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The Killing of Palestinian American Al-Jazeera Journalist--Don’t Trust Israeli or U.S. Versions of the Truth!

posted on: May 18, 2022

Calls mount for probe into killing of beloved Palestinian American/Al-Jazeera journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh Photo —

By John Mason / Arab America Contributing Writer

A week ago, on May 11, an Israeli soldier gunned down Al-Jazeera Palestinian American reporter Shireen Abu Akleh on the West Bank. Initial Israeli government statements blamed Palestinian fighters, who were nowhere in sight. The U.S. government sounded irate in its statement, though decades of almost blind support of Israel betrayed it.

Israel’s version of killing reporter Abu Akleh is especially problematic

An Israeli soldier, on May 12, killed a revered Palestinian-American journalist for Al-Jazeera, Shireen Abu Akleh, in the city of Jenin in the West Bank. She was there to cover Palestinian protests of Israeli forces, who were making military arrest raids. Israeli government public relations staff got to work fast, according to Time magazine, by circulating “a video of a Palestinian gunman shooting indiscriminately from inside the Jenin refugee camp [in order to] blame him for the Al Jazeera reporter’s death. But its strategy fell flat when another video revealed that Abu Akleh died nowhere near there.”

Abu Akleh was a popular figure on the West Bank and around the Arab world, reporting most evenings for Al-Jazeera TV for 25 years. She particularly told stories of Palestinians having to put up with the indignities of living under military rule. Arab girls and women especially admired Abu Akleh. A 51-year-old, a member of the Catholic Church, she did not start out as a journalist, but was drawn to the profession by stories of her people’s lives under occupation, especially those of their human suffering.

As one might imagine, the Al-Jazeera organization was infuriated and distraught by the death of one of their most idolized reporters. Time reported that “Al-Jazeera has accused Israel of assassinating her in cold blood and Arab journalists from Washington to Tunisia to Syria are staging sit-ins.” Time further noted, “Deny and deflect is Israel’s usual strategy for dealing with high-profile civilian deaths.” The deflection usually blames the victim or Palestinian shooters supposedly in the area of the shooting.

Al-Jazeera producer, Ali Samudi, who was accompanying Abu Akleh, and who was wounded in the back, reported that there were only Israeli soldiers in the area, no Palestinians. The soldiers were about 150 meters away from the press team and the bullets flying at the team came from those soldiers. There were no fighters in the area, according to Samudi.

Adding insult to injury, Abu Akleh’s body did not even initially make it safely from the morgue to her graveside on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, without intervention by Israeli forces. At one point in the heavily attended funeral procession, Israeli forces disrupted the procession to the point where the pallbearers almost dropped Abu Akleh’s coffin to the ground. So, not only did Israeli forces end her life, but they also interrupted the solemn ritual of delivering her to her resting place.

Shireen Abu Akleh, Palestinian American journalist for Al-Jazeerashe reported on TV around the Arab world most evenings for over 20 years

Al-Jazeera asserts the U.S. is no ‘objective observer’ on the killing of Abu Akleh

Al-Jazeera, on the loss of its valued employee, opined that the large amount of U.S. aid pouring into Israel mostly supports the government’s occupation of Palestinians. Palestinian rights advocates say that Washington is “complicit” in Israeli transgressions. On May 13, as Israeli forces attacked the mourners carrying Abu Akleh’s coffin, Al-Jazeera lectured the U.S., saying, “The United States needs to ‘look in the mirror’ and reassess its unconditional support for Israel.”

In response to anger expressed against the U.S. over the murder or, as some label it, assassination, of Abu Akleh, the Department of State issued a formal statement. It requested “an immediate and thorough investigation into the killing of Abu Akleh, a US citizen, who was shot dead by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank this week.” In that statement, it got closer to the truth. However, as reported by Al-Jazeera, U.S.-based human rights activists suggested that such statements “ignore Washington’s complicity in Israeli human rights violations.”

IfNotNow, a youth-led anti-occupation Jewish American activist group, forcefully addressed the murder of Abu Akleh. It stated, “There’s deep, deep hypocrisy and irony to US officials calling for an investigation when what they really need to do is look in the mirror.” Furthermore, this group noted, “When it comes to hawkish politicians who give unconditional support for the Israeli government, they need to look in the mirror and see that actually, our unconditional funding is a key factor in enabling the Israeli government to act with impunity and carry out these human rights abuses.”

Even after murdering Shireen, Israeli soldiers harassed her funeral procession on its route to Mt. Zion in Jerusalem — Photo

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib takes on the establishment over the ‘assassination’ of Abu Akleh

Fellow Palestinian American of Al-Jazeera’s Abu Akleh, U.S. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, was clear in her demand for justice. As reported in Petition2Congress, Tlaib stated her ‘revulsion’ at the murder: “Today, I am writing to express my outrage at the assassination of Palestinian American journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh on May 11th, 2022, and seek your condemnation of the perpetrators responsible for killing an American citizen.”

In addition to citing some details of the murder, Tlaib stated, “For more than 20 years, Mrs. Abu Akleh, had been reporting for Al Jazeera Arabic on the crimes committed by Israeli forces in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The murder of journalists and the gross human rights violations committed against Palestinians must stop.”

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib expressed to the Congress in the strongest words possible her anger over the assassination of Mrs. Abu Akleh

Tlaib ended her statement to Congress, noting, “We respectfully demand that the U.S. Congress must impress upon the State Department to open an urgent investigation and seek the prosecution of those responsible for the assassination of American citizen Shireen Abu Akleh. We echo the UN Human Rights office’s plea for an independent, transparent investigation into her killing. We wholeheartedly agree with the UN that ‘impunity must end.’ Condemnation and outrage are futile without justice for Shireen and others killed by Israeli occupying forces.”

Arab Americans will need to sort through the various reports on the “killing,” “murder,” or “assassination” of this inspiring Palestinian American journalist. In so doing, perhaps they can arrive at their own interpretation of this tragic moment in the continuous Israeli assault on free speech in the occupied West Bank.

“Problems With Israel’s Version of the Killing of Reporter Shireen Abu Akleh,” Time Magazine, 5/13/2022
“Shireen Abu Akleh: the US is no ‘objective observer’, advocates say,” Al-Jazeera, 5/13/2002
“Shireen Abu Akleh: who said what in US Congress on the slain reporter,” Al-Jazeera, 5/12/2022
“Shireen Abu Akleh killing: CPJ calls for international probe, Committee to Protect Journalists,” The Torch, 5/12/2022

John Mason, PhD., who focuses on Arab culture, society, and history, is the author of LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle East, New Academia Publishing, 2017. He has taught at the University of Libya, Benghazi, Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, and the American University in Cairo; John served with the United Nations in Tripoli, Libya, and consulted extensively on socioeconomic and political development for USAID and the World Bank in 65 countries.

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