May 16, 2022
From Spectre Journal

This week marks the seventy-fourth anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba (Catastrophe). On May 15, as Zionists celebrate the 1948 formation of the state of Israel, Palestinians continue to grieve the theft of our land and the massacres, destroyed homes, and expulsions that forcefully established an ongoing collective experience of catastrophe. This year, our grief is acute as we also mourn the loss of Palestinian-American Al Jazeera reporter, Shireen Abu Aqleh, who was assassinated by targeted Israeli sniper fire outside of the Jenin refugee camp in the early morning hours of May 11, 2022.

A journalist of over two decades, Shireen has long served as a communicator of Palestinian pain, grief, tragedy, resilience and resistance. Combining a commitment to her people and struggle with her craft, she was beloved by Palestinians everywhere and regarded as one the most credible journalists covering Palestine by the international press. In keeping with her tradition, on May 11, Shireen along with veteran journalist Ali Al Samoudi had arrived at the Jenin camp wearing their press vests and helmets prepared to cover yet another Israeli raid. Instead, Israeli soldiers shot at them with three bullets from M16 rifles: Ali sustained a bullet to the shoulder and Shireen was fatally killed with one shot to the head just below her helmet.

Immediately following her murder, videos circulated the web showing Shireen laying in a pool of her own blood: adjacent to her lifeless body was her colleague, journalist Shatha Hanaysha, and a young Palestinian man attempting to pull her limp corpse out of the line of fire, while also being shot at. The news traveled the world instantly: Millions across the globe took to social media with expressions of anger, pain, and horror only to be shadow-banned by big tech corporations. Western media outlets framed the assassination as disputed, borrowing talking points from Israeli officials that it was Palestinian fighters who were responsible for her death.

Thousands poured out to the streets of Palestine, in commemoration vigils and protests. Two days later, on May 13, after Shireen’s body was transferred from Ramallah to Jerusalem, funeral processions began. Bereaved Palestinians carried her casket through the streets of Jerusalem, and were beaten and brutalized by Israeli soldiers. The pallbearers struggled to ensure the casket wouldn’t hit the floor. The series of events that followed Shireen’s assassination were a gross reminder of the depths of Palestinian dehumanization. Yet again, the Palestinian dead were denied their right to bodily integrity. The living were denied the space and time to bury our dead, shed our tears, and offer our condolences in peace. Even in moments of immense collective despair we are denied our right to collective grief.

There are several reasons Shireen’s assassination has scorched the heart of Palestinians worldwide, kicking up a form of grief akin to the intimate experience of losing a loved one. Before we all had immediate access to news that the social media era brought on, Shireen was on the front lines, covering unfolding developments in Palestine such as the Al-Aqsa Intifada (2000). Her coverage since then had been guided by professional integrity, honesty, and a relentless will to tell a story that global media outlets were trying to bury. This earned her trust from everyday Palestinians which is critical for a people who have experienced endless forms of betrayal and abandonment.

Her coverage has long given Palestinians a sense of steadiness and certainty, through conditions of duress, destabilization and impermanence. Her signature coverage phrase, “I am Shireen Abu Aqleh,” became a signifier of the credibility of the story which Palestinians banked on. Shireen was familiar and trustworthy. Attesting to how Palestinians felt an intimate bond with Shireen, eyewitness of the shooting and journalist Shatha Hanaysha commented:

I heard a person saying that he “grew up with Shireen.” We all did. We all lived with Shireen because she was in all of our houses since she joined Al-Jazeera in 1997. She left a mark in our hearts, in all Palestinian hearts.

For many Palestinians, Shireen was family and home: steady, stable, and constant. Her death, therefore, is a reminder of the loss of family and home, as well as the security they provide. It should be understood as a reliving of the Nakba of 1948 and its repertoire of violence, which effaces any sense of trust in permanence.