Earlier this week, Shireen Abu Akleh, a trailblazing and beloved Palestinian and American journalist for Al Jazeera, was shot and killed while covering an Israeli military raid on the West Bank town of Jenin. Investigations have yet to determine who, exactly, shot her, but the Palestinian health ministry, eyewitnesses, and her employer have all accused the Israeli military of firing the fatal bullet.
Abu Akleh’s killing sparked outrage around the world, and for good reason. It was an attack on the press that continued Israel’s ongoing assault on journalists, from detaining them to bombing an office building that housed both the Associated Press and Al Jazeera to shooting reporters to death.
But what the world lost in Abu Akleh’s killing was not only, tragically, another journalist, but also a hero and an icon — a woman whom Palestinians turned to for answers and looked up to for inspiration. As Dalia Hatuqa, another Palestinian American journalist and one of Abu Akleh’s friends, put it to The New York Times, “I know of a lot of girls who grew up basically standing in front of a mirror and holding their hairbrushes and pretending to be Shireen.” It wasn’t only girls; when we were kids, my brother would often stand next to the TV toward the end of her broadcasts and sign off along with her.
Everybody knew and loved Shireen. Since the news broke that she was killed, Palestinians have been in mourning. My mom was left speechless. My grandmother cried. And my brother, just trying to digest the news, has not been able to focus on much else this week, knowing that the sound of her sign-off, should he ever hear it again, will only be heard in memoriam.
To make matters worse, at Abu Akleh’s funeral on Friday, as thousands of Palestinians gathered to join the procession in Jerusalem on the way to a Catholic church in the Old City, Israeli police officers beat mourners to the point that pallbearers lost control and nearly dropped her casket. (While Abu Akleh’s family and the police had agreed on the body to be carried by hearse, the crowd insisted on carrying the coffin on their shoulders, as is often tradition in circumstances like this.) It was a particularly cruel and painful sight — yet another reminder that even in death, as in life, Israel will try to rob us of our dignity.
If you care about journalism, you should pay attention to what Israel is doing now. Even as investigations continue in order to determine what precisely happened, look at how Israeli officials are trying to spin the story. They first accused Palestinians of killing Abu Akleh in a statement they would later walk back. They claimed that Palestinians were “armed with cameras,” as a preemptive justification for Abu Akleh’s death, as though cameras are a threat to anyone other than those trying to cover up the truth. And now they won’t even let one of Palestine’s giants in journalism have a dignified and peaceful funeral — all in plain sight. (There’s a reason Reporters Without Borders ranks Israel 86th in Press Freedom.)
What the world is witnessing is a state that knows it will never face consequences for its abuses, no matter how major they are. And that should come as no surprise when its biggest ally, the United States, continues to send Israel billions of dollars in aid without any sort of conditions that would ensure that Americans’ tax dollars are not being used to carry out human rights abuses. Until that changes, American officials, from those in the Biden administration to leaders in Congress, are every bit as complicit as Israeli officials in the horrors that Palestinians, including journalists, face.
There is, however, one part of this story that Israel can’t rob from Palestinians. Sure, Israel can break cameras. It can detain and shoot and even kill journalists. But it cannot destroy Abu Akleh’s legacy or evade accountability forever. Because in both Abu Akleh’s life and her tragic death, she has left behind countless Shireens. We are here. We stand ready — cameras on our shoulders, microphones in our hands, pens on our paper. And we will tell the world the truth.