Palestinian scribes to guard Shireen’s legacy

While the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has not ruled out that she was accidentally killed by an Israeli sniper stationed around 200 meters away, the army argues that she may have been shot by indiscriminate Palestinian gunfire.
Palestinian scribes to guard Shireen’s legacy
Shireen Abu Akleh

TANIA KRAMER

CHENNAI: It’s been almost two weeks since Faten Elwan woke up to the dreadful news that her colleague and close friend Shireen Abu Akleh had been fatally shot in the early morning of May 11. Abu Akleh, a senior correspondent with Al Jazeera Arabic, was covering an Israeli military raid in the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank on that fateful day. “Now we start to realise and it just doesn’t make sense,” says Elwan, a Palestinian journalist who lives in Ramallah and currently works for a youth website. “We just pick up the phone and call her, we are not over that habit yet.”

Elwan used to work for US-based Alhurra TV and for more than 15 years often reported side-by-side with Abu Akleh. “What was so special about her was that she will never go to any place just thinking of a mission that she quickly needs to finish,” says Elwan, still speaking in the present tense. Abu Akleh, who was just a few years older, took Elwan under her wing when she started out in journalism. Elwan remembers her colleague always looked for the “human angle” in her story. “She respects the place, she makes people around her feel comfortable to talk and then she starts the work.” The Qatar-based Al Jazeera network, for which the Palestinian-American journalist worked for over 20 years, and the Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the occupied West Bank, have blamed Israel for what they believe was the intentional killing of the well-known journalist. Al Jazeera said on Thursday that it assigned a legal team to refer it to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

While the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has not ruled out that she was accidentally killed by an Israeli sniper stationed around 200 meters away, the army argues that she may have been shot by indiscriminate Palestinian gunfire. Eyewitness accounts from Palestinian journalists and bystanders contradict the claim that there was an exchange of fire when the journalist was killed.

In the findings of an initial investigation, published two days after the incident, the IDF concluded that “it is not possible to unequivocally determine the source of gunfire which hit and killed Ms. Abu Akleh.” The IDF has denied accusations of deliberately targeting journalists.

The death of Abu Akleh, who was well-known and respected beyond the Palestinian Territories, has sent shockwaves throughout the journalistic community. Many among the younger generation of Palestinian journalists grew up watching her reporting and she is endearingly remembered for her famously calm and collected sign-off, no matter the story. “She was our face at Al Jazeera, and for us media students, we learned a lot from her, and we owe her a lot,” says 20-year-old Diana Shweiki, a thirdyear student in media studies at Al Quds University, a Palestinian university in Jerusalem.

But her death also raises difficult questions about reporting from a conflict zone. “There is no more safety for journalists,” says Shweiki.

The Committee to Protect Journalists says it has confirmed the killing of 19 journalists in Israel and the Palestinian Territories since 2000, although other organizations such as Paris-based Reporters Without Borders puts that figure higher. “Wherever there’s conflict, there’s danger,” says Walid Batrawi, a former colleague of Abu Akleh’s at Al Jazeera English. Batrawi, a Palestinian journalist, has made it his mission to train Palestinian journalists who work in hostile environments. “The basic rule for journalists is to be aware and to take all cautious measures and considerations. Mostly those who work for foreign media would have the chance to be trained in protecting themselves, even though, you are not protected 100 percent.”

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