Al Jazeera’s Shireen Abu Akleh’s journalistic achievements

A trailblazer for Arab women in media, Shireen Abu Akleh was known for her professionalism and commitment to the story.

Shireen Abu Akleh
Abu Akleh, 51, had worked for Al Jazeera since 1997 [Al Jazeera]

Much has been spoken of the life and legacy of Shireen Abu Akleh, the renowned veteran Al Jazeera journalist who was killed by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank on May 11.

Abu Akleh, who joined Al Jazeera at the age of 26, dedicated her life to reporting about Palestinian daily life under Israeli occupation. She became the face of Palestinian coverage for millions of Arab households, and was nicknamed “the daughter of Palestine”.

Abu Akleh was killed while covering an Israeli raid on the Jenin refugee camp, in the northern occupied West Bank. Governments around the world, in addition to human rights groups, condemned her killing.

One week after her death, Al Jazeera takes a look at her journalistic achievements.

Co-established and worked for Voice of Palestine radio

During the first Intifada (1987-1993), Abu Akleh studied journalism and media at Yarmouk University in Jordan, at a time when universities in the occupied territory were shut down by Israeli forces. Her return to the occupied West Bank coincided with the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. She received radio training along with 12 other colleagues for six months. Shortly after that, they established and worked for the Voice of Palestine (Sawt Filasteen) radio station in 1994.

“There was an overwhelming feeling of pride in establishing the first radio station for Palestine, from inside Palestine,” she said in an interview conducted with Al Jazeera’s in-house employee portal last year.

One of Arab world’s first female field reporters

Abu Akleh joined Al Jazeera in 1997, a year after it was established, as a field journalist reporting from Jerusalem. At a time when there were few women in the field, she blazed a trail for many aspiring female journalists.

“Each coverage had its own flavour,” she said. “There are certain events that cannot be overlooked, such as the Israeli incursions into the West Bank.”

One of the reports she remembered the most was the Israeli evacuation of settlements in the Gaza Strip in 2006. Her crew rented a house in one of the settlements, which had anti-Arab slogans sprayed across the walls, and were careful not to speak Arabic in front of the settlers.

“Despite the tension during the coverage that lasted for three days, it was a wonderful moment to be in a place that, after being controlled by settlers for a long time, was returned to its owners once again,” she said.

Extensive coverage of wars and the second Intifada

Abu Akleh shot to prominence across the Arab world for her coverage of the second Intifada (2000-2005), and particularly the Israeli invasions and curfews imposed on Palestinian cities in the occupied West Bank.

“I will never forget the magnitude of destruction or the feeling that death was sometimes close,” she said of that time 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.

Abu Akleh also covered the Israeli offensives on the besieged Gaza Strip in 2008-2009, 2012, 2014 and 2021.

She also covered the 2006 war in Lebanon and the 2016 US presidential elections.

Media trainer at Bir Zeit University

Abu Akleh was a trainer at Bir Zeit University’s Media Development Center. She also taught several courses to undergraduate students in the media department.

She earned a diploma from the institution in 1997 and another one in 2020 in digital journalism.

“Some of us were surprised that Shireen Abu Akleh joined the programme, as she is a brilliant and veteran journalist who works for the Al Jazeera network,” said Mujahed Moflh, a Palestinian journalist.

“Later, we got to know who Shireen was, a very kind and humble person who is very eager to learn more and develop her journalistic skills.”

In the aftermath of her death, Bir Zeit University launched a scholarship fund for high-achieving women students of journalism, in honour of Abu Akleh. A number of other endowments have been announced as well.

Posthumous awards

The Palestinian Authority awarded Abu Akleh with the Star of Jerusalem medal, an accolade traditionally reserved for political dignitaries.

Anti-corruption organisation Aman announced the Shireen Abu Akleh Award for Investigative Reports.

Bir Zeit University launched the annual Shireen Abu Akleh Award for Outstanding Achievements in Media, to be given to Palestinian journalists and reporters covering life under Israeli occupation.

Source: Al Jazeera