Al-Jazeera’s iconic ‘Voice of Palestine’ killed during Israeli raid

Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh (Al-Jazeera)

Ali Abunimah

The Electronic Intifada  /  May 11, 2022

Al-Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh was fatally shot during an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank early Wednesday morning, causing shock and anger across Palestine and the wider region.

“In a tragic and deliberate crime that violates all international laws and norms, Israeli occupation forces assassinated in cold blood our correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh,” the Qatar-based network said.

Israel initially blamed Palestinians for Abu Akleh’s death but later walked back those claims.

Her death was announced by the Palestinian health ministry shortly after videos circulated online showing her limp body being carried to a car and evacuated.

The veteran correspondent “was hit by a live bullet on Wednesday while covering Israeli raids in the city of Jenin and was rushed to the hospital in critical condition, according to the ministry and Al-Jazeera journalists,” the network’s English-language website reported.

Abu Akleh, a Palestinian with US citizenship, was wearing a press vest and a helmet when she was killed. She was 51 years old.

A second journalist, Ali Samoudi, was shot in the back during the same incident and was reported to be in stable condition.

In interviews from his hospital bed, Samoudi insisted that the journalists had been deliberately targeted by Israeli forces and there was no fire from Palestinians at the time towards Israeli soldiers.

Samoudi said the journalists were in an open area and would have been clearly visible to the soldiers. He said he could not see any Palestinian fighters or even civilians in the area, only Israeli soldiers.

“We were going to film the Israeli army operation and suddenly they shot us without asking us to leave or stop filming,” Samoudi said. “The first bullet hit me and the second bullet hit Shireen … there was no Palestinian military resistance at all at the scene.”

Shatha Hanaysha, another journalist who was right next to Abu Akleh, also said there had been no confrontations between Palestinian fighters and the Israeli army and said that the journalists had been targeted.

“We were four journalists, we were all wearing vests, all wearing helmets,” Hanaysha told Al-Jazeera. “The [Israeli] occupation army did not stop firing even after she collapsed. I couldn’t even extend my arm to pull her because of the shots. The army was adamant on shooting to kill.”

Al-Jazeera broadcast video of a person wearing a bulletproof vest marked “Press” and a helmet, lying motionless on the ground, which it said showed the aftermath of Abu Akleh’s killing.

Another person wearing the same type of gear can be seen crouching nearby, as Palestinians approach to render assistance.

Israel walks back attempt to blame Palestinians

Israel acknowledged that its soldiers were in Jenin refugee camp looking for what it calls “terror suspects.”

Near-daily raids by Israeli occupation forces across the West Bank regularly result in injuries and deaths among Palestinians.

But Tel Aviv immediately went on the offensive, denying responsibility for Abu Akleh’s death.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett issued a statement asserting that “it appears likely that armed Palestinians – who were firing indiscriminately at the time – were responsible for the unfortunate death of the journalist.”

According to Israeli journalist Barak Ravid, Bennett based his claim on a video that was filmed by Palestinians and shared on social media.

In the video, a voice can be heard saying in Arabic, “They’ve hit a soldier, he’s lying on the ground.”

However, the video does not show any shooting or any person who has been shot. The context, a narrow alleyway, looks very different from the open area where Abu Akleh was shot. It is unclear if it even refers to the same incident.

The Israeli foreign ministry shared another clip showing a man firing an automatic weapon in a narrow alleyway. The ministry repeated the claim that Palestinians “firing indiscriminately, are likely to have hit” Abu Akleh.

The subtitles in the foreign ministry video do not match its audio, but appear to be taken from the video shared by Ravid.

The Israeli army shared the same video.

Nothing in either video appears to connect them to the death of Abu Akleh. Israel’s immediate goal appears to have been to blow enough smoke to avoid damaging headlines and sow doubt about what happened.

Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said its field worker in Jenin “documented the exact locations in which the Palestinian gunman depicted in a video distributed by the Israeli army, fired, as well as the exact location in which Journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed.”

Based on its investigation, the group concluded that the video of “Palestinian gunfire distributed by Israeli military cannot be the gunfire that killed Journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.”

Israel has a long history of using fake videos and images, or ones taken out of context, to evade responsibility for its actions.

Israel later walked back its accusations against Palestinians, with its army chief Aviv Kohavi asserting that “at the moment it is not possible to determine from which fire Abu Akleh was killed.”

Kohavi said the Israeli army would hold a self-investigation to “clarify the facts and present them in full and as soon as possible.”

Meanwhile, Itamar Ben-Gvir, a far-right Israeli lawmaker notorious for praising violence against Palestinians, justified Abu Akleh’s killing.

“When terrorists fire on our soldiers in Jenin, they must return fire with full force, even if there are ‘journalists’ in the area from Al-Jazeera who often deliberately stand in the middle of the battle and disturb the soldiers,” Ben-Gvir tweeted.

“She was reportedly injured in the fire by the terrorists,” Ben-Gvir also claimed, “But in any case, full backing to the heroic Israeli army soldiers.”

US calls for investigation

US ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides said he was “Very sad to learn of the death of American and Palestinian journalist” Abu Akleh.

“I encourage a thorough investigation into the circumstances of her death and the injury of at least one other journalist today in Jenin,” Nides added.

This gentle tone contrasts with how US officials reacted in March when American filmmaker Brent Renaud was killed in Ukraine.

Although the circumstances of Renaud’s killing were unclear, State Department spokesperson Ned Price immediately denounced what he called a “gruesome example of the Kremlin’s indiscriminate actions.”

In February, the State Department called on Israel to conduct a “thorough criminal investigation” after Israeli soldiers the previous month attacked Omar Assad, an elderly Palestinian American man, leaving him dead.

The US demand to investigate Assad’s killing followed a quick Israeli internal investigation that gave the three soldiers involved a light slap on the wrist.

Washington, which provides Israel with billions of dollars of weapons each year, has no history of following up its demands with measures to hold Israel accountable.

Whitewash mechanism

“I don’t think we killed her,” Ran Kochav, a spokesperson for the Israeli army told public broadcaster Kan.

“We proposed to the Palestinians to open a swift joint probe. If we indeed killed her, we’ll take responsibility, but it doesn’t seem to be the case.”

However, Israel’s self-investigations systematically whitewash crimes against Palestinians by occupation soldiers.

In 2016, B’Tselem announced it would stop cooperating with Israeli military investigations, which it termed a “whitewash mechanism.”

The renowned Israeli human rights group added that 25 years of fruitlessly filing complaints on behalf of Palestinians “brought us to the realization that there is no longer any point in pursuing justice and defending human rights by working with a system whose real function is measured by its ability to continue to successfully cover up unlawful acts and protect perpetrators.”

Regular attacks on journalists

Following news of her death, many social media users mourned Abu Akleh’s killing as the silencing of the “Voice of Palestine.”

Abu Akleh had worked at Al-Jazeera since 1997. Her reporting would likely be familiar to tens of millions of people across the Arab world. She was highly respected among her Palestinian and international peers.

Its denials of responsibility in this case notwithstanding, Israel has a long history of injuring and killing journalists and media workers.

Israeli forces attacked journalists covering the Great March of Return, the mass unarmed protests in Gaza that started in 2018.

Two journalists, Yaser Murtaja and Ahmad Abu Hussein, were killed and dozens more were injured.

During its bombing campaign in Gaza this time last year, Israel deliberately targeted buildings housing dozens of local and international media offices.

Almost one year ago to the day, Israeli warplanes leveled a building that housed offices of the Associated Press and Al-Jazeera.

Israel claimed Hamas military intelligence were using the building but never offered any evidence.

Israel, which brags about its intelligence capabilities, later ludicrously claimed it had no idea major world media organizations were housed in the building.

An Israeli air raid also killed journalist Yousif Abu Hussein, 32, in his apartment in Gaza City. He was a popular broadcaster with Voice of Al-Aqsa radio.

Reporters Without Borders last May said it “condemns Israel’s disproportionate use of force against journalists, who should under no circumstances be treated as parties to the armed conflict.”

And last month, the International Criminal Court received a complaint alleging war crimes against journalists by Israeli occupation forces.

The complaint concerns the “systematic targeting” of four Palestinian media workers who were “killed or maimed by Israeli snipers while covering demonstrations in Gaza,” according to the International Federation of Journalists.

Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine (Haymarket Books)

Tamara Nassar contributed research. This article has been updated since initial publication