Mondoweiss / May 13, 2022
Shireen Abu Akleh’s assassination and the barbaric assault on her funeral are but incidents in Israel’s unceasing 74+ year ethnic cleansing campaign of Palestine.
As I write, Israeli occupation forces are attacking and brutalizing Palestinians taking part in late Al-Jazeera journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh’s funeral procession. I sit glued to my Twitter feed, overwhelmed by the horrific video footage of Israel’s attacks. On Wednesday, Israeli occupation forces shot and killed 51-year-old Abu Akleh while she was covering an Israeli raid on the Jenin refugee camp. Today, the occupation forces beat Palestinian pallbearers with batons, shot Palestinian mourners, fired tear gas and grenades inside St. Louis French Hospital, barred Palestinian mourners from gathering, barred Muslims from attendance, and confiscated countless Palestinian flags, including those placed on the hearse carrying Abu Akleh’s body. The occupation forces also smashed the window of Abu Akleh’s hearse to confiscate a Palestinian flag inside. The attacks were so severe that Palestinians were unable to carry Abu Akleh’s casket.
Israel’s barbarism, its ever-burgeoning reign of terror, spares none. So long as its victims are Palestinian, the occupation discriminates not between child or elder, journalist or freedom fighter, woman or man, alive or dead. When viewing these horrors unfold, we must recognize that what we are witnessing is the manifestation of 74+ years of impunity. Abu Akleh’s assassination and the barbaric assault on her funeral, are but incidents in the unceasing 74+ year Israeli ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Israel’s ethnic cleansing, settler-colonialism, and apartheid—as designated by the United Nations, B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International—are products of the free reign and unconditional support lent to them by the international community. It is this support—whether through military aid, normalization of ties, or iniquitous reporting—that birthed the state of Israel and facilitated the infliction of unimaginable suffering upon the indigenous of Palestine, as recompense for the suffering Europeans inflicted upon Jews.
As I watched Israeli soldiers seething at the sight of Palestinian flags and racing to rip Palestinian flags from Abu Akleh’s hearse, I could not help but see beneath an exterior of ferocity, fear. They are terrified of the flag. Terrified of the existence of the indigenous whom they had—and continue to—subjected to unthinkable barbarity. They are terrified that the indigenous, after 75 years of unrelenting torture, still possess hope. They are terrified that the crimes they committed in 1947-48, the crime they committed this past Wednesday, would awaken the world from its slumber. They are terrified of accountability. They are terrified of their demise. They are terrified of judgement day.
When we analyze the situation at hand, seeing as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is ongoing, and forever in the public sphere, one cannot help but draw lessons regarding Israel’s occupation of Palestine. What Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has demonstrated—perhaps more than anything else—is the reaction governments and the international community at large should have had to Israel’s atrocities. Indeed, had the world’s superpowers not lent Israel their unequal support, or better, had they expressed the greatest outrage at Israel’s crimes, implemented immediate sanctions, and sent military and humanitarian aid to Palestine, the occupation in its entirety would have capitulated long ago.
Indeed, the very birth of the settler-colonial project that is Israel, was only made possible by unconditional foreign backing. Ze’ev Jabotinsky, founder of Revisionist Zionism, stated in his publication “The Iron Wall”, that the idea of the Jewish national home in Palestine was solely attainable through brute force, and indiscriminate Jewish domination over the native populations. It was only this inescapable domination by a colossal and impenetrable force or the “Iron Wall” as he coined it, taking the form of an immovable “Jewish military force” backed by “a force that is not dependent on the local population”, that would quell the natives’ hopes, rendering them “powerless to break [the iron wall] down”. It is, without doubt, this “Iron Wall” of imperial despotism beginning with the alliance of the British Empire—and solidifying itself in the notorious Balfour Declaration of 1917—which continues to strengthen and fortify itself to this day through the colossal military, economic, diplomatic, and cultural relations established between Israel, the world’s superpowers, and the international community at large.
UN special rapporteur Michael Lynk stated in the latest report on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, “With the eyes of the international community wide open, Israel has imposed upon Palestine an apartheid reality in a post-apartheid world.” The issue, however, extends further. Not only have the eyes of the international community been wide open, but its mouths forever sealed—that is, except to praise the apartheid regime, whitewash its crimes, and condemn its victims. One might have hoped that journalistic institutions would react with horror at the assassination of a fellow Journalist. Indeed, they did when Russia killed Ukrainian journalists. But for the non-European Shireen Abu Akleh, they utilized every possible concoction of words to avoid naming Israel as the killer. Headlines that should have read, “Israeli forces shoot and kill Al-Jazeera Journalist during raid on Jenin refugee camp” read instead, “Shireen Abu Akleh, Palestinian Journalist, Dies, Aged 51”. But Abu Akleh did not die of natural causes, nor was her death mysterious; Israeli snipers shot Abu Akleh in the face while she was clearly identified as press.
As I write, just moments after Shireen was finally put to rest in her grave, BBC writes of, “clashes at Al-Jazeera reporter’s funeral” and CBS writes, “Shireen Abu Akleh funeral sees clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian mourners”. In both—and the mainstream media at large—the complete void of journalistic integrity is highly disturbing, infuriating, and above all demonstrative of the impunity lent to Israel. The vicious, unprovoked attacks of an occupying power on the funeral procession of an indigenous journalist it assassinated just days earlier are anything but “clashes”. As with the Israeli ethnic cleansing of Palestine as a whole, even the most simple and brazen crimes like murdering a journalist and attacking her funeral procession are distorted and warped into complex, mysterious matters to which one must forever abstain, or else risk instantaneous condemnation. We must not allow ourselves to fall prey to these strategies which seek to forever bolster the egregious narrative of the oppressor over that of the oppressed.
While this article focuses on the legendary journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, we must remind ourselves that all lives are equal. Since 2000, Israel has murdered roughly 50 Palestinian journalists and injured countless others. Since the start of 2022, Israel has murdered approximately 50 Palestinians, including 10 children, and two women. Israel’s assassination of Shireen Abu Akleh is significant for its tragedy and horror, but also because it proves to those foolish or deluded enough to so much as lend an ear to the occupation’s narrative, that its screams of “morality” against “terror” possess not a grain of truth.
We implore the international community to awaken from its slumber and demand an end to Israel—and we realize that this awakening is crucial to attaining justice. However, after 74 years of silence in the face of endless Palestinian cries, we have come to accept that the international community shall only continue in taciturnity. But if you are to poke your head out from beneath the sand—or even take a glimpse—then look to Shireen. In Shireen’s life and in Shireen’s death, you shall find everything one could ever hope to be.
Zubayr Alikhan is a student, activist, and writer whose primary focus is on the pursuit of justice with a particular emphasis on international human rights, anti-colonial resistance, and legal accountability; he writes on issues highlighting oppression and tyranny around the world