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Slain Al Jazeera journalist was icon of Palestinian coverage

Slain Al Jazeera journalist was icon of Palestinian coverage

Journalists surround the body of Shireen Abu Akleh, a journalist for the Al Jazeera network, into the morgue inside the hospital in the West Bank town of Jenin on May 11, 2022. (File photo: AP/Majdi Mohammed)

An Al Jazeera correspondent who was shot dead on Wednesday (May 11) during an Israeli raid in the West Bank was a highly respected journalist in the Middle East whose unflinching coverage was known to millions of viewers.

News of Shireen Abu Akleh's death reverberated across the region. The 51-year-old journalist became a household name synonymous with Al Jazeera’s coverage of life under occupation during her more than two decades of reporting in the Palestinian territories, including during the Second Intifada, or uprising, that killed thousands on both sides, most of them Palestinians.

Abu Akleh's name trended across Twitter in Arabic on Wednesday, setting social media alight with support for the Palestinians.

Her image was projected over the main square in the West Bank city of Ramallah as mourners flooded the Al Jazeera offices there and her family home in East Jerusalem.

Al Jazeera and witnesses, including her producer who was shot in the back on Wednesday, said that she was killed by Israeli gunfire.

Israel said that it was unclear who was responsible, calling it “premature and irresponsible to cast blame at this stage”.

Later on Wednesday, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz promised a transparent investigation, and said that he was in touch with United States and Palestinian officials.

Abu Akleh's coverage of the harsh realities of Israel’s military occupation was inextricably linked with her own experiences as a Palestinian journalist on the frontlines.

Her death underscores the heavy price that the conflict continues to exact on Palestinians, whether they are journalists or not.

Although she was also a US citizen who often visited America in the summer, she lived and worked in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, where those who knew her said she felt most at home.

A Palestinian Christian whose family was originally from Bethlehem, she was born and raised in Jerusalem. She leaves behind a brother.

In an Al Jazeera video released last year, Abu Akleh recalled the scale of destruction and “the feeling that death was at times just around the corner” during her coverage of the Second Intifada, from 2000 to 2005.

“Despite the dangers, we were determined to do the job," she said.

“I chose journalism so I could be close to the people,” she added. "It might not be easy to change the reality, but at least I was able to communicate their voice to the world.”

Abu Akleh joined Al Jazeera in 1997, just a year after the groundbreaking Arabic news network launched.

Among her many assignments were covering five wars in Gaza and Israel’s war with Lebanon in 2006.

She reported on forced home evictions, the killings of Palestinian youth, the hundreds of Palestinians held without charge in Israeli prisons and the continuous expansion of Jewish settlements.

Her long-time producer, Wessam Hammad, said that Abu Akleh possessed an incredible ability to remain calm under pressure.

“Shireen worked all these years with a commitment to the values and ethics of our profession,” he said of Abu Akleh, who the network called “the face of Al Jazeera in Palestine”.

He and Abu Akleh were often caught in Israeli crossfire during the many stories they covered together, he said.

On one assignment, their car filled with tear gas and they struggled to breathe. When they would think back on these moments, he said that Abu Akleh would laugh and marvel at how they managed to survive.

In this undated photo provided by Al Jazeera, Shireen Abu Akleh, a journalist for the Al Jazeera network, stands next to a TV camera in an area where the Dome of the Rock shrine in the Old City of Jerusalem is seen at left in the background. (File photo: AP/Al Jazeera)

Images of the moments after Abu Akleh was shot in the head on the outskirts of the Jenin refugee camp circulated online and were broadcast on Al Jazeera and other Arabic news channels.

Wearing a helmet and a vest clearly marked “PRESS", Abu Akleh’s body was shown lying face down in a patch of sand. A Palestinian man jumped over a wall to reach her as gunshots rang out, dragging her motionless body to a car.

In video from the West Bank hospital where Abu Akleh was pronounced dead, a male colleague was seen weeping at her hospital bed as others choked back tears.

A female correspondent for Al Jazeera in the Gaza Strip wept on air as she reported from a vigil for the journalist.

Later on Wednesday, Abu Akleh’s body, draped in a Palestinian flag and covered by a wreath of flowers, was carried through downtown Ramallah on a red stretcher.

Hundreds chanted: “With our spirit, with our blood, we will redeem you, Shireen.”

An outpouring of condemnation came from governments around the world. The US State Department called her death “an affront to media freedom”. And United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that he was “appalled by the killing”.

In an opinion piece published in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, columnist Gideon Levy praised her bravery, saying “Abu Akleh died a hero, doing her job”, and noted that she went to Jenin and other occupied areas that Israeli journalists “rarely if ever visited”.

It had started as another routine assignment for Abu Akleh. She'd emailed colleagues that she was heading to the Jenin refugee camp to check on reports of an Israeli military raid.

“I will bring you the news as soon as the picture becomes clear,” she wrote.

“Generations grew up seeing her work,” producer Hammad said. “People listened to Shireen’s voice and were influenced by her to study journalism so they could be like her.”

Abu Akleh's niece, Lina Abu Akleh, described her as a “best friend” and “second mom”.

“She is someone that I was looking up to since I was a kid, watching all of her reports," she told journalists from the family's home. "I never thought this day would come where the news would be about her."

Source: AP/kg


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