Al Jazeera Journalist Shireen Abu Akleh Shot and Killed in West Bank : NPR
A prominent American-Palestinian journalist was killed in the West Bank and her network blames Israeli forces. Israel says it is possible Palestinian gunmen fired at him, but says it will investigate.
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
There are calls for an investigation into the murder of a well-known Palestinian-American journalist. Shireen Abu Akleh was shot while reporting on Israeli troops carrying out a raid. Who killed Abu Akleh and injured one of his colleagues is still disputed, but his fame and ties to the United States have put his death in the spotlight.
For more, we’re now joined by Daniel Estrin of NPR in Tel Aviv. Hi Daniel.
DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hello, Ailsa.
CHANG: So we’ll talk about the circumstances of his death in a moment, but can you first tell us a bit more about who Shireen Abu Akleh was?
ESTRIN: Yes. She was a seasoned television journalist. She was 51, but became a journalist when she was 20. She joined Al Jazeera, the Arab network, in the late 1990s, and rose to prominence during the second Intifada, during the Palestinian uprising of the early 2000s. She was seen all over the Arabic-speaking world at television. The Palestinians particularly watched her. And I want to show you an excerpt from an Al Jazeera tribute video in Arabic, where she explained why she chose journalism.
(SOUND EXCERPT FROM AN ARCHIVED RECORDING)
SHIREEN ABU AKLEH: (speaking Arabic).
ESTRIN: She says, “I chose journalism to be close to people. It might not be easy to change reality, but at least I could make their voices heard in the world.”
CHANG: Well, I know you’ve personally spoken to some of the people who have been impacted by his work, his journalism. What did they say about his death?
ESTRIN: She was really a household name here for the Palestinians. I met a man today in Jerusalem, Izzedine Bukhari (ph). He is in his late thirties. He grew up watching her on TV reports from very violent scenes in the West Bank. Let’s listen.
IZZEDINE BUKHARI: To see her in all those places very close to death, but I never imagined waking up to news like today that she’s the one they’re reporting on.
ESTRIN: And she was also well known to her fellow reporters here. A colleague said she was a role model for young women, who even imitated her signature as they stood in front of the mirror.
CHANG: So what do we know so far about how she was killed?
ESTRIN: Well, she was killed while covering an Israeli arrest operation in the occupied West Bank in the Jenin refugee camp. The context here is that since March there have been several Palestinian attacks in Israel, killing at least 19 people. There have been a series of Israeli raids, arrest raids, in the occupied West Bank that have killed around 30 Palestinians. And Abu Akleh was at the scene of one such raid early this morning to cover him.
We spoke with his colleague, Ali Samoudi. He was with her when they walked past Israeli soldiers. They wore body armor clearly marked with the word press in English with their helmets. He said they moved a few meters away from the soldiers, passed the soldiers who let them pass, and then there was gunfire. He was shot in the back. She was shot in the head. Al Jazeera says it was an Israeli sniper.
A Palestinian autopsy indicates that a recovered bullet has been found. A doctor I spoke to told me it was some kind of bullet the Palestinians don’t have, pointed at Israel. Now, Israel’s position on this has actually evolved. At first, Israel said it was probably armed Palestinians who had fired at it in a firefight with Israeli soldiers. That post has changed a bit, and the military now says it’s unclear who shot him. Israel wants the Palestinians to hand over his body or the bullet or both.
CHANG: Well, we mentioned that this story gets a lot of attention. Can you talk, for example, about how his death is reverberating not just in the region but beyond right now?
ESTRIN: Well, that reverberates at the highest levels of power in the United States. The UN ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, moreover met this journalist in November when she was here in the region. And the ambassador said she was deeply saddened. And the United States calls for a prompt investigation.
An Israeli human rights group even disputed an official Israeli account of the firefight that took place there between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli soldiers. The Israelis provided a video. This Israeli human rights group geotagged him, said he was far from where the journalist was.
But today there were several processions with the body of Shireen Abu Akleh in several towns in the West Bank. Tomorrow, the President of the Palestinian Authority will preside over a ceremony and her funeral will take place on Friday.
CHANG: This is Daniel Estrin from NPR in Tel Aviv. Thank you Daniel.
ESTRIN: You’re welcome.
(SOUND EXTRACTION OF “INSIGHT I” BY JULIEN MARCHAL)
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