Shireen Abu Akleh
Shireen Abu Akleh
شيرين أبو عاقلة
|Died|| (aged 51)|
|Cause of death||Gunshot wound|
|Alma mater||Yarmouk University|
|Known for||Coverage of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict|
Shireen Abu Akleh[a] (Arabic: شيرين أبو عاقلة; January 3, 1971 – May 11, 2022) was a Palestinian-American journalist who worked as a reporter for the Arabic-language channel Al Jazeera for 25 years, and was one of the most prominent names across the Middle East for her decades of reporting in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.
Over the course of her career, she reported on numerous major events in Palestinian history, while also analyzing Israeli politics; her television reporting and distinct sign-offs were well-known, and as a leading journalist in the Arab world, she inspired many other Palestinians and Arabs, particularly women, to pursue careers in journalism.
On May 11, 2022, while wearing a blue vest with "PRESS" written on it, she was shot and killed while covering a raid by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank. Al Jazeera, an Agence France-Presse photojournalist, and the Palestinian Ministry of Health reported that the IDF killed her; while initial Israeli statements suggested a Palestinian might have killed her, later press releases stated that the killer's identity was as yet unknown.
Early life and education
Abu Akleh was born in Jerusalem on January 3, 1971, to a Palestinian Arab Christian (Melkite Catholic) family from Bethlehem. She spent time in the United States, obtaining U.S. citizenship through members of her mother's family who lived in New Jersey. Abu Akleh's parents died when she was younger. She has one brother.
Abu Akleh attended secondary school in Beit Hanina, then matriculated at the Jordan University of Science and Technology to study architecture, but decided not to pursue the profession; she instead transferred to Yarmouk University in Jordan, from which she graduated with a bachelor's degree in print journalism. After graduating, Abu Akleh returned to Palestine.
I chose journalism to be close to people. It might not be easy to change the reality, but at least I could bring their voice to the world.
Abu Akleh, in an Al Jazeera television segment
Abu Akleh worked as a journalist for Radio Monte Carlo and Voice of Palestine. She additionally worked for the UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East), the Amman Satellite Channel, and for the MIFTAH (the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy). In 1997, she began working as a journalist for Al Jazeera, as one of their first field correspondents, becoming well known as a reporter on their Arabic-language channel. She lived and worked in East Jerusalem, reporting on major events related to Palestine including the Second Intifada, and additionally covering Israeli politics. She often reported on funerals for Palestinians killed by Israeli forces.
Having reported on events including the Battle of Jenin in 2002 and various Israeli operations in the Gaza Strip, and interviewed long-term Palestinian prisoners at Shikma Prison in 2005 as the first Arab journalist allowed inside, Abu Akleh expressed concern that she was being targeted by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and armed Israeli settlers. In one interview with Al Jazeera, she stated that she had repeatedly been accused by Israeli authorities of photographing security areas.
Abu Akleh continued in her role with Al Jazeera until she was killed in 2022. In July 2021, she was to be the first Al Jazeera journalist to broadcast live from Cairo when the network was allowed to return due to an improvement in Egypt–Qatar relations. At the time of her death, she had been studying Hebrew in order to better understand narratives in the Israeli media, and had recently gained a diploma in digital media.
Abu Akleh's career inspired many other Palestinians and Arabs to become journalists; her live television reporting and distinct signoffs were particularly well-known. After her death, The New York Times and NPR both described her as "a household name" among Palestinians. The Times of Israel characterized her as "a veteran journalist [...] among Arab media's most prominent figures". The BBC described her as being widely known and admired by both viewers and colleagues.
Of course I get scared. In a specific moment you forget that fear. We don't throw ourselves to death. We go and we try to find where we can stand and how to protect the team with me before I think about how I am going to go up on the screen and what I am going to say.
On May 11, 2022, the Palestinian Health Ministry announced the death of Abu Akleh. She had been reporting on an IDF raid on a house when, according to witnesses and Al-Jazeera, she was shot and killed by the IDF. Al Jazeera accused Israel of deliberately targeting the victim. Abu Akleh was present at a raid which the Israeli military stated was targeted at capturing "terror suspects". Al Jazeera said that Abu Akleh was shot in the head by the IDF, and transported to Ibn Sina Hospital, where she was pronounced dead. She was 51 years old. Another journalist, Ali Samodi of Al-Quds newspaper, was shot in the back but survived; two other Palestinians were transported to a hospital in moderate condition. The Times of London reported that Abu Akleh was shot by a sniper. Shatha Hanaysha, a Palestinian journalist, said that she and a fourth journalist, along with Abu Akleh and Ali Samodi, had been pinned down by Israeli snipers, who did not cease firing even after Abu Akleh went down, preventing Hanaysha from pulling the victim in.
According to the Israeli military, Palestinian militants had fired on IDF soldiers, after which the soldiers returned fire. The IDF released a video showing Palestinian gunmen firing in the Jenin camp, purportedly in the area where Abu Akleh was killed. In the video a militant was heard saying "They [Palestinian militants]'ve hit one, they've hit a soldier, he's laying on the ground." As no Israeli soldiers were injured during the operation, Israeli authorities said it was likely the Palestinians had shot Akleh by mistake, thinking she was a soldier. A Haaretz report found the possibility unlikely as several buildings blocked a direct line of sight between that militant and the reporter.
Multiple eyewitnesses, including two journalists standing next to Abu Akleh, reported that the area had been relatively quiet immediately prior to her death and no Palestinians, civilian or otherwise, were present, disputing Israeli statements of her having died in a crossfire. Al Jazeera reported that according to their Ramallah bureau chief, Walid Al-Omari, there was no shooting by Palestinian gunmen; Mustafa Barghouti of the Palestinian National Initiative also stated that there was "no exchange of fire" at the scene. Al-Omari also stated that Abu Akleh had been wearing a helmet and was shot in an unprotected area under her ear, suggesting that this demonstrated she was "deliberately targeted". Video of the shooting showed Abu Akleh wearing a blue flak jacket that was clearly marked "PRESS". An Agence France-Presse photojournalist reported that Israeli forces had shot and killed Abu Akleh.
The bullet recovered from the scene was a 5.56x45mm NATO round, used in both M16 and M14 rifles, possessed by both the IDF and Palestinian combatants.An autopsy at An-Najah National University was unable to determine who shot Abu Akleh; the pathologist found no evidence that she had been shot at close range. The autopsy confirmed that Abu Akleh was killed by a bullet that struck her in the head, causing skull fractures and damage to the brain. The bullet was recovered and sent for further examination.
Al Jazeera additionally reported that thousands of people had gathered in Ramallah in honor of Abu Akleh, where her body was transported to the network's offices for colleagues, friends, and family to "bid her the final farewell". Alternative Syndicate of the Press journalists gathered to honor Abu Akleh in downtown Beirut. In her hometown of Beit Hanina, at least five Palestinians were injured in confrontations with armed Israeli soldiers, while at least three were detained; a crowd in front of her home protested her killing.
The Palestinian Authority scheduled a state funeral procession to be held on May 12, 2022, in Ramallah, beginning at the Palestinian presidential headquarters. Mahmoud Abbas, President of the State of Palestine, planned to attend. Abu Akleh's brother, Tony, said that he had spoken to Isreali police before the funeral, and that the police wanted to know the procession route, any arrangements for the funeral, and did not want any Palestinian flags, slogans or chanting during the procession.
Abu Akleh's body was transported from Jenin through Nablus and Ramallah to her funeral in Jerusalem. Abu Akleh's funeral took place on May 13 in East Jerusalem. Thousands of mourners attended, many carrying Palestinian flags. The procession began at the Saint Joseph Hospital in East Jerusalem but was interrupted when a group of mourners blocked the hearse's path, insisting her body could be carried on their shoulders. Israeli police burst through the gates and attacked mourners with batons and stun grenades, some repeatedly hitting and kicking pallbearers that were backed against a wall resulting in her coffin nearly falling to the ground. The Israeli police said they acted on the grounds of the crowd "disrupting public order". Israeli police tried to prohibit the mourners from publicly displaying the Palestinian flag, but mourners were seen openly waving the flag and chanting "Palestine! Palestine!" The police said (without providing evidence) that stones were thrown at its officers. A video showed a police officer telling the crowd that "If you don't stop these chants and nationalistic songs we will have to disperse you using force and we won't let the funeral take place."
The coffin was later loaded on to a hearse and transported to the Cathedral of the Annunciation of the Virgin for the funeral, and from there carried on foot to the Mount Zion Cemetery where she was buried next to her parents.
The European Union released a statement saying it was "appalled by the violence in the St Joseph hospital compound and the level of unnecessary force exercised by Israeli police throughout the funeral procession." On May 16, the convent-run Saint Joseph Hospital cited a statement from an organization representing 12 Christian denominations, the Christian Churches of the Holy Land group, as saying "The police actions constituted an "invasion and disproportionate use of force ... (and) a severe violation of international norms and regulations, including the fundamental right of freedom of religion" In an interview with CNN, Abu Akleh's brother, said the police action was "intentional and brutal" saying they could have instead blocked the road to stop the procession.
Abu Akleh's death drew widespread condemnation. Al Jazeera described the killing of Abu Akleh as a "horrifying crime that breaches international norms" and was committed "in cold blood". The network's managing director Giles Trendle stated that the network was "shocked and saddened" by her death and called for a transparent investigation.
President Abbas stated that he considered Israeli forces "fully responsible" for Abu Akleh's death. Hussein al-Sheikh, the Palestinian Civil Affairs Minister, wrote on Twitter that Abu Akleh had been "martyred by the bullets of the Israeli occupation", adding that the "crime of silencing the word" had been "committed once again, and the truth is murdered by the bullets of the Israeli occupation". Head of the Palestinian Mission to the United Kingdom Husam Zomlot described Abu Akleh as a "beloved journalist" and his close friend.
Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett initially posted a tweet blaming the death on Palestinian gunmen, citing a video posted by the Israeli military. Human rights organization B'Tselem documented the exact location from which Palestinian militants depicted in that video had fired and the exact location in which Abu Akleh had been killed, observing that the two locations were hundreds of meters apart and separated by multiple walls and buildings. The Washington Post verified the distance between the two locations. Later in the day, the Israeli military chief, Lt Gen Aviv Kochavi, said: "At this stage we cannot determine by whose fire she was harmed and we regret her death." In the evening Benny Gantz said "We are trying to figure out exactly what happened," and "I don't have final conclusions", and promised a transparent investigation.
The United States Ambassador to Israel, Thomas R. Nides, said "I encourage a thorough investigation into the circumstances of her death and the injury of at least one other journalist today in Jenin." US State Department spokesman Ned Price and US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield both strongly condemned the killing. The former called it an "affront to media freedom everywhere" and said the perpetrators "must be held accountable", while the latter called for a "thorough investigation".
On May 11, the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine, Francesca Albanese, said that the crime constitutes a "serious violation of international humanitarian law and is potentially a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court." On May 13, United Nations human rights experts, Albanese and three other UN rapporteurs, reiterated the point, followed later by a rare unanimous United Nations Security Council resolution condemning the killing and demanding "an immediate, thorough, transparent and impartial investigation into her killing".
According to Amos Harel, Israeli communications on the incident were overly hasty, and risked feeding suspicions of a cover-up. Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel told Israel Hayom he assumed Palestinian gunfire was to blame for her death. According to Haaretz, Kochavi's statement was made "before any offer was relayed to the Palestinians" and several hours passed before Foreign Minister Yair Lapid discussed the situation with senior PA (Palestine Authority) official Hussein al-Sheikh, who denied that any offer was made.
According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), 144 Palestinian journalists have been wounded by Israeli forces across the Gaza Strip, West Bank, and East Jerusalem since 2018. In April 2022, the International Federation of Journalists filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court accusing Israeli forces of systematic targeting of journalists. The complaint details four cases, Ahmed Abu Hussein, Yaser Murtaja, Muath Amarneh, and Nedal Eshtayeh alleged to have been targetted. The director of RSF, Christophe Deloire, described her killing as a violation of the Geneva Conventions and United Nations Security Council resolution 2222 on the protection of journalists. He stated that RSF was "disappointed" with a proposal by Yair Lapid that Israel should participate in a joint investigation into Abu Akleh's death, saying that "an independent international investigation must be launched" instead. The Committee to Protect Journalists called for a "swift, immediate, and transparent investigation" into the killing, while the International Federation of Journalists condemned the killing "by Israeli troops" and called for an "immediate investigation". Amnesty International described it as a "bloody reminder of the deadly system in which Israel locks Palestinians" and called for an end to "unlawful killings" of Palestinians by Israeli forces. The Palestine Journalists Syndicate described the killing as "a clear assassination perpetrated by the Israeli occupation army".
Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani, deputy prime minister of Qatar, condemned what he called the "horrific crimes by the occupation against unarmed Palestinian people." Deputy foreign minister Lolwah Al-Khater tweeted "state sponsored Israeli terrorism must stop" and "unconditional support to Israel must end." The foreign ministry of Kuwait issued a statement condemning what they described as the killing of Abu Akleh by Israeli forces; similar statements were made by the foreign ministries of Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Djibouti, China, Iran, and South Africa.
The United States demanded a transparent investigation, the European Union an independent probe and supported by the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights Michelle Bachelet. Several independent groups have launched their own investigations. Bellingcat carried out a video and audio analysis of social media from Palestinian and Israeli military sources concluding that while gunmen and Israeli soldiers were both present, the evidence supported witness accounts that Israeli fire was responsible. Israeli human rights group B'tselem is also conducting an investigation, having "played a key role in the military's backtracking from its initial claims that Palestinian gunmen appeared to be responsible" for the death."
Israeli Minister of Defence Benny Gantz said the IDF had requested that Palestinians let Israelis examine the bullet. Israel also suggested a joint probe into the death, which was rejected by the Palestinian Authority on the grounds that it wanted an independent investigation.
After earlier stating that they would be willing to accept an outside partner, the Palestinians said that they would handle the investigation alone. The PA announced they would fully handle the investigation internally, with Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh stating "We also refused to have an international investigation because we trust our capabilities as a security institution ... We will not hand over any of the evidence to anyone because we know that these people are able to falsify the facts."
The IDF announced that it had begun investigating the possibility that one of its soldiers had shot and killed Abu Akleh, beginning inquiries into three shooting incidents that involved its soldiers, with one of them occurring within 150 metres (500 ft) of where Abu Akleh was located. An IDF official said that this was "the more probable to be involved in the death" of the three being investigated. The IDF later announced that it would not be conducting a criminal investigation in to the killing, saying there was no suspicion on their part that a criminal act had been committed.
Israel said it would carry out "a comprehensive investigation of what happened during the funeral, in order to learn lessons from the event". Findings would be presented in due course.
- Iain Hook – British UNRWA employee killed in 2002 by IDF sniper in Jenin
- James Miller – Welsh documentarian killed in 2003 by IDF gunfire
- Fadel Shana'a – Palestinian cameraman working for Reuters who was killed by Israeli fire in the Al Bureij massacre
- Because this name is a transliteration from Arabic, there are various English spellings. The first name is also sometimes spelled Shereen or Sherine, while the last is sometimes presented as Abu Aqleh or Abu Aqla.
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