SHIREEN ABU AKLEH became a journalist for the very reason that a free media is so important: to be a voice for the people. In her case, as an Al Jazeera field reporter covering the Arab-Israeli conflict for decades, she held up a mirror to the suffering of the Palestinians, telling the stories of their everyday struggles against the depredations of a racist regime. On Wednesday, her voice was silenced — with brutal precision. Ms Akleh, one of the Arab world’s most prominent journalists known for her fearless reportage, was killed by a single bullet to the head while covering Israeli army raids on a refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. She was wearing a press vest and a helmet when shot in broad daylight. Eyewitnesses and other journalists who were with her, including another reporter wounded by a bullet in his back in the same attack, have unwaveringly pointed the finger at Israeli troops, saying that no Palestinian gunmen were in the vicinity at the time. Al Jazeera has described the killing as deliberate murder and asked the international community to hold Israel accountable.
However, as in most issues involving this unequal conflict, realpolitik may trump the facts. The US government has expressed confidence that Israel — responsible for decades of disproportionate violence and brazen injustice against the Palestinians, not to mention air strikes in Gaza a year ago that destroyed the offices of AP and Al Jazeera — is capable of conducting a thorough investigation into Ms Akleh’s murder. But the killing was so outrageous, the video footage of its immediate aftermath so harrowing, that facile statements such as these are now being drowned out by calls, including from the UN, for an impartial inquiry. International journalist bodies should ensure that those responsible are identified and brought to book. Otherwise Ms Akleh’s death, testament to the risks many mediapersons take in the pursuit of truth, will be yet another in the long list of journalists’ murders that have gone unpunished.
Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2022