Israel will be reassured by world’s response to Abu Akleh’s death

Israel will be reassured by world’s response to Abu Akleh’s death

Israel will be reassured by world’s response to Abu Akleh’s death
Palestinian youth hold a mock funeral for slain Al-Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh in Gaza City on May 17, 2022. (AFP)
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As Palestinians marked Sunday’s anniversary of the Nakba and reflected on 74 years of calamity, the life and death of Shireen Abu Akleh sums up so much of that shared national experience. This is why her killing as she was covering another Israeli assault on a Palestinian refugee camp — a daily reminder of that catastrophe — matters. Given her stature across the Arabic-speaking world, the legacy of the Al Jazeera Arabic journalist will be immense and long-lasting.
Abu Akleh has joined the long list of Palestinians killed by the Israeli armed forces. So far this year, Israeli forces have killed at least 48 Palestinians, including 10 children. None of their deaths will get an independent investigation; we are not even sure that Abu Akleh’s will be properly investigated, despite a UN Security Council statement calling for this. She is also far from the first journalist Israeli forces have been accused of killing — there have been 19 in Israel and the Occupied Territories since 1992.
Yet Abu Akleh’s killing has created headlines. Her death cannot be ignored. Israel tries to muddy the waters, victim-blaming and changing its official line several times, but the onus is on the occupying power to either demonstrate that its forces definitively did not kill her or own up to the crime for once. One thing the anti-Palestinian mob cannot do is pretend that she posed even the tiniest of threats to any Israeli. She was just doing her job.
Even if the killing carries a tiny bead of doubt, the actions of the Israeli armed forces at the family home the day after her death and at the funeral in Jerusalem do not. Abu Akleh was not allowed peace even in death. For forces of the occupying power to harass, intimidate and disturb a grieving family is abhorrent, but the behavior of the armed police in assaulting mourners, even the pallbearers, is shameful to all but the most ardent racists, many of whom have kept quiet for once. It highlighted the sheer vindictiveness of the Israeli forces. The complete lack of condemnation of their behavior from any Israeli leader shows how much the country’s political establishment endorses this.
Nothing will have angered Israeli Jewish supremacists more than the sight of thousands of Palestinians marching at Abu Akleh’s funeral in Jerusalem, many with Palestinian flags and keffiyehs. It was possibly the largest such funeral in occupied East Jerusalem since the death of Faisal Husseini. It was also a stunning reminder of the Palestinian presence in the city — that Jerusalem is divided and not the sole property of Israeli Jews, but a city with two peoples who live according to very different rules.
It was also a sign of increasing Palestinian unity and determination in the city, a feature of what Palestinians describe as the “unity intifada” that started just over a year ago. Even though it is not illegal to wave the Palestinian flag in Israel, Israeli forces were busy confiscating them, and they even tried to stop a Palestinian woman from wearing a hijab in the colors of the flag.

In her death, Abu Akleh has revealed much about this conflict and occupation, just as she did in her working life.

Chris Doyle

How does Israel continually get away with all this? The climate of impunity for its behavior is extraordinary. Its actions may not be the worst — the Syrian regime has killed plenty of journalists, as well as having killed people at funerals. However, Syria is under heavy sanctions and is largely isolated, with the International Criminal Court at the ready. This never applies to Israel. It is now more than a year since Israeli planes bombed the Gaza offices of Al Jazeera and the Associated Press, but Tel Aviv is still yet to provide the promised evidence to show that Hamas was using the tower. Several Israeli human rights groups have given up calling for Israel to investigate its own actions, as time and time again all that happens is a massive whitewashing exercise.
Two things in particular will have comforted Israel’s leaders. First were the lame, weaselly words of senior Western leaders. Take Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state. He tweeted: “We were deeply troubled by the images of Israeli police intruding into the funeral procession.” There was no condemnation and how anyone can call beating up mourners with batons “intruding” is remarkable. America’s permanent representative at the UN was little better, stating that she was “distressed by the images” at the funeral, while referring to the tragedy of Abu Akleh’s killing as if it were some natural disaster.
In Europe, French Foreign Minister Yves Le-Drian posted such an anodyne tweet that you had no idea there was an attack on mourners, who carried it out or even where it happened. British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss posted that she was “saddened to hear of the death of respected journalist Shireen Abu Akleh,” as if she had just died of a heart attack. The German authorities even banned a vigil from being held in Abu Akleh’s honor.
So, is it any surprise that, although these leaders called for an inquiry, not one stated that it must be independent? An Israeli inquiry would be the occupier investigating the occupation; the likely criminal party investigating itself. A Palestinian inquiry would not be seen as impartial either, so logically it must be independent. The major powers are not interested in this as they do not wish to embarrass Israel and certainly not allow any mechanism that might mean those responsible are held to account.
The other major factor that would have reassured Israeli politicians was the media coverage. As ever, there was some first-class coverage, but mixed in with it were some dreadful headlines. A BBC website piece referred to a “tense funeral,” where Israeli police were “jostling” mourners and that Israeli forces waded in. Many headlines referred to clashes at the funeral or even reported that violence broke out. Plenty of passive tenses. Time magazine made its bid for worst take by saying that “Israeli riot police antagonized pallbearers.” Much of the coverage of the killing stressed responsibility was disputed, but failed to mention the video analysis and the three eyewitness testimonies as if they did not count because they were Palestinian.
In her death, Abu Akleh has revealed much about this conflict and occupation, just as she did in her working life. Israeli leaders continue to displace Palestinians, erase their national identity, act with impunity and crack down on journalists and human rights defenders who try to hold them to account. But it is the failure of the international community to uphold its legal and moral duties that is telling. If the major powers had done so over the preceding decades, Abu Akleh might still be alive today, albeit with a lot less to report on.

• Chris Doyle is director of the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding.
Twitter: @Doylech

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