The Tragic Killing of a Palestinian-American Journalist
On the morning of May 11, 2022, American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh went to the occupied West Bank town of Jenin with other journalists to film an Israeli military raid. Without warning, Israeli forces shot her in the head, killing her instantly. She was wearing her “PRESS” vest.
Who Was Shireen Abu Akleh?
Palestinian-American broadcast journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was known across the Middle East as a trusted voice in the news after 25 years of reporting for Al Jazeera Arabic. Her colleagues note her bravery and strong dedication to showing the world what was happening in Palestine.
Two days before Abu Akleh’s death, her friend suggested the events she sought to cover in Jenin were not important enough for her senior title. However, Abu Akleh was known for her dedication to showing Palestinian humanity in even the smallest stories. She said it herself: “I chose journalism to be close to the people. It might not be easy to change the reality, but at least I was able to bring their voice to the world.”
Abu Akleh was born in East Jerusalem to Palestinian, Melkite Catholic parents, and she obtained U.S. citizenship after spending time there in her youth. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, Abu Akleh developed a trailblazing career that inspired many future journalists. Journalist Dalia Hatuqa is quoted saying, “I know a lot of girls who grew up basically standing in front of a mirror and holding their hairbrushes and pretending to be Shireen. That’s how lasting and important her presence was.”
The Killing of Journalist Shireen Abu Akleh: What Happened?
The United Nations Human Rights Office (OHCHR) confirmed that the Abu Akleh and the other journalists made themselves clearly visible to the Israeli soldiers and that the Israeli soldiers made no warnings or communications to the journalists before they began firing. Further, the OHCHR investigation confirmed that the journalists were far away from any armed Palestinians—conflicting with the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) claims of an exchange of fire between Israeli forces and Palestinian gunmen at the scene.
Ali al-Samoudi, another journalist with Abu Akleh at the scene, was also wounded by gunshot. And another journalist at the scene Ashatha Hanaysha, who immediately moved to assist Abu Akleh, described how the Israeli army targeted the journalists using sniper telescopic scopes and continued their gunfire with the intent to kill. Sharif Al Azzeb, a refugee living in the Jenin camp, retrieved Abu Akleh’s body despite the continued IDF shooting. Abu Akleh was shot in the head under her helmet.
Attacks on the Funeral Procession
On the day before Abu Akleh’s funeral, Israeli authorities summoned her brother; they warned him of consequences for mourners who carried Palestinian flags or chanted for Palestine.
The next day, thousands of mourners accompanied Abu Akleh’s coffin as it was carried from the hospital in the illegally occupied Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem to the funeral service at Jaffa Gate and to her final resting place at the cemetery. Video footage shows Israeli forces beating mourners, including the pallbearers, pushing them to nearly drop Abu Akleh’s coffin. Israeli forces also broke the window of the hearse carrying Abu Akleh’s body to remove a Palestinian flag.
Abu Akleh’s niece, Lina Abu Akleh, described to Al Jazeera how the Israeli soldiers “just stormed in, and they were beating up everyone, it was very frightening to be honest. This was a peaceful funeral; everyone was there to show their support and love. At the end of the day, even in her death, it was not done peacefully.”
The United Nations, the White House press secretary, and the United States Secretary General all described the scenes as “deeply disturbing,” and the European Union said it was “appalled by the violence … and the level of unnecessary force exercised by Israeli police throughout the funeral procession.”
The Jerusalem Red Crescent said that 33 people were injured and six people were hospitalized from these attacks on mourners. The Israeli authorities reported arresting six people after mourners began throwing rocks and glass bottles.
Will There Be Repercussions for Israeli Violence?
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki announced that the crime of killing Shireen Abu Akleh, a U.S. citizen, has been documented and submitted to the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor. Al Jazeera reporter Nida Ibrahim said that Palestinians are calling it a war crime, in addition to dozens of other cases the Palestinian Authority has filed with the ICC in only the last year.
However, the Palestinian National Initiative general secretary Mustafa Barghouti has been quoted accusing the ICC of maintaining a “double standard” with regards to Palestinian cases. As a former Palestinian information minister, Barghouti said: “We have been providing information for the past 13 years but investigation has not been started yet.”
A Fair Investigation?
Israel’s military prosecutor has begun the process of an army investigation into the matter. United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken then called for an independent investigation, while 24 United States senators called for direct involvement from the U.S. in this investigation. The Senators wrote: “It is clear that neither of the parties on the ground trust the other to conduct a credible and independent investigation.” However, the U.S. State Department has reiterated its stance that Israel should lead this investigation.
The Biden administration stated in early July that the Israeli killing of Abu Akleh was likely unintentional. However, Abu Akleh’s family demanded a meeting with President Biden during his visit to the West Bank on July 15 to discuss the investigation. President Biden chose not to meet with Abu Akleh’s family, but in his first public acknowledgement of the killing, he said, “I hope that her legacy will inspire more young people to carry on her work of reporting the truth and telling the stories that are too often overlooked.”
While the world awaits a fair investigation into the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, her family, friends, colleagues, and Palestinians and Arabs around the world continue to mourn her death. Her obituary reads:
“From Jenin to Nablus, from Ramallah to Bethlehem, and finally to occupied Jerusalem, the outpouring of love for Shireen is indicative of the life she led and the tremendous impact she had on the lives of others.”