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Saturday, 02 July 2022
Shireen Abu-Aqleh: another Palestinian victim of Israel’s occupation
Ian Black

Journalists around the world are often killed while covering wars and conflicts, though many less than soldiers, civilians, or those resisting their enemies. Shireen Abu Aqleh became another statistic last Wednesday among the thousands of reporters around the world who have lost their lives while doing their jobs, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, Mexico, Syria or recently, Ukraine.

 According to the International Federation of Journalists, in the three decades between 1990 and 2020, more than 2,650 journalists were killed, including 561 in the Middle East. And at least 46 Palestinian journalists have been killed since 2000, when the second intifada erupted.

 Abu Aqleh, aged 51 and an iconic reporter for Al-Jazeera, was struck in the head by a bullet during an exchange of fire between Israeli forces and Palestinian gunmen. For the past six weeks Israeli soldiers have conducted almost nightly raids after 19 Israelis and 30 Palestinians have been killed since March. Her colleague, Ali Samoudi, was shot in the shoulder with live ammunition. Both were wearing “press” flak jackets.

 Israeli forces were operating in the Jenin refugee camp and other areas of the West Bank to apprehend "terror suspects," the military said. According to the army, during the raid militants opened fire at the Israeli forces and hurled explosives at them, before the soldiers returned fire.

 It is still not clear exactly what happened. But it is obvious that the Israeli government quickly understood that it was facing a public relations disaster when Shireen’s death was condemned by the United States, the European Union, the United Nations, Turkey and Qatar. Israel called for a joint investigation with the Palestinian Authority (PA) into the killing, and for the PA to hand over the bullet for forensic analysis to determine exactly who had fired the fatal round.

 But the day after she was killed the PA held a memorial service for her at its Ramallah headquarters, where President Mahmoud Abbas called publicly for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate. "Shireen was a voice of truth, a national voice, conveying the suffering of the mothers of martyrs and prisoners, of Jerusalem and of refugee camps," he said, adding: "How can the truth be hidden? We reject cooperation with the Israeli investigation. We do not trust them." 

 And at Shireen’s funeral in East Jerusalem last Friday, mourners were attacked by Israeli police using stun grenades and batons. Even the bearers of her coffin, draped in a Palestinian flag, lost their balance. The coffin was followed by an orange stretcher bearing a flak jacket marked “press”. Once again the international community was outraged, condemning the Israeli authorities. The Biden administration expressed its harshest public rebuke of Israel to date.

 US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington was "deeply troubled by the images of Israeli police intruding into the funeral procession of Palestinian-American Shireen Abu Aqleh," adding "every family deserves to lay their loved ones to rest in a dignified and unimpeded manner."

 Abu Aqleh’s US citizenship was clearly a factor in this American condemnation. “It’s tempting to write that if innocent Palestinians must be killed by Israeli soldiers, better for them to be well-known and holders of US passports,” commented Gideon Levy, a columnist for the liberal Haaretz newspaper. “At least then the US State Department will voice a little displeasure– but not too much – about the senseless killing of one of its citizens by the soldiers of one of its allies.”

 Israel’s police announced that the mourners were “disrupting public order” by throwing stones at the heavy police presence, but on Saturday said an investigation into the officers’ actions would be launched.

 The unwieldy government of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett now faces an escalating crisis - both international and perhaps domestic too. The government lost its majority last month when one member of Bennett’s own party defected. Ra’am, a Conservative Islamist member of his eight-party coalition, has threatened the same over clashes between Israeli police and Muslim worshippers at the Al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem.

 Another Haaretz correspondent, Nir Hasson, wrote: “There is evidently a problem within the police force. Perhaps ..it lies with command and control issues, or in ..training and recruitment methods. But in reality, it runs much deeper than that. It lies in the fact that police officers do not view the Palestinians they face as human beings, nor do they feel a need to respect them or their pain. This is a terrible truth – and not just for the Palestinians.”

Last May, Israel’s air force bombed the Gaza City media building – home to Palestinian media networks and the Associated Press – claiming (though without offering evidence) that it was being used by the Islamist movement Hamas. And illegal Israeli settlements are currently being expanded in the West Bank.

 Israelis must acknowledge that Palestinians are not going to disappear any time soon. And neither are journalists covering one of the world’s oldest and most divisive and toxic conflicts.