Issued by CEMO Center - Paris
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Al Jazeera Journalist Is Killed in West Bank

Wednesday 11/May/2022 - 04:00 PM
The Reference

A journalist for Al Jazeera was fatally shot in the West Bank city of Jenin early Wednesday, the news network and the Palestinian health ministry said, blaming Israeli forces for her death.

The circumstances surrounding the shooting of the journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian American, were not immediately clear but it happened during clashes between the Israeli military and Palestinian gunmen in the city. Al Jazeera, citing the health ministry, said the journalist had been shot in the head by Israeli forces during a raid.

“Al Jazeera holds the Israeli government and the occupation forces responsible for the killing of Shireen,” the news network said in a statement. “It also calls on the international community to condemn and hold the Israeli occupation forces accountable.”

The Israeli military said on Twitter that it was investigating the possibility that journalists had been injured, “possibly by Palestinian armed gunfire.”

Ms. Abu Akleh, 51, a veteran journalist, was wearing a protective vest that identified her as a member of the news media, Al Jazeera reported.

Video from the moments around her death, broadcast by Al Jazeera, does not show Ms. Abu Akleh being shot but gunfire can be heard in the first few seconds, followed by a man yelling, “Injured! Shireen, Shireen, oh man, Shireen! Ambulance!”

As he continues to yell for an ambulance, the camera moves toward Ms. Abu Akleh, who is slumped face down.

Next to her in the video being aired by Al Jazeera, another journalist, identified by Al Jazeera as Shatha Hanaysha and also wearing a vest marked press and a helmet, crouches down and tries to reach out to Ms. Abu Akleh. But she was forced back by gunfire.

Ms. Hanaysha told Al Jazeera that there had been not been any confrontations between Palestinian fighters and the Israeli army as the shots were fired toward the journalists and that the group of journalists had been targeted.

“We were four journalists — we were all wearing vests, all wearing helmets,” Ms. Hanaysha told Al Jazeera. Israeli forces, she said, “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.”

Another Al Jazeera journalist, Ali Samoudi, who was also wearing a protective vest, was shot in the back, according to the official Palestinian news agency, which cited the health ministry. Al Jazeera reported that he was in stable condition.

“Very sad to learn of the death of American and Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh,” Thomas R. Nides, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, said in a tweet. “I encourage a thorough investigation into the circumstances of her death and the injury of at least one other journalist today in Jenin.”

In the wake of a series of attacks by Palestinians in Israel, the Israeli military has been carrying out regular raids into Jenin, a Palestinian city in the occupied West Bank, since early April.

The Israeli military said on Twitter that its forces had been in Jenin to arrest suspects and came under fire first.

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, condemned what he called the “assassination” of Ms. Abu Akleh and said he held Israel fully responsible for her death. Mr. Abbas said the death was part of a broader Israeli policy of targeting journalists to “blur reality and carry out crimes in silence.”

Last month, international and Palestinian journalist groups filed a formal complaint with the International Criminal Court accusing Israel of war crimes against journalists and of systematically targeting journalists working in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, as well as of failing to properly investigate killings of news media workers.

Ms. Abu Akleh “joins other journalists that Israel killed as they worked on revealing the crimes of the Israeli occupation,” the Palestinian information ministry said in a statement.

The ministry said it would “intensify efforts to achieve justice for our journalists and ensure accountability for the Israeli occupation for its crimes against journalists and further ensure ending Israeli impunity.”

The Palestinian Authority’s state prosecutor’s office said it had begun an investigation into Ms. Abu Akleh’s death and Mr. Samoudi’s injury, in preparation to refer the case to the International Criminal Court. An autopsy on Ms. Abu Akleh was performed, a spokeswoman said.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it had offered to conduct a joint investigation with the Palestinians into the “sad death” of Ms. Abu Akleh: “Journalists must be protected in conflict zones, and we all have a responsibility to get to the truth.”

The U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem said in a statement that it was providing Ms. Abu Akleh’s family with consular assistance, and that the protection of American citizens was a “top priority.”

“Ms. Abu Akleh covered issues in the Middle East and internationally for more than two decades and was deeply respected by many Palestinians and others around the world,” said the statement, which was attributed to an unnamed embassy spokesperson.

In the statement, the United States called for a swift, thorough and transparent investigation into the circumstances of Ms. Abu Akleh’s death and Mr. Samoudi’s injury.

Ms. Abu Akleh joined Al Jazeera in 1997 and was one of the network’s first field correspondents, Al Jazeera said.

In a short reel shared by Al Jazeera, Ms. Abu Akleh said, “I chose journalism to be close to the people. It might not be easy to change the reality but at least I was able to bring their voice to the world.”

The Palestinian Authority’s ambassador to Britain, Husam Zomlot, called her the “most prominent Palestinian journalist.”

The death of Ms. Abu Akleh comes in a year that is shaping up to be a particularly deadly one for media professionals around the world.

At least 27 have been killed while working or for reasons relating to their journalistic activities since Jan. 1, including seven in Ukraine and eight in Mexico, according to the nonprofit Reporters Without Borders. The Committee to Protect Journalists’ tally says 29 journalists and media workers have been killed this year.

Since 1992, 24 journalists have been killed in Israel and the Palestinian territories, at least 14 of them because they were caught in crossfire, according to the database maintained by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

In a phone interview from his hospital bed, Mr. Samoudi said he and Ms. Abu Akleh were among a group of journalists in an area of Jenin where there were no clashes. The group, wearing press vests and helmets, walked onto an open road from which they were visible to the Israeli military vehicles, he said.

“There were no armed Palestinians or resistance or even civilians in the area,” he said. “We walked toward the soldiers for about 20 meters. Then all of a sudden the first bullet was fired.”

“Shireen yelled ‘They are firing at us,’ and we started running away,” he said. “The last thing I heard was Shireen screaming ‘Ali is injured, Ali is injured,’ and after that the third or fourth bullet hit her and she was martyred.”

Dalia Hatuqa, a friend of Ms. Abu Akleh and another Palestinian American journalist, said she had helped inspire other Palestinian women to get into journalism.

“I know of a lot of girls who grew up basically standing in front of a mirror and holding their hair brushes and pretending to be Shireen,” she said. “That’s how lasting and important her presence was.”