Al Jazeera correspondent shot dead on Wednesday during an Israeli raid in the West Bank was a highly respected journalist in the Middle East, whose steadfast coverage was known to millions of viewers.
News Shirin Abu Akle death unfolded throughout the region. The 51-year-old journalist has become a well-known name, synonymous with coverage of Al Jazeera’s life under occupation for more than two decades of her reporting in the Palestinian territories, including during a second intifada or uprising that killed thousands on both sides, most Palestinians. .
The name of Abu Akleh on Wednesday in Twitter in Arabic became a trend, which caused the support of Palestinians on social networks. Her image was projected in the main square in the West Bank city of Ramallah as mourners overwhelmed Al Jazeera’s offices and her family home in East Jerusalem.
Al Jazeera and witnesses, including its 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 the blame at this stage.” Later on Wednesday, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Ganz promised a transparent investigation and said he was in contact with US and Palestinian officials.
Abu Aqla’s coverage of the harsh realities of Israel’s military occupation was inextricably linked to her own experience as a Palestinian journalist at the forefront. Her death underscores the great cost that the conflict continues to charge Palestinians, journalists they are or not.
Although she was also a U.S. citizen who frequently visited America in the summer, she lived and worked in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, where those who knew her said she felt at home. A Palestinian Christian whose family was a native of Bethlehem, she was born and raised in Jerusalem. She leaves behind a brother.
In an Al Jazeera video released last year, Abu Aqlé recalled the scale of the destruction and the “feeling that death is sometimes imminent” during the coverage of the second intifada in 2000-2005. “Despite the danger, 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 bring their voice to the world.”
Her longtime producer Wesam Hamad said Abu Aqlé has an incredible ability to stay calm under pressure.
“Shirin has worked all these years, devoting himself to the values and ethics of our profession,” he said of Abu Aqla, whom the network called “the face of al-Jazeera in Palestine.”
He and Abu Aqla often came under Israeli crossfire during the many stories they covered together, he said. On one assignment, their car was filled with tear gas and they were breathing hard. When they recall those moments, he said Abu Aqla would laugh and wonder how they managed to survive.
Images of moments after Abu Aqla was shot in the head on the outskirts of the Jenin refugee camp have been circulated on the Internet and broadcast on Al Jazeera and other Arab news channels. In a helmet and vest with a clear inscription “PRESS” Abu Aqla’s body was shown lying face down on a sandy stretch. The Palestinian jumped over the wall to get to her when shots rang out, pulling her motionless body toward the car.
In a video from a hospital in the West Bank, where Abu Akleh was pronounced dead, a male colleague cries at his hospital bed while others hold back tears. An al-Jazeera correspondent in the Gaza Strip cried on the air, reporting from duty for the journalist.
Later Wednesday, Abu Aqla’s body, wrapped in a Palestinian flag and covered with a wreath of flowers, was carried across the center of Ramallah on a red stretcher. Hundreds chanted, “With our spirit, our blood, we will redeem you, Shirin.”
An explosion of condemnation was heard from governments around the world. The US State Department called her death an “insult to media freedom.” And UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “shocked by the murder.”
In an article published in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, columnist Gideon Levy praised her courage, saying: “Abu Akle died a hero while doing his job”, and noted that she traveled to Jenin and other occupied areas, which Israeli journalists rarely visited when ever visited ”.
It started as another routine assignment for Abu Aqla. She wrote to colleagues via email that is being sent to Jenin refugee camp to check reports of an Israeli military raid. “I will tell you the news as soon as the picture is clear,” she wrote.
“Generations have grown up looking at her work,” producer Hamad said. “People listened to Shirin’s voice and pushed her to study journalism to be like her.”
Abu Aqla’s niece, Lina Abu Aqla, called her “best friend” and “second mother”.
“She’s the one I’ve watched since I was a child, I’ve watched all her reports,” she told reporters at the family home.
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