Shireen Abu Akleh's killing is just the tip of the iceberg in Israel's war on journalism
The violent spectacle of Shireen Abu Akleh’s killing at the hands of Israeli occupation forces has exposed Israel’s multi-faceted war against journalism, and its fight to prevent the truth about its crimes from being exposed. As often is the case, it starts with the Palestinians but doesn’t end there.
The shockwaves from the 5.56 mm bullet that hit the exposed part of Shireen’s head under her press helmet continue to reverberate around the world. Her killing must not be decontextualised and separated from Israel’s wider machine targeting courageous journalists pursuing truth, whether in Palestine or elsewhere.
The morbid truth is that in the tortured logic of apartheid PR, Shireen Abu Akleh is more dangerous to the Zionist project dead than alive. It is rare that Israel is actually forced to battle the ghosts of its crimes, but Shireen will be one such ghost.
Her name is now known by millions who can’t speak the language she so diligently reported in for almost 30 years, but it must not be exceptionalised. The name Shireen Abu Akleh stands on a proud list of martyrs, who despite clothing publicly identifying them as press, were killed by Israeli occupation forces.
"The name Shireen Abu Akleh stands on a proud list of martyrs, who despite clothing publicly identifying them as press, were killed by Israeli occupation forces"
Systematic targeting of journalists
The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate documented 870 violations by the occupation against journalists in 2021, but Israel’s targeting of journalists goes back decades. According to the Palestinian Journalists’ Union, 55 Palestinian journalists have been killed by Israel over the since the turn of the century.
The name of Shireen Abu Akleh must be held high along others like Yasser Murtaja who was killed covering the Great March of Return from Gaza by an Israeli sniper, as well as Nazih Darwazeh, Basil Farraj, Ahmed Abu Hussein, Fadel Shana, Issam Tillawi, Khaled Reyadh Hamad, Mahmoud al-Kumi and James Miller, all killed by Israeli forces despite being clearly identified as press by their clothing.
Reporters Without Borders asserts that at least 144 Palestinian journalists have been seriously injured by Israeli forces since 2018, with methods of repression ranging from live ammunition to rubber coated steel bullets, to batons, stun grenades and teargas.
NYT's coverage of killing of Shireen Abu Akleh is but a guiding example of the paper's editorial policies surrounding Palestine: Use passive voice. Omit facts. Do not make Israel the aggressor.— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) May 21, 2022
Laura Albast on the New York Times' pro-Israel disinformation https://t.co/nJfpAR3ZhB
Another disturbing way in which Israel suppresses journalism is through the prosecuting of Palestinian journalists with the claim that their work is tantamount to incitement. Between 2015 and 2018, almost 500 Palestinians were arrested by occupation forces on charges of incitement merely for things they posted on social media. Many of them were journalists and some were even children.
It is believed there are 15 Palestinian journalists currently in occupation jails for supposed incitement. Several of these journalists are being held in administrative detention, which has no fixed period and can last as long as a year and six months. Lawyers have claimed that the sentences of imprisonment for social media posts can be affected by how well received they are online, and in some cases the more likes a post attracts the longer the prison sentence is.
Controlling the narrative beyond Palestine
According to the International Middle East Media Centre, any foreign journalist who attempts to report from occupied Palestine is “required to register with the Israeli military.” It is also asserted that “any footage they film is required to go through the Israeli Military Censor’s office” before it can be used outside. But the fluidity of the internet has provided ways around this totalitarian arrangement.
The NSO Group, which gave birth to the Pegasus Spyware, is described by the Jerusalem Post as an “informal arm of the Israeli government.” It was founded by IDF Military Intelligence Unit 8200 alumni and has exported its spyware to many different states across the world. This spyware has been used to target thousands of journalists from major newspapers and channels.
The question that remains in contention is to what extent the NSO Group has access to the information obtained when other states use Pegasus to invade the privacy of journalists and human rights activists. Court documents reveal that Cherie Blair, a supposed human rights lawyer who sits on the Advisory Board of the NSO Group, was made aware by the company that the ruler of Dubai had hacked his ex-wife’s phone through use of Pegasus, and then passed on this information to the target.
If NSO has no access to the information Pegasus is used to obtain by other governments, how exactly would Blair be made aware of this? If NSO does, in fact, have access to the data procured using its spyware, that means an arm of the Israeli government was present in the phones of at least 50,000 people, including thousands of journalists, worldwide.
A key part of Israel’s war against journalism operations in the UK is the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM), which is bankrolled by a scion of arms manufacturing family, Poju Zublodawicz. His father founded Soltam Systems, which went on to be subsumed into Israel’s largest arms giant, Elbit Systems.
The organisation is headed by a current reserve in the IDF and previous employee of the Israeli PM office Richard Pater. BICOM is focused on inserting a pro-Israel narrative into media coverage in Britain. It employs numerous politicians and journalists to advocate for its interests in the public sphere. It has worked extensively with US lobby group AIPAC on “developing grassroots networks” and has coordinated with the Israeli Embassy on anti-BDS campaigns in Britain.
One journalist who works closely with BICOM is the City Editor of the Daily Mail, Alex Brummer, who can factually be described as an Israel lobbyist. Simultaneous to his role at the Daily Mail, he chairs an organisation called the Abraham Initiatives, which is funded by the Israeli Ministry of Justice.
According to the Abraham Initiatives Trustees Report, it exists to "advance synergy between Israeli bodies & respective agencies & institutions in the UK." In addition to his role there, Brummer is also a Vice-President of the Board of Deputies, which also asserts in its 2020 Trustees Report that it has a “close working relationship with the Israeli Embassy in the UK and strengthened links with the Ministry of Strategic Affairs and the IDF.”
"This is the lesson from history: there is no justice possible in this malignant system, only a careful management of injustice and the arrogantly curated containment of righteous indignation"
Lessons from history
The treatment of mourners at Shireen Abu Akleh’s funeral, which so deeply shocked the insufferable pro-Israel liberals across English language media, while a horrific spectacle, was not an aberration for Israeli occupation forces (IOF). Lina Abu Akleh, the niece of Shireen, told me in my interview with her this week that she was “threatened personally” by the IOF with physical attack at the funeral.
Less than a year before Shireen’s killing, the IOF shot and killed Shawkat Khalil Awad at the funeral of a 12 year-old child, Mohammad al-Alaama, they had shot dead just the day before. None of this violence is new, it just appears more shorn of its pretensions than ever before.
Another lesson from history, which may be particularly harsh, is the killing of the US citizen, Rachel Corrie, in Gaza by an IOF driven bulldozer in 2003. As it did with Shireen, who was also a US citizen, the US government proceeded in the aftermath to whisper sweet nothings in hopes of containing the pulsations of rage from those mourning and demanding justice.
The company that manufactured the bulldozer, Caterpillar, then hired the private intelligence company C2i to infiltrate the campaign and spy on Rachel's parents as they struggled for justice.
This is the lesson from history: there is no justice possible in this malignant system, only a careful management of injustice and the arrogantly curated containment of righteous indignation. Israel’s war against journalism will only escalate from here.
Lowkey is a British-Iraqi hip hop artist, academic and political campaigner. He is a patron of Stop The War Coalition, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Racial Justice Network and The Peace and Justice Project founded by Jeremy Corbyn. His latest album Soundtrack To The Struggle 2 featured Noam Chomsky, Frankie Boyle and Ken Loach and has been streamed millions of times.
Follow him on Twitter: @Lowkey0nline
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