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The Killing of the Iconic Al Jazeera Reporter – Shireen Abu Akleh

posted on: May 18, 2022

Israel’s Killing of the Iconic Al Jazeera Reporter – Shireen Abu Akleh

By: Bishara A Bahbah / Arab America Featured Columnist

Media outlets throughout the world, and especially in Arab countries, have been gripped over the past week by the blatant and felonious killing which many would describe as an “assassination” of Palestinian-American and Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh.

Unlike other blatant yet unpublicized killings, two harrowing images were recorded in Shireen’s case for all the world to see.  The first is the image of Abu Akleh’s body lying dead face down on the ground while wearing her protective vest that prominently displayed the word, “PRESS.” The second image is both repulsive and heroic – repulsive at the way Israeli security forces were relentlessly attacking and beating her pallbearers on their faces, backs, and legs as they were leaving St. Joseph’s Hospital on their way to the church and then cemetery on Jerusalem’s old city.  And heroic, at the persistence of the mostly male and Muslim Palestinian pallbearers, in holding on to her casket and preventing it from dropping and touching the ground. Shireen’s casket was adorned with a cross and a Palestinian flag. These images have engendered disgust and condemnation by people of conscience and governments all over the world.

The picture of one of the pallbearers who was attacked viciously by Israeli soldiers/police surfaced on social media shortly afterward. He was being treated at Al-Makassed Hospital in Jerusalem.  Mahmoud Fatiha suffered from multiple fractures in the neck and was diagnosed with a concussion and the impact of the severe beatings all over his body.

For those who work and have worked in the media, those images do not represent isolated incidents committed by Israel’s security forces. As a former editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem-based Palestinian newspaper, Al-Fajr, during the 1980s, I can personally attest to the cruel treatment of Palestinian journalists at the hand of Israel’s occupation.  Several of the newspaper’s reporters were jailed and some, for an extended period, and others were continuously harassed and threatened while conducting their honorable work.  The editor in chief who preceded me was placed by the Israelis under “town arrest,” meaning that he was prevented from leaving his hometown for any reason.  

In the 1970s and 1980s, Israel utilized the weapon of the censor to mute our voices.  Twice a day, we had to submit to the Israeli censor the contents of the newspaper for review – either to allow or censor whatever he or she did not approve of.  Usually, in the afternoon, we would submit to the censor eight of the newspaper’s 16 pages which comprised the section of the newspaper that was not deemed political.  And, by 7:30 pm we had to submit to the censor the other eight pages that contained news, analysis, and our editorial. Our driver would wait at the censor’s office to bring back the results of the censor’s review.  If we were lucky, we would receive the results by 9:00 pm.  For no rhyme or reason, the censor would purge as many of the newspaper’s contents as he or she desired. The censor’s job was not a science, it was arbitrary and carried out with vindictiveness.

Often, we would find ourselves with one, two, or three pages that had been censored.  These pages invariably included our editorial and key news stories.  As the editor, I was forbidden to proceed with printing the newspaper with empty spaces.  We had to fill the space of the censored articles, often the main story, with almost non-consequential articles to meet the censor’s demands.  I recall when the censor would call his designated contact, my third in command, Hatem Abdul Kader, to threaten us with dire consequences if we published any of the censored articles. 

I remember one day when Israeli security forces, armed to the teeth, barged into our news and editorial office to search for one of our reporters who, fortunately, had not yet arrived.  They then demanded to see our identity cards in a futile attempt to intimidate us. 

Censorship, arrest, or confinement are only some of the penalties faced by journalists. The ultimate sacrifice for journalists is losing their lives in the line of duty.  Abu Akleh was shot on a sunny day, in plain sight and with cold blood.  The documentation provided by Reporters Without Borders, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, and the Palestinian Ministry of Information, revealed that as many as 50 journalists were killed since 2000.  Reporters Without Borders has recorded more than 144 journalists being wounded in just the last four years. This list does not include the Palestinian rescue workers who were shot while carrying out their duties.

By killing Abu Akleh, who happened to be an American citizen – a fact little known to most people – Israel committed one of its worst public relations blunders.  Abu Akleh was assassinated and killed in the vicinity of other reporters.  Shortly thereafter, journalists aired moving images of her body lying face down on the ground. Instead of covering Israel’s military operation inside the Jenin refugee camp, they ended up covering the story of one of their own.  They witnessed and aired with horror the desperate attempts of some of her colleagues as they tried, to no avail, to carry her body or move it out of the Israeli soldiers’ line of fire. 

Abu Akleh was accorded a state funeral by the Palestinian Authority – an honor never bestowed, to my knowledge, upon any journalist in modern times.  The state funeral was a testament to the importance of the media in exposing Israel’s atrocities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Israel’s Killing of the Iconic Al Jazeera Reporter – Shireen Abu Akleh

The Israeli army has never acknowledged any responsibility for its actions even when confronted with a clear-cut case like that of Abu Akleh. According to the Washington Post, Israeli authorities, under international pressure, admitted that Abu Akleh “might have been killed by an Israeli soldier – a surprising retreat from their initial claims that she was shot by Palestinians.”  Time Magazine reported that Israel said that the facts around the killing of Abu Akleh were “unclear but definitely not Israel’s fault at all.” In 2018, Israeli missiles brought down an eleven-story media building in Gaza where Palestinian media outlets and the Associated Press were located. The building included residential apartments as well. Israel justified its action by stating that the building was used by Hamas.  Ironically, Israel’s Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai conceded in an interview with an Israeli radio outlet, a day after Abu Akleh’s murder, that “Israel’s credibility is not great in situations like this.”

On April 6, 2018, during the return marches in Gaza, Palestinian journalist Yaser Murtaja, a cameraman with Agence France Presse (AFP) office in Gaza, was shot in the armpit, where his bulletproof vest did not protect him.  Israel’s Defense Minister at the time, Avigdor Lieberman, gave a terse response: “We have seen dozens of cases of Hamas militants disguised as rescue workers or journalists. We noticed a journalist who was approaching the border and using a drone.  In such cases, we don’t take any risks.”

Israel:  Take note. 

Killing or shooting a journalist is a “war crime” that should be brought before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), given the circumstances surrounding the killing.  Journalists are armed with cameras, not guns, unlike Israeli soldiers and snipers.  Abu Akleh was hit by a sniper bullet, in broad daylight, in the head even though she was wearing a helmet.  The likelihood of that bullet being a stray bullet hitting the unprotected part of the head is statistically minimal given that it was intentionally directed at a group of journalists wearing bulletproof vests and helmets clearly marked “PRESS.”

Condemnation and words are not enough.  Those who fired the bullet should be brought to justice and punished, irrespective of who the perpetrators might be.  Lawlessness is not befitting Israel’s allies in the West. Russian actions are under detailed scrutiny in Ukraine.  Israel’s actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are of no lesser significance.  Journalists are purveyors of facts and truth. Without them, the world would be in the dark.  

Sign this petition to support a U.S. Investigation into the death of Palestinian-American Journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh.

Bishara A Bahbah was the editor-in-chief of “Al-Fajr,” the Jerusalem-based Palestinian daily newspaper during the 1980s.  He is a member of the international board of advisors of the one-time “International Encyclopedia of Communications” to which he also contributed an article on the Arab press.  He served as editor in chief of the Washington-based “Return Magazine.” Dr. Bahbah wrote and published it in the “Journal of Communications.” Dr. Bahbah is a prolific author.  He has published around 400 articles in about 40 newspapers, journals, magazines, and books.  He is currently serving on the board of directors of the US Palestine Council (USPC) and the Palestinian American Community Center (PACC) in Phoenix, Arizona.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Arab America.

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