Palestinian Journalist Killed For Exposing Occupation

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Ariel Gottlieb, member of the Executive Board of the Union of Journalists in Israel and a member of Socialist Struggle Movement (ISA in Israel/Palestine) reports in a personal capacity.

The attack by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) on May 11, during which Abu Aqleh was shot in the head and killed, is one of too many cases where Palestinian journalists who have been documenting the reality of the occupation have been attacked.

“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. Her death, in the struggle to expose the horrors of the occupation, has angered many in the Middle East and throughout the world. Protests took place both in Israel and in the West Bank.

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 at all. 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 was 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 investigative 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.”

Faced with the evidence, even the IDF spokesperson, who usually rushes to deny any IDF attack on civilians, was forced to restrain himself when asked if he can confirm with certainty that Abu Aqleh was shot by Palestinian fire: “I can’t say for certain.” He 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.

The shockwaves from Abu Aqleh’s death also rocked the shaky coalition government, a government of occupation and capitalism, with already existing general international tensions in the background. The Israeli-Palestinian Raam Party responded by canceling the press conference where they planned to present their stance to remain in the coalition. Despite the delayed press conference, 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. 

Thousands participated in the funeral march on Friday, May 13. 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. 

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 so much more is needed. 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 without any rights. The complete destruction of the media building which hosted the Al-Jazeera office during the attack on Gaza in May 2021 supplied a barbaric, graphic example of the war by the defenders of the status quo of occupation, siege, poverty, and inequality on any documentation or exposure of the reality on the ground. Within the framework of this system, the Israeli regime in recent years has shut down Palestinian media, arrested reporters, attacked and even shot and killed journalists – two of them have reported on the heavy military oppression against the demonstrations near the fence surrounding the Gaza Strip in 2018.

It is of special importance to defend against attacks on freedom of the press and on journalists, both within Israel proper and in the Palestinian areas of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – a regime which is allowed to attack and silence journalists in one arena jeopardizes the work of journalists everywhere. This point emphasizes the need for The Union of Journalists in Israel to build a strong defense against the repeated attacks on Palestinian journalists.