Killing of Journalist Shereen Abu Aqleh: Fell in the Struggle to Expose the Reality of the Occupation

Al Jazeera journalist Shereen Abu Aqleh was shot to death during a military raid at the Jenin refugee camp on 11 May, and during her funeral march in East Jerusalem her casket was almost dropped due to the actions of Israeli police.

Ariel Gottlieb, Member of the Executive Board of Union of Journalists in Israel (In Personal Capacity), Member of Socialist Struggle Movement (ISA in Israel/Palestine)

(The article is written in personal capacity and does not represent the opinion of the Union of Journalists in Israel; This article was firstly published on 26 May, and last edited on 27 May 2022)

The vicious attack by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) on 11 May, during which Abu Aqleh was shot in the head and her producer Ali Al-Samoudi injured by shots to his back, is one of too many cases in which Palestinian journalists documenting the reality of the occupation have been attacked. This April, the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate and the International Federation of Journalists have filed an official complaint to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague outlining the systematic repression of Palestinian journalists, including the killings of 50 media workers since 2000.

“It might not be easy to change reality, but at least I could bring their voice to the world”, Abu Aqleh was quoted from the archives. She was born under the occupation in East Jerusalem and had been an Al Jazeera reporter for 25 years. During her professional and dedicated work Abu Aqleh exposed many lies and cover ups by the IDF Spokesperson, and was known in every household in the West Bank and throughout the Middle East. Her death in the struggle to expose the horrors of the occupation has angered many in the Middle East and throughout the world, and protests took place on both sides of the Green Line [both within Israel proper and in the occupied Palestinian territories of 1967].

The Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association (AMEJA) published a statement demanding “a transparent and independent investigation into the actions that led to Shereen’s death… The perpetrators have to be held accountable.” The emphasis on an investigation that is independent from the military and authorities is a basic and necessary demand.

Meanwhile, the IDF has already declared,with the pending approval of the Military Attorney, that no official investigation will take place. As the Yesh Din (Volunteers for Human Rights) organization responded, “the IDF law enforcement is no longer even bothering to provide the appearance of an investigation. 80% of complaints are dismissed without any criminal investigation.”

Eye witnesses, including the producer Al-Samoudi, reported that the IDF is the force that shot the journalists and that during the shooting there were no armed Palestinian militants around Shereen. Hussein Al-Sheikh, Head of the General Authority of Civil Affairs of the Palestinian Authority, clarified that investigation findings by the Palestinian Authority will be reported to international authorities, and has argued that “all signs point to the special Israeli forces killing her”.

Facing the evidence, even the IDF Spokesperson, who usually rushes to deny any IDF attack on civilians, was forced to restrict himself when asked if he can confirm with certainty that Abu Aqleh was shot by Palestinian fire: “I can’t say for certain”, he said and added that “it can definitely be that she was shot by Palestinian fire”. The IDF has meanwhile confirmed that from an action report it appears that the killing bullet was 5.56mm from an M16 rifle, which the IDF also uses, and that at least six instances of fire by the IDF towards the space occupied by the journalists were identified.

Since Abu Aqleh also had U.S. citizenship, the U.S. state department published a statement denouncing the killing and called for an immediate and thorough investigation, adding that Abu Aqleh’s killing is an attack on the freedom of the press as a whole. Former IDF Spokesperson and now minister of the diaspora, Labor Party MP Nahman Shay, admitted in a radio interview that “Israel’s credibility isn’t the highest during these types of cases. We know that. It’s based on the past, and the Americans won’t accept results that aren’t based on independent authorities”. He called to add a U.S. pathologist in order to “add credibility to the investigation”.

The shockwaves from Abu Aqleh’s death also rocked the shaky coalition government of occupation and capitalism, with already escalating national tensions in the background. The Raam Party [Arab-Palestinian Islamist party, participating in the Israeli coalition government] decided to respond by canceling the press conference where the party was supposed to present its stance regarding continuing to remain in the coalition (they eventually decided to remain). Additionally, for the first time, MP Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi from the Meretz Party announced she is leaving the coalition, pointing towards the attack on Abu Aqleh’s funeral march as one of the reasons.

Impressively, thousands participated in the funeral march on Friday, 13 May. The Jerusalem police added insult to injury when they attacked the participants, including the pallbearers, and almost caused the casket to fall. The shocking images have reflected not only an extreme lack of sensitivity and a Jewish supremacist attitude, but also an attempt to prevent any type of Palestinian protest in the public sphere of East Jerusalem. The police attempted to force the Abu Aqleh family to sign an agreement according to which the funeral march will feature no Palestinian flags, national songs or slogans.

The police attempted to justify the ban of flags, the positioning of checkpoints at the Damascus Gate of Old Jerusalem, provocative Israeli movement towards the casket and the widespread attack on the participants — which led to dozens of injuries — with claims of Palestinians throwing stones, and clarified that no disciplinary actions will be taken against the police officers. This is, in fact, a blunt cover up. Minister of Public Security MP Omer Bar-Lev from the Labor Party has defended the police and put the blame for the violence on the participants, although intense international denunciations forced him to open a police investigation of the events.

Ultimately, while it is correct to demand an independent investigation by journalist organizations, trade unions and international experts, it is important to bear in mind that Abu Aqleh was killed during an Israeli military invasion of a Palestinian refugee camp, in the context of an occupation forced upon millions of Palestinians deprived of rights. The destruction of the media building that hosted the Al Jazeera office during the attack on Gaza in May 2021 was a graphic example of the barbaric war against documenting, reporting and exposing the reality on the ground by the defenders of the status quo of the occupation, siege, poverty and inequality. The Israeli regime in recent years has shut down Palestinian media, arrested reporters, attacked and even shot and killed journalists — including two who reported on the heavy military oppression against the demonstrations near the fence surrounding the Gaza Strip in 2018.

Scandals showing the ties between the capitalist media and the regime, involving former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and several media moguls, have provided a reminder of the phenomena of serious cover ups among the capitalist media, which directly serves the interests of government figures and of capitalists. Also, the phenomena of a mobilized media in Israel, which is regularly used as a bullhorn for government and IDF propaganda when it comes to military operations and attacks on Palestinian civilians, serves to cultivate nationalist incitement, weaken journalism itself and prolong the burning social problems, including the occupation.

Beyond the necessary solidarity that is required of Israeli journalists, it is of special importance to oppose the attacks on freedom of the press and on journalists on both sides of the Green Line — a regime that is allowed to attack and silence journalists in one arena jeopardizes the work of journalists everywhere. Additionally, persecution of Palestinian and other journalists in the service of covering up the reality of the occupation adds to the spread of fake news and the withholding of necessary information from millions of Israelis and others around the world. This point emphasizes the need for The Union of Journalists in Israel to build a strong defense against the repeated attacks on Palestinian journalists.