Shireen Abu Akleh

WASHINGTON (05-12) – The killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh by an Israeli sniper on May 11 has outraged journalists, human rights defenders and ordinary people around the world. In several countries there have been large demonstrations in protest of the killing of the 51-year-old veteran correspondent for Al-Jazeera. Reporting on an early morning raid by the Israeli military in the occupied West Bank town of Jenin she was fatally shot in the head in what appears to be a targeted shooting as the fatal wound was reported to be just below her protective helmet.

An Israeli military spokesman Brig. Gen. Ran Kochav (“Ranko”) claimed that they were not targeting the journalists and on Army radio he then accused Shireen Abu Akleh and her colleague Ali al-Samoudi, who was shot in the back and is in stable condition, of being “armed with cameras,” an outrageous and egregious claim by any standard. Both journalists at the time of the shooting were wearing helmets and vests clearly identifying them as members of the press.

This outlandish and unacceptable comment is a feeble effort to try and turn the tables on reporters doing their job with the reckless abandon that the Israelis use to explain the unexplainable in their narrative of what transpired. By weaponizing cameras, they seem to think that the public will equate the gravity documenting what is happening with a physical threat to their security. Nothing can be further from the truth, however. The offering of such an ill-conceived phantasmagoric construct to explain what transpired to cover up the truth reminds this writer of what Abraham Lincoln once said, “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

Unfortunately, the shooting, jailing and beating of Palestinian journalists in particular as well as others in Israel is a common occurrence in what is described by its government as the “only democracy in the Middle East.” According to the Washington Post, “Since 1972, Nidal Mansour, the founding director of the Amman-based Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists, has documented 103 deaths of Palestinian journalists and nearly 7,000 injuries, plus many detentions and imprisonments.”

In honoring Abu Akleh, the National Press Club observed a minute of silence for her today, after which Abderrahim Foukara, bureau chief of Al-Jazeera in Washington, DC, spoke briefly to those journalists and friends who had assembled for the memorial.

“Al-Jazeera is clear in its position that the bullet that killed Shireen Abu Akleh was an Israeli bullet,” Foukara said, calling for a “thorough, transparent and fair investigation.” Al-Jazeera, he went on to say, wants an end to impunity, not just for those involved in the killing of Abu Akleh, but for those involved in the killing of journalists anywhere and in violating press freedom. Foukara quoted U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres who said, “without press freedom there is no freedom.”

Abu Akleh, who covered the U.S. elections in Washington for Al-Jazeera, was an “intrepid and amazing human being,” Foukara said. “We will all miss her and hope this will mark a turning point in the long pattern the world has known of killing journalists and of violating press freedom in various parts of the world.”

So far this year according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) there have been 31 journalists and media workers killed with Mexico and Ukraine being the deadliest places to cover the news. A vibrant democracy requires a free press that can report the news to inform the public about such basic facts that they require to understand what is happening and to be informed on the issues of the day. Without that a democracy suffocates.

Report and photos by Phil Pasquini

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