Shireen Abu Akleh Killed in the West Bank: What We Know

News broadcaster Al Jazeera accused Israel of “blatent murder” following the killing of one of its veteran journalists in the West Bank on Wednesday. Shireen Abu Akleh (a 51-year old Palestinian-American journalist for Al Jazeera Arabic) was killed while reporting on a raid of an Israeli refugee camp by security and military forces.

This killing has provoked global grief and condemnation at a time when violence is increasing and tensions are rising in the West Bank. Abu Akleh’s death came just days after the publication of the 2022 World Press Freedoms Index which found that journalism is restricted and under threat in well over two thirds of the world.

Israeli forces were accused of harassing Palestinian journalist covering conflict in the region. Abu Akleh’s death brings the number of journalists killed in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory since 1992 to 19. Following the news of Abu Akleh’s death, Israeli military spokesperson Ran Kochav described the journalist and her colleagues as “armed with cameras, if you’ll permit me to say so.”

What we know about Shireen Abu Akleh’s death so far

According to Abu Akleh’s employer Al Jazeera, which released a statement shortly after her death, she was reporting on the Israeli military’s operations at the Jenin refugee camp in northern West Bank on early Wednesday morning. After being shot in the head she was taken to hospital, where she succumbed to her injuries. According to reports, Ali al-Samoudi is being treated for injuries in her back.

While we are certain that Abu Akleh died, conflicting information exists about the perpetrators. Al Jazeera says that she was “assassinated in cold blood” by Israeli occupation forces, who “target[ed] her with live fire.” At first the Israeli military denied the allegation, but a Washington PostAccording to a Thursday report, an official from Israel said the country was looking into whether it fired the fatal shot on its soldiers.

In a previous Israeli military statement, it suggested that the death was caused by Palestinian militants. It said that troops were defending themselves from “massive fire” in Jenin and that “there is a possibility, now being looked into, that reporters were hit—possibly by shots fired by Palestinian gunmen.”

Other journalists on the ground questioned this account. Al Jazeera reported that journalists on the ground claimed there weren’t any Palestinian fighters at the time.

“We were going to film the Israeli army operation and suddenly they shot us without asking us to leave or stop filming,” said al-Samoudi, Abu Akleh’s colleague who was wounded.

Abu Akleh is seen in video footage at the scene wearing a jacket that identifies her as a journalist.

Shatha Hanaysha was a Quds News Network journalist who saw the murder and told the GuardianAbu Akleh, despite wearing a helmet, was still shot in her head. “So it is obvious that the one who shot her meant to hit an exposed part of her body,” Hanaysha said. “This is an assassination.”

Her legacy

Abu Akleh is well-known in the Arab world as a journalist who covered the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict that spanned over three decades. Having joined the network in 1997, only a year after its launch, she covered many of the region’s historic flashpoints. These included the second intifadeh—a five year Palestinian uprising against Israel which began in 2000—the battle of Jenin in 2002 and the death of Yasser Arafat, President of the Palestinian National Authority, in 2004.

Her reputation as a leading authority on the events of the region was high, with praises for her dedication to highlighting the stories of Israelis and Palestinians. “Shireen was our voice. It is unbelievable,” Palestinian MP Khalida Jarrar told Al Jazeera.

Tamara Alrifai was a spokesperson at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. She told the GuardianAbu Akleh has been an integral part of the Palestinian history. “The fact that she has covered so many stormy events unscathed makes her death today even more shocking.”

A day following her murder, thousands of Palestinians attended the state service in Ramallah for Abu Akleh. The coffin was draped with the Palestinian flag and carried to the ceremony at the presidential compound.

There have been weeks of violence in Israel and West Bank

Abu Akleh was killed on a reporting assignment during an Israeli raid which the military said was conducted to find Palestinian “terrorist suspects.” Israeli forces have stepped up the number of raids in the area in recent weeks, following a wave of attacks targeting Jewish Israelis that have left 19 people dead. As a result, violence has escalated in Jenin and the deaths of 28 Palestinians as well as three Arab-Israelis.

Tensions have escalated in the Palestinian territory and other parts of Israel. Numerous Palestinians have been injured in ongoing clashes at Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa mosque compound. This is a holy site for Jews and Muslims. The unrest within the compound led to an 11-day war last year between Israeli forces as well as Hamas (the militant Palestinian group).

What Israeli and Palestinian authorities have to say

Mahmoud Abubas, the President of Palestinian Authority, claimed Israel was responsible for her murder. He said her killing was “part of the occupation’s policy of targeting journalists to obscure the truth and commit crimes silently”.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett initially denied Abbas’ allegations. “According to the information we have gathered, it appears likely that armed Palestinians—who were firing indiscriminately at the time—were responsible for the unfortunate death of the journalist,” he said in a statementAfter the breaking news on Wednesday.

On Wednesday afternoon, Israeli military chief Aviv Kohavi backtracked from earlier comments that sought to assign blame, saying: “it is not possible to determine whose shooting she was hit by and we are sorry for her death.”

Then, on Thursday the Washington Post reported a shift in the Israeli military’s stance. According to reports, it is exploring whether its soldiers are responsible for the fatal shooting.

A joint Israeli-Palestinian investigation has not been initiated by the Palestinian Authority. Because they were concerned that Israeli officials might not be objective, Palestinian Authority officials have declined to turn over the fatal bullet to Abu Akleh’s laboratory. Israel, on the other hand, says that the Palestinian Authority is trying to hide the bullet’s origin. The results of a post-mortem were not released by Palestinian authorities.

Abbas said that he would instead refer the matter to the International Criminal Court, while addressing Abu Akleh at the ceremony.

​​The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Palestine, Francesca Albanese, told Anadolu Agency that the journalist’s killing amounted to a “serious violation of international humanitarian law and is potentially a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.”

Officials in the United States are talking about it

Each speaker of the House of Representatives is the White House. Nancy Pelosi have condemned Abu Akleh’s killing and called for a thorough investigation.

“Congress is committed to the defense of press freedoms worldwide and protection of every journalist, particularly those in conflict zones,” Pelosi said in a statement.

U.S.-based Al Jazeera staff held one minute of silence outside the organization’s Washington bureau.

Globally, journalists are constantly under threat in their attempts to raise accountability and fight disinformation. According to the International Press Institute, Abu Akleh’s death brings the global toll of journalists killed in the field to 28 so far in 2022. Reporters Without Borders warned on May 3rd that the rate of global media polarization had increased by twofold in the last year.

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