Shireen Abu Akleh, Al Jazeera Reporter and Daughter of Palestine.

Shireen Abu Akleh, the renowned veteran journalist for Al Jazeera, the 24-hour Arabic news channel, was a mainstay in homes across the Palestinian territories, the wider region and for Arabs and Muslims globally.

The strong yet mild-mannered Shireen joined Al Jazeera in 1997 as a field journalist and was introduced on air by the Arabic channel’s Palestine bureau chief Walid Omary. At that time, only a few female Palestinian journalists were working as reporters, and Shireen's career blazed a trail for many young women aspiring to be journalists.

The first Oslo Accord had been signed four years prior, and in 1995, the second Oslo Accord was signed and the Palestinian Authority was created. After the failure of the Camp David (II) Summit in 2000 and the subsequent outbreak of the second Intifada, the Oslo Accords collapsed. Shireen was in Palestine to mark these moments that had a monumental effect on Palestinians and the region.


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[Al Jazeera]
[Al Jazeera]


Marking 50 years since the Nakba, or the Catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were expelled from their homes, Shireen reported from various cities in Palestine, covering the outrage of the Palestinians continuously fighting against the Israeli occupation and its brutality.

Shireen was the face of war and peace, a fixture in every Palestinian living room as she told stories of Israel’s invasion of the West Bank in 2002. So much so, that when Israeli forces slapped curfews on Palestinians that year, they went around in their vehicles and mimicked her closing lines in any story or live shot – through a bullhorn: “Stay inside. This is Shireen Abu Akleh, Al Jazeera, Ramallah.”

As the history of Palestinians under occupation unfolded, Shireen was on the ground every step of the way to shed light on the crimes that ensued. From Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s death in 2004 to the mass killings and home demolitions that continue until this day, she ensured that Palestinian voices were heard.


She was particularly aware of the plight of Palestinian political prisoners and the pain suffered by their families. She was there to expose the suffering behind bars, but was also there when prisoners were released, to capture the bittersweet moments as they were reunited with their loved ones. She spoke to mothers who waited for decades for their sons to be released. Many passed away before they were reunited.

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[Al Jazeera]
[Al Jazeera]


Born and bred in Jerusalem, Shireen was particularly attuned to the struggles Palestinians faced in reaching the holy city that houses Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. For years, she highlighted the difficulties in accessing these cherished Muslim holy sites, as Palestinians were halted by Israeli military checkpoints and terminals that acted as tools of humiliation and restriction.


But despite the pain and suffering, Palestine was also a happy place for Shireen. And that face of Palestine, with its joy and agony intertwined, was something she strove to show to the world. She told the stories of people’s everyday lives - including this special occasion, when 430 couples of limited means – many of them refugees – were married in a group setting to help offset the costs associated with hosting a wedding:


Through her work, Shireen explored the repercussions of monumental foreign policy decisions for Palestinians at home. When the United States decided to add the option of having Israel as the place of birth to those born in Jerusalem, Shireen – a Palestinian-American dual national herself – was there to explain the ramifications this had on Palestinians who are US citizens.


Education is highly valued by Palestinians. There are 49 Palestinian higher education institutions in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the most famous of which is Birzeit University. Founded as an elementary school, the university grew into an important institution from which generations of students have graduated. It became a home for many student activists who resisted the occupation through music, words and protests. Shireen knew the place Birzeit held in Palestinian society and strove to shed light on the occupation, its effect on education and how student activists became a bulwark against Israeli military rule.


For years, Shireen shed light on the particularly bittersweet event of Christmas for Palestinians. Restrictions imposed by Israel’s occupation put a damper on this joyous public holiday, normally a time of celebration and gathering, celebrated by Muslims and Christians alike. The separation wall, as well as the checkpoints that peppered the West Bank, have made it difficult, if not impossible, for Palestinians to travel between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus. Shireen was there to tell those stories.


Shireen had an eye and an affinity for Palestinian culture in its various forms, including dance and art. In this particular story, she reported on traditional Palestinian embroidery, better known in Arabic as "tatreez". For decades, Palestinians have tried to keep their heritage alive through tatreez, and Shireen ensured she introduced viewers to the women and men who embroidered despite physical challenges or from inside Israeli prisons.

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[Al Jazeera]
[Al Jazeera]


Her stories about Palestinian perseverance included covering an annual marathon in Bethlehem, where setting the route had to include avoiding the Israeli separation wall cutting into the city. She made certain to have all voices heard, including those who raced in wheelchairs, those who partook in the event to highlight the Israeli restrictions on movement, and those who ran for health or fun.

Her reporting also included a profile of an 80-year-old Palestinian woman who, despite being born decades before the advent of the internet, has adopted social media in her daily life to stay informed and connected with friends and family, as well as meet new people online. Shireen’s wit and humour were evident when she asked Aisha al-Shahrouri, who boasted more than 1,000 friends on Facebook, what she would do if the internet went down. Hajja Aisha answers her with a heartfelt chuckle: “I call the company [internet provider] immediately.”


Shireen was cool, calm and collected as a journalist – even when Israeli tear gas canisters rained down or when bullets whizzed past. But she was careful and aware of her surroundings. She was not one to take unnecessary risks. She knew the West Bank like the back of her hand. She never aspired to be a martyr or a hero or a diva. She just wanted to be a journalist and to convey the stories of Palestinians to the world and to bring Palestine to people’s living rooms.


The year 2021 was particularly arduous for Palestinians. During the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, Palestinians flocked to Al-Aqsa Mosque, a place of great religious and social significance. However, Israeli forces made it next to impossible to cross the various checkpoints to get from the West Bank to occupied East Jerusalem. Shireen spoke to Palestinians from all walks of life who were affected by the extreme measures imposed by Israeli authorities as the COVID-19 pandemic raged. Despite having vaccination cards and the necessary military-issued permits, Israeli forces prevented thousands from entering the holy city. She provided a platform for Palestinians who were denied one of the few pleasures in the occupied territories – to set foot and pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque.

The same year, restrictions on entering Al-Aqsa Mosque and a crackdown on worshippers were amplified by detentions of journalists and civilians in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Shireen cast a light on Israeli authorities as they demolished the homes of Palestinians in this neighbourhood, evicted Palestinians from their homes to pave the way for Israeli settlers to move in. Protests against the forced displacement met brutality from Israeli occupation forces, and the Hamas group, which governs the besieged Gaza Strip, fired rockets towards Jerusalem. It was the beginning of a devastating 11-day Israeli military offensive on Gaza, the fourth major war launched by Israel on the Palestinian coastal territory in 14 years.

The same year Shireen, who preferred to focus on stories other than her own, spoke up about her reasons for choosing journalism as a career, which, she said, was to be closer to people. She changed her major at university from architecture to journalism. She specifically spoke of covering the Israeli invasion of the West Bank in 2002 and the ensuing havoc and destruction. She spoke of the trials and stress of that time, of the feeling that “death was within a short distance” of her and her crew.

On May 11, 2022, Israeli occupation forces shot and killed Shireen while she was reporting from Jenin

Her funeral procession, which came under attack by Israeli occupation forces, was one of Palestine’s largest, a testament to her courage, poise, and commitment to telling the stories no one else told throughout her 25-year journey with Al Jazeera.

The shocking images of pallbearers being beaten were transmitted around the world. In her death, as in her reporting, Shireen continued to reveal the brutal realities of the Israeli occupation for the Palestinian people.

Shireen's final report about the Nakba was broadcast on May 15, the day when Palestinians around the world mark the Nakba. Despite her absence, Shireen, dubbed the “daughter of Palestine”, once again told the story of Palestinian dispossession.

She was killed four days before the anniversary of the Nakba

#JusticeForShireen #JournalismIsNotaCrime

Shireen abu Akleh wall mural
A mural depicting slain Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh adorns a part of Israel's separation barrier in the West Bank city of Bethlehem [File: Mahmoud Illean/AP Photo]
Source: Al Jazeera