Oh, the lies. They pour freely forth from the mouths of Israeli leaders and army officers.
The IDF was in the midst of an operation to kidnap Palestinians suspected of militant activities in Jenin. Several Palestinian journalists were on the scene to cover the operation. Four of them were gathered together. They were nowhere near any firing or conflict. They stood by themselves and were clearly identified by the Press vests and helmets they wore. Shireen Abu-Akleh was shot in the head:
Another Al Jazeera journalist, Ali Samoudi, was also wounded after being shot in the back. He is now in a stable condition, and said that there were no Palestinian fighters present when the journalists were shot, directly disputing an Israeli statement that referenced the possibility.
“We were going to film the Israeli army operation and suddenly they shot us without asking us to leave or stop filming,” said Samoudi. “The first bullet hit me and the second bullet hit Shireen … there was no Palestinian military resistance at all at the scene.”
Shatha Hanaysha, a Palestinian journalist who was present next to Abu Akleh when she was shot, also told Al Jazeera that there had been no confrontations between Palestinian fighters and the Israeli army, and said that the group of journalists had been targeted.
“We were four journalists, we were all wearing vests, all wearing helmets,” Hanaysha said. “The [Israeli] occupation army did not stop firing even after she collapsed. I couldn’t even extend my arm to pull her because of the shots. The army was adamant on shooting to kill.”
This timeline offers a credible account of the scene at the time of the Israeli shooting:
• A group of journalists arrived at the edge of Jenin refugee camp, Shireen and collogues, including Al-Smodi and Hanaysheh, they were wearing flak jackets and helmets, and kept themselves together as an obvious group;
• At that moment, there were neither clashes nor shooting from any side, even there were no protests or throwing stones, there were nothing;
• Three gunshots were shot by Israeli soldiers, the first missed Ali, the second one hit him in his shoulder, Shireen shouted “Ali has been wounded”;
• The third gunshot directly hit Shireen in the head (beneath her ear), fell to the ground under a tree;
• Journalists could not rescue her because shooting continued for more than three minutes from the same Israeli side.
• Shireen was evacuated to hospital with a private vehicle because the Israeli soldiers prevented ambulances from arriving the scene.
Al Jazeera has said this was an execution:
Al Jazeera said in a statement that the Israeli military “assassinated Abu Akleh in cold blood,” and called on the international community to condemn her killing and hold Israel accountable.
“We commit to take legal action against those responsible and bring them to justice,” the news outlet said.
Good luck to them. The AP made the same vow after the IAF destroyed its offices in a Gaza residential tower felled by missile strikes. It’s still waiting for an answer to this indiscriminate attack on journalism.
In the past, the IDF has murdered journalists in Gaza. But it has never murdered any in the West Bank; certainly not a journalist for a foreign news outlet; and it has even more certainly never murdered an American citizen who is a practicing journalist. This is an IDF trifecta.
Let’s make something very clear. The bullet fired by the IDF sniper was a kill shot. It entered her neck and exited her face. Snipers don’t strike victims in the head unless intending to kill. Why would they murder her? Because she was the face of Palestine on the most popular Arab media outlet. In fact, Palestinian journalists tell how during the Second Intifada soldiers would take to bullhorns and use Shireen’s on-air sign-off as if to taunt the Palestinians and her.
An Israeli Palestinian wrote movingly of what Shireen meant to her as a journalist and Palestinian:
I remember myself as a girl after the second intifada, standing in front of a mirror holding a hairbrush or a remote control and imitating the deep, calm voice with which she ended her reports: “Shireen Abu Akleh, Al Jazeera, Palestine.”
That iconic sign-off, a catchphrase that every Palestinian child or teenager growing up in the shadow of the second intifada… took on a new meaning Wednesday: painful, heartbreaking and bleeding. Who would have believed that the woman with this deep, courageous voice would leave us so soon, in such a cruel way…
Abu Akleh wasn’t just another very professional journalist or a great reporter, she was the voice of my generation. She shaped our political consciousness to a large degree, and over the course of two decades was a notable model for commitment, professionalism, honesty, humanity and quality. It’s no wonder that she became an icon.
Every time there was a military operation…her voice became our soundtrack…In many respects, during those difficult times she was the most important Palestinian personality there was, the one whom the entire world heard and saw day after day and through whom they were exposed to the injustices of the occupation. For me, she was a presence even before I understood what the occupation meant.
…Israelis don’t understand the depth of our anger and sadness. For us, the Palestinians, Shireen Abu Akleh was a legend. The entire Palestinian nation, in its homeland that stretches from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, both in exile and in the diaspora, in villages, cities and refugee camps, feel a sense of collective grief. That is the reason for the many tributes, for the demonstrations everywhere. Shireen Abu Akleh was the voice of the Palestinian who has no voice. Her loss is so egregious and so profound that despite everything that has been written, I cannot adequately put it into words.
I will end with something she said in a video posted on Al Jazeera’s website in October: “I chose journalism to be close to people, and I knew that it wouldn’t be easy to change the situation. But at least I managed to bring Palestinians’ voices to the world,”
So it’s not at all unlikely she was assassinated, or as Al Jazeera said above, “executed.” This is Israel’s way of getting rid of what an English king said of Thomas a Beckett: “will someone not rid me of this meddlesome priest?” Shireen was Israel’s meddlesome reporter, and now it is rid of her. It’s ironic that PM Bennett chose this West Bank incursion as a substitute for assassinating Yahya Sinwar. Now he’s assassinated the most important Palestinian journalist of her generation.
It’s difficult to tell whether this is more of the same from an army that doesn’t care to discriminate between civilians, militants and journalists, killing them all indiscriminately; or whether this is a military sinking into a new depth of depravity, deliberately targeting journalists for murder. Either way, this killing places it in the company of other authoritarian regimes which murder their citizen journalists with impunity: Putin’s Russia is right up there at the top of the list. Following closely behind are Sri Lanka, Mexico, and Syria. Next time you hear anyone talk of Israel’s freedom of the press, ask about Shireen. What sort of “freedom” does she enjoy? Freedom to die with her Press vest displayed across her chest?
Israeli officials have shamelessly claimed that Shireen was caught in a crossfire:
Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that, according to Israeli information, “it appears likely that armed Palestinians — who were indiscriminately firing at the time — were responsible.”
…Israeli military officials said at a briefing with reporters earlier that Abu Akleh’s death is “a very tragic incident” and claimed she was likely killed by “indiscriminate [gun]fire by Palestinian militants.”
He followed up with an equally mendacious statement quoted by the Washington Post:
In a statement, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the shooting occurred while the Israel Defense Forces were conducting counterterrorism operations in Jenin, after a spate of deadly attacks over the past few weeks in Israeli cities. During the operation, he said, “armed Palestinians shot in an inaccurate, indiscriminate and uncontrolled manner.”
“Our forces from the IDF returned fire as accurately, carefully and responsibly as possible. Sadly, Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed in the exchange,” he said. “To uncover the truth, there must be a real investigation, and the Palestinians are currently preventing that. Without a serious investigation, we will not reach the truth.”
This is a tissue of lies. The IDF never does a “real investigation.” This meaningless rhetoric is fodder for foreign consumption, meant to mollify those who actually believe in the rule of law and accountability. Israel does a calculation of how much damage an incident will do to its interests. There are no humane or even legal considerations.
There is a concept common among Yiddish speakers called rochmonis (“mercy” or empathy). Israel does not have this capacity, though it does reserve it for Israeli Jews. It doesn’t even have it for Diaspora Jews, though they do merit slightly more consideration. Israel is a hard country. Mercy and empathy are in short supply. Of course, there are historic and psychological reasons for this. But history cannot justify the cold, hard calculating practices of the Israeli state and its representatives in this and many similar cases.
Here is another statement released by an anonymous Israeli source to the Post:
A senior Israeli official, in a statement sent to reporters, said that the Army’s assessment was based on evidence that included video footage in which a gunman is heard saying in Arabic, “We hit a soldier, he’s on the ground.” The Israeli military said that no Israeli soldiers were injured during clashes in Jenin on Wednesday and that the Palestinians in the video may have been referring to Abu Akleh.
This claim makes a laughingstock of whichever idiot released it. So an unsourced video, filmed in an unspecified location, at an unspecified time, featuring unspecified individuals (but not Shireen) offers definitive proof that she was killed either by Palestinian gunmen or in a crossfire? I’m sorry but this is more obfuscation designed to confuse the public. It shows desperation and a calculated attempt to offer so many conflicting narratives that everyone will forget the most credible one offered by multiple eyewitnesses. It’s a common tactic of crisis management, when you have nothing good to offer.
I suppose we’re lucky they didn’t accuse her of taking the soldier’s gun and killing herself. Justice minister Gideon Saar had the chutzpah to call the accusations of murder against the IDF a “blood libel.” I suppose the IDF soldiers weren’t firing bullets but flowers or candy; and somehow she died of a sugar overdose.
The IDF complained that the Palestinians had taken her body and were “refusing” its offer of “a joint investigation” of the incident:
Israeli military spokesperson Gen. Ran Kokhav told army radio that Palestinian officials had taken Abu Akleh’s body and refused to hold a joint pathological investigation into her death.
Palestinian officials have rightly refused. What does Israel want to investigate? It knows what happened. It knows who killed her. It knows why they killed her. They don’t need her body to figure that out. What Israel wants is a way to discredit the findings, seeking to offload guilt onto anyone but themselves.
If you were George Floyd’s family and the Minneapolis Police Department, responsible for murdering him, asked for his body in order to conduct a joint investigation with the family–would you say, as this knucklehead did, that it means the family is hiding something? What could they be hiding? That he didn’t die from asphyxiation, but from bird flu? And why would the police need his body except to discredit the claims that they murdered him? By the way, there were myriad far-right apologetics blaming Floyd for his own death.
When it comes to IDF “investigations,” there are no independent ones. There are only investigations where the results are known before any evidence is collected or facts ascertained. In fact, evidence and facts are irrelevant. All that matters is that the crowning institutional symbol of Israeli nationhood is exonerated of all guilt or responsibility.
Naftali Bennett has once again gotten himself into a fine mess. Just as things were cooling down and Abbas Mansour was about to announce at a press conference that his Islamist Ra’am Party would rejoin the coalition, someone comes along and puts a bullet into a Palestinian woman’s head. What a way to spoil the Party.
Another irony is that the West Bank military operation was designed to assuage those calling for the murder of Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar. The army offered Bennett an alternative: a sweep through the West Bank arresting hundreds of the usual suspects, just to show that the army was doing something to fight Palestinian terror. Now, instead of putting a security feather in his cap, Bennett is dripping in a journalist’s blood.
Of course, no one in Israel cares about this woman. She was a Palestinian first of all. She was a journalist second of all. And a journalist working for an Arab news outlet. She came up short on the empathy meter on all counts. But Israel must be seen to care. It has already announced a full-fledged investigation. That’s for the benefit of the Biden administration, since it too must be seen to care for a US citizen:
Tom Nides, the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, confirmed Shireen Abu Akleh was a Palestinian American citizen and called for “a thorough investigation into the circumstances of her death,” as Palestinian and Israeli officials gave conflicting accounts of what happened to the veteran reporter.
But Biden could care less about Abu-Akleh, citizen or no citizen. She is an inconvenient distraction from other far more pressing matters like Ukraine or North Korean ballistic missile tests. Here’s how little we care. This is what the State Department said after the murder of another American citizen of Palestinian descent:
Remember 78yo ‘Umar As’ad عمر أسعد, the Palestinian American killed by Israel back in January? The U.S. “condemned”, Israel promised to “investigate”.
That was 4 months ago.
Israel doesn’t investigate. Israel whitewashes. And the Biden administration is complicit. https://t.co/bWNvo7spDK
— Hagai El-Ad חגי אלעד حجاي إلعاد (@HagaiElAd) May 11, 2022
Biden and Blinken: get off your a*. Do something. If not, we are complicit.
We don’t hold Israel accountable. We literally let it get away with murder. Shireen’s murder is our shame as Americans.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.