Six days ago, Shireen Abu Akleh, the legendary Al Jazeera journalist who spent more than two decades reporting on Israeli occupation and violence, was shot and killed while covering an Israeli military raid of the Jenin refugee camp. Palestinian eyewitnesses, including two other reporters, said Israeli soldiers shot at Abu Akleh and her colleagues as they tried to enter the camp. Though Israeli officials initially denied responsibility and blamed “armed Palestinians”— and though many prominent media institutions at first adopted the state’s line that Abu Akleh was killed amid “clashes”—social media quickly amplified the voices of those who witnessed her death: “The shooting didn’t come from the Palestinian side,” Shatha Hanaysha, a reporter for Ultra Palestine and Middle East Eye who was there with her, has said. “There weren’t any clashes.”
Abu Akleh became a correspondent for Al Jazeera in 1997, the year after its founding. Her reportage from occupied Palestine was singular, and so was the place she assumed in Palestinian life. The stories she brought to viewers throughout the Arabic-speaking world created an unparalleled record of life under Israeli rule. Her sign-off—“Shireen Abu Akleh, Al Jazeera, Ramallah, Palestine”—was anthemic. “When we were kids,” Abdallah Fayyad, a Boston Globe columnist, wrote, “my brother would often stand next to the TV toward the end of her broadcasts and sign off along with her.” As Dalia Hatuqa, a friend and fellow journalist, has recalled: “I know of a lot of girls who grew up basically standing in front of a mirror and holding their hair brushes and pretending to be Shireen.” Abu Akleh herself saw journalism as a way to be immersed in the lives of ordinary Palestinians. As she once said, “I chose journalism to be close to the people.” Last Friday, thousands gathered for her funeral in occupied East Jerusalem, where mourners were brutally attacked by Israeli police, who confiscated Palestinian flags and almost forced pallbearers to drop the casket bearing the woman who has been called Palestine’s voice.
For this week’s News Bulletin, three Palestinian writers remember Abu Akleh’s life and legacy, attesting to the moral force of her reporting and the threat it posed to Israel’s power.
THE BULLET. A single bullet. The bullet that landed just underneath her ear, in that small space left unprotected by the helmet she wore—was it fired from an Israeli rifle or a Palestinian rifle? This is what it comes down to now.
All other details have faded into the background. Gone, for example, is the fact that the Israeli army invaded Palestinian occupied territory when it had no business being there. Or the fact that this territory has been occupied for longer than she had been alive. Or that the grandparents of those who are today fighting the army with everything they can get their hands on—rifles, rocks, knives, Molotov cocktails—were forced out of their homes and into these slums, so that Jewish strangers could move in and build lives that might have been their own. Or that Palestinians’ own presumed leaders had given their coordinates to this army so that it could enter and pillage. Or that this is not the first time that Jenin has formed the frontline of colonization and dispossession, nor will it be the last.
All these facts, grounded in the history of this place, are somehow forgotten, or made secondary to the single question that remains: the quest for a single piece of evidence that will be given undue weight, burdened with the responsibility of truth. History does not work this way. There will be no smoking gun.
Who shot Shireen Abu Akleh? Regardless of the provenance of that single bullet, she was murdered by an apartheid regime zealously committed to Jewish supremacy and the erasure of everything Palestinian. Shireen challenged the regime’s relentless, daily, sometimes banal violence by giving voice to those who Israeli apartheid was bent on silencing. In turn, she became the voice of our generation, and for that, her voice had to be silenced.