Family of slain American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh urges Biden to launch probe

Short Url
Updated 09 June 2022

Family of slain American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh urges Biden to launch probe

Family of slain American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh urges Biden to launch probe
  • US president should stop ‘double standards’ and hold Tel Aviv accountable for the killing, and continued ‘barbaric’ violence against Muslim and Christian Palestinians, says broadcaster’s brother
  • ‘If this had happened to a citizen elsewhere, or if this was an Israeli reporter, I am sure even sanctions would have been imposed on whoever did it.’

CHICAGO: The brother of slain Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh called on President Joe Biden Wednesday to immediately investigate the killing of his sister saying “someone must be held accountable.”

Anton Abu Akleh, who is also an American citizen, and lives with his wife in Jerusalem, said no action has been taken so far to determine who killed Shireen, 52, while she was with other journalists covering an Israeli raid on the northern West Bank city of Jenin on May 11.

Abu Akleh said he was moved when he heard Biden, a week before his sister was killed, declaring forcefully “we must do more to protect and sustain independent media and to hold to account those that seek to silence voices essential to transparent, trustworthy, and responsive governance” in defending journalists being killed in Ukraine.

But he said he is shocked that more than four weeks later, nothing has been done.



“I would beg him (Biden) to stop these double standards. I think Israel should be — or whoever shot Shireen — should be held accountable. That is what we need. It is his duty as the US president to protect all Americans in the US and overseas,” Abu Akleh said.

“The United States is the most powerful country in the world. And looking at Americans getting killed, while covering stories abroad or reporting from abroad is not acceptable. As the US president I would urge him to take immediate action. Israel gets the most aid, more than any other country. I am sure that if this was any other country, they would have sanctioned it until someone is held accountable and is brought to justice. That’s the least he could do. We need justice for Shireen.”

Appearing on “The Ray Hanania Show” Abu Akleh said he received assurances from several US officials who offered condolences to the family at their home — including US Ambassador Tom Nides, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, and officials of the US Consulate in Jerusalem — that an investigation would be launched to identify the person or party responsible for the death.

Abu Akleh said if an American journalist had been killed anywhere else in the world there would be an immediate investigation, accountability and consequences.



“We wanted, we asked for an independent US investigation. Shireen is an American citizen. She is a journalist. In the beginning of May we heard President Biden asking for the freedom of (the) press. And we expect the US to initiate a just probe for the assassination of Shireen, as an American citizen, as a journalist, as a Christian,” Abu Akleh said.

“I can’t say I am satisfied. Yes they did speak with us. They supported us. We got calls from everyone. But we need something solid. We want justice for Shireen. That’s what we need. Accountability. Whoever did this must be held accountable. This can’t go on. Not just for Shireen only but for other Americans, other journalists covering (events) in occupied Palestine. There should be something formed and there should be a decision taken by this administration to prevent any future killings of Americans. I am sure if this happened somewhere else, they would have acted immediately. Or if this was an Israeli journalist, I am sure there would have been lots of things. Even sanctions would have been imposed on whoever did it.”

On June 6, US Senators Mitt Romney, a Republican from Utah, and Jon Ossoff, a Democrat from Georgia, sent a letter to Blinken demanding an investigation and stating: “The killing of a US citizen and of a journalist engaged in the work of reporting in a conflict zone is unacceptable ... All over the world, journalists pursue truth and accountability at great personal risk. Press freedom is a core American value, and we cannot accept impunity when journalists are killed in the line of duty. We insist that the Administration ensure a full and transparent investigation is completed and that justice is served for Ms. Akleh’s death.”

He called on Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to act, not only to determine who killed his sister but to stop the violence and prevent more killings.



“I would love to speak with him (Bennett). You know I would tell him as a Palestinian you have to have peace and you have to be strong enough to have peace. You are doing nothing, you are just increasing the radicals here in Israel and also increasing the radicals on the Palestinian side. The Palestinian side is losing hope every day and that is not good,” Abu Akleh said.

“You could … at least do something good for your people, for the region. Stretch (out) your hand for peace and (you) will find many Palestinians who are interested in peace. Enough. There is no need to keep this killing cycle going on. Both sides are suffering from this. Anyone can do these things. Anyone can do war. You can see what’s happening in Ukraine now. Why don’t you be a strong man and just achieve something and do something for both nations. It is not going to be easy, but it can be done.”

Abu Akleh said he and his wife and family were “shocked” when Israeli police beat mourners during the funeral procession.



“We were shocked to see all this police gathering closing roads. We had very much difficult times entering the hospital, we as a family. Friends, all Palestinians came from everywhere to mourn Shireen and to escort her to the church. And then all of a sudden when we took out the casket from the morgue, many, I don’t know the number of Israeli occupation police, they just marched (into) the hospital, started clubbing with batons the pall bearers. Clubbing them savagely, barbarically in a way that they wanted them to drop the casket,” Abu Akleh recalled.

“They couldn’t reach the hearse to put the casket in ... I was begging the police at that moment. I just told them just give us one hour. We can finish this in one hour just get out of the way, let us get to the hospital and you don’t have to attack us. They were firing tear gas, stun grenades. Nobody can justify this actions that they took at the hospital. (In) no way can it be justified attacking a funeral. They didn’t leave any dignity for the dead nor for the living.’

Services for Shireen were held at the Roman Catholic Melkite Church located in the Old City by Jaffa Gate, Abu Akleh said, and the burial was at the Greek Orthodox cemetery about 200 meters from the church.

Abu Akleh said his sister strove to tell the accurate story, without emotion, of the challenges Palestinians face. He said American Christians need to know that Christians are suffering in the Israeli occupation.

“I can tell you Ray it is not easy. Going through all these checkpoints is a big hassle ... You can’t do anything just because one so-called police, occupation police officer, decides to block the street and you are stuck forever. We’re unable to get a permit to build a house. Many Palestinians get their house(s) demolished because they couldn’t get a license. They need to live. They need to build something for their family to live. Living in Jerusalem, as much as we love Jerusalem, it is so beautiful, but still it is a big hassle just because there is an occupation here,” he said.

“We definitely are (discriminated against). For the last maybe 10 or 12 years I couldn’t get to the (Church of) the Holy Sepulchre during the Holy Saturday or late Friday, we couldn’t get to the churches because of the checkpoints they impose on the whole city. It is off limits for Palestinians and we (Christians) can’t reach any church. It is a real occupation. This is probably the last occupation here on Earth. We saw what they did at the funeral. Barbaric. Savage. They don’t respect anyone.”

A 40-day commemoration for Shireen will be held at the Beit Hanina Roman Catholic Church, he said.

“We want all the American people to stand for Shireen and ask for justice. That is all we need. We don’t want anything more. We need justice for Shireen,” he said.

The Ray Hanania Show is broadcast live every Wednesday at 5 p.m. Eastern EST on WNZK AM 690 radio in Greater Detroit including parts of Ohio, and WDMV AM 700 radio in Washington DC including parts of Virginia and Maryland. The show is rebroadcast on Thursdays at 7 a.m. in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 and in Chicago at 12 noon on WNWI AM 1080.

You can listen to the radio show podcast here


Snapchat to launch over 100 new shows for Ramadan

Snapchat is promising ‘a lineup of engaging content on Discover and Spotlight’ during the month of Ramadan. (Supplied)
Snapchat is promising ‘a lineup of engaging content on Discover and Spotlight’ during the month of Ramadan. (Supplied)
Updated 25 March 2023

Snapchat to launch over 100 new shows for Ramadan

Snapchat is promising ‘a lineup of engaging content on Discover and Spotlight’ during the month of Ramadan. (Supplied)
  • Company promises ‘a lineup of engaging content on Discover and Spotlight’
  • Saudi Broadcasting Authority, MBC Group among media partners

DUBAI: The holy month of Ramadan is a time for enjoying local shows for many people in the Middle East.

Traditionally, these would be viewed on the TV through satellite channels, but the proliferation of the internet and social media has seen people turn to other devices for their daily dose of entertainment.

Last year, for example, there was a 167 percent increase in Google searches for “series” in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, according to the tech company’s regional arm.

Now, Snapchat has announced it is launching more than 100 new shows during the holy month in partnership with media companies and content creators.

“This Ramadan, we are partnering with some of the region’s most trusted media partners and fan favorite creators to showcase a lineup of engaging content on Discover and Spotlight,” said Hussein Freijeh, general manager of Snap Inc. for the Middle East and North Africa region.

Those partners include Saudi Broadcasting Authority, MBC Group, Augustus Media, 7awi and Rotana Media Group.

The show lineup includes “Netflorex,” “THAT,” “Marahel,” “Tash Returns,” “Studio 23,” “Ramez Never End” and “Madraset Banat Alyoum.”

The offering also includes content from regional and global creators such as Saudi-based comedian Bader Saleh, food creator and entrepreneur Ahmad Alzahabi and Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, founder of online community and show “Muslim Girl.”

Last year, Snapchat users spent 31 percent more time watching Ramadan content than they did in 2021, Freijeh said.

The new content will be available on Snapchat through its Discover and Spotlight sections.

As the Arab world watches on, is the clock ticking for TikTok?

As the Arab world watches on, is the clock ticking for TikTok?
Updated 25 March 2023

As the Arab world watches on, is the clock ticking for TikTok?

As the Arab world watches on, is the clock ticking for TikTok?
  • The impact and implications of TikTok’s growing influence in the MENA region are a global concern with more questions than answers after a congressional hearing with app CEO
  • TikTok CEO’s mounting woes as security concerns place him in the hotseat at a US congressional hearing with the world looking on for answers

DUBAI/LONDON: In yet another congressional hearing-turned-nail-biting drama, TikTok’s CEO was the latest global tech chief to take center stage before the US Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Shou Zi Chew, chief executive of perhaps the world’s most popular app, was in the same hot seat that previously hosted the likes of Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey.

People from around the globe tuned in to see how Chew would justify and ensure US user data was safe and protected.

Rep. Kat Cammack (R-FL) question TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew as he testifies before the US House Energy and Commerce Committee on March 23, 2023. (Getty Images/AFP)

TikTok’s Chinese roots are not just an issue for US citizens; “it impacts the world,” Giles Crouch, a digital anthropologist, told Arab News.

“While the Chinese government doesn’t own a majority share in TikTok, they do own what’s called a ‘golden share,’ so they have a seat at the board,” he added.

India has already banned the app entirely, while Canada, Belgium, Denmark, New Zealand, Taiwan, the UK and the US have banned TikTok on government devices. However, the app still operates fully across the Middle East.

In Saudi Arabia alone, a country with a majority youth population, the app has 26.39 million users — the most in the region. Iraq and Egypt both have more than 23 million users, while the UAE has almost 6 million.

For five hours, bipartisan lawmakers grilled Chew over a range of topics, namely the claim that the Chinese Communist Party has access to TikTok user data, as well as fears over the platform’s algorithms and content that could have a potentially harmful impact on young people.

The questioning ended with a frustrated committee unsatisfied with Chew’s responses. The CEO, when given the chance to answer questions, often came across as evasive, resorting to “I’ll get back to you with specifics.”

Such hesitation and evasiveness has become a cause for concern among users and governments around the globe, with France taking the decision to ban the app on administrative phones just one day after the hearing.

“Our CEO, Shou Chew, came prepared to answer questions from Congress, but, unfortunately, the day was dominated by political grandstanding that failed to acknowledge the real solutions already underway through Project Texas or productively address industry-wide issues of youth safety,” a TikTok MENA spokesperson told Arab News, relaying the same response issued by the global company.

Last year, TikTok announced the $1.5 billion Project Texas initiative to protect the data of its US users. The plan, which is estimated to cost the company $700 million to $1 billion per year, hopes to address government concerns about user data privacy risks and content recommendations.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Capitol Hill on March 23, 2023. (Getty Images/AFP)

During the hearing, the committee questioned Chew about Project Texas, with some members asking how the $1.5 billion would be allocated. Other members remained skeptical of the project, as well as TikTok’s ability to truly safeguard US data.

Many, if not all, committee members seemed to believe that TikTok is essentially an arm of the Chinese government. Although Chew said that he has not seen any “evidence that the Chinese government has access to that data; they have never asked us, we have not provided it,” several members openly voiced their disbelief.

“I find that actually preposterous,” said Congresswoman Anna Eshoo.

In a recent column, however, Al Arabiya News Channel’s Mamdouh Al-Muhaini claimed that “both arguments (of spying and propaganda spreading) are absurd and lack conclusive evidence. Rather, they are being used merely for political blackmail — to force China to make concessions amid international conflict between Beijing and Washington.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testifies on the platform's consumer privacy and data security practices and impact on children during a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on March 23, 2023. (AP)

“The war on TikTok comes in the context of the race between America — and the West — and China. In a war for influence, brains and hearts, all weapons, accusations and pretexts can be used,” he said, adding that the app was “being used as a device in the (US-China) cold war.”

An FBI and Department of Justice investigation into TikTok’s ability to spy on US citizens also undermined Chew’s case. Last year, parent company ByteDance confirmed that its employees used TikTok to track and obtain the IP addresses of multiple US journalists covering the app.

Yet, when Congressman Neal Dunn asked Chew if ByteDance is spying on US citizens, the CEO shakily replied: “I don’t think that spying is the right way to describe it.”

The Chinese minister of foreign affairs held a press briefing the following day, with a spokesperson saying: “The Chinese government has never asked and will never ask any company or individual to collect or provide data, information or intelligence located abroad against local laws.

AFP illustration image

“The US government has provided no evidence or proof that TikTok threatens US national security, yet it has repeatedly suppressed and attacked the company based on the presumption of guilt.

Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning added that the US should “respect the principles of a market economy and fair competition, stop suppressing foreign companies and provide an open, fair, just and non-discriminatory environment for foreign companies operating in the US.”

While a plethora of countries in the West chimed in on the debate, governments across the Middle East have largely stayed silent.

In a previous interview with Arab News, Saudi cybersecurity expert Abdullah Al-Jaber said that concerns over TikTok’s data security stemmed from the app’s country of origin as well as Chinese rules and regulations.

“If you use Facebook or Twitter, it’s not much different than using TikTok,” he said.

Apart from the focus on spying and data collection, members of congress also grilled the TikTok CEO over the platform’s algorithms for content suggestions and discovery, particularly among vulnerable audiences. Members asked why certain content is allowed to be published on the platform — unlike on China’s sister app Douyin, which is heavily censored.

“TikTok can be very good for kids but the way it’s used in China is very different from the way it’s used in the rest of the world — what kids are seeing in Riyadh or Dubai is very different from what they’re going to be seeing in Beijing,” said Crouch, the digital anthropologist.

Douyin features “very positive and uplifting content” that encourages “doing good for the community, helping one another and being very sociable,” he added.

But in other countries, “they (TikTok) literally use algorithms which manipulate young kids’ minds so they get served with content that is mindless, often negative, and can be disturbing to those minds,” Crouch said.

ikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew departs after testifying during a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on  March 23, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo)

Chew attributed the contrast in content on TikTok and Douyin to the different laws in each country. That argument is true to some extent, because the Chinese government does have more control over content posted on domestic platforms.

“They put the controls in place in China to stop kids from being overly stimulated,” said Crouch. But “they just don’t care for the rest of the world because they’re out to make money.”

In some aspects, including dangerous content, TikTok is very much like any other social media company, many of which originated in Silicon Valley — a fact acknowledged by some members of the committee.

Senior executives from Meta, Twitter and Google have all appeared before US Congress in an attempt to allay concerns over data, privacy and moderation.

However, as Congressman Dan Crenshaw said in the hearing, all social media companies collect personal data and could use it to “influence narratives and trends, create misinformation campaigns, encourage self-destructive behavior, purposefully allow drug cartels to communicate freely and organize human and drug trafficking.”

But the difference is that “it’s only TikTok that is controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.”


Saudi show ‘Tash Ma Tash’ returns, giving viewers a blast from the past

Saudi show ‘Tash Ma Tash’ returns, giving viewers a blast from the past
Updated 24 March 2023

Saudi show ‘Tash Ma Tash’ returns, giving viewers a blast from the past

Saudi show ‘Tash Ma Tash’ returns, giving viewers a blast from the past
  • The show starred Saudi duo Nasser Al-Qasabi and Abdullah Al-Sadhan as well as 109 other actors and actresses
  • After the show’s terrific run, Al-Qasabi and Al-Sadhan went their separate ways and pursued their artistic careers, appearing in many series, plays, and TV shows over the years

JEDDAH: The holy month of Ramadan always sees many new television shows highlighting the work of talented local and Arab actors, but none has proven more iconic and beloved in Saudi Arabia than the hit comedy series “Tash Ma Tash,” which returns this year after a 12-year hiatus.
The show starred Saudi duo Nasser Al-Qasabi and Abdullah Al-Sadhan as well as 109 other actors and actresses from the Kingdom, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and Lebanon, and ran over 18 seasons from 1993 until 2011.
It was a staple in every Saudi household during Ramadan, and gained popularity worldwide with its insight into issues facing society.
After the show’s terrific run, Al-Qasabi and Al-Sadhan went their separate ways and pursued their artistic careers, appearing in many series, plays, and TV shows over the years.
In November 2022, Turki Al Al-Sheikh, chairman of the General Entertainment Authority, announced via his official Twitter account that “‘Tash Ma Tash’ will return with its duet” and that “preparations are underway for the series, which will be displayed in the next Ramadan season.”
The surprising announcement was warmly welcomed by fans, with the tweet being shared over 4,000 times.
As March 23 marked the first day of Ramadan 2023, the awaited first episode of “Tash Ma Tash Season 19, Tash: The Return” was premiered on the MBC channel, bringing all the memories back for Saudi and international viewers.
Produced by the GEA and MBC Studios, the new season is directed by the Bahraini actor Mohamed Al-Qaffas. The new season was presented in memory of Abdul Khaleq Al-Ghanim, who directed 13 previous seasons and who died aged 63 in 2021.
“Tash: The Return” offers 20 separate and connected episodes with new controversial, bold, positive, and exciting topics revolving around issues related to Saudi society, with the participation of Yousef Al-Jarrah, Bashir Al-Ghunaim, Habib Al-Habib, Elham Ali, Rimas Mansour, and Abdulelah Al-Sinani.
Featuring the same theme song with a few changes in sound effects, the first episode was entitled “The Thunderbolt,” where a typical Saudi family in Riyadh prepares for a desert picnic — known in Saudi Arabia as a kashtah — in their vintage blue GMC car.
The family consisted of the two main stars playing brothers Abu Hazar and Abu Nizar — well-known characters from the previous seasons — as the heads of two families living in one home.
After they settled in a good spot in the middle of the Riyadh desert, the weather turned into a thunderstorm, and the family ran to the blue GMC to hide, but they were all struck by a thunderbolt while inside the car, which put the characters into an eight year coma.
The family woke in present day Riyadh. They were surprised by the changes taking place in the Kingdom, including women driving and broader female empowerment.
The events of the first episode shed light on the transformation of all government services in the Kingdom from paper to digital, how Saudi women now assume senior leadership positions, and other recent decisions such as allowing Saudi women to travel alone and enjoy a new level of freedom.
They also compared the price of petrol, the ever-growing crowds in Riyadh, and the Riyadh Boulevard area, which they described as a “European country” when they toured it.
The family began to adapt to the developments, as they expressed their gratitude to everyone who reshaped the Kingdom into what it is now.
Al-Qasabi discussed the new season in an interview on MBC, and said that the thing that occupied his mind most during the preparation was “how to bring ‘Tash Ma Tash’ back with its personality and simple ideas that the audience used to see during the past years.”
The first episode garnered positive responses, interaction, and praise on social media.
MBC 1 tweeted a group of photos from the first episode, and it received over 13,000 views in the first two hours.
Muna Bugari, a 54-year-old housewife and huge fan of the show, said: “I could not believe my eyes, the theme song took me back to great memories, the episode was truly a blast from the past.”
Al-Sinani, who also appeared in 12 previous seasons of the show, previously told Arab News that “Tash Ma Tash” included many Saudi artists looking to build their profiles in the Arab world.
The unprecedented success of the series, and its longevity, certainly boosted the careers of many. “No other series has been as successful,” he said.
Al-Sinani added that the government’s introduction of Vision 2030 has changed the face of art in the country, with a greater focus on education and training at colleges, and not a total reliance on innate talent.
For those who missed the first episode, Shahid, an Arabic video on demand service, is offering fans the chance to enjoy watching the show for free as it is listed among the platform’s Series For Free selections during the month of Ramadan.

Gritty school drama sparks controversy in Tunisia

Gritty school drama sparks controversy in Tunisia
Updated 24 March 2023

Gritty school drama sparks controversy in Tunisia

Gritty school drama sparks controversy in Tunisia
  • The controversy came after private channel El Hiwar Ettounsi on Thursday evening broadcast the first episode of the soap opera "Fallujah"
  • Education Minister Mohamed Ali Boughdiri told local radio he had alerted Prime Minister Nalja Bouden

TUNIS: Tunisia’s education minister has lashed out at a Ramadan TV series accused of tarnishing the reputation of schools, while two lawyers launched a bid to take it off the air.
The controversy came after private channel El Hiwar Ettounsi on Thursday evening broadcast the first episode of the soap opera “Fallujah.”
Named after a city that became a symbol of Arab resistance for battling American occupation forces after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the series is a drama about a group of high school students, their behavior toward their teachers and their often difficult home lives.
In one scene, a new teacher is hit on by students in the classroom then finds her car tagged with “Welcome to Fallujah.”
In another, a drug dealer in the schoolyard hands out ecstasy tablets to students who then sell them on to classmates.
Education Minister Mohamed Ali Boughdiri told local radio he had alerted Prime Minister Nalja Bouden.
“We will take all necessary measures to take this farce off the air. It has offended families, undermines the entire education system and considerably harms the image of Tunisian schools,” he said.
Two lawyers also filed a request to a Tunis court to stop the broadcasts immediately.
“This series deliberately undermines (public) morals and the educational system by disseminating obscenities,” lawyers Saber Ben Ammar and Hssan Ezzedine Diab wrote.
Teacher’s union the Federation of Secondary Education said the series “seriously harms teachers” and urged the ministry of education to investigate how a private TV channel was able to film in it a public school.
Union chief Lassaad Yaacoubi said the ministry had approved the filming in exchange for giving the school some of the furniture used during the production.

France to ban TikTok on work phones of civil servants -minister

France to ban TikTok on work phones of civil servants -minister
Updated 24 March 2023

France to ban TikTok on work phones of civil servants -minister

France to ban TikTok on work phones of civil servants -minister
  • The French government will ban entertainment app to protect civil servants online

PARIS: France will ban the use of Chinese-owned video-sharing app TikTok on the work phones of civil servants, Civil Service Minister Stanislas Guerini said on his Twitter account.
"In order to guarantee the cybersecurity of our administrations and civil servants, the government has decided to ban recreational applications such as TikTok on the professional phones of civil servants," he said in a statement.