Murder of Shireen Abu Akleh Exposes Systemic Israeli Violence

Ramallah is hosting a state funeral for Palestinians Al JazeeraShireen Abu Akleh is a veteran journalist, and was one of the most prominent television journalists in Palestine. Abu Akleh was an American citizen and was wearing a uniform as a journalist. She was covering an Israeli military raid on the occupied West Bank. On Wednesday, she was fatally shot in her head. Israel initially claimed that she was shot by a Palestinian gunman. But, witnesses, including other journalists, later confirmed that she was killed by Israeli forces. “People are shocked all over Palestine, all over the Arab world, actually,” says Rashid Khalidi, professor of modern Arab studies at Columbia University. Israel’s “colonial army” has “systematically targeted” Palestinian journalists, says Khalidi. “It’s really important to Israel that nobody see what’s going on in the Occupied Territories.”


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be final.

AMY GOODMAN:Palestinians hold a state funeral for the Palestinian American in Ramallah Al JazeeraShireen Abu Akleh, reporter at the occupied West Bank, was shot in her head the day after covering an Israeli military raid on a Jenin refugee camps. Witnesses, which included other journalists, at Al JazeeraShe was killed by Israeli forces, according to her family. At the time of her death, she was wearing a helmet and a vest marked “press.” Ali al-Samudi, a Palestinian journalist, was wounded alongside Abu Akleh.

ALI AL-SAMUDI: [translated]The occupation is criminal and murderous. They shot us without any reason. We, a group of journalists, were there wearing our full press uniforms, in addition to the helmets with the word “press” written on them in large letters, as big as the whole world. We were obvious.

AMY GOODMAN:Shireen Abu Akleh is a U.S citizen. She worked at Al Jazeerafor nearly a quarter of century. She was a well-known TV journalist in Palestine and across the Arab world. Israel initially claimed that she was shot by a Palestinian gunman. But, later, it became clear who shot her. Palestinian authorities accused Israel of committing the, quote, “crime of execution” and rejected an offer from Israel to carry out a joint probe into her death. On Wednesday, Ala’ Salameh, the head of the Palestinian Media Association, spoke out against the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh and other Palestinian journalists.

ALA’ SALAMEH: [translated]Today’s protest shows that the occupation must be stopped. We must pursue the Israeli leaders as well as war criminals who were involved. These crimes led to the deaths and injuries of journalists. Shireen Abu Akleh was their last journalist.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by the acclaimed Palestinian American Middle East historian Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said professor of modern Arab studies at Columbia University, the author of a number of books, including The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine.

Professor Khalidi, Welcome Back Democracy Now!You can talk about Shireen’s death and the significance of it. We also know where she was covering an Israeli raid on a Jenin refugee camps.

RASHID KHALIDI: Right. This is a huge shock to all Arabs and anyone who has been following events in Palestine. She was, after all, probably the most prominent reporter to cover what’s happening there for the last quarter of a century.

Her cover was another raid on the Jenin refugee camps. Jenin was the scene of a serious battle that occurred during the Second Intifada 2002. It saw a large number Israeli soldiers (perhaps as many as 24) and 50 Palestinians being killed. This included both resistance fighters as well as civilians. Since then, Israel has imposed collective punishment on the refugee camps and the entire region.

All this is happening against a backdrop that reflects growing anger and frustration in the Occupied Territories over the unending nature the occupation and the fact there is no political horizon. Israel refuses to end an occupation that has lasted 55 years and is actually tightening it in many aspects. Attacks on Israelis have continued. There have been many outbreaks of violence.

The Israeli response to the attacks on Israeli civilians inside Israel has been collective punishment, vengeance and the response of every colonial Army. What has been happening all over the Occupied Territories in response to horrific attacks on Israeli civilians inside Israel is essentially sanctioned — state-sanctioned murder — in many cases, of unarmed civilians, and, yesterday, of an unarmed journalist who was clearly marked as a journalist, wearing a protective vest with “press” across the front and a helmet with “press” on her head. This is what colonial armies do. They believe that no other than force is understood by the peoples they control. And that’s the kind of attitude that the Israeli military has.

Their lying — their systematic lying and cover-ups, in this case, fell apart when the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem showed that Israeli claims that there was gunfire from the Palestinians, in fact, related to someplace that was hundreds of meters away, and that where Shireen and her colleagues were targeted was an area where there was no shooting going on, except by Israeli snipers, who killed her, wounded one of her colleagues.

NERMEEN SHAIKH:Professor Khalidi: Could you please also talk about the significance that she was a Palestinian American?

RASHID KHALIDI: Right. I get the impression that if an American journalist was killed in Ukraine by the Russians, we would hear even more about it. I must say that this person was well-known in the Arab world. But the fact that this is the second American killed by Israelis in the space of a couple of months — I think three months — has not gotten the kind of outrage that it would have gotten in another situation. It has to be stated that she is an American citizen. Her colleagues in the media have been able to report positively on her death. Nevertheless, the systematic lying and cover-ups that the Israeli government is so adept at doing were wheeled out almost immediately, claims that they’ve, in fact, been forced to back down from.

Perhaps Shireen’s American citizenship will make it more difficult to see the systematic brutality of the occupation in the Occupied Territories. This is a very serious case, but young men are being killed almost every day, whether they are unarmed or protestors. Yes, there are clashes in certain cases but in most cases Israeli snipers are killing innocent people or those who participated in demonstrations. This seems to be what happened in this case.

NERMEEN SHAIKH:Who was Professor Khalidi? You claimed she was the second American victim of terrorism in recent months. Who was the first?

RASHID KHALIDI:An elderly Palestinian American died after being stopped at an Israeli checkpoint. He was then placed facedown on the ground during the night. This was likely due to maltreatment by Israeli forces. I don’t recall his name.

AMY GOODMAN: I think his name was Omar Abdelmajid As’ad.

RASHID KHALIDI: Exactly. I believe that was about three months ago — I mean, it might have been February — that he was arrested, detained, taken to an empty building in the middle of the night — it was a very cold night; he was on his way home after a family visit — and, with other detainees, put facedown in the dirt and then was found lifeless very soon thereafter. He was an elderly man suffering from a heart condition.

AMY GOODMAN:Rashid Khalidi is your family. You’re a well-known family in the West Bank. Could you talk about the effects this has had? I understand at the funeral today they’re projecting Shireen’s image across Ramallah, where a state funeral is being held for her. Let’s talk again about the Jenin refugee camps and the Israeli raid. This is just one of many raids currently taking place. They call it counterterrorism raid.

RASHID KHALIDI: Right, right. People are shocked in Palestine and all across the Arab world. Shireen Abu Akleh was a household face. You see, her face was well-known to everyone in the Arab world who followed news from Palestine. Al Jazeera, which is the dominant channel, Arab satellite channel, covering Palestine in particular. The shock of yesterday was felt worldwide. People woke up to hear the news from the United States. They had heard it in Palestine and other parts of the Arab world much earlier. So, there have been memorials and ceremonies for her all over Palestine’s Occupied Territories.

Jenin has become an emblem of resistance. I would like to add something. We are now praising and lauding Ukrainians for resisting Russian occupation. Israelis and the media that repeats, parrots, and glorifies the Israeli occupation of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories for more than 80 days are calling them terrorists. They would never call Ukrainians fighting Russian occupation terrorists.

Jenin is a symbol for resistance because of a battle that took part in 2002 during Second Intifada. The Israelis entered the camp and were confronted over several days by Palestinian militants. And, as I’ve said, about 50 Palestinians were killed, many of them — many of them militants, many of them civilians, and about 24 Israeli soldiers were killed. As it does everywhere else, Israel has been pursuing a policy of collective punishment. It punishes a region, a district, and punishes a camp. They also keep checkpoints around the camp at all hours of the night. They enter the camp in the middle of the nights, destroy property, beat people up, and arrest them.

And because several of the people whom the Israelis claim or believe perpetrated attacks inside Israel, in which many Israelis — I think as many as 19 Israelis have been killed over the past many weeks — because several of the supposed perpetrators or the alleged perpetrators came from Jenin or the Jenin area, this collective punishment and this bloody vengeance, where people are being shot down, sometimes in clashes but quite frequently simply in demonstrations, or quite frequently because the Israelis are just shooting, as they often do, is being carried out particularly systematically in the Jenin area and in the Jenin refugee camp.

Shireen Abu Akleh’s and her colleagues covered yesterday’s incident. It was part of a series of Israeli raids on the camp. These are not soldiers from Israel who are just trying to chase militants. These are Israeli soldiers sacking people’s homes, destroying their property, throwing things in the street, beating people up, arresting people, and whether they’re innocent or whether they’re involved in militant activity.

NERMEEN SHAIKH:Professor Khalidi, what hope do we have for any type of accountability, further investigations, or accountability for her death?

RASHID KHALIDI:The International Federation of Journalists is bringing a case against the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate. There have been — something like 46 Palestinian journalists have been killed by Israeli forces since the year 2000, many of them during the Second Intifada and several of them just this past year, in fact. Palestinian journalists have been targeted in a systematic way.

It’s really important to Israel that nobody see what’s going on in the Occupied Territories. Nobody would be able to see the day-today reality of the Occupied Territories if people didn’t know. This is possible only because Shireen, a brave journalist, gave her life to report this story. The Israelis are skilled at bullying journalists and trying to stop the story from spreading. They shoot Palestinian journalists at the base, where rubber meets the road, where they are on the ground. As I’ve said, 46 have been killed since 2000, according to the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate.

The International Federation of Journalists and the International Center for Justice for Palestinians have brought a case against the International Court of Justice to investigate several of these murders. Israel has repeatedly targeted media offices. They bombed several media offices in Gaza last year, destroying several bureaus. And they’ve done this repeatedly in Ramallah and in other places.

In order to discredit the story, journalists are subject to attacks. This is part of colonial information controls. The British Empire did this everywhere — in Ireland, in India, in Egypt, in Palestine. And the Israelis have been doing it systematically and very effectively, shooting at journalists, intimidating journalists on the ground in Palestine, and then bullying editors and producers here in New York and in the United States and around the world to impose their line, which is generally mendacious — they make stuff up — and also to prevent the truth, which is that this is a brutal occupation that’s only sustained by brute force against the will of an entire people. That fact and the fact that it’s supported by us, the United States — these are American weapons being used, this is American money that’s supporting this — is something that is essential for the Israelis to blur, to occlude, to hide.

AMY GOODMAN:Finally, Naftali Bennett, the Israeli Prime Minister, met with Putin. There was some talk of either, you know, Turkey’s leader or Bennett negotiating between Russia and Ukraine. At the same time, wasn’t Naftali Bennett almost toppled recently as prime minister?

RASHID KHALIDI:Yes, he did lose one member of his coalition, who left because he was against Passover and violated Passover rules. Another member of his coalition threatened to leave, which I understand has been withdrawn. His coalition is now in very weak shape. I think they’ve lost their majority. They have only half of the Knesset seats.

AMY GOODMAN:Is this any impact on the possibility for a solution between Israel & Palestine?

RASHID KHALIDI:Bennett is a settler. He lives in a settlement. He’s a committed supporter of the eternal, permanent occupation of all of what’s left of Palestine. He will not negotiate with the Palestinians under any circumstance. He’s made that very, very clear. So, he heads a coalition which includes some parties that are interested in a negotiated settlement, but his party and several of the other parties in the coalition are as committed to continuing the permanent occupation of Palestine and the colonization of what’s left of it, the continued establishment of Israeli settlements, the continued expropriation of Palestinian land. No matter the nature of his coalition Bennett is not going lead any movement towards any type of resolution. He is not different from Netanyahu or the opposition in this regard.

AMY GOODMAN:We want to thank Rashid Khalidi for being with us. Edward Said, professor of modern Arab Studies at Columbia University, wanted to say thanks. His books include The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine.

Next, we talk to Andrey Kurkov, a renowned Ukrainian writer. Stay with us.