The Washington Post: Blaming the (Palestinian) victims
This article is part of The New Arab’s States of Journalism series, a sustained exploration of freedom, repression, and accountability in MENA and global media landscapes. Read more of the series’ articles here.
Earlier this week, The Washington Post published an investigative report which thoroughly concluded that Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was murdered by Israeli soldiers while wearing her press vest and doing her job.
Then in an absurd twist of events, the Post undercut its own outstanding journalism by publishing an opinion piece from its editorial board. In it, not only did they doubt that Abu Akleh was killed on purpose, but even placed the blame for her death on Palestinians themselves.
While attempting to discredit AlJazeera as sensationalist and untrustworthy by calling it “Qatar owned”, the Post felt that it was necessary to state that their investigation did not prove a soldier “targeted Ms. Abu Akleh because she was a journalist.”
This claim directly contradicts their own reporting. Post journalists explained that “the two slight deviations-involving two rounds were likely caused by someone re-aiming” at Abu Akleh and that “journalists identified as press would likely have been visible from the IDF convoy’s position”- directly implying Abu Akleh’s death was intentional and targeted.
The Post’s egregious opinion piece did not stop there however.
''Dead Palestinians are criminalised so intensely that even if facts prevailed, there seems to always be a justification for our deaths. Edward Said warned us of this.''
“The whole incident could have been avoided but for a wave of West Bank-based Palestinian attacks that killed 19 Israelis, most of them civilians, in the six weeks before Ms. Abu Akleh’s death and to which Israel was responding” the Post editorial board wrote.
The Post engages in victim blaming to explain why Shireen Abu Akleh was murdered. Some might even argue that they attempted to justify it.
“She was killed covering events that happen constantly under Israeli military occupation” Yousef Munayyer wrote as a response to the opinion piece. “The idea that her death is the result of anything other than the decision of an Israeli soldier to fire at her that day is belied by her entire work history. For the Washington Post editorial board which since the brutal murder of its own Jamal Khashoggi has been a leader in decrying the killing of journalists, to publish this nonsense is a shocking reversal and mark of shame.”
“How can a news organisation that called for accountability in the killing of its journalist provide cover for the entity responsible for the shooting death of another journalist? The only explanation is the Palestine exception to the rules of journalism” Al Jazeera journalist Laila Al-Arian said.
I echo their statements. Dead Palestinians are criminalised so intensely that even if facts prevailed, there seems to always be a justification for our deaths. Edward Said warned us of this.
“To the West, the real victims of the Middle East were the Israeli Jews, whose good-humoured ingenious pluck gained them respite from continued Arab threats to ‘throw the Jews into the sea. It was lost, alas, on every Western pundit in 1982 that the Palestinians were being driven into the sea as they exited Beirut, and that it was Palestinians not Israeli Jews who were being massacred in miserable refugee camps” Said wrote in his book Blaming the Victims.
The Post’s knee jerk reaction to still find a way to pardon Israel of their crimes by blaming others for Abu Akleh’s murder is just another example of how the West allows Israel to act with impunity.
It was not Palestinian provocation that led to Shireen’s death, but the illegal presence of Israeli soldiers in occupied Jenin- the tragic place where hundreds of innocent Palestinians, like Shireen, were killed two decades earlier.
Unfortunately victim blaming is not all that the Post did.
The op-ed referenced the decision by the Palestinian Authority that refuses to release the bullet to Israel because of their belief that the apartheid state would lie or create a new narrative. The Post does not see how that can be possible. “We do not see how Israel could manipulate the process if U.S. experts were indeed involved at every step” they said.
The wilfully ignorant claim that the US is an unbiased middleman that can never manipulate an investigation comes at an especially ironic time. The New York Times just published never before seen photos of the first prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, showing “damning photos of US detention policy in the 21st century”.
The Intercept also recently published an article showing how the US Navy not only killed three prisoners in Guantanamo Bay and covered it up, but that the Department of Justice refused to open an independent official investigation of the incident. They instead, found “no evidence of wrongdoing” very similar to Israel’s announcement that there was no criminal conduct in Abu Akleh’s killing.
The United States, according to the Intercept, has participated in “deceit, lies and coverups of the worst moments in post-9/11 history [and] have created an endless stage of hypocrisy for all the world to see.” It is, therefore, not rocket science to be sceptical of an American-led investigation.
Shireen Abu Akleh represented all of us Palestinians. Her resolve for truth and fearlessness made her loved by millions across the Palestinian diaspora and Arab world. Maybe, however, when Shireen died, so did truthful reporting, because if one thing became painstakingly obvious after this opinion piece, it’s that the Post is a disgrace to journalism.
Hebh Jamal is a Palestinian American journalist based in Germany.
Follow her on Twitter: @hebh_jamal
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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.