The murder of Shireen Abu Akleh hurts the oppressed: New Frame
The world is appalled by the brutal murder of Shireen Abu Akleh, yet another Palestinian journalist who was killed by Israeli military forces. She worked for Al Jazeera Arabic and was shot and killed in Jenin, in the occupied West Bank, on May 11.
Born in Jerusalem in 1971, Abu Akleh studied journalism in Jordan and worked for several media outlets in Palestine and Jordan. She became a household name around the world and inspired hundreds of journalists, especially after her coverage of the second Intifada, or Palestinian uprising, in 2000.
“I chose journalism to be close to people. It might not be easy to change reality, but at least I could make their voice heard in the world,” she recently said.
Israel, in line with its strategy of managing the narrative of the occupation, regularly targets and kills journalists. It has killed more than 50 Palestinian journalists over the past two decades and injured nearly 150 in the past four years alone.
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While the number of Palestinian journalists killed is disproportionately high, it should be noted that more than 554 journalists have been killed worldwide over the past decade. The work of journalism and recording the first drafts of history has become worryingly dangerous in many countries.
The assassination of Abu Akleh, a champion storyteller on the front lines of the Israeli occupation, preceded preparations for the commemoration of 74 years of Israeli occupation on May 15. She would have prepared to remind the world that Palestinians have endured occupation, dispossession and oppression since the Nakba, or catastrophe, in 1948, when Israel began its forced expulsions of Palestinians and its destruction of Palestinian society.
A cataclysmic day
Many still remember the Nakba. Palestinian Ali Hamoudi was eight years old at the time. “I remember I had to hide with my family in a cave near my house for nine days. There were seven of us in the cave and we didn’t have much room to move around. We could hear the Israelis passing by, but they couldn’t see us because the cave was hidden.
The persuasive and eloquent defender of the Palestinians, the late Edward Said, also recalled how, in 1948, his entire family became refugees. “None of the older members of my family ever recovered from the trauma,” he wrote in The policy of dispossession.
A few years before his death, Said commented, “I am still amazed at how far official Israel and its supporters will go to suppress the fact that decades have passed without Israel’s restitution, acknowledgment or acknowledgment of human rights. Palestinians… The Palestinian Nakba is characterized as a semi-fictional event…caused by no one in particular.
By the end of World War II, the tide was beginning to turn against colonialism. Beginning with India in 1947, then resuming with Ghana 10 years later, the “winds of change” have swept new nations into the previously colonized world. But two countries resisted these winds. Settler colonialism took root in South Africa in 1948 with the onset of apartheid and in Palestine with the formation of the State of Israel.
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Today, the Palestinians are waging the last national liberation struggle against a colonial regime of European settlers. In South Africa, our struggle also continued well beyond the period when most colonized countries gained independence, and so Palestinian and South African activists came together in the 1970s and 1980s. he ANC and the Palestine Liberation Organization were often united in international platforms, often also with the Irish Republican Army.
Nelson Mandela is much maligned today, but on international issues such as Palestine and Cuba, he took firm positions against Western imperialism. Just sixteen days after his release from prison, Mandela met Yasser Arafat in Lusaka, Zambia. At the city’s airport, Mandela embraced Arafat and reiterated his support for the Palestinian struggle. “I believe there are many similarities between our struggle and that of the Palestinian people,” he told the media.
Eight months later, during his three-day visit to Australia in October 1990, Mandela said: “We identify with them [the Palestinians] because we do not think it is right for the Israeli government to suppress basic human rights in the conquered territories. We agree with the UN that international disputes should be settled by peaceful means. The belligerent attitude adopted by the Israeli government is unacceptable to us. Mandela also said that “South Africa will not be free until the Palestinians are free”.
Choose your fights
Journalism is never a neutral practice. Every reporter makes moment-to-moment decisions – political decisions – about what stories to cover and how. There is a great tradition of radical journalists who, adhering to the highest principles of the profession, have written in the service of emancipation. In South Africa we have great examples from people like Sol Plaatje, Ruth First and many others.
Abu Akleh has always been scrupulous about facts, but she has not indulged in the liberal claim of neutrality, let alone being, like most journalists around the world, a stenographer for the powerful. She was an asset to the cause of the oppressed.
The mainstream media, in countries like the United States that claim to champion free speech and media freedom, have covered Abu Akleh in a way that has saddened and disillusioned freedom-loving people around the world. Even the inhumane and barbaric treatment of his coffin did not receive the kind of condemnation one would expect from the media in many developed societies.
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It seemed that Abu Akleh was an unworthy victim. As the famous intellectual heavyweight Noam Chomsky reminds us, “…the worthy victims will be highlighted and dramatically, that they will be humanized and that their victimization will be given the detail and context in the construction of history that will elicit interest of the reader and a sympathetic emotion. On the other hand, the unworthy victims will deserve only slight details, minimal humanization and little context that will excite and enrage.
The Israeli state likes to pretend that it is a democracy surrounded by hostile forces, implicitly portrayed as barbarians at the city walls. No democracy assassinates journalists. No democracy shows such disrespect for the dead. No democracy bombs cities. No democracy drives people out of their homes and lands.
In a United Nations report a few years ago, international law expert John Dugard said that Israel did not want to learn from South Africa and observed that the human rights situation in the territories occupied continued to deteriorate. Dugard drew shocking parallels between Palestine and South Africa, saying that “the large-scale destruction of Palestinian homes, the leveling of farmland, military incursions and targeted killings of Palestinians far exceeded all similar practices in apartheid South Africa.
The murder of Abu Akleh is a reminder Tearsthe great anti-apartheid anthem of the Cape band Bright Blue, which in turn echoes the brilliant novel by JM Coetzee Waiting for the barbarians. The book takes its title from the 1904 poem Waiting for the Barbarians by the sublime Greek poet Constantine P Cavafy, who wrote: “He did not roar, he cried.