Photo via flickr
On May 11, 2022, Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed by an Israeli sniper while reporting on an Israeli raid in the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank.
Abu Akleh was a household name in the Arab world with an inspiring career that paved the way for Arab women in the media.
With art, murals and poetry, Palestinians continue to resound the legacy of whom they call the “voice of the truth.”
Abu Akleh’s journey began after she graduated from Yarmouk University in Jordan with a degree in journalism and media. After returning to Palestine, she helped establish the first radio station in Palestine called the Voice of Palestine in 1994.
At 26, Abu Akleh became one of the first Arab female field reporters after joining Al Jazeera news organization in 1997, devoting the next 25 years to telling the stories of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.
Abu Akleh’s coverage of the second Palestinian uprising (Intifada) from 2000–2005, in which Palestinians had risen in protest of Israel’s occupation of their land, made her the face of Palestinian media, as her sign-off, “Shireen Abu Akleh, Al Jazeera, Ramallah,” became a catchphrase amongst Palestinians, especially young Palestinian girls who stood in front of their mirrors repeating those lines with their hairbrushes as microphones, dreaming of becoming journalists one day.
Abu Akleh also covered Israel’s invasions of Palestinian towns and cities in the occupied West Bank and the aggressions on Gaza throughout the years.
What made Abu Akleh shine amongst Palestinians, aside from her skills and accomplishments in the field, is her compassion toward people and her dedication to the Palestinian struggle. Her empathy allowed her to connect with each Palestinian and humanize their stories.
“I chose journalism to be close to people,” said Abu Akleh in a video by Al Jazeera marking its 25th anniversary. “It might not be easy to change reality, but I was at least able to get that voice out to the world.”
During Abu Akleh’s funeral, an elderly Palestinian woman, Om Ahmed Freihat, wept as she recalled how Shireen helped her look for her children under the rubble and destruction during the battle of Jenin in 2002, when Israel invaded and besieged the Jenin refugee camp, killing more than 50 Palestinians and demolishing more than 400 houses.
“From the first day to the last, she was with us,” Om Ahmed told Al Madina TV. “We didn’t even have one drop of water to give her, and her clothes were dirty.”
For more than two decades, Abu Akleh was a familiar face, close to the hearts of every Palestinian family. Generation after generation grew up hearing her voice in their homes. On the day she was killed, Palestinians everywhere were mourning as if they had lost a family member.
Abu Akleh was wearing a helmet and a press vest when she and her colleagues were the direct targets of Israeli bullets.
“They’re armed with cameras,” said Israeli military spokesperson Ran Kochav, describing the work of Abu Akleh and other journalists to Army Radio.
Palestinian writer and activist Mohammed El Kurd said in a Tweet that Abu Akleh was “killed not despite being a journalist but because she is a journalist.”
After initially denying responsibility, Israel later admitted that Abu Akleh was likely killed by an Israeli bullet.
While Israel claimed that the shooting was accidental, a joint investigation between the Palestinian human rights organization, Al Haq, and Forensic Architecture, a research group based in London, found that an Israeli sniper deliberately shot at Abu Akleh and her colleagues despite identifying them as journalists.
No one has been held accountable as her family continues to seek justice to this day.
Despite Israel’s attacks on mourners and pallbearers, thousands of Palestinians across Palestine gathered in Jerusalem to pray, mourn and celebrate her life in one of the largest funerals in Palestinian history.
Abu Akleh was an icon and a changing force even after her death. She brought Palestinians something they have been craving for years: unity. Despite political and religious divisions, Palestinians united for Shireen with freedom chants and soaring Palestinian flags, displaying a historic scene that the country has not witnessed in years.
As Palestinians continue to grieve her absence, they persist in keeping her legacy alive, marching on the trail that she had blazed for future journalists and reporters.
In one of her Facebook posts, Abu Akleh had written, “In some absences, there is a greater presence.” She later came to embody that phrase, as her death revived a new generation of Palestinians who dare to fight for truth and justice.
From Gaza to Jenin and to Jerusalem, Abu Akleh’s name wanders in the streets of every Palestinian city, echoing in the ears of every Palestinian girl who once held her hairbrush and stood in front of her mirror as she said, “Shireen Abu Akleh, Al Jazeera, Ramallah.”