You can’t understand why Israel killed Shireen Abu Akleh without understanding Zionism

Shireen Abu Akleh (Al-Jazeera)

Hadar Eid

Mondoweiss  /  May 13, 2022

Palestinians know too well what Zionism means, after living with the deadly consequences of this racist ideology.

Why did they kill Shireen Abu Akleh? That was the question raised in my Text and Ideology class on the day apartheid Israel decided to assassinate Al Jazeera’s Palestine correspondent, Shireen Abu Akleh, in broad daylight. We were still in shock and disbelief about what had happened. But we needed to answer the question in my class which was about the role of ideology in shaping human consciousness. We had already covered more than seven definitions of the term, ranging from orthodox Marxist and Neo-Marxist to Structuralist and Post-Structuralist and more. Clearly, we also had to deal with the question of the relationship between language and power, i.e., discourse. The answers offered by my students ranged from “Israel wanted to get rid of Shireen because she was covering what was truly taking place on the ground” to “Israel hates us” to “apartheid Israel simply wants to send a message to all Palestinians that it can do whatever it wants, even to well-known journalists”, among others.

But, then, we needed to try to get into the mind of the Israeli sniper who fired that fatal bullet in order to understand the effect of a bigoted, hegemonic ideology on human consciousness. My students are of different genders who come from different backgrounds, but they all argued that there was no way to assert that the crime was not premeditated. But still we needed to discuss the ideological umbrella under which Israeli Occupation Forces function. For that we needed to differentiate between a mixture of a biologist-religious approach to ideology and a liberal-humanist one, the latter being what the West is convinced is the Israeli regime, which is also the propagandized image the Jewish state is disseminating internationally. Just have a look at the way the Western mainstream media has been covering the murder of Abu Akleh: either completely adopting the Israeli narrative, or simply playing the fool and called for an Israeli investigation into the issue! 

But that is not what we Palestinians, including all of my students, think. We know the answer to this question lies in Zionism. 

Zionism is unarguably an exclusionary ideology that embodies a form of ethno-religious bigotry. So, in order to answer the question raised at the beginning of the class we needed to understand, or rather address, this hegemonic ideology in apartheid Israel and how it managed, successfully we admitted, to turn people into beings that do not see the humanity of native Palestinians. Zionism was the driving ideology of a settler-colonialist movement that colonized Palestine by force, with the wish to colonize the country and with possible expansionist ambitions. It became the formal, dominant ideology of the state of Israel and relies heavily on the idea that Jews constitute a nation that has a God-given right to the “promised land” at the expense of its native Palestinians.

As Palestinians we know too well what Zionism means and how it managed to ruin the consciousness of so many people in Israel the same way apartheid destroyed the minds of many white South Africans. History provides us with other glaring examples of inhumane bigotry in Europe and America not more than 70-80 years ago.

My students and I were not born to Jewish mothers and we are not native speakers of Hebrew, English, or any other European languages. We are biologically different from Ashkenazi Jews – we belong to a different race, and, therefore, we are not considered as intelligent as white Westerners. These Westerners believe that our culture is backward, or to put it another way, that our humanity is not on the same level as theirs. 

The question raised by one of the students, then, was “whether the sniper who shot Shireen had dinner with his family that night after taking her down, and whether he fell asleep as soon as he put his head on the pillow?” Most, if not all, the students believed it was possible because, as one of them put it, “do you regret killing an insect?” 

In the end, we agreed that the shooter likely slept fine that night. And a large reason for that is ideology. A large reason is Zionism. 

Rest in Peace, Shireen Abu Akleh.

Haidar Eid is Associate Professor of Postcolonial and Postmodern Literature at Gaza’s Al-Aqsa University