This morning, a beep on my phone woke me up at 8am. It was a notification from a Telegram channel called “Martyrs of Palestine”. I wasn’t shocked. It is, after all, not unusual for us Palestinians to wake up to the news of one or more of us having been killed in a raid by Israeli occupation forces – in the West Bank, such raids happen almost every night, just before the break of dawn.
But I froze when I actually read the short message: “Shireen Abu Akleh – 51 years old – 11/05/2022 – Jenin Refugee Camp”. I was sure it was a mistake, a notification sent in error.
As I tried to process what I had just read, my WhatsApp and Twitter feeds got flooded with news, photos, and videos of Shireen. It was true. She had been killed – murdered. I was horrified. Tears started to roll down my cheeks. I cannot stop crying still, hours later, as I write this.
Shireen Abu Akleh was an icon in Palestine and the Arab world. She was loved and respected by all. Her immaculate journalistic reputation preceded her. Her face and her voice were in our households every day. She spoke from Palestine, and was heard by the entire world. She gave voice to the voiceless, and never backed down from her commitment to her work.
So many journalists from my generation and even older prepared for the profession by standing in front of their mirrors, or a group of friends, and repeating her iconic sign-off: “Shireen Abu Akleh, Aljazeeeera, Filasteen”.
For me, she was much, much more than a professional role model. As a child, she was the first, and for a very long time, the only celebrity I knew by name and admired.
I was a young child during the second Intifada. In 2002, when I was just seven, I lived through the Israeli military’s large-scale incursions into the West Bank. I heard tanks rolling down the streets, attack helicopters firing overhead, windows shattering due to air attacks.
I couldn’t go out most days, so the television in our house was my only window to the outside world. Shireen, along with a few of her colleagues, were constantly on the screen. I wondered: “Do they ever tire? Do they ever feel scared?” I admired her and her team so much.
Around that time, I started making scrapbooks. Every day, I would take the day’s newspapers from my dad once he was done reading them and cut out pictures from them, glueing them into my scrapbook. Once, I found a very small photo of Shireen in a magazine. I cut out the tiny photo and stuck it to the inside cover of my scrapbook. I thought she should be on the very first page. I was a huge fan. She was a hero to me.
That same year, I also had the chance to meet Shireen for the first time. One day, I had insisted on joining my father, who was also a journalist, in visiting al-Muqata’a, the headquarters of the late Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat.
Al-Muqata’a had been destroyed. The evidence of shelling was all around us, and the smashed vehicles littered the courtyard. What I had been seeing on TV was suddenly under my feet. As they were colleagues in journalism, my dad knew Shireen. He asked her to meet me and told her about the cut-out picture I had glued into my scrapbook. I was shy and felt embarrassed, but I still remember how she greeted me, speaking gently to a seven-year-old who wanted to grow up to be a brave journalist like her and my father.
Years passed, times changed, and television screens became saturated with Palestinian journalists, reporting courageously from the ground. But Shireen remained a respected veteran. She was one of the first, who inspired a whole new generation of journalists to tell the story of Palestine, and over the years she always remained one of the most dedicated to the job. Every budding TV journalist knew her and admired her. She had a grandstanding in the local journalistic community.
During the past two years, I was among the journalists who had the privilege of reporting alongside her in Jerusalem. We faced down the brutality of Israeli forces, together. I felt safe in her presence. She was a towering figure and a mentor.
Shireen never relented in her commitment to journalism, to the city of Jerusalem, to all of Palestine and the Palestinian people here and abroad. All who knew her would speak fondly of her amazing spirit, her open heart, and her exemplary courage and professionalism in the line of duty.
Last month, we marked 20 years since Israel carried out the Jenin refugee camp massacre. A young Shireen was there, reporting from The Battle of Jenin. I vividly remember seeing her reports on the TV screen; there were Israeli tanks and destroyed homes in the backdrop, back in 2002.
Twenty years later, we lost Shireen, killed by the same invading occupation forces, in the same refugee camp.
Today, every Palestinian household is mourning. Every Palestinian is in shock, processing this great loss. We Palestinians know death; we know it well. But we are not numb to the pain of losing our loved ones, our heroes, our icons, our futures over and over again to the Israeli occupation. Every time, we grieve. We mourn, but we also grow more steadfast and more determined.
Shireen once said: “It isn’t easy for me to change reality, but the least I can do is to have our voice reach the world.” In her life, Shireen delivered her message, and gave a voice to the voiceless in the most powerful way. We will continue her mission. And soon, Palestine will be free.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.