Conflict Alerts # 515, 18 May 2022
Israel: Al Jazeera Journalist killed in the West Bank
In the news
On 11 May, Shireen Abu Akleh, an Al Jazeera journalist covering Palestine news, was shot by Israel's forces on the West Bank. Abu Akleh was covering Israel's military operations in the refugee camp of Jenin. She was wearing a vest that said "press", but Israel's snipers did not wait before opening fire. Abu Akleh was shot in the head, while Al Jazeera's other journalist Ali al-Samoudi was shot in the back. Abu Akleh was rushed to the hospital in critical condition and passed away shortly, while al-Samoudi is stable. Abu Akleh was shortly transferred to the Itishari hospital in Ramallah, a city in the central West Bank, for autopsy after public prosecution.
The Palestinian Authority's President Mahmoud Abbas has stated: "it was a cold blooded murder, and it shows the monstrosity of Israeli colonialism and occupation." However, Israel has denied all allegations with the prime minister Naftali Bennet stating: "these are unfounded allegations before Israel could conduct a thorough investigation, Palestinians firing indiscriminately were responsible for the killing of journalists." The Al Jazeera reporters present on scene, including al-Samoudi, deny the presence of any Palestinian fighters in Jenin, and they claim there was no confrontation between Palestinian people and Israel's forces. Al-Samoudi has stated that journalists were directly targeted.
On 13 May, the funeral of Abu Akleh was conducted in East Jerusalem. Israel's police forces attacked the procession and beat the mourners, almost causing them to drop the coffin. Palestinian flags were seized and all patriotic music was shut off. The Jerusalem Red Crescent said 33 people were injured. The US has described the scenes as "deeply disturbing," while the EU said it was "appalled by the violence and the level of unnecessary force exercised by Israeli police." Al Jazeera has strongly condemned the attacks stating the attack "violates all international norms and rights."
Issues at large
First, Israel's target of journalists. The International Federation of Journalists says Israeli forces have killed at least 46 Palestinian journalists since 2000, detaining and imprisoning many more. Abu Akleh was one of the 12 Al Jazeera staff killed on duty. Palestinian journalists face constant harassment and attacks from Israel's forces, especially when trying to cover Israel's brutality. Even though Israel was familiar with Abu Akleh since she's been working for the network for more than two decades, it did not help her from facing attacks. The killing is a testament to the lack of freedom of the press for Palestinian journalists.
Second, the conflict in Jenin. Abu Akleh covered Israel's recent military operations in the Jenin refugee camp. Israel has increased its raids after 19 Jewish Israelis were killed in recent violence. The raids have caused the violence to increase, with 28 Palestinians dead. Abu Akleh's last email read: "Occupation forces storm Jenin and besiege a house in the Jabriyat neighbourhood. On the way there – I will bring you news as soon as the picture becomes clear." Violence in West Bank has increased, especially after the Al Aqsa mosque attacks.
Third, the violence at the funeral. Israel's attacks on the mourners reduce the credibility of its statements. It indicates the use of unnecessary violence and stripping the dead of basic respect and rights. For this reason, Palestine has declined the offer of joint investigation on the killing suggested by Israel. Israel's trigger for indulging in violence in this incident seems trivial and unfounded.
Fourth, the US response. The US has emerged as a strong and vocal advocate for a just and transparent investigation. Further, they have condemned the violence that occurred at the funeral. Abu Akleh was a Palestinian-American journalist who held dual citizenship. The US has risen in solidarity in the killing of one of its citizens, with Washington hosting a vigil for Abu Akleh. However, American based activists have called out the hypocrisy- such statements ignore Washington's complicit involvement in Israel's human rights violation as US politicians give unconditional support to the Israeli government. Joe Biden's aid to Israel currently amounts to USD 3.8 billion annually, provided without calling Israel out on its human rights abuses.
First, the lack of Palestinian voices. The number of media outlets for Palestinians to voice out their issues remains limited because of innumerable restrictions. Abu Akleh was one of the most trusted, respected and beloved reporters for the Palestinian people. Incidents like these are likely to discourage journalists from reporting on Palestine because of fear and helplessness.
Second, the lack of repercussions. Israel's target of journalists has existed for more than two decades. However, the international community has been unable to impose consequences on the government. The lack of unchecked aid and the emergence of more pro-Israel policies like the Abraham accords have made the issue complex to tackle. Humanitarian abuses need to receive more international pressure until fair justice is provided to the affected people.