Shireen Abu Akleh – On the first anniversary of your departure, there is light amid the darkness

Khaled Farraj

Mondoweiss  /  May 9, 2023

A year after the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, the killers remain free, shielded by a broken international judicial system. But a light can be glimpsed in those who carry forward Shireen’s memory.

Dear Shireen,

A few days separate us from the first anniversary of your parting. What can we tell you on this occasion? Should we mention that the “killers,” be they individuals or the system as a whole, have not been punished or put on trial? Should we tell you that they remain free and continue to commit the same crimes, that they still invade cities and villages and camps? That they continue to raid your beloved Jenin, the city whose children carried you when you fell on its earth as a martyr, on May 11 last year? Should we tell you that many of those who carried your coffin last year would later join you as martyrs in their own right? 

And this is not isolated to Jenin. It extends to Nablus, to Jericho, to Bethlehem, to Hebron, to the Gaza Strip, and the village of Sandala inside the 1948 occupied territories. The story extends to prisoners in their cells, whose latest martyr was Khader Adnan. And as the killing machine continues uninterrupted, those same killers ramp up their policy of theft and Judaization of Palestinian land in Jerusalem, Jericho, and anywhere their hand touches.

As for why the killers remain at large, we can tell you it’s because the international judicial system is broken. It’s because it lacks principles of justice in applying its laws. It’s because there are those who have, through force, placed themselves above the law, with the tacit support of international powers ruled by interest, dividing the world into “good” and “evil” based on those interests. 

But at the same time, there are those who have remained loyal to your cause and have been working day and night to give you justice. Be they individuals or institutions, they have reached out to international courts, to governments and organizations; submitted reports and investigation results. They have worked tirelessly and relentlessly to put a stop to the killing machine — in Palestine and beyond. 

A reality unchanged

The scene in Jerusalem has not changed since your departure, particularly during Ramadan and Easter. The people of Jerusalem have fortified themselves in their city to protect their Muslim and Christian holy cities, to protect their Arab city. The Israeli occupation, as you know, does not care about any holy months, opting instead to use its might to frighten and oppress.

The only difference this year is that you were not there to cover the scene as it unfolded through your usual appearances on Al-Jazeera, when you would expose a settler colonial regime that excelled in oppression, control, and domination over a native population on its land. 

Do you know that the far-right is currently governing the settler-colonial state? Since your departure, the representatives of the far-right have become ministers in Netanyahu’s government, and their first accomplishment was the burning of Huwwara. The Israeli Finance Minister gave his blessing to these acts and said that Huwwara “needs to be wiped out” and that the “State of Israel should do it.” This statement can only be described as state terrorism. This same minister also said that the Palestinian people do not exist, and that they are an invention that does not exceed a hundred years!

In addition to all of this, the Israeli Minister of National Security has been attacking the daily life of Palestinian prisoners. He has denied them the ability to bake their own bread in the morning as if it constitutes a “security threat” to the Israeli state. He has also restricted the prisoners’ allotted shower time and reduced their hot water “allowance,” claiming that this was a luxury they should not enjoy. 

The loyal many

My dear Shireen, I write to you about these topics because I know that they used to concern you, not only as a journalist, but as a person of conscience with her own personal convictions and beliefs. Your mind was always taken up with the pain and injustice suffered by the people of this land. 

Yet, there is a bright light amid the darkness, which can be glimpsed in the people who continue to hold tightly to your memory. I write, of course, of your family — Lena, Nasri, Lareen, Lisa, and Tony — who have been traveling all over the world championing your case and seeking justice. I write to you of the multiple capitals, municipalities, universities, institutions, artists, journalists, musicians, writers, and producers who have been constantly holding your memory close, who have demanded justice. I write of the people who are preparing for your first anniversary, those who are building a museum in your honor, and those who have expressed their loss in a myriad of ways. I write to you of the hundreds of prizes, awards, and research grants that have carried your name, particularly in Journalism — the field you loved and chose as your profession because, as you often said, it brought you closer to the people. 

Al-Jazeera and the Ramallah Municipality will construct a museum in your memory, and it will open in May 2024 during the second anniversary of your departure. 

Shall I also mention the honor you received from everyone, not only in Palestine but across the world? Your name has pierced deaf ears, the same ears that refused to listen in the past and would have continued to do so were it not for the heinous nature of the crime. 

Your colleagues continued their coverage, and they are confronting Israeli settler colonial policies through the written word, through sound, through images. Your funeral was a day when Jerusalem regained its Arab identity, and when Palestine regained its Arab values. You will remain the subject of my words, images, and sounds until justice is served. 

And how can we forget the image of Palestinian journalists who wore black shirts bearing your photo during the U.S. President’s visit to Bethlehem in July 2022 to demand justice for you? How could we forget the image of the freedom tunnel prisoners as they shouted your name in Israeli courts? 

And finally, your friends have never stopped thinking of you. Your memory lives on in them. 

Rest in peace, my friend, in a land that peace has forsaken.

Khaled Farraj is the Director General of the Institute for Palestine Studies (Washington DC)