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Shireen Abu Akleh: the West remains shamefully silent, but we journalists must not

May 23, 2022 at 1:29 pm

Family and friends of Al-Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh attend a candle vigil outside the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on 16 May 2022 [HAZEM BADER/AFP/Getty Images]

Respected Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed whilst covering a story in the Jenin refugee camp for Al Jazeera English. The veteran reporter was hit by a single bullet to the head by an Israeli sniper whilst wearing a “Press” jacket and helmet. Although Israel denies responsibility for Abu Akleh’s death, eyewitness accounts from fellow journalists who were with her at the time and video footage confirm the generally-held belief that this was a deliberate murder to stop her from reporting on the truth of the situation in Palestine.

If this had happened to any other journalist almost anywhere else in the world there would have been an outpouring of solidarity from the West. The precious issue of press freedom would be top of the agenda on mainstream news channels.

However, from Britain and the US there has been a shameful silence. Both countries are yet to decide on whether or not they will launch an independent investigation into Shireen’s murder. Indeed, their responses to the killing of Abu Akleh suggest strongly that they have no intention of pursuing a legitimate investigation if it involves Israel in any way, shape or form. Nevertheless, journalists around the world must continue to fight for justice and accountability.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss issued a statement saying that, “I am saddened to hear of the death of respected journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. The work of journalists across the globe is vital and they must be protected to carry out their work.” However, Kristyan Benedict, Amnesty International UK’s crisis response manager, was critical of Truss, calling out the lack of calls to action: “No calls for an independent investigation (or any investigation). No demands for justice and accountability. No highlighting of Israel’s ongoing attacks on media freedom. This is how the UK enables more violence against Palestinian civilians.” Benedict took the words right out of the mouths of many of us who are deeply disturbed by the nature of the Western response from those who have the power to do more.

This is not only about freedom of the press and getting accountability for Shireen’s death; it also highlights the struggles that Palestinians face living under occupation with a lack of even basic human rights. Even in death, the Israeli forces did not let Abu Akleh’s body be carried in peace and, shockingly, they attacked mourners and the pallbearers so much that they nearly dropped the coffin. This horrific attack was disturbing to watch, and yet still there was no condemnation from the West.

READ: International silence over Israel’s media repression is also an attack on Palestinian narratives

The Israeli government, meanwhile, continues to whitewash the narratives by dismissing the fact that it was an Israeli soldier who killed Shireen. Outrageously, the Israelis tried to shift the blame onto the Palestinian people, who have long endured hardship under Israel’s brutal military occupation and often felt that their voices are unheard.

Shireen Abu Akleh gave them a voice and the opportunity to convey the realities of living under an oppressive apartheid regime. She was a journalist who has left a long-lasting legacy behind her; she was committed to her responsibilities as a journalist, and will remain someone to whom her peers in the profession, myself included, will always look up to and be inspired by.

Israel shoots dead Al Jazeera journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, during invasion of Jenin - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Israel shoots dead Al Jazeera journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, during invasion of Jenin – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Despite the fact that little is being done to hold Israel accountable for its human rights abuses and crimes against Palestinians, we journalists around the world must not keep quiet. We must stand firm against those who threaten press freedom. Journalists worthy of the name should be outraged and appalled by what happened to such a respected journalist as Abu Akleh who, like too many before her, was killed while simply trying to do her job. We must ensure that justice is served for her in the International Criminal Court for Shireen Abu Akleh and for all the people to whom she gave a voice in the hope of positive change and an end to Israel’s occupation of their homeland.

READ: UK parliament denounces Israel’s killing of Palestinian journalist

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.