They call her ‘The dame of Arab journalism’ for her unbiased reporting, indefatigable spirit, and being able to objectively carry the Palestinian narrative to the entire world. But alas, she’s no more! Murdered in cold blood by the Israeli soldiers as alleged, Shireen Abu Akleh was just 51.
Shot dead in the Israeli-occupied West Bank city of Jenin, Shireen had worked for Aljazeera news network for over twenty years and was known for her professionalism and calm demeanour. She was practising the ethics of her profession when she was mowed down. Shireen was a Christian and an American citizen. She was also a renowned Palestinian television personality. While Aljazeera and Palestinian officials accuse Israel of the gruesome assassination, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett blames it squarely on ‘armed Palestinians who had been firing in the vicinity.’ A video is released to purportedly show their side of the macabre story, but this is refuted outright by the Palestinian Authority, President Mahmoud Abbas, who has threatened to take the case to the International Criminal Court. The Palestine Ministry of Information alleges that at least 45 journalists have been killed so far by the Israeli forces and that they – the Palestinian authorities – cannot take it anymore.
The murder of Shireen was an attack on the freedom of the press and of opinion. The dastardly act constitutes a breach of international norms and those who did this evil must be brought to book and not go with impunity. Though the circumstances of her death appear hazy as Jenin itself is a known hub in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an inkling seem to suggest she may have been a marked target, as she had been clad in a notable protective vest that bore the inscription: ‘PRESS.’ She had also adorned a helmet. Anyone could have known she was just a practising journalist except of course, those who had an axe to grind.
The free media is vital in society, as it serves as a mirror in which the public can see itself. The beauty of journalism is therefore seen in its role to inform, educate and hold the government accountable to its citizens. Unfortunately, it is this latter function that draws the ire of all tyrants who would have wanted the public kept in perpetual ignorance for human rights abuse and absolute dictatorship to thrive – and why the wicked of the world and their ilk fear a free press is what I cannot fathom out. Let me reiterate that journalism is not a crime. Our role encompasses speaking truth to power, standing up for the millions unable to stand up for themselves and being a voice for the voiceless. These are sacred roles attributable to members of the Fourth Estate – and we just can’t shirk it.
I want justice for my slain professional colleague, and investigations into her gruesome murder must be impartial and transparent. Israel has opted for that investigation. But with the Palestinian Authority refusing to parley coupled with Amnesty International, the Human Rights Watch and other rights organisations labelling her an ‘Apartheid State,’ one wonders if the actual circumstances surrounding the murder of this notable journalist would ever come to light.
Our hearts bleed for you, Shireen, but you remain victorious even in death. Your killers carried out their heinous acts to stop or contain free speech, but they forgot that killing the messenger does not necessarily asphyxiate the message. They’ve not been able to stifle the voice of truth. You are being held as a beacon of hope and a symbol of courage the world over, your praises sang from the Middle East to the Far East, Europe and the Americas.
Rest in Peace, kind soul!
Written by: Martins Agbonlahor