On May 11, 2022, Israeli forces targeted and killed Shireen Abu Akleh, a prominent Palestinian American journalist. She was covering the raid on the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank and wearing a blue press jacket. Yet, none of that mattered. Why?
Abu Akleh was an influential feminist who inspired millions of women and taught men like myself to be professional journalists who desire to chronicle genuine stories behind the headlines. Despite her awareness that “changing the reality in Palestine” was tough, she believed that her life was worth sacrificing for “those stories to be heard throughout the world,” as she said while recounting the hardships of her profession in a video commemorating Al Jazeera’s 25th anniversary.
Abu Akleh’s killing is another example of how Israel constantly violates the freedoms of the press and the Palestinian people. The first step to holding Israel accountable is correcting the headlines.
Abu Akleh was born in Jerusalem in 1971. She received a bachelor’s degree in journalism and media from Yarmouk University in Jordan before returning to Palestine to begin her long career in journalism, including working for the Voice of Palestine Radio, Amman Channel, Miftah, and Radio Monte Carlo in France. Her last job would be as the main correspondent for Al Jazeera News, reporting from the Palestinian occupied territories. The iconic journalist documented Palestinians suffering due to the Israeli forces’ invasion of all West Bank towns, villages, and camps 20 years ago, during the Battle of Jenin in 2002.
On May 11, 2022, (Hajja) Om Ahmed Freihat, a grandmother from Jenin, was among millions inside and outside Palestine who wept for Abu Akleh’s death. In grief, Freihat told Ramallah News that Abu Akleh was battling hard from “the first day to the last” during the Jenin camp massacre and dug for martyrs amid the wreckage and rubbles of destroyed homes. She was “thirsty and had no water,” Freihat added.
Israeli soldiers deliberately aimed at Abu Akleh and shot her near her ear, where her helmet and vest did not shield her — a spot that requires incredible accuracy to be deadly. Abu Akleh and other journalists were targeted while reporting on the Israeli army’s raids in the city of Jenin on May 12. According to Mujahid Al-Saadi:
“Shireen and a coworker were both expecting us. The direct fire began once we revealed the Israeli military our position, and I saw Shireen dead on the ground a split second later, with another journalist hit in the shoulder.”
While western media continues to use the passive voice and phrases like “dies,” “incident,” and “clashes,” among others, eyewitness testimony of the deliberate targeting of journalists and media workers — including Abu Akleh — is routinely disregarded. Instead, major networks such as the BBC, The Independent, Fox News, and AP News are purposefully contributing to a false narrative that has aided Israel’s impunity and allowed it to commit further war crimes and target “PRESS” blue vests without hesitation.
Headlines are the most important aspect of the story in journalism since they are the first thing that is read. When it comes to Palestine and Israel, headlines can be problematic. Western media, for example, acknowledges mainly Palestinian violence while being dishonest in identifying Israelis or Israel as the true perpetrators of the violence and killings. The New York Times headline was one of the worst and most dishonest in announcing Abu Akleh’s death as it framed her death as “normal” by using the phrase “dies at 51.” The title was modified after multiple complaints. While the AP reported her death with a passive voice: “Al Jazeera reporter killed during Israeli raid in West Bank.”
I was startled by this dishonest narrative since Israeli planes bombed 33 press facilities in Gaza during the May 2021 strikes, including the AP’s headquarters. It’s no longer surprising to anyone involved that the same Western media that frames the Ukrainian resistance as “rightfully” legitimate and condemned Russian aggression, frame Palestinians — who have been recognized internationally as a people living under occupation since 1948 — as being in conflict or clashes with Israel. Even those directly affected by Israeli policies have not been honest in their narration about Palestine.
MAY SHE REST IN PEACE
Abu Akleh’s murder reminded me of being one of the targets when my journalist colleague Khalil Abo Athra was shot in the leg beside me, four kilometers away from the fence. Luckily, Khalil and his leg survived. However, witnessing my friends killed before my eyes haunt me, such as Yasser Murtaja and Ahmed Abu Hussein. They, like so many others, were wearing a “PRESS” vest when they were shot dead by Israeli snipers at Gaza’s eastern borders during the Great March of Return in 2018, which was a peaceful demonstration meant to demand a rightful return accounting to the UN 194 resolution, which states: “refugees…should be permitted to do so [return to their villages] at the earliest practicable date.”
Although Abu Akleh’s soul must be allowed to rest in peace after 25 years of hard work in a place that never rested, the Israeli authorities have demonstrated another level of violence by targeting mourners. The Israeli police claimed that “they did not want them to walk with Abu Akleh’s casket to the church” because it “had been planned and coordinated with the family in advance,” as stated in an official tweet from the Israel Police. In an interview with the BBC, her brother clarified: “We were hoping to have a smooth procession from the hospital to the church to the cemetery. But unfortunately, as soon as we started walking out of the hospital, we were bombarded by Israeli police.” Of course, none of this explains why the Israeli police felt the need to use violence. But as someone who has experienced so much death in Gaza, I know the real reason: Israeli police will use any excuse and chance to beat up Palestinians, in this case, even Palestinian mourners carrying a coffin, which nearly fell to the ground.
Will the Israeli police ever be held accountable for targeting Palestinians or other journalists? Israel constantly violates the freedoms of the press and the Palestinian people. Abu Akleh’s killing is just another example. This time, though, no one should settle for a faux “independent investigation.” It’s time for accountability — and the first step is correcting the headlines worldwide.
Issam A. Adwan is a Gaza-based journalist and human rights activist who presently works at the Palestinian Center for Democracy and Conflict Resolution as a media officer. He was the project manager for We Are Not Numbers.