Lessons from Shireen Abu Akleh’s life, and death

For Al Jazeera’s reporter in Gaza, Maram Humaid, Shireen Abu Akleh was an inspiration to become a journalist.

A Palestinian man rides a bicycle in front of a mural painted by an artist in honour of slain veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, in Gaza City
Sherine Abu Akleh was an inspiration for a generation of Palestinian women journalists [Mohammed Abed/AFP]

The news of Shireen Abu Akleh’s death was a shock like no other, freezing the blood in my veins, and leaving me with trembling hands as I tried to scroll on my phone to find out more information.

Maybe it was inaccurate? Memories came back of watching Shireen while I was growing up, a presence on screen for the last 20 years, a young woman journalist carrying a microphone with an Al Jazeera logo, reporting news from Jerusalem, Jenin, Ramallah, and Israel’s repeated incursions across the occupied West Bank.

But it was true. Shireen had been cruelly killed doing what she had always done: reporting.

Shireen’s untimely absence has revealed how she has become an integral part of keeping together our Palestinian memory, our national identity, our relationship with the land, and the occupier. For those of us, like myself, in the Gaza Strip, where Israel divides us from the West Bank and Jerusalem, despite them being only two hours away, she connected us.

As a fellow Palestinian woman journalist, Shireen was an exceptional role model.

“Shireen Abu Akleh, Al Jazeera, occupied Jerusalem” – her memorable closing line, with her calm and melodious voice, fueled my passion for journalism, and that of my generation of young women, holding a hairbrush in front of the mirror and imitating her.

Despite our familiarity with Israel’s actions as an occupying force against the Palestinian people over the years, Shireen’s killing was still unbelievably tragic and painful.

It was yet another slap in the face, emphasising that for the Israeli occupation, there is little difference between a journalist, a paramedic, or any civilian. We are all the same, and all potentially subject to attack.

Palestinians mourn for Abu Akleh
Palestinians are united in mourning Shireen Abu Akleh [Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Al Jazeera]

Shireen’s experience, her constant presence, made us think that she was an exception, that her years of professionalism, her fame, even among Israelis, would intercede for her, and prevent her from being targeted.

We were wrong.

The bullet that killed Shireen metaphorically killed every Palestinian woman journalist. It brought us back to zero, to being fearful and anxious about this troublesome profession, and the reality of doing it while living under occupation, the potential that we can be targeted at any moment.

We have realised that no one is an exception, not even Shireen.

Even in death, Shireen gives us Palestinian journalists lessons.

She was a hero, who was loyal to the truth, and to the noble message of journalism. Her conviction in her work and its importance was clearly translated in the sweeping love of the masses of people who took to the streets to pay tribute to her soul and wept for her memory.

Shireen’s death taught us that people do not forget those who value the truth and appreciate a faithful reporter who can convey the voice and suffering of the masses. A journalist must be human before everything else, and close to the people whose message they are carrying.

And that is how Shireen was throughout her professional career, taking us in her reports from one town to another, through the Israeli checkpoints, and inside Palestinian homes full of stories of those who’ve died for the cause, prisoners, the wounded, and their families.

Shireen’s death has taught us that a journalist can convey a just cause and that their devotion to spreading their people’s message is not prejudiced, or a detachment from professionalism. The price, however, is that you can pay for it with your life.

Shireen Abu Akleh, the constant presence on our screen, had an extended, loving family in every Palestinian home.

Her message will remain, imperishable, and continue to spread – we Palestinian journalists will make sure of it.

Source: Al Jazeera