Shireen Abu Akleh, a renowned Palestinian journalist and correspondent for Al Jazeera, was one of at least 45 journalists targeted and killed by Israeli forces since 2000. She was killed on May 11, 2022.
Abu Akleh was a pillar in the Palestinian community. She frequently gave voice to Palestinians living under occupation and told their stories to the world. Her assassination rocked the Palestinian community everywhere, including my family in the United States. I’ve only known my father to cry twice, and the day Abu Akleh died was the second.
Palestinians don’t have the luxury of mourning their martyrs. Immediately after her death, inaccurate headlines surfaced in Western news media announcing Abu Akleh’s murder but failing to name her killer. Instead, mainstream news outlets like the Associated Press, whose US office in Gaza was bombed by Israel last year, published a headline that left room for speculation, absolving Israel from any responsibility. Even when eyewitnesses — most of whom were other journalists present in the area — shared their accounts, these outlets refused to name Israeli forces as responsible.
Asking Israel to investigate its own crime is like asking Russia to investigate its invasion of Ukraine. It doesn’t make sense, does it?
Journalists everywhere have a responsibility to label Abu Akleh’s killing what it is: A targeted execution carried out by an Israeli sniper. When news broke of Abu Akleh’s murder, the Israeli press initially declared that a gunman had killed her. Later, a statement was released admitting to this PR blitz and ordering an investigation. The Israeli government’s entire response is a scheme to justify its crimes and at no point holds any genuine truth. Newsrooms continue to coddle Israel — an apartheid state recognized by major human rights organizations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and B’Tselem — under vague language in their reporting. And Israel acts with impunity because it knows it will face no consequences. But the foundation of journalistic training should not go out the window when the subject is Palestine.
LAWS THAT DON’T PROTECT PALESTINIAN JOURNALISTS
International and humanitarian law protects journalists against military attacks, but Israel constantly denies such protections to reporters in occupied Palestine. Article 4 A (4) of the Third Geneva Convention and Article 79 of Additional Protocol I specifically assert legal protections for journalists reporting in areas of warfare. Journalists should enjoy the right to free expression and opinion regardless of any demographic status they may hold.
The underlying standard for these legal codes indicates that journalists should be treated as civilians and, as such, deserve humanitarian protections. Journalists additionally take on the preeminent responsibility of transparently reporting the news, which ensures the just deployment of human rights and is important enough to grant them legal safeguards in areas of strife. Therefore, violating these codes constitutes a violation of human rights, and the aggressing party — in this case, Israel — is liable for international crimes.
In April 2022, Israel faced charges at the International Criminal Court for its “systematic targeting of journalists” and failing to “properly investigate killings of media workers.” The case centers on the killing of four journalists covering demonstrations in Gaza in 2019. The four reporters were Ahmed Abu Hussein, Yaser Murtaja, Muath Amarneh, and Nedal Eshtayeh. All four men were either killed or seriously injured by Israeli forces while covering Gaza and the West Bank demonstrations. Like Abu Akleh, all four men also wore vests clearly marked “PRESS” when they were attacked. Nevertheless, Israel killed Abu Akleh and will continue to target journalists because the international community, including the International Criminal Court, has yet to address these charges with direct consequences, including holding Israel accountable for its war crimes in its ongoing occupation of Palestine.
Abu Akleh was born in Jerusalem but held US citizenship through her family in New Jersey. She is not the first Palestinian American murdered by the Israeli state. In January 2022, Israeli soldiers gagged, beat, and killed 78-year-old Palestinian American Omar Abdalmajid As’ad. The State Department “sought clarification” from Israel over As’ad’s death, as if his death was an oversight rather than an expected result of Israel’s brutal policies against the Palestinian people. Instead, Israel concluded that soldiers caused As’ad’s death and merely demoted the soldiers who killed him, letting them go unpunished.
Similarly, in the case of Abu Akleh’s killing, the State Department believes that Israel is capable of investigating its crime. The department released a statement concerning the violent Israeli occupation forces inflicted upon Abu Akleh’s pallbearers on May 13. This half-hearted statement is another example of how the United States coddles Israel, enabling it to commit war crimes continuously. Asking Israel to investigate its own crime is like asking Russia to investigate its invasion of Ukraine. It doesn’t make sense, does it?
The journalists who brave death to unveil Israel’s democratic mirage are targeted not only because they expose the truth but also because they document Israel’s failure in erasing Palestinians. Abu Akleh gave her life to reporting the truth, standing in the face of danger to show the world the evils of the Israeli occupation. Her martyrdom will never be in vain; Palestinians everywhere will continue to fight against Israeli apartheid and its violations of international law.
The killing of Abu Akleh is only the latest in the Israeli campaign of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people, their land, and their truth. Holding Israel accountable begins with embodying Abu Akleh’s spirit of truth-telling by taking action. First, we must end the $3.8 billion in military funding that the US unquestionably gifts Israel annually; American tax dollars should not sustain an illegal military occupation and pay for Israel’s weapons to target journalists like Abu Akleh. Justice looks like convicting the sniper who killed Abu Akleh in the International Criminal Court and pressuring Israel to end its illegal military invasions and occupation of the Palestinian people. We don’t want a slap on the wrist or demotion of these killers. We want consequences.
Accountability is incumbent upon taking action that reckons with Israel’s desecration of truth and Palestinian life. Everyone has a role in the fight for Palestinian liberation, especially journalists.
Hannah Shraim, a Palestinian American speaker and organizer, is the Co-Chair of MD 2 Palestine, a grassroots collective organizing for liberation.