Shireen Abu Akleh

Shireen Abu Akleh

Shireen Abu Akleh was an esteemed American-Palestinian journalist who was killed earlier this week in the West Bank city of Jenin, where Israeli forces have been making military arrests and raids.

Abu Akleh was a reporter for Al Jazeera who’s been reporting for the past 25 years on Palestinians living under Israel’s military occupation. Millions watched her report the news on TV on a near-nightly basis. She should have been allowed to do her job, not murdered for it.

Shireen Abu Akleh is an icon in the Middle East and foreign journalists who report there hold her in high esteem as well. Now, Arab journalists are staging sit-ins around the world in protest of Israel and wanting her death covered. Qatar lit up a building in her image. Nearly every cartoonist in the Middle East has covered her death (and I may be the first in the United States). Newborn daughters are being named after her. She has become a symbol of Palestine.

Israel’s first response to news of her death was to publish a video of a Palestinian gunman shooting indiscriminately from inside the Jenin refugee camp, blaming Palestinians for her death. The only problem is she wasn’t anywhere near that location.

Israel’s usual strategy for explaining its killing of civilians is to deny and deflect. They often blame Palestinians for the Israeli Defense Forces’ murder of Palestinians. They will claim the civilian they killed was in the same area as terrorists. Or, they’ll claim the civilian was a terrorist. Israel bombed an 11-story building last year which housed Palestinian media networks and the Associated Press but justified it by saying it was being used by Hamas.

After Israel published their video blaming Palestinians for shooting Abu Akleh, Al Jazeera posted footage showing Abu Akleh face down on the ground in a less built-up area and her colleagues trying helplessly to reach her as bullets continued to fly. The word “PRESS” was visible in large letters on her protective gear. Her producer, Ali Samudi, who was also shot, said, “We saw the soldiers in the area and there were no Palestinians there. The soldiers were about 150 meters away….I did not see who was shooting, but I see from where the bullets coming. They coming from the area where the soldiers. There were no fighters in the area.” 

Two hours later, a local researcher for the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem filmed a video geolocating the clip of the Palestinian gunmen in the Jenin refugee camp, hundreds of yards and several turns away from the spot where Abu Akleh was killed.

Israel backtracked and Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz told reporters he was very sorry “for what happened.” Israel wants all the forensic evidence so they can “investigate,” but the Palestinians don’t trust them. Israeli minister Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai said, “Israel’s credibility is not great in situations like this.”

Last week, The International Federation of Journalists, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS), and the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians filed a formal complaint at The Hague for Israel’s “systematic targeting of Palestinian journalists.” An estimated 50 Palestinian journalists have been killed since 2000, according to the PJS.

This morning during Shireen Abu Akleh’s funeral service, Israeli police teargassed the crowd, fired flash grenades, and used batons to beat the people carrying her coffin. They’re still working on that credibility.

When Vladimir Putin’s government kills a journalist, we call it out. We condemned Russia for the death of Fox News cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski last March covering the war in Ukraine.

When Mohammed bin Salmen had Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi murdered and his body sliced up into multiple pieces with a bone saw in the basement of Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Turkey, we condemned it and demanded accountability. At the time of Khashoggi’s murder, we had a president (sic) who deflected for MBS. Recently, Trump’s goon son-in-law, who never asked questions or demanded justice for the murder, got a huge financial reward from MBS. This is what happens when you put people into power who don’t respect democracy or press freedom.

Al Jazeera is calling out western media for its coverage of Abu Akleh’s murder. They’re accusing western media of “whitewashing” the story and shying away from implicating Israeli forces in her death.

Beth Miller, the political director of Jewish Voice for Peace, slammed the New York Times for a headline that said Abu Akleh “dies at 51”, without mentioning the cause of her death. Bassam Khawaja, the co-director of NYU Law’s Human Rights and Privatization Project, tweeted: “‘Dies at 51’ is a really strange way to say a journalist was shot in the head.”

The Associated Press, the BBC, and other western news outlets have been accused of taking the Israeli narrative, that Abu Akley was killed by “random” gunfire. Even after being bombed by Israeli forces, the AP still carries the Israeli Defense Forces’ water. ‘Tis but a scratch.

We’re always cautious with the Israeli government, a caution we don’t have for Saudi Arabia or Russia. But it’s not antisemitic to call out a corrupt government that murders journalists just like it’s not Islamophobic to call out Saudi Arabia’s monarchy for butchering a Washington Post reporter. It doesn’t mean you hate Russian people by being against poisoning journalists or throwing them off buildings.

As a political cartoonist, I recognize we cartoonists stand on the shoulders of journalists like Shireen Abu Akleh, who put her life in danger to report the news. Journalists should be protected by governments while they do their jobs, not murdered by them.

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