'She was the reason why I wanted to be a journalist': Media workers pay tribute to Shireen Abu Akleh, the brave voice of Palestine

ShireenAbuAkleh
7 min read
13 May, 2022
For many, Shireen Abu Akleh wasn’t only the voice of Palestine but one who empowered and encouraged many aspiring journalists. As the world mourns her death, we speak to people about the impact the veteran journalist's life and work had on them.

Israel’s war on Palestinians continues to take lives away with a lack of accountability and global community inaction. This time it was Shireen Abu Akleh, a well-known and respected Palestinian Al Jazeera journalist who spent her life on the grounds of Palestine covering the attacks, violations, and crimes committed by Israeli forces before being deliberately targeted and shot dead by them.

"She was shot despite wearing her press vest and helmet, meaning she was identifiable as a journalist"

The late Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh
Veteran reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, 51, was shot dead by Israeli forces while covering a raid at the West Bank's Jenin refugee camp for Al Jazeera on Wednesday [Twitter]

She was shot despite wearing her press vest and helmet, meaning she was identifiable as a journalist, hence proving that there is an intention to try and silence credible voices that reach a global audience whilst seeking to intimidate and silence the Palestinian voices.

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People across the Middle East region and beyond are triggered by her death and there is a growing voice calling for justice, but one has to be naively optimistic to expect Shireen Abu Akleh's tragic death as an effective wake-up call, given Israel’s history of blaming the victim for their own death, in manipulating the truth and whitewash their crimes.

"She was the reason why I wanted to be a journalist and the reason why I have continued to be a journalist even during the hardest times. She was someone I looked up to and was inspired by"

Al Jazeera, the network for which Shireen Abu Akleh worked, along with activists, journalists, and Palestinian rights organisations are calling for a transparent international investigation, but they all seem to have something in common, “a little faith in Israel’s justice system”.

“She was the reason why I wanted to be a journalist and the reason why I have continued to be a journalist even during the hardest times. She was someone I looked up to and was inspired by,” Palestinian journalist Haya Abushkaidem told The New Arab.

Shireen has been a notable journalist reporting the Israeli war crimes against Palestinians for over two decades. She had become a household name to all those who watch Al Jazeera and thousands of Palestinians are mourning her loss.

“Since I recognised Shireen’s name on the breaking news banner saying she was killed, I have been in awe and at a huge loss of words, reading further Shireen was hit by a live bullet in the face on duty, covering Israeli raids in Jenin, was the pain climax,” said in agony, Mohammed Rafik, a Palestinian journalist based in Gaza, to The New Arab.

"Shireen has been a notable journalist reporting the Israeli war crimes against Palestinians for over two decades"

At least 55 journalists have been killed by Israeli forces since 2000, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Information. Press freedom activists say it’s an attempt to silence Palestinian journalists and a free society means a free press, but Israeli forces continue to violate this notion.

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"Shireen has had a role not only informing my awareness of the Palestinian cause but also in what I, a woman, am capable of providing this cause"

For the many, Shireen Abu Akleh wasn’t only the voice of Palestine but she empowered and encouraged other women as she was brave, independent, and keen to deliver the truth.

Amena Ashkar, a young Palestinian journalist told The New Arab how Shireen inspired her as a female journalist. “Shireen has had a role not only informing my awareness of the Palestinian cause but also in what I, a woman, am capable of providing this cause.”

“She is a role model,” Ashkar added.

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For Palestinian commentators, the lack of accountability on Israel is a driving factor to continue holding crimes and violations against Palestinians, as just a year ago, on May 15, Israel took down Al Jazeera offices but justice remains unserved.

As Israel continues to act without impunity, activists fear that Shireen Abu Akleh's death will go unnoticed and uninvestigated as they quote international law when it suits their own narratives.

"For the many, Shireen Abu Akleh wasn’t only the voice of Palestine but she empowered and encouraged other women as she was brave, independent, and keen to deliver the truth"

Yousef Alhelou, a Palestinian political analyst and journalist told The New Arab: “We are not expecting anything good coming out of the Israeli government, on the same day she was killed, Israeli occupation forces stormed her house and wanted to prevent Palestinians to mourn her death.”

For Yousef, the world and particularly the West are distancing themselves from Palestine and little has been done to pressure Israel.

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Al Jazeera had called Shireen Abu Akleh’s death “a blatant murder and a violation of international humanitarian law.”

She told stories of ordinary people living unordinary lives and on the day she was killed by Israeli forces, Shireen was reporting yet another military raid on Jenin in continuous and escalated violence.

“For Israel, it’s just another body,” said Mohammed Rafik.

Journalists, media analysts, and commentators are criticising major media outlets like CNN, NYT, BBC News, Forbes, and most notably AP – who had their offices bombed and completely destroyed by Israel just a year ago in Gaza – for their biased coverage of Shireen's death and the terms used to announce and describe her death.

“There is something particularly spinless about news outlets who watch their fellow journalists get targeted and killed by a known entity and then seek to muddy the cause of death by referring to 'clashes' or failing to assign responsibility for the actor that did the killing,” Mai El Sadany, a human rights lawyer expressed her concern on the coverage of Shireen Abu Akleh's death.

When it comes to Palestinian lives, Western media agencies seem to use too much passive voice and for analysts, this isn’t a stylistic choice and a neutral grammatical, it’s complicity in whitewashing Israeli crimes.

"There is something particularly spinless about news outlets who watch their fellow journalists get targeted and killed by a known entity and then seek to muddy the cause of death by referring to 'clashes' or failing to assign responsibility for the actor that did the killing"

Palestinians believe that international media outlets never respected their grief, instead, they want them to battle their selective, passive, and dishonest reporting on Shireen Abu Akleh's death by failing to mention the murderer.

For example, NYT said, “Al Jazeera said one of its journalists was killed in the West Bank city of Jenin during clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians gunmen.”

After a backlash on their Twitter account, NYT said in a tweet: “Correction: An earlier tweet misstated Al Jazeera’s comments about the death of Shireen Abu Akleh. The network said she was killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank city of Jenin.”

Any joint investigations with the Israeli committees were refused as Israeli authorities are to be fully blamed for Shireen’s death and for Palestinians, “murderers cannot investigate their own crimes”.

The Israeli government is circulating an out-of-context video of a Palestinian gunman as “evidence” that Shireen Abu Akleh was shot by Palestinians.

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For experts, in circulating such visual content, they are inducing doubts into people’s minds and for those who are more likely to be sympathetic to Israel, it gives them a narrative that allows them to exsolve themselves of guilt when thinking about occupation, helping Israel keep the public opinion on their side.

The Israeli Defence Force has denied responsibility, saying in a tweet they were carrying out a raid at the Jenin refugee camp, and are investigating the “possibility that journalists were hit by the Palestinian gunmen.”

"She was covering the news but now she became the news"

Many Palestinians are in a state of despair having grown up listening to and watching her documenting their struggles.

Palestinians regard Shireen Abu Akleh as a passionate and remarkable journalist to the extent that she was keen and willing to travel miles to document the events that almost all western news media have normalised and ignored.  

For instance, on the day of her murder, Shireen Abu Akleh sent Al Jazeera an email at 6:13 am: “Occupation forces storm Jenin and besiege a house in the Jabriyat neighbourhood. On the way there, I will bring you news as soon as the picture becomes clear.”

She was covering the news but now she became the news.

“Now that you are gone, Shireen, we mourn you and clutch your powerful legacy to serve you justice in free Palestine soon. Even if the fear we could be next is floating, we will keep on persisting and telling the truth that Israel killed you to hide, and you sacrificed your life to tell,” said Mohammed Rafik, giving his farewell message to the martyr, Shireen Abu Akleh.

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Rodayna Raydan is a Lebanese British journalism graduate from Kingston University in London covering Lebanon.

Follow her on Twitter: @Rodayna_462