The slain Al Jazeera journalist was an icon of Palestinian coverage

An Al Jazeera correspondent who was shot dead in an Israeli raid in the West Bank on Wednesday was a highly respected journalist in the Middle East whose flawless coverage was known to millions of viewers.

News of Shireen Abu Akleh’s death reverberated throughout the region. The 51-year-old journalist has become a household name synonymous with Al Jazeera’s coverage of life under occupation during her more than two decades of reporting in the Palestinian territories, including during the second intifada, or uprising, which killed thousands of people on both sides, most of them Palestinians.

Abu Akleh’s name made the rounds on Twitter in Arabic on Wednesday, igniting social media with support for the Palestinians. His image was projected in the main square of the West Bank city of Ramallah as mourners flooded the offices of Al Jazeera and his family home in East Jerusalem.

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Al Jazeera and witnesses, including her producer who was shot in the back on Wednesday, said she was killed by Israeli fire. Israel said it was unclear who was responsible, calling it “premature and irresponsible to lay blame at this stage”. Later Wednesday, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz promised a transparent investigation and said he was in contact with US and Palestinian officials.

Abu Akleh’s coverage of the harsh realities of the Israeli military occupation was inextricably linked to his own experience as a Palestinian journalist on the front lines. His death underscores the heavy toll the conflict continues to take on Palestinians, whether they are journalists or not.

Although she is also an American citizen who often visited America during the summers, she lived and worked in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, where those who knew her said she felt most at home. A Palestinian Christian whose family was originally from Bethlehem, she was born and raised in Jerusalem. She leaves behind a brother.

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In an Al Jazeera video released last year, Abu Akleh recalled the scale of the destruction and “the feeling that death was sometimes just around the corner” during his coverage of the second Intifada, from 2000 in 2005. “Despite the dangers, we were determined to get the job done,” she said.

“I chose journalism to be close to people,” she added. “It may not be easy to change reality, but at least I was able to communicate their voice to the world.”

Abu Akleh joined Al Jazeera in 1997, just a year after the groundbreaking Arabic news network launched. Among her many assignments were coverage of five wars in Gaza and Israel’s war on Lebanon in 2006. She reported on forced evictions from homes, murders of young Palestinians, hundreds of Palestinians held without charge in prisons Israelis and the continued expansion of Jewish settlements.

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His longtime producer, Wessam Hammad, said Abu Akleh possessed an incredible ability to stay calm under pressure.

“Shireen has worked all these years with a commitment to the values ​​and ethics of our profession,” he said of Abu Akleh, who the network called “the face of Al Jazeera in Palestine.” .

He and Abu Akleh were often caught in Israeli crossfire during the many stories they covered together, he said. During one mission, their car filled with tear gas and they struggled to breathe. When they thought back to those times, he said Abu Akleh laughed and marveled at how they had managed to survive.

Footage of moments after Abu Akleh was shot in the head on the outskirts of Jenin refugee camp has circulated online and been broadcast on Al Jazeera and other Arab news channels. Wearing a helmet and vest clearly marked “PRESS”, Abu Akleh’s body was shown lying face down in an area of ​​sand. A Palestinian jumped over a wall to reach him as gunshots rang out, dragging his motionless body to a car.

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In video from the West Bank hospital where Abu Akleh was pronounced dead, a male colleague was seen crying on his hospital bed as others held back tears. An Al Jazeera correspondent in the Gaza Strip cried live as she reported on a vigil for the reporter.

Later Wednesday, Abu Akleh’s body, draped in a Palestinian flag and covered with a wreath, was carried to downtown Ramallah on a red stretcher. Hundreds of people chanted, “With our spirit, with our blood, we will redeem you, Shireen.

A wave of condemnations came from governments around the world. The US State Department called his death an “affront to media freedom”. And UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was “appalled by the murder”.

In an opinion piece published in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, columnist Gideon Levy praised her bravery, saying “Abu Akleh died a hero, doing his job”, and noted that she traveled to Jenin and other occupied areas that Israeli journalists “seldom, if ever, visited”. .”

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It had started as another routine mission for Abu Akleh. She had emailed her colleagues that she was heading to the Jenin refugee camp to check reports of an Israeli military raid. “I’ll bring you the news as soon as the picture becomes clear,” she wrote.

“Generations have grown up seeing his work,” said producer Hammad. “People listened to Shireen’s voice and were influenced by her to study journalism so they could be like her.”

Abu Akleh’s niece, Lina Abu Akleh, described her as a “best friend” and a “second mom”.

“He’s someone I’ve looked up to since I was a kid, watching all of his reporting,” she told reporters at the family home. “I never thought this day would come when the news would be about him.”

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