential headquarters in Ramallah and continue to Jerusalem, where she will be buried at the Christian Orthodox cemetery.
The killing of Abu Akleh is seen by many as further proof that Israel is trying to hide its real actions by carrying out a wide-ranging campaign of silencing Palestinian activists, human rights defenders and journalists. Last October, Israel declared six well-known and widely respected Palestinian human rights organizations to be terrorist groups without offering any proof, and no evidence was subsequently given to the world governments that requested it.
Israel also retains a military censorship apparatus that has often been used to silence nationalist Palestinians, including in the Jerusalem-based Palestinian media. And Israel and its supporters have been very active in fighting popular Palestinian social media influencers, successfully pressing the digital giants to close their accounts.
International human rights organizations accuse Israel of applying a discriminatory policy between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea, with one set of policies and laws for Israeli Jews and a totally different legal and practical policy for Palestinian Arabs.
Journalists always want to cover the news and not be the news themselves. It is a sad day when a journalist is killed. Shireen Abu Akleh, a professional and level-headed journalist, will be missed.
Daoud Kuttab is an award-winning Palestinian journalist from Jerusalem. Twitter: @daoudkuttab