Her work as a journalist covered in detail the resistance and suffering of Palestinians since 1997. Shireen was wearing a « Press » vest when she was fatally shot in the ear as she helped a fellow journalist, himself shot in the back just seconds before. She died on the spot. Hours after her death, the occupying force summoned her grieving brother and assaulted her home, forbidding Palestinian flags and nationalist songs. In one of the most obscene images broadcasted live in recent years, her funeral was attacked by Israeli police and her pallbearers beaten up, nearly causing her coffin to fall. Israeli forces snatched the Palestinian flag from her coffin, and the hospital where her body lay awaiting to be buried was bombarded with tear gas.
The BBC and other Western media outlets framed all of this as “violence erupting” during her funeral. And Israeli authorities had no reserves about being filmed in the savagery carried out on Palestinian bodies. They know, as the world knows, that such abuse has been ongoing for 74 years without any real condemnation or sanctions. Israel is also aware that an accurate description of what took place would barely reach Western media. The narrative is inevitably reframed, at best anonymizing the attackers and describing events as “clashes” and “violence”, at worst wholly placing the blame on Palestinians. Big name media outlets including the Daily Mail, the New York Post and Euro Weekly News did not stray from Israel’s account of the assassination, reporting that Shireen’s executors were “Palestinian terrorists” and that “the mob stole the coffin” as a justification for Israeli forces attacking the pallbearers.
The phenomenon of Israel and Western media is truly something. Neither left-nor right-leaning outlets deviate much from the traditional narratives. And when mainstream news outlets do take time to report on Israeli crimes, it is never to point a blatant finger at the criminal. Following Shireen’s death, Forbes reported that she had “died after being hit in the head by a bullet”; The New York Times tweeted that Shireen had been “killed … during clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian gunmen” after being slammed for a previous headline announcing that the journalist had “died at 51”. The newspaper went so far as to misquote Al Jazeera, altering the announcement of the journalist’s assassination by Israeli forces to the journalist’s killing amidst “clashes”. The Telegraph relayed that Shireen’s death occurred “during an Israeli raid” and evoked the Israeli prime minister’s hypothesis that she was probably “killed by Palestinian gunfire”. Even the Associated Press, whose own offices in Gaza were bombed by Israel one year ago, wrote that Abu Aqleh was “killed by gunfire”. Notably, The Guardian was among the rare mainstream anglophone outlets which accurately reported and followed upon the journalist’s killing.
Francophone media are no different. Europe 1, TV5 Monde, Le Parisien and the French-German network ARTE covered “the death” of Abu Aqleh. They made sure to focus on the journalist as a figure of “the Qatari network Al Jazeera”, as opposed to her image as the voice of millions of Palestinians. TF1 framed the attack on her funeral as “clashes”. The Belgian RTBF diffused the headline “Funeral of Abu Aqleh: the European Union denounces the use of force by Israel”. Even the leftist L’Obs and Le Monde were cautious in their choice of words, noting that Israel is opening an investigation of its own in addition to proposing a joint investigation with Palestinian authorities.
Such accounts reflect the deliberate choice to adopt Israel’s strategy of ambiguity, casting doubt on its responsibility in targeting civilians and on its ethnic cleansing in Palestine. The “it might have been Palestinians” narrative is one we see time and time again, and is part of continuous efforts to whitewash Israel’s crimes in its occupation of Palestine.
Obviously, the backbone of such unethical journalism is the West’s complacency with regards to Israel. Empty calls for « impartial investigations » and « peace », the diffusion of “shocking images” that « should be condemned », are gestures that align with Western governments’ unconditional support for Israel, the smoke screen of Western imperialism in the Middle East. In this context, condemnation expressed by countries in the West is never followed by sanctions. And yet we have recent proof that when there is will behind the words, sanctions can seriously affect a colonizing power. We have observed this much in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Crippling sanctions on Russia have been unanimous, even though they came at the expense of many European economies.
Inevitably, the murder of Shireen Abu Aqleh had to covered in the media. The outrage was too significant to be ignored. Over the course of 25 years, Shireen bore witness to Israel’s crimes in Palestine. Ultimately, this work killed her. Her death is a cruel reminder of the chain of complicity linking governments across the West, Middle East and in-between, from Washington to Brussels, Abu Dhabi to Cairo. It is a reminder that, even while certain Arab states have chosen to normalize relations with Israel, the latter has neither refrained from cruelty nor its colonial settlement policies. But Shireen’s murder is also a reminder that Arab peoples, contrary to their treacherous governments, have never abandoned, and will never abandon Palestine. Shireen has signed off, for good. But her closing words at the end of each report, “Shireen Abu Aqleh, Al Jazeera, the colonized Palestinian territories”, will forever resonate with generations of Arab peoples.