Human Lives Human Rights: Shireen Abu Akleh was a Palestinian-American journalist who worked as a reporter for the Arabic-language channel of Al Jazeera for 25 years, and was a household name across the Middle East for her decades of reporting in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. She was shot and killed on May 11, 2022, while covering an Israel Defense Forces raid on the West Bank city of Jenin.
Abu Akleh was born in 1971 in Jerusalem; her family were Catholic Arab Palestinian Christians from Bethlehem. She spent time in the United States, obtaining U.S. citizenship through members of her mother’s family who lived in New Jersey.
Leading Arab journalist
Abu Akleh was one of the Arab world’s leading journalists, a veteran reporter who was described after her martyrdom as having been “among Arab media’s most prominent figures”. Her career included reporting on major Palestinian events including the Second Intifada as well as analyzing Israeli politics; her live reporting on television and distinct signoffs were well-known, and she inspired many other Palestinians and Arabs to pursue careers in journalism.
Education and Career
Abu Akleh attended secondary school in Beit Hanina, then matriculated at the Jordan University of Science and Technology to study architecture, but decided not to pursue the trade; she instead transferred to Yarmouk University in Jordan from which she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. After graduating, Abu Akleh returned to Palestine.
Abu Akleh worked as a journalist for Radio Monte Carlo and Voice of Palestine. She additionally worked for the UNRWA, Amman Satellite Channel, and MIFTAH. In 1997, she began working as a journalist for Al Jazeera, as one of their first field correspondents, becoming well known as a reporter on their Arabic-language channel.
She lived and worked in East Jerusalem, reporting on major events related to Palestine including the Second Intifada, and additionally covering Israeli politics. She often reported on funerals for Palestinians killed by Israeli forces.
Abu Akleh’s career inspired many other Palestinians and Arabs to become journalists; her live television reporting and distinct signoffs were particularly well-known. Abu Akleh continued in her role with Al Jazeera until she was killed in 2022. At the time of her death, she had been studying Hebrew in order to better understand narratives in the Israeli media, and had recently gained a diploma in digital media.
How was she killed
On May 11, 2022, Abu Akleh was shot and killed while reporting on an Israel Defense Forces raid on the West Bank city of Jenin. Al Jazeera and the Palestinian Ministry of Health reported that she was killed by the IDF, with an Agence France-Presse photojournalist also reporting Israeli forces had shot and killed her; eyewitness reports as well as statements by other countries and non-governmental organizations additionally characterized her killing as having been perpetrated by Israeli forces.
Abu Akleh was shot in the head by the IDF, and transported to Ibn Sina Hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Al Jazeera accused Israel of deliberately targeting the victim.
Another journalist, Ali Samodi of Al-Quds newspaper, was shot in the back but survived; two other Palestinians were transported to a hospital in moderate condition.The Times reported that Abu Akleh was shot by a sniper.
Shatha Hanaysha, a Palestinian journalist, said that she and a fourth journalist, along with Abu Akleh and Ali Samodi, had been pinned down by Israeli snipers, who did not cease firing even after Abu Akleh went down, preventing Hanaysha from pulling the victim in.
According to the Israeli military, Palestinian militants had fired on IDF soldiers, after which the soldiers returned fire. The IDF released a video showing Palestinian gunmen firing in the Jenin camp, purportedly in the area where Abu Akleh was killed. Multiple eye-witnesses, including two journalists standing next to Abu Akleh, reported that the area had been relatively quiet immediately prior to her death, disputing Israeli statements of her having died in a crossfire.
Al Jazeera reported that according to their Ramallah bureau chief, Walid Al-Omari, there was no shooting by Palestinian gunmen; Mustafa Barghouti of the Palestinian National Initiative also stated that there was “no exchange of fire” at the scene.Al-Omari also stated that Abu Akleh had been wearing a helmet and was shot in an unprotected area under her ear, suggesting that this demonstrated she was “deliberately targeted”. Video of the shooting showed Abu Akleh wearing a blue flak jacket that was clearly marked “PRESS”. An Agence France-Presse photojournalist reported that Israeli forces had shot and killed Abu Akleh.
An autopsy at An-Najah National University confirmed that Abu Akleh was killed by a bullet which struck her in the head, causing skull fractures and damage to the brain. The bullet was recovered and sent for further examination.
Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett initially posted a tweet blaming the death on Palestinian gunmen, citing a video posted by the Israeli military. Human rights organization B’Tselem documented the exact location from which Palestinian militants depicted in that video had fired and the exact location in which Abu Akleh had been killed, noting that the two locations were hundreds of meters apart and separated by multiple walls and buildings.
The Washington Post verified the distance between the two locations. Later in the day, the Israeli military chief, Lt Gen Aviv Kochavi, said: “At this stage we cannot determine by whose fire she was harmed and we regret her death.” In the evening Benny Gantz said “We are trying to figure out exactly what happened,”, “I don’t have final conclusions.”
Abu Akleh’s home was raided by Israeli forces after she was killed, and that the raid involved confiscation of Palestinian flags and prevention of “the playing of nationalistic songs”.
Thousands of people had gathered in Ramallah in honor of Abu Akleh, where her body was transported to the network’s offices for colleagues, friends, and family to “bid her the final farewell”. Alternative Syndicate of the Press journalists gathered to honor Abu Akleh in downtown Beirut. In her hometown of Beit Hanina, at least 5 Palestinians were injured in confrontations with armed Israeli soldiers, while at least three were detained; a crowd in front of her home protested her killing.
The Palestinian Authority scheduled a state funeral procession to be held on May 12, 2022, in Ramallah, beginning at the Palestinian presidential headquarters. Mahmoud Abbas, President of the State of Palestine, planned to attend. Abu Akleh was scheduled to be buried the following day in a Jerusalem cemetery near her home.
Al Jazeera described the killing of Abu Akleh as a “horrifying crime that breaches international norms” and was committed “in cold blood”. The network’s managing director Giles Trendle stated that the network was “shocked and saddened” by her death and called for a transparent investigation.
President Abbas stated that he considered Israeli forces “fully responsible” for Abu Akleh’s death. Hussein al-Sheikh, the Palestinian Civil Affairs Minister, wrote on Twitter that Abu Akleh had been “martyred by the bullets of the Israeli occupation”, adding that the “crime of silencing the word” had been “committed once again, and the truth is murdered by the bullets of the Israeli occupation”.[relevance questioned] Head of the Palestinian Mission to the United Kingdom Husam Zomlot described Abu Akleh as a “beloved journalist” and his close friend.
The Committee to Protect Journalists called for a “swift, immediate, and transparent investigation” into the killing, while the International Federation of Journalists condemned the killing “by Israeli troops” and called for an “immediate investigation”.
Amnesty International described it as a “bloody reminder of the deadly system in which Israel locks Palestinians” and called for an end to “unlawful killings” of Palestinians by Israeli forces. The Palestine Journalists Syndicate described the killing as “a clear assassination perpetrated by the Israeli occupation army”.
Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani, deputy prime minister of Qatar, condemned what he sees as “horrific crimes by the occupation against unarmed Palestinian people.” Deputy foreign minister Lolwah Al-Khater tweeted “state sponsored Israeli terrorism must stop” and “unconditional support to Israel must end.” The foreign ministry of Kuwait issued a statement condemning what they described as the killing of Abu Akleh by Israeli forces; similar statements were made by the foreign ministries of Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Djibouti, China, and Iran.
Shireen not the first target
According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), 144 Palestinian journalists have been wounded by Israeli forces across the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem since 2018 and in April 2022, the International Federation of Journalists filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court accusing Israeli forces of systematic targeting of journalists.