This morning, many of us woke up to the news that veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh had been killed in the occupied West Bank. The fifty-one-year-old was covering an Israeli army raid on the Jenin refugee camp when she was shot in the face by an Israeli sniper, despite wearing a press vest. Firsthand accounts say that even as she fell after being hit, the shooting continued, preventing other journalists from reaching her.
The Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett, with a characteristic lack of contrition, claimed that Israel’s information suggests armed Palestinians were responsible for the journalist’s death. But Al Jazeera’s Jerusalem bureau chief Walid al-Omari said Abu Akleh was deliberately killed and that there were no confrontations with gunmen at the location of the shooting. Speaking to the Guardian, Shatha Hanaysha, a journalist for Quds News Network who witnessed the incident, recalled, “We were a group wearing press gear, and Shireen was even wearing the helmet. So, it is obvious that the one who shot her meant to hit an exposed part of her body.”
Hanaysha called it an “assassination.” This was echoed by an official statement released by Al Jazeera condemning the “blatant murder” of Abu Akleh, “assassinated in cold blood,” before calling on the international community to hold Israeli forces responsible.
Abu Akleh had reported and documented Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians for more than fifteen years for Al Jazeera Arabic. For Palestinians like myself, her journalism embodied Palestinian courage in the face of Israel’s brutal regime.
But despite Abu Akleh’s particular status among Palestinians and the press, the Israel and Palestine director for Human Rights Watch, Omar Shakir, suggested that her death was not unusual. For one, it bears a considerable similarity to the deaths of Ahmad Abu Hussein and Yasser Mortaja, two Palestinian journalists shot by Israeli snipers while covering the Great March of Return protests in 2018. In fact, one year ago this week, during Israel’s relentless pummelling of the Gaza Strip, Israeli jets flattened a building containing the offices of news organizations including Associated Press and Al Jazeera.
According to the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS), fifty Palestinian journalists have been killed since 2000. Reporters Without Borders say at least 144 journalists have been wounded by Israeli forces, including with bullets, batons, and stun grenades, since 2018. Just last month, a formal complaint was lodged with the International Criminal Court by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, and the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians (ICJP) regarding Israel’s “systematic targeting” of Palestinian journalists. Separately, the I’lam – Arab Centre for Media Freedom, Development and Research last year found that attacks on and acts of harassment against Israeli-Palestinian journalists and media workers covering demonstrations and violence in Israel and the cccupied territories were overwhelmingly committed by Israeli forces.
Just a few days ago, Israeli soldiers attacked and wounded local reporter Basil al-Adraa in the village of a-Tuwani in the South Hebron Hills while he was reporting on the Israeli soldiers’ order for a Palestinian to take down a makeshift structure he had built there. The soldiers were reportedly unhappy when al-Adraa tried to film them. Therein lies the goal: stifling the documentation of the ethnic cleansing and systematic oppression in which the Israeli forces are engaged, so that it can proceed with minimal awareness raised and zero accountability faced.
It’s not a coincidence that these acts of violence come at a time when the maltreatment and forced displacement of Palestinians is worsening. Last week, Israel’s high court green-lit the eviction of one thousand Palestinians from Masafer Yatta, a rural area of the South Hebron Hills home to several small Palestinian villages. That dispossession, from land intended to be repurposed for military use, will constitute one of the largest single expulsions of Palestinians in decades.
This week marks seventy-four years since the violence of the Nakba — the catastrophe, in Arabic — in which 750,000 people were made refugees, thousands killed, and hundreds of villages destroyed in the run-up to Israel’s state formation in 1948. That the Nakba was not a single moment in history, but rather constitutes an ongoing process of violence and displacement, is the fact Israeli forces are trying — and failing — to hide.
“I chose journalism to be close to the people,” Shireen Abu Akleh previously said. “It might not be easy to change the reality, but at least I could bring their voice to the world.” In the wake of her death, the importance of listening to those voices becomes clear — as does heeding their calls for unwavering solidarity in the face of Israel’s aggression.