Killing of Shireen Abu Akleh a fatal sign of Israel’s control

Pattern of Palestinian media bodies being attacked by Israeli policy is all too evident

For those living in Palestine, there is no shortage of daily news reports that spotlight loss, tragedy and death. Relatively little causes Palestinians to be shocked when it comes to the outworking of living under Israeli occupation. Yet, the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, a household name across Palestine and beyond, working for a global media outlet, has been felt acutely. The outpouring of grief, anger and condemnation from across Palestine has been palpable and the funeral processions in both Ramallah and Jerusalem drew large crowds.

On-the-ground reports from the Palestinian side have recounted how Abu Akleh was shot dead by Israeli forces while on assignment in Jenin. Israeli counter-narratives have shifted from placing blame on Palestinian fighters, to calling for joint investigations with the Palestinian Authority, to alluding to a possibility that the journalist was shot dead by a member of the Israeli Defence Forces.

Israel has killed more than 50 Palestinian journalists since 2001, according to the Palestinian Journalism Syndicate, and Reporters Without Borders has recorded more than 144 journalists injured in just the last four years. Abu Akleh’s death came almost one year to the day since a 12-storey building that housed the Press Association and al-Jazeera offices was levelled in the much-maligned Gaza Strip, during an Israeli assault that resulted in the death of 232 Palestinians, 54 of whom were minors.

Israel has killed more than 50 Palestinian journalists since 2001, according to the Palestinian Journalism Syndicate

Her killing also coincides with a recent submission made to the International Criminal Court by a conglomerate of Palestinian media organisations alleging an Israeli policy of systematically attacking their profession.

Total control

Control is the guiding principle when it comes to Israel’s management of the Palestinian population, rendering life on the land for the Palestinian population untenable. Across the West Bank, the existence of 593 Israeli-manned checkpoints that carve up the Occupied West Bank greatly restricts Palestinian freedom of movement, with Israel deciding who has the right to travel, where, and when. Control. The 700km separation wall, declared illegal by an advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice in 2004, carves up the West Bank and has had a catastrophic impact on Palestinian life, restricting access to the labour market, and significantly reducing arable land for grazing cattle. Control.

This same pattern of Israeli control over Palestinian life is perhaps most starkly evident when we consider those living in the Gaza Strip. A document published by Israeli Human Rights organisation Gisha found that in maintaining the blockade against the population in Gaza, a policy of managing the daily calorie intake needed to keep Palestinian civilians alive was considered. Control.

The rapid, unchecked expansion of illegal Israeli settlements has reached the point where there are now over 700,000 settlers living in the West Bank, ensuring that any notion of a “peace” based on dual statehood has long since passed, despite what our governments may say. Significant restrictions placed on Palestinian access to natural resources, including water and fertile agricultural lands near the Dead Sea, further illuminates this pattern of control.

More recently, during the Covid-19 crisis, while Israel was heralded globally for its vaccine production and rollout, barely an eyebrow was raised when it didn’t share vaccines with the Palestinian Authority (despite its responsibilities as an occupying power), choosing instead to hand over batches that were going out of date. Control.

‘Unlawful killing’

The claims by Palestinian media organisations alleging an Israeli policy of systematically attacking their profession fit with this pattern of control. Abu Akleh is the latest in a long and tragic list of Palestinian journalists who have lost their lives reporting. “In terms of the event itself, unfortunately, it is not unique, not different,” says Saleh Hijazi, the deputy director of Amnesty International’s Middle East programme. “It fits a pattern, a pattern of unlawful killing, and also a pattern of targeting journalists and human rights defenders.”

The funeral itself was an exercise in Israeli control, with restrictions placed on the number of mourners, and outright banning of Palestinian flags and symbols

As I joined her funeral procession on route to the Christian cemetery in Jerusalem’s Old City, I passed through Sheikh Jarrah, the East Jerusalem neighbourhood where Jewish organisations continue to try and evict Palestinian residents.

The funeral itself was an exercise in Israeli control, with restrictions placed on the number of mourners allowed at the church, and outright banning of Palestinian flags and symbols. Mourners who defied the restrictions, including those who carried Abu Akleh’s body from the church, were attacked and several were arrested.

If anything is to change in the region, we as an international community have a duty to continue to bear witness, to speak out and to condemn Israel’s control over Palestinian life and livelihoods. We must heed the rallying cry of the inimitable Angela Davis and follow her advice: “We cannot go on as usual. We cannot pivot the centre. We cannot be moderate. We will have to be willing to stand up and say no with our combined spirits, our collective intellects, and our many bodies.”

Brendan Ciarán Browne is assistant professor of conflict resolution at Trinity College Dublin