“The occupation forces are storming Jenin and surrounding a house in the Jabriyat neighborhood. On the way there. I will update as soon as I can.”
This was the last message sent by Shireen Abu Akleh, AlJazeera reporter in the Palestinian Terroritories, to the newsroom at dawn on 11 May. Shortly afterwards, she was shot dead. Since then, Israel has been trying to deflect any suggestion that one of its soldiers took aim and shot Akleh in the head.
Like dozens of her colleagues who preceded her, Abu Akleh paid the price of covering breaking news with her own life. An Israeli bullet found her and ended her career, which spanned over 25 years. Abu Akleh’s colleague Ali Al-Samudi was injured at the same location, while journalist Shaza Hanaysha survived the attack. They were all wearing safety gear and press badges and signs.
Some 55 journalists, seven of them foreigners, were killed by Israel in the Palestinian Territories while covering the news since the outbreak of the second Palestinian Intifada in 2000, according to Tahseen Al-Astal, deputy head of the Palestinian Press Syndicate (PPS).
Al-Astal told Al-Ahram Weekly that the PPS has recorded more than 7,000 violations against Palestinian journalists during that same period, ranging from direct killing or injury, arrests, targeting and destroying media offices, obstructing journalists or confiscating press material gathered during field work. In addition, there is continuous incitement against journalists by Israeli extremists.
“The targeting of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was a deliberate act by Israel,” asserted Al-Astal. “It sends a threatening message to Palestinian journalists to discourage them from continuing their journalism exposing Israeli crimes against the Palestinians.”
This makes particular sense since Israel was threatening extensive military action against Jenin refugee camp, which had become a serious security threat as it is home to several perpetrators of attacks against Israel.
Abu Akleh’s assassination brings to mind photojournalist Attia Darwish from the Gaza Strip, who was hit in the face by an Israeli gas bomb while covering the Great March of Return on the Gaza border in mid-2018. He lost sight in his left eye despite a long medical journey to save his eyesight in Egypt and Jordan.
“Israel has no deterrent about targeting Palestinian journalists,” Darwish told the Weekly. “It believes it has every right to target them, without fear of any consequences for crimes that violate all international norms about the work of journalists.”
After participating in a protest condemning the killing of Abu Akleh in Gaza, Darwish said Palestinian journalists have no other choice but to continue doing their job. He wondered how many more crimes Israel must commit against journalists before the relevant international institutions put serious pressure on Israel to stop.
The killing of Abu Akleh, who is a native of the occupied city of Jerusalem and also a US citizen, triggered an avalanche of Arab and international condemnation. Israel was put on the spot; a bright light was shone on its crimes against Palestinians in general, and Palestinian journalists in particular, who are abused by Israelis while doing their work in one of the world’s most explosive areas.
Israel, which faced a torrent of criticism especially after scenes of vicious attacks on Akleh’s funeral procession, tried to make light of the issue and shirk responsibility for shooting Abu Akleh. At one time it claimed she may have been shot by Palestinian gunmen who were fighting the Israeli army in Jenin, but this claim was later refuted by Palestinian and Israeli media and human rights organisations. Another time, it claimed that Abu Akleh’s fatal shot could have been a mistaken shot fired by Israeli soldiers who were not intentionally targeting her.
The Hebrew news website Walla! reported that Israeli officials are worried this shooting could exacerbate tensions with the US, which found itself condemning Israel. Israeli officials admit they will not be able to influence the global narrative about Abu Akleh’s killing, and all Israel can do on the political and media levels is absorb the shock and mitigate the effects of the shooting later.
Israel asked the Palestinian Authority (PA) to hand over the bullet that killed Abu Akleh as part of its investigations, but the PA refused despite US pressure. The PA did, however, welcome an international investigation and said it would fully cooperate with that.
Israel is unlikely to agree to this idea, and is counting on buying as much time as possible so it can manoeuvre under less pressure to admit to the crime. It began preparing for this step by gradually announcing that field investigations revealed Abu Akleh was shot with an Israeli bullet, though not intentionally.
On the contrary, after examining the crime scene, the Palestinian Public Prosecution office has asserted that Israeli occupation forces deliberately shot Abu Akleh. It said that inspection of the site showed close and recent traces and markings on a tree near where she was hit, and they were the result of direct shooting at Abu Akleh’s location. Shooting continued for several minutes after she was hit, which impeded administering aid to her.
In addition to the great shock and grief of Palestinian journalists, they are uncertain about the effectiveness of international pressure on Israel – even though the murder of Abu Akleh coincides with the first anniversary of the war on Gaza, when media offices were key targets. These included the complete destruction of a building housing the offices of the Associated Press, AlJazeera, and several local media outlets. More buildings where other media outlets are located were also bombed.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 May, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.