Eyewitness reject Israeli claims of 'lack of clarity' over Shireen Abu Akleh's killing

Eyewitness reject Israeli claims of 'lack of clarity' over Shireen Abu Akleh's killing
7 min read
West Bank
12 May, 2022
Eyewitnesses said the killing happened at a site where there were no clashes happening, and that Shireen Abu Akleh and her colleagues were clearly identifiable as journalists.
Shireen Abu Akleh was killed by Israeli forces in Jenin on Wednesday [TNA]

Palestinian-American journalist and Aljazeera reporter, Shireen Abu Akleh, was given an official funeral at the Palestinian Authority's headquarters in Ramallah on Thursday.

At the funeral, which was attended by thousands of Palestinians, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said that the PA will not accept a joint investigation into Abu Akleh's death, reaffirming Palestine's demand for an international, independent investigation.

Shireen Abu Akleh was killed by Israeli forces on Wednesday while covering an Israeli military raid in the Jenin refugee camp.

Shortly after her death was confirmed at the Ibn Sina hospital in Jenin city, Palestinians in Jenin organised a popular funeral, with Jenin's gunmen carrying her body through the streets of the city, accompanied by hundreds of Jenin residents who chanted slogans and raised the Palestinian flag.

Shireen Abu Akleh's body then was received at a secondary funeral procession, which was accompanied by the Palestinian security forces' guard of honour at the Nablus University Hospital. Later in the afternoon, the body was greeted by a crowd of Palestinians in front of Aljazeera's offices in Ramallah, who launched a spontaneous march.

In his first reaction to the news, Israeli prime minister Neftali Bennett said that "it appears likely that armed Palestinians - who were indiscriminately firing at the time - were responsible." Bennett also said that Israel had offered to take part in a joint Palestinian-Israeli investigation into Abu Akleh's death.

However, several eyewitness accounts of the incident reject Israel's account of how Abu Akleh was killed. 

Atta Abu Rmeileh, local secretary of Fatah in Jenin refugee camp, told The New Arab that "the Israeli army entered the western part of the camp shortly after dawn and headed to one of the houses and surrounded it, apparently coming to arrest somebody."

"The surrounded house is located deep in the refugee camp, where Israeli forces clashed with gunmen," he said. "However, Shireen and journalist crews were in a totally different location, at least 300 meters away, separated by a densely-built area, with no line of view at all between the two places."

"Shireen was in an open spot at the edge of the refugee camp, clearly identifiable from a distance, with Israeli soldiers located some 100 meters closer to the interior of the camp," he noted.  

"When Shireen and other journalists walked towards the soldiers, they opened fire at everything that moved in the area, even medic teams, probably to clear the place, and that's when Shireen Abu Akleh and Ali Samoudi were shot," he added.

Ali Samoudi, Aljazeera's team producer, was wounded by a live bullet in his left shoulder. He spoke to Aljazeera from the hospital where he was recovering on Wednesday, stating that "we, journalists, had made ourselves visible to Israeli forces, as we always do, to avoid putting our lives in danger, because getting footage is not more important than our lives." 

"We just can't go into an area where there are armed clashes, so we checked the location we were going to cover from and made sure there were no clashes or gunmen," Samoudi detailed. "We stood in front of Israeli soldiers for more than five minutes, and then began to advance towards them slowly for about twenty meters, at which point they [the Israeli forces] fired a first shot, then a second that hit me, and the third hit Shireen."

"There were absolutely no clashes and no Palestinian gunmen where the killing happened," Saleem Awad, a resident of Jenin and another eyewitness, told The New Arab.

"I accompanied the journalist crews from the main street at the edge of the refugee camp towards the side street where they chose to cover the events," he said. "Behind us was the main street, an open area with nowhere to hide, and cars passing as normal, while in front of us was the side-street that approached the inside of the camp, and at the end of it were Israeli military vehicles and the houses of the camp."

"Journalists were all wearing blue vests marked 'PRESS' and helmets, and Sireen decided to walk towards the Israeli soldiers to be as visible as possible to them. I remained with others behind, on the main street, when the shooting began, and no one was able to enter the street anymore, because they would be completely uncovered to shots coming from the Israeli soldiers side," Awahe detailed.  

"One young man made a long turn around the corner and climbed down from a wall into the side-street and dragged Shireen out with the other journalist who was with her," Awad added.

The journalist who was with Abu Akleh when she was shot is Shatha Hanayshah, a young Palestinian journalist based in Jenin.

"Journalists walked up the main street, where life was going on naturally, with no shooting or clashes going on, and headed to the side-street at the end of which were the Israeli military vehicles. One young man even old us that he had just been there and that it was safe," Hanayshah said to The New Arab. 

"When we walked towards the direction where the Israeli forces were, shooting began, and one colleague shouted that they were shooting at us and jumped over a wall at the side of the street out of the way of fire, but the wall was too high for me and was impossible for the rest of us to go back out without being exposed to fire," she noted. 

"The last words of Shireen were, 'Ali is wounded', referring to Ali Samoudi, and then she fell to the ground right beside me, while I took cover behind a tree," said Hanaysheh. "I didn't know if Shireen was alive or dead, and every time I tried to reach my hand out to her the shooting continued." 

"Shireen was lying with her face down, and all I could notice was her blood stretching out beside her head," she added. 

On Thursday, Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq published the findings of its initial field-investigation to the events in Jenin on Wednesday morning.

"The journalists walked down the Jenin- Burqin street heading west towards a byroad where the IOF [Israeli Occupation Forces] were deployed, and were soon directly facing the IOF vehicles, without any barriers obstructing the vision of the IOF situated to their south," the report read.

"The journalists stopped for a while to allow the IOF to identify them with their clearly marking "PRESS' vests, and slowly approached the IOF from the north. This is when the journalists were fired at from the south, where the IOF were situated," it continued.

On Wednesday, the UN condemned the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, saying that the international organization was "appalled at the killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh", calling for "an independent, transparent investigation into her killing." 

"Impunity must end," the statement from the UN added. 

Meanwhile, the US state department's spokesperson also condemned the killing of Abu Akleh, stating, "Her death is an affront to media freedom everywhere." 

The European Union's spokesperson equally condemned Abu Akleh's killing, declaring, "The European Union stands in solidarity with journalists and will continue to support their fundamental work, in particular, while covering conflicts." 

Abu Akleh’s killing was also condemned by Reporters without Borders (RSF), whose Secretary General Christophe Deloire said, "RSF is not satisfied with Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid's proposal of a joint investigation into this journalist's death. An independent international investigation must be launched as soon as possible."

Shireen Abu Akleh's body was transferred on Thursday to her home town of Beit Hanina in Jerusalem, where she received a last crowded funeral. She is expected to receive the last rites on Friday at the Melkite Catholic church in Jerusalem's old city, before her burial.