Israel's assassination of 'voice of Palestine' journalist Shireen Abu Akleh requires asking 'hard questions'

Israel's assassination of 'voice of Palestine' journalist Shireen Abu Akleh requires asking 'hard questions'
Washington, DC – May 15, 2022: Activists at the 74th Palestinian Nakba commemorated at the Lincoln Memorial hold signs calling for justice in the killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh (Shutterstock).

Journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was loved and revered. She covered oppression faced by the Palestinians living for decades under Israeli occupation. She pulled no punches. She was known as the “voice of Palestine.” Her death, or martyrdom, has broken the hearts of many.

Shireen was a Palestinian-American reporting for Al Jazeera. The Doha-based news network said she was shot dead by Israeli forces while doing her job, reporting on Israeli raids conducted in Jenin.

It’s not just Palestinian Muslim journalists who are under threat. Shireen was Christian. Anyone of any faith, or nationality faces immediate danger, if they simply try to report on the facts.

Al Jazeera described the shooting as a “cold-blooded assassination.”

Let’s take a look at the facts. Shireen’s colleagues and witnesses claim that she was deliberately killed in order to send a message.

Israel initially blamed her death on Palestinian gunfire. After walking that claim back, authorities said a full investigation will take place.

Meaning Israel will investigate itself.

That Israel shifted from denial to pledging a full investigation suggests officials know something about the incident that will make their initial statement look suspect. We can speculate about that.

Needing no speculation is the fact that Human Rights Watch has described Israeli investigations as “whitewashed mechanisms.”

Also needing no debate is that countless journalists have been killed by Israeli gunfire over the years with little or no accountability. The official line is that none were intentional or Palestinians are to blame.

Since 1967, according to the Palestine Journalists Syndicate, 86 Palestinian journalists have been killed – 50 of them since 2000.

After the Great March of Return protests in Palestine in 2018-2019, a UN report found reasonable grounds to suggest that Israeli snipers shot at journalists, medics, healthcare workers, children and people with disabilities “knowing they were identifiable as such.”

In addition, we know that Israel's airstrikes on Gaza last year obliterated key media buildings reporting on events from Palestine.

Ultimately, this issue extends even beyond justice for the Palestinians. Israel’s shooting of journalists, and attacks on the media in general, should alarm anybody concerned with free speech and a free press.

There’s no liberal defense as there was decades ago. The indefensible can’t be defended. Israeli occupation is apartheid in every sense.

In August 2018, I was aboard one of a group of boats sailing from Europe to Gaza to deliver medical aid to the Palestinians, thus breaking the illegal blockade of the Gaza Strip. We set off from Sicily.

The passengers were international activists and journalists, including nationals from Israel, Canada, France, Iran, Spain and Sweden.

About 40 nautical miles from Gaza, after two weeks at sea, in the dead of the night on August 4, we were surrounded by Israeli vessels and arrested in a long and drawn-out process that took several hours.

All this in international waters.

It’s hard to do justice to the scene but our small boat, in which the engine had blown days before, had been slowly continuing to Gaza, nonetheless, bobbing haplessly along before being intercepted.

The power of the Israeli forces surrounding our tiny beat-up boat called The Freedom was disproportionate, to say the least.

We had broken no laws. Even so, our ship was taken by Israeli commandos. They pointed guns at us for hours. We were towed from Gaza, which had been visible, and taken to Ashdod, Israel.

Taking aid to a besieged people via international water is not a crime under international law. Our arrest, however, was illegal.

We were held for days. We were treated like criminals. It was the Israelis who broke the law, though. They assaulted us. They detained us. They stole from us. One of our sister boats, which was ahead of us, was viciously attacked. Those aboard sustained serious injuries.

It’s worth remembering that a similar flotilla, the Mavi Marmara in 2010, was also raided at night en route to Gaza. Israeli commandos killed nine people. To this day, nobody has been held to account.

Nobody ever is.

That’s why there’s little faith in an impartial investigation of Israel by Israel for Israel in the shooting death of Shireen Abu Akleh.

Recent days have seen unthinkable video footage of mourners, who were carrying the coffin of Shireen Abu Akleh, being attacked by Israeli soldiers. Her coffin almost hit the ground. Videos showing the disgraceful scenes were seen by millions around the world.

They needed no explanation.

Even so, media outlets reported that grieving Palestinians “clashed” with Israeli security forces, reminding us the occupation is glossed over at every turn by those with the power to shape our thinking.

That’s as true in the US as it is in the UK.

A 2021 study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology examined tens of thousands of articles in the Times published during the first and second intifadas. It found that anti-Palestinian coverage persisted even when Israeli violence was greater than Palestinian resistance to it.

There’s nowhere to hide.

Either Israel is a rogue state operating under apartheid or it’s a democracy – in which case it’s time to ask hard questions.

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