Abu Akleh was a professional journalist who had been covering the Middle East for decades for Al Jazeera, and she most likely knowingly took the risks involved, and also took proper precautions.
But like many journalists before her, and unfortunately many after her, even though they are aware of the risk, they do their job knowing that a bullet, a shell, or a bomb dropped from a plane and maybe even a knife could end their lives, severely wound them or leave them crippled.
The helmet and protective vest I’ve worn many times, including recently in Ukraine, don’t really shield you from death. Especially not in those cases where one of the belligerent parties shoots at you and tries to hit you in any way possible, deliberately, so you won’t share the truth with the world.
The helmet and vest provide but an illusion of safety and soothe the conscience of the editors who send you to the battlefield, and the insurance companies who wish to minimize the risk of doling out huge compensation to your grieving family. And the only thing that helps the fighting sides distinguish that you are a reporter is the word “press” printed on your vest — like it was on Shireen’s.
The International Press Association reports every year about dozens of journalists who are killed in various conflict zones around the world. In an overwhelming majority of cases, it is journalists from third-world countries, some of whom work for Western media, that get the short end of the stick. But sadly, international media don’t include them in the count. Only when a journalist or a photographer from a Western, democratic country dies does the media respond fiercely and condemns anyone who is so much as suspected of being involved in their untimely demise.
You never really know who shot, killed, or wounded. Only in cases of aerial bombings, like in Syria, or massive artillery shellings is it clear that the shelling and bombing side is the one responsible for the death of a journalist in the line of duty. However, no one has ever been punished for harming journalists, neither state actors nor individuals. And in some cases, there’s no real culprit either.
When a journalist heads out to an active warzone, especially in an urban setting, the chances of getting caught in the crossfire unintentionally are high.
Such cases require an investigation in which an autopsy will be performed, as well as a ballistics test to determine which weapon was fired at the journalist. Only then will it be possible to assess who shot them and from which side.
But the Palestinians and Al Jazeera don’t want the truth. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas, as well as Ra’am MK Walid Taha, wish to leverage her death, which is most likely unintentional, for political and propaganda purposes, and that is why they reject any offer for an objective investigation.
Even if such an investigation is launched, they will make sure to destroy any shred of evidence that might point to the probable scenario that the Palestinian militants who were firing wantonly were the ones who killed her.
The IDF’s response this time around was effective and swift and offered a reasonable alternative to the Palestinian version that claimed that the IDF was responsible for the journalist’s death. The Palestinians rushed to declare the journalist a martyr because it serves the constant war of propaganda which Abbas and Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar lead against Israel.
But the IDF’s version is correct: The Palestinians and Al Jazeera’s assertions are grounded in nothing except deafening victimhood that is aimed at painting Israel and its security forces as the aggressor.
In previous cases, the IDF was late to the party as it sought to provide a credible version backed by evidence. There were also incidents the IDF was to blame but didn’t admit to it. This time around, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit’s responded with a counter-narrative to the Palestinian one. And it probably did the trick. Its effect on Israeli media and global news agencies around was immediate. As it should be.
And as for us, the journalists who cover conflict the world over — we’re allowed to demand that the risk we take to bring the truth and the facts out as they are seen from the battlefield will not be abused by cynical politicians and clerics to incite and achieve their goals, whether just or not. I believe that the journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was in Jenin because she wanted to report the facts as they were. We’re allowed to demand from Abbas, Al Jazeera and Ra’am to refrain from using her to spread fake news until the facts are thoroughly examined.