Occupied East Jerusalem – Days after Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed by Israeli forces while reporting on an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin, her family gathered the strength to visit the site of where it all happened.
It was the first time Shireen’s niece and close companion, Lina, had visited Jenin, but the trip, while an emotional reminder of what had happened, helped Lina understand what Jenin had meant to her aunt.
“Although it was triggering, it filled me with happiness to finally understand what this city had meant to Shireen,” said Lina, as tears filled her large, dark eyes.
Lina referenced an article that Shireen had written a year ago, where she had described the occupied West Bank city as a place that “lifted her morale and made her fly high”.
“That’s exactly how I felt. To me, Jenin is such a special city, not just because it’s where Shireen was killed but also because of the impact it had on her career and life. She saw the people of Jenin as not only brave, but people who don’t give up,” she added.
Although the 51-year-old veteran Al Jazeera journalist had covered the whole of Palestine, she was among only a few journalists who had followed the story of Jenin, a symbol of Palestinian resistance, for so long and with such dedication.
Shireen reported on the infamous April 9, 2002 Israeli assault on the Jenin refugee camp, and 20 years later, she was still there to report an Israeli raid on the same camp.
As Lina sat in her family home in Beit Hanina, a Palestinian neighbourhood in occupied East Jerusalem, the 27-year-old said the visit also made it clear that Shireen was targeted.
“We saw where she stood; a clear, open area. There’s no way she was caught up in clashes,” said Lina. “It was a deliberate attempt to silence Shireen’s voice against the bullets.”
Lina recalled the first moments after receiving the devastating news of her aunt’s untimely death during the early hours of May 11.
“I’m still trying to process it and I can’t comprehend it,” said Lina, as a cheerful white dog called Filfel – ‘pepper’ in Arabic – burst through the doorway and jumped into her lap.
As Filfel licked Lina and buried his nose into her black shirt, the young woman’s face relaxed and a vibrant smile formed across it.
The Maltese dog, Shireen’s other companion for the past three years, seemed to be the only source of joy for her family as they grieved her loss.
“He definitely feels it [Shireen’s absence],” said Lina, as the dog sniffed at newly arrived guests coming to pay the family their respects.
“Whenever Shireen would come, he’d jump into her purse because she’d always leave him treats,” said Lina. “He knows she’s not with us.”
A hero for many in Palestine and around the world, Shireen was known as the voice of Palestine, a dedicated reporter and a passionate, kind, caring soul with a wealth of knowledge.
For her family, Shireen was that, and much more.
She was the cornerstone of their home, and someone who lived and loved life to the fullest.
“She was my trusted friend, my travel buddy, and someone I looked to for advice on everything and anything,” said Lina.
The young woman said her aunt would have never expected to die while on the job, but instead imagined she might pass because of a disease or illness – something she says encouraged Shireen to always care for her health.
“In the field, she was dedicated, but never reckless,” Lina told Al Jazeera. “In fact, she was careful and always assessed the risk. She wanted to live.”
Lina recalled preparing traditional Palestinian breakfasts at her aunt’s place in Ramallah on the weekends, their last trip together to the United States a few months ago, and their regular drives to Ramallah, where Shireen was usually based.
“My aunt was a walking encyclopedia. The amount of knowledge she had was phenomenal,” said Lina. “When we’d drive between Jerusalem and Ramallah, she’d speak about everything we saw on the way with such detail. She loved to read and learn,” she added.
For Lina’s dad, Anton, or Tony, Shireen, his younger sister and confidante, was the family problem solver, and a second mother to his kids.
“She loved them and took care of them while I travelled for work,” said the 58-year-old, who received news of Shireen’s death while on a work trip with the United Nations in Somalia.
“She was always there for them,” he added as he sat on a sofa in the house’s front room, its walls covered in posters and pictures of Shireen and the Palestinian flag.
Echoing his daughter’s thoughts, Tony said, to him, the visit to Jenin reinforced the absurdity of the Israeli narrative.
“There was no way to misidentify Shireen. It’s impossible to assume she was a fighter,” said Tony.
Shortly after the incident, Israeli authorities said the shot that killed Shireen was fired by Palestinian fighters, referencing a video purporting to show fighters firing guns in an alleyway as proof of their narrative.
But for Tony none of that made sense.
“They [the Israelis] are the suspects, accused of killing her. We saw what they did at the funeral. It’s difficult to trust anything they say,” he added.
Israeli police attacked pallbearers and mourners at Abu Akleh’s funeral in Jerusalem as the event was broadcast live on television around the world.
Despite the devastation, Tony promises to seek justice and hopes something good for the Palestinian people will come of his sister’s death.
“It’s time to overcome our pain and to seek justice for Shireen’s assassination,” said Tony, explaining that the family, Al Jazeera Media Network – where Shireen worked for 25 years – the Palestinian Authority and Qatar were working to formulate a plan for how to proceed.
With Shireen being an American citizen, Tony said he hoped the US would also launch an investigation into her killing.
“I hope seeking justice will end the double standards that Palestinians face, and will help hold those who’ve killed many other Palestinian journalists to account,” said Tony. “I hope Shireen’s killing brings change.”