Shireen Abu Akleh, journalist killed in the West Bank, was ‘the voice of Palestinian suffering’

Her employer, Al Jazeera, decried her death as “a blatant murder” by Israeli forces. Three eyewitnesses told CNN that the journalists were shot by Israeli troops and that there were no Palestinian militants immediately near to the journalists. The Israeli military’s Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi said it is “not possible” yet to determine which direction she was shot from, promising an investigation. Earlier, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett claimed “there is a significant possibility” that she was shot by Palestinian crossfire.
Abu Akleh joined Al Jazeera a year after it was established in 1997, at the age of 26. The channel became pivotal for television journalism in the Arab world for its round-the-clock, breaking coverage of pan-Arab issues. It was controversial in the West and in the Middle East alike for airing interviews with unsavory figures like Osama bin Laden and Arab opposition figures.

But Al Jazeera’s biggest pull for audiences was arguably its coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It raised eyebrows in the Arab world by becoming the first major pan-Arab news outlet to label Israel on a map and for giving airtime to Israeli officials at a time when the vast majority of Arab nations didn’t recognize the Jewish state. But it also didn’t shy away from covering minute details of Palestinian suffering, often angering Israel.

Abu Akleh became the face of that coverage at home and around the region. She covered the Gaza wars of 2008, 2009, 2012, 2014 and 2021 as well as the 2006 war in Lebanon, according to Al Jazeera.

“I will never forget the magnitude of destruction or the feeling that death was sometimes close,” Abu Akleh said of her coverage of Israel’s 2002 incursion into the West Bank in a video published by Al Jazeera in October.

“We used to sleep in hospitals or under the roofs of people we did not know, and despite the danger, we were determined to keep reporting,” she said.

Givara Budeiri, a fellow Al Jazeera journalist who had known Abu Akleh for more than two decades, told CNN that her friend was a very brave journalist, but she had a crippling fear of heights.

“Shireen never shied away from covering any event,” said Budeiri. “She never feared anything, except for standing at the top of a high building.”

She recalled that Abu Akleh would say that if she hadn’t taken up journalism, her career of choice would be to run a shelter for stray animals.

Palestinian writer Mariam Barghouti tweeted that she recalled Abu Akleh’s “voice echoing in the house as she covered the brutality of a military invasion” when she was a child. The Al Jazeera reporter was the only journalist to cover her own arrest by soldiers, Barghouti wrote.

Abu Akleh was born in Jerusalem in 1971 to Christian Palestinian parents from Bethlehem, according to Al Jazeera. After graduating, she studied architecture at the University of Science and Technology in Jordan, then moved to study journalism. She obtained her bachelor’s degree from Yarmouk University in Jordan.

Before joining Al Jazeera, she worked at Voice of Palestine Radio, Amman Satellite Channel, the Miftah Foundation, and France’s Radio Monte Carlo. She also worked with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, according to Al Jazeera.

“Every house … inside Palestine or outside of Palestine, is mourning Shireen because she is our voice to the world,” said Terry Bullata, a friend and former schoolmate of Abu Akleh. “She is the voice of our suffering under the occupation. She is the voice of our aspiration for freedom.”

Akleh said she had chosen journalism to be “close to the people.” At the time of her death, she was learning Hebrew to understand Israeli media narratives better, Al Jazeera said.

“In difficult times, I overcame fear,” Abu Akleh said in the October video. “It may be difficult to change reality, but at least I managed to bring that voice to the world.”

Additional reporting from Abeer Salman in Jerusalem

The digest

Food delivery workers in the UAE stage rare strike, the second in a month

Foreign food-delivery workers for the company Talabat in the UAE staged a mass strike on Monday, calling for better wages and improved working conditions, a rare act of protest in the Gulf state.

  • Background: Earlier this month, foreign workers forced another food delivery company to scrap plans to cut wages after walking off the job in protest. On Monday, Talabat workers refused to take deliveries in the capital Abu Dhabi and Dubai. A Talabat spokesperson said that until last week, 70% of drivers were unsatisfied with pay, which saw them on average earn 3,500 dirhams ($953) a month.
  • Why it matters: The industrial action is the second of its kind in a month, a rare display of public discontent in the UAE where there is tight control on workers. The country is also home to two cities with a large expat presence. Unions and collective action is banned in the country.

Biden considering visit to East Jerusalem — Israeli official

US President Joe Biden is considering a visit to East Jerusalem in an upcoming June visit to Israel, an Israeli official told CNN on Monday.

  • Background: Biden would possibly visit Al Makassed Hospital, although plans are yet to be finalized, the Israeli official added. The hospital in East Jerusalem serves Palestinians, including those from the West Bank and Gaza. Former President Donald Trump cut $25 million in planned funding for the East Jerusalem Hospital Network, which included Al Makassed Hospital.
  • Why it matters: A US presidential visit to the predominantly Palestinian area of the city, which was captured by Israel in 1967, would likely be seen as a gesture of support for the Palestinians. The Biden administration has pledged to reopen a consulate for Palestinians in Jerusalem, after Trump closed it down and moved the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. For many Palestinians, an American consulate in Jerusalem would be seen as a precursor to what they hope will one day be an American Embassy in East Jerusalem, capital of a potential future state of Palestine.

EU’s Mora heads to Tehran to salvage nuclear deal

The European Union’s Iran nuclear coordinator said on Tuesday he was heading to Tehran to meet Iran’s negotiator Bagheri Kani to try to give new impetus to save the 2015 accord.

  • Background: Talks to revive Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers have been on hold since March, chiefly over Tehran’s insistence that Washington remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, its elite security force, from the US Foreign Terrorist Organization list.
  • Why it matters: The visit comes amid increased diplomatic activity to salvage talks. Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad will visit Iran this week in an attempt to revive the stalled talks. The International Atomic Energy Agency ‘s chief said on Tuesday he is still hopeful for a deal but that talks were struggling and the moment could be lost. He said he had also warned Iran that the country was not being transparent enough about its nuclear activities.

Around the region

Jordan’s criminalization of some instances of attempted suicide is causing outrage among mental health advocates.

The lower house of parliament in the Middle Eastern nation late last month amended a law to punish anyone who attempts suicide in a public space with up to six months imprisonment or a fine of up to 100 Jordanian dinars ($141), or both. The penalty is doubled in cases of attempted mass suicide.

For the law to go into effect, it must pass the Senate and finally, the King.

Previously, only those assisting suicide were punished.

Public reactions were a mix of shock, confusion, and anger on social media. One called the move “a massacre of laws.”

The government has defended the move. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Bishr Al-Khasawneh said it confirms “the idea of protecting the right to life,” citing religious texts. He also downplayed most suicide cases as “not serious” and said they were “attention-seeking.”

In response to the law change, the online therapy platform “Arab Therapy” offered free consultations to anyone having suicidal thoughts. The platform told CNN it has since received over 200 requests for consultations.

“Decisions like this don’t help people who think of suicide, but only confirm their loss of hope,” its founder Tareq Dalbah, a Jordanian doctor who resides in Germany, told CNN.

In response to the Prime Minister’s statement, Dalbah says all suicide attempts should be taken seriously, regardless of the setting. He pointed out that confusion over how this law will be implemented made those with suicidal thoughts avoid asking for help in fear of punishment.

Suicide figures stood at 186 last year, a 60% rise from 2019, according to data provided to CNN by Jordan’s Department of Statistics. Dalbah said health insurance rarely covers mental health in the country.

By Mohammed Abdelbary

How to get help: In the US, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The International Association for Suicide Prevention and Befrienders Worldwide also can provide contact information for crisis centers around the world.

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