Wednesday, April 17

Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed in West Bank

A prominent Palestinian-American journalist was killed in the West Bank and her network blames Israeli forces. Israel says it’s possible Palestinian gunmen shot her, but says it will investigate.


There are calls for investigation over the killing of a well-known Palestinian American journalist. Shireen Abu Akleh was shot as she went to report on Israeli troops conducting a raid. The question of who killed Abu Akleh and wounded one of her colleagues is still disputed, but her fame and her ties to the U.S. have put her death in the spotlight.

For more, we’re joined now by NPR’s Daniel Estrin in Tel Aviv. Hi, Daniel.


CHANG: So we’ll talk about the circumstances of her death in a moment, but can you just first tell us a little more about who Shireen Abu Akleh was?

ESTRIN: Yeah. She was a veteran television journalist. She was 51 years old, but she became a journalist when she was in her 20s. She joined Al Jazeera, the Arabic network, in the late 1990s, and she became very well-known in the second intifada, in the Palestinian uprising of the early 2000s. She was seen all across the Arabic-speaking world on television. Palestinians especially watched her. And I want to play you a clip from an Al Jazeera video tribute in Arabic, where she spoke about why she chose journalism.


SHIREEN ABU AKLEH: (Speaking Arabic).

ESTRIN: She says, “I chose journalism to be close to people. It might not be easy to change the reality, but at least I could bring their voice to the world.”

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CHANG: Well, I know that you’ve been personally talking to some of the people who have been impacted by her work, her journalism. What have they been saying about her death?

ESTRIN: She was really a household name here for Palestinians. I ran into one man today in Jerusalem, Izzedine Bukhari (ph). He’s in his late 30s. He grew up watching her on television report from very violent scenes in the West Bank. Let’s listen.

IZZEDINE BUKHARI: To see her in all these places very close to death, but I never imagined to wake up to news such as today that she is the one that they are making a report about her.

ESTRIN: And she was also really well-known by her colleagues, journalists here. One colleague said she was a role model for young women, who would even imitate her sign-off while they would stand 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 raid 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’s 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 of those raids early this morning to cover it.

We spoke with her colleague, Ali Samoudi. He was with her when they walked past Israeli soldiers. They were wearing flak jackets clearly marked with the word press in English with their helmets. He said they walked meters away from the soldiers, past the soldiers who let them pass, and then there were gunshots. He was shot in the back. She was shot in the head. Al Jazeera says it was an Israeli sniper.

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A Palestinian autopsy says that a recovered bullet was found. A doctor I spoke to said it was a kind of bullet that Palestinians don’t have, pointing at Israel. Now, Israel’s position on this has actually evolved. At first, Israel said it was likely Palestinian gunmen were the ones who shot her during a firefight with Israeli soldiers. That message shifted a little bit, and the army is now saying it’s hard to know who shot her. Israel wants the Palestinians to hand over her body or the bullet or both.

CHANG: Well, we mentioned that this story is getting a lot of attention. Can you talk about, like, how her death is reverberating not only across the region but beyond right now?

ESTRIN: Well, it’s reverberating at the highest levels of power in the United States. The ambassador to the U.N., Linda Thomas-Greenfield, actually met this journalist in November when she was here in the region. And the ambassador said she’s deeply saddened. And the U.S. is calling for a swift probe.

An Israeli human rights group has even challenged an official Israeli account of the firefight that went on there between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli soldiers. The Israelis provided a video. This Israeli human rights group geolocated it, said it was far away from where the journalist was.

But today there were multiple processions with Shireen Abu Akleh’s body at multiple cities in the West Bank. Tomorrow, the Palestinian Authority president will preside over a ceremony, and her funeral will be on Friday.

CHANG: That is NPR’s Daniel Estrin in Tel Aviv. Thank you, Daniel.

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ESTRIN: You’re welcome.


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