The world woke this morning to the news that yet another Palestinian journalist had been killed by Israeli gunfire. Veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed while covering Israel’s assault on the city of Jenin in the occupied West Bank. The Palestinian Ministry of Health confirmed that Abu Akleh was shot in the head; she was taken to hospital where she was declared dead.
“The bullet was aimed at a place that could not be covered by either a helmet or her ‘PRESS’ vest,” explained Waleed Al Omari, Al Jazeera’s bureau chief in Ramallah. “It seems to me that she was shot by a sniper who wanted to end her life deliberately.”
A colleague of Abu Akleh, producer Ali Al-Samudi, was shot in the back at the same time. He was reported to be in a stable condition. “We were targeted while we were standing in an empty area,” he said afterwards. “There were no clashes, no gunfire and not even any stone throwers.”
Journalist Shatha Hanaysheh was standing beside Abu Akleh when she was shot dead. “We were a group of four journalists,” she pointed out. “We were in a place which was clear to the Israeli occupation soldiers, and there were no armed people or clashes.”
The Israeli occupation army said that it was “investigating” the shooting. It noted that the occupation troops were working alongside Shin Bet internal security service personnel and Border Police in the Jenin refugee camp and near the village of Burqin, and in several other areas of the West Bank “to arrest wanted persons.” The army claimed that the Al Jazeera journalist may have been shot by Palestinians as they clashed with Israeli forces, which “responded with fire, without causing any casualties.”
The Qatar-based TV network has described Shireen as “one of the first generation” of its field correspondents. “For a quarter of a century, Abu Akleh was at the centre of danger to cover wars, attacks and aggression of the Israeli occupation against the Palestinian people in the occupied territories,” the network said.
Shireen Abu Akleh was born in occupied Jerusalem in 1971. She held Palestinian and American citizenship, and graduated with a BA degree in journalism and media from Yarmouk University in Jordan. More recently she completed a diploma in new media. She began working for Al Jazeera in 1997 and reported on-camera regularly from Palestine, Egypt and the US as well as other places around the world.
The Palestinian factions condemned her “murder” and accused the Israeli occupation forces of “deliberately” killing her “as part of its attempt to prevent the exposure of its war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
Al Jazeera has pledged to seek the prosecution of Al-Akleh’s killers. “No matter how hard they try to cover up their crime,” it insisted, “we will seek to bring them to justice.”
A number of countries and international organisations have condemned the journalist’s killing, including the UN, the US, Britain and China. “I strongly condemn the killing of Al Jazeera’s reporter, Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot with live fire this morning while covering an Israeli security forces’ operation in Jenin, in [the] occupied West Bank,” tweeted UN Special Envoy for the Middle East Peace Process, Tor Wennesland.
The US ambassador to Israel, Thomas R Nides, tweeted to say that he was, “Very sad to learn of the death of American and Palestinian journalist Shireen 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.”
Even Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said on Twitter that his government has offered to conduct a joint Israeli-Palestinian investigation into the killing. “Journalists must be protected in conflict zones and we all have a responsibility to get to the truth,” he added.
Although such condemnation sounds good, we have heard it all before. The stark reality is that the occupation state is allowed to act with impunity and, literally, get away with murder. We all know, as Israel does, that there will be no international repercussions for the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh or any other Palestinian. Despite the US ambassador’s noble words, it is his country which gives Israel diplomatic protection along with $3 billion of military aid every year; it is this which empowers the occupation state to shoot, kill and maim Palestinian civilians on a daily basis.
Will there be an Israeli investigation, alone or jointly with the Palestinian Authority? The army has already started its whitewash by suggesting that Abu Akleh was killed by Palestinian fire. Moreover, military spokesperson Ran Kokhav told Israeli Army Radio that the Palestinians had taken Abu Akleh’s body for burial and refused to hold a joint autopsy to determine the cause of death. He effectively closed the door for any possible Israeli investigation.
Such an investigation, though, is unnecessary. Eyewitness accounts have already gone viral on social and mainstream media; nobody has any excuse for claiming not to know what happened. It is very clear that she was wearing her ‘PRESS’ flak jacket when she was shot, with no armed Palestinians in the vicinity.
The fact that the Israelis continued to fire and refused to allow an ambulance to reach her, suggests strongly that they intended to kill Abu Akleh, arguably for no other reason than that she worked for Al Jazeera and was exposing the army’s actions in the occupied West Bank. She is not the first journalist, Palestinian or not, that the Israelis have targeted and killed or wounded. I was shot in the back by an Israeli soldier when covering the Great March of Return protests in Gaza in 2018. Young photojournalist Yaser Murtaja was not so fortunate. He was shot and killed by Israel covering the same protests.
According to Naser Abu Baker, of the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate, Abu Akleh was the fifty-fifth Palestinian journalist to have been killed by the Israeli occupation forces since 2000. Speaking to Al Jazeera, he referred to the decision of the Israeli government on 15 November 2015 to launch a “war” against Palestinian journalists.
Another notable statistic is that Shireen was the fifty-eighth Palestinian to be killed by Israelis since the beginning of this year. Furthermore, just hours after killing her, an Israeli shot and killed a Palestinian youth in Al-Bireh, on the outskirts of Ramallah. Palestinian number 59 to be killed this year alone.
Condemnation by world leaders and organisations is not enough; nor are calls for investigations. They will not provide justice for Shireen Abu Akleh and the others killed by Israel; nor will they stop the occupation state from killing even more Palestinians. Only sanctions and legal action against Israel and Israelis will do that, but neither are likely to happen in the current political climate.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.