Al-Jazeera / May 14, 2022
Despite all efforts at erasure, despite all the death, suffering, and destruction that the Israeli state has unleashed on the Palestinian people, Palestinians will not be erased.
“I managed to overcome my fears in difficult times because I have chosen journalism in order to be close to the people. It might not be easy to change the reality but at least I was able to convey the people’s message and voice.”
These are Shireen Abu Akleh’s words in an Al-Jazeera video montage. Over her exceptional and courageous career, Shireen told the stories of Palestinians. She spoke with the people, to the people, for the people. One can easily see her closeness to the people in the overwhelming show of support on Palestinian streets the day she was murdered.
In an especially moving account, a Palestinian woman from the Jenin refugee camp recounted how Shireen bravely covered the Israeli attacks on Jenin without any breaks or care for her wellbeing, and how she personally helped this woman search for her children in the chaos and terror of the Israeli onslaught on the camp. This type of closeness to the needs and aspirations of the people is what has always scared the Israeli settler colonial state.
Like all colonial and settler colonial forms of power, Israel seeks to weaken the colonized society that it dominates. Ingrained into the foundation of Israeli politics and policies is the desire to destabilize Palestinian politics, and create fissures and chaos within Palestinian society, all for the sake of separating the people from any form of self-governance and popular sovereignty.
This is why the Israeli state worked so hard to eliminate the popular committees that sprang up across Palestine during the first Intifada, and which indeed created the Intifada. These committees were a direct expression of the people’s will and effectively presented an apparatus of government that challenged and functioned against the Israeli settler colonial apparatus of power. In other words, these committees were democratic in the most substantive and meaningful sense of the term. And that panicked Israel, and showed that the so-called only democracy in the Middle East is in fact terrified of a real substantive democracy – one that is truly and materially of the people, for the people.
In its effort to weaken the people, concealing and eradicating the truth of their subjugation and colonization is a critical part of Israel’s arsenal of weaponry. Shireen’s voice was attentive to the feelings and sentiments of the people. Her reporting gave Palestinians an outlet where they heard a direct expression of the realities of their colonized lives and their aspirations for freedom and dignity. In a world saturated with their silencing and erasure, the Palestinian people find solace and encouragement in the few spaces that assert definitively, forcefully, and honestly their basic truth: that they are simply yearning for a de-colonial life.
This is the truth that Israel is at war with and has been for decades. Part of this war effort is Israel’s targeting of Palestinian journalists who speak with and for the people. The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate estimates that “86 Palestinian journalists have been killed since 1967” and “an estimated 50 Palestinian journalists have been killed since 2000.” This doesn’t even include the great number of journalists who are continuously imprisoned, harassed, and injured by Israeli forces. Any other country in the world, and there would be no debate about the existence of a clear pattern of the intentional killing, censorship, and intimidation of journalists. But for the Euro-American imperial hegemony that made the creation of Israel as a settler colony possible and sustainable, the war on truth and truth tellers as part of the settler colonial project is par for the course.
The Israeli state and its lobby groups are of course already using their normal propaganda to hide and conceal this latest crime. Misdirecting and feeble talking points suggesting “Palestinian militants killed her in the crossfire,” “Israeli forces were simply defending themselves from Palestinian terror,” and so on, were immediately peddled.
Israel’s Euro-American media allies, with some exceptions, have predictably joined the chorus. The New York Times, CNN, CBC, and many others neither named the killers nor the crime in their headlines, and presented the story in their normal “one side says this, the other side says that, and who knows where the truth is” drivel. This lazy journalism at best, propagandistic whitewashing in reality, would be laughable if it was not so serious and deadly in its consequences. The so-called journalists who write and approve these headlines and stories at these allegedly prestigious news outlets cannot and will never hold a candle to the noble and true journalism of Shireen. Just one of her reports is worth all the ink that these hacks have wasted writing Palestine out of history and erasing and concealing the truth of the Palestinian people.
Despite all these efforts at erasure, despite all the death, suffering, and destruction that the Israeli state has unleashed on the Palestinian people, the reality is that Palestinians will not be erased. Israel is at war with reality because Palestinians, despite Israeli beliefs, will not fade into the dustbin of history.
In the belief that this story will simply fade, Israeli officials are telling the world, along with their American counterparts who are echoing and amplifying the message: “Israel is a democracy that will conduct a fair and thorough investigation; just give Israel time.” As always, this “investigation” will be yet another cover story that lets diplomats around the world avoid the issue and proclaim that they will “await the findings of the investigation before commenting or taking a position”. They’ve said this line so many times, I doubt most of them even know what investigation they’re referring to any more.
At some point at the conclusion of this “investigation”, we are sure to be presented with nonsense and propaganda: “It is inconclusive who shot her,” or “she was in a dangerous war zone, these things happen,” or “a frightened Israeli soldier acted rashly in the heat of the moment; it is a regrettable mistake,” etc. More of the same old tired tactics that conceal reality and murder truth.
The Israeli state has no substantive credibility. This is the same state that raided Shireen’s home the same day they killed her. They murdered her in the morning, and in the afternoon stormed her home where her family had gathered, where friends and community members were visiting to pay their respects. Apparently, the popular nationalist music and Palestinian flags were too upsetting for the gentle ears and eyes of the Israeli police. Let that sink in. On yet another day of uninhibited Israeli violence where in addition to Shireen, they killed sixteen-year-old Thaer Khalil Mohammad Maslat in Al-Bireh, the Israeli grievance is this: Palestinians who were mourning the cold-blooded murder of one of their cherished voices were too loud and proud in affirming their connection to their homeland and aspirations for freedom and justice.
For the Israeli state, the colonized people that they kill and maim with impunity should not even be allowed to mourn as they wish. They should simply accept their fate, quietly and calmly, and cease to exist as human beings who call themselves Palestinians and their homeland Palestine.
Israel is a state that knows only one path of action when confronted with the reality of Palestinian existence and steadfastness: eliminate, erase, and conceal.
The pain these Israeli actions cause is too infuriating. I’m not sure it can ever be satisfactorily narrated. But we can narrate this: When we are confronted with a worldview where the killer can kill with impunity and at whim, is then annoyed by the mourning of the killed, and asserts themselves justified in disrupting the mourning of the killed whose killers will never be brought to justice, all under the guise of a superior civilized race righteously eliminating and replacing a dehumanized people, this worldview does not deserve the decency of a hearing. It deserves, only and urgently, actions for justice.
There is no such thing as “Israeli justice”. There has never been justice for colonized Palestinians in Israeli courts and political institutions, only punishing and eliminatory settler colonial laws and policies.
Justice and healing for the Palestinians will take decades to arrive. There has just been too much killing, maiming, and destruction. It will take many years of work towards justice and conciliation to heal a brutalized people. But we’re not even on that road yet. We are still in the thick of an ongoing crime. That road can only begin to emerge when the international community is forced, by people power across the world, to boycott, divest, and sanction Israel, not “after this investigation”, but now.
So, spare me any talk about journalistic standards, a commitment to anti-racism and decolonization, promotion of democracy, freedom, and justice unless you stand with Palestine. Simply put, one cannot be on the side of truth, justice, freedom, democracy, anti-racism, and decolonization unless one actively joins the Palestinian struggle for de-colonial liberation.
Muhannad Ayyash – Associate Professor of Sociology at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Canada