Shireen Abu Akleh

Job:
Medium:
Beats Covered:
Gender:
Local or Foreign:
Freelance:

Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian American correspondent for Al-Jazeera Arabic, was fatally shot in the head on May 11, 2022, while covering an Israeli army operation in the West Bank town of Jenin, according to Al-Jazeera and other news reports. Her producer, Ali Samoudi, was injured by a shot in the back.

Abu Akleh, 51, was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead shortly afterward. A video of the aftermath of the shooting, posted on Twitter by Qatar-based Al-Jazeera, shows her wearing a vest marked “Press.”

Multiple investigations into her death concluded that the veteran reporter – a household name in the region – was shot by a member of the Israel Defense Forces, which said its troops were in the area “to arrest suspects in terrorist activities.” Some of those in-depth analyses, including one by CNN, said there was evidence that Abu Akleh was deliberately targeted. 

Israeli authorities deny that any soldier shot intentionally at the journalist, announcing in September 2022 that its operational inquiry found “a high possibility that Ms. Abu Akleh was accidentally hit by IDF gunfire that was fired toward suspects identified as armed Palestinian gunmen, during an exchange of fire in which life-risking, widespread and indiscriminate shots were fired toward IDF soldiers.” The IDF did not rule out the possibility that Abu Akleh was killed by bullets fired by Palestinian assailants. 

Reports by The Associated Press, The Washington Post, CNN, and open-source outlet Bellingcat corroborated witness claimsthat Israeli military fire killed Abu Akleh. CNN said its investigation found “there was no active combat, nor any Palestinian militants, near Abu Akleh in the moments leading up to her death,” and said it had found evidence of a “targeted attack.” The Washington Post said that available video and audio evidence “disputes IDF claims there was an exchange of fire in the minutes before Abu Akleh was killed.” A September investigation by Forensic Architecture, a University of London-based multidisciplinary research group, in partnership with Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq, used multiple methods, including audio analysis and 3D modeling, to look into the killing. That investigation concluded that “Shireen and her fellow journalists were deliberately and repeatedly targeted, with an aim to kill.”

Both Israel and the U.S. State Department said that their own probes into Abu Akleh’s killing were hampered by damage to the bullet that killed her. In a July statement, the State Department said that the damage prevented independent ballistics experts from reaching a definitive conclusion regarding the origin of the bullet, that gunfire from IDF positions “was likely responsible” for Abu Akleh’s death, and that there was “no reason to believe that this was intentional.” 

The IDF said that the “poor physical state” of the bullet that killed Abu Akleh made it impossible to determine whether the bullet was fired from an IDF rifle, that it was “not possible to unequivocally determine the source of the gunfire,” and that under the circumstances “there is no suspicion of a criminal offense that justifies the opening of a Military Police investigation.”

In November 2022, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation opened its own investigation into Abu Akleh’s killing. Israel’s then Defense Minister Benny Gantz called the FBI decision "a grave mistake" and said that Israel would refuse to cooperate with any external investigation. CPJ did not receive an immediate answer to a January email to the Israeli government press office asking whether the new government, which took office in December 2022, would maintain that stance.

Meanwhile, Abu Akleh’s case has been submitted to the International Criminal Court by the Palestinian Authority, her family, and Al-Jazeera. “The evidence shows that this deliberate killing was part of a wider campaign to target and silence Al Jazeera,” the network said in a December 6, 2022 announcement about its submission to the court.

Born in Jerusalem, Abu Akleh studied journalism at Yarmouk University in Jordan and received a diploma in digital journalism from Bir Zeit University in the West Bank in 2020. In 1994, she co-established and worked for Voice of Palestine (Sawt Filasteen) radio station, according to Al-Jazeera.

Abu Akleh worked with UNRWA, Amman Satellite Channel, the Miftah Foundation, and Monte Carlo Radio before joining Al-Jazeera in 1997, a year after the network’s founding. According to Anadolu Agency, she was one of the network’s first field correspondents and “she acquired a reputation for bravery, professionalism and a strict adherence to facts.” Called the “daughter of Palestine” and the “voice of Palestine,” she became known for her sensitive reporting about day-to-day Palestinian life under Israeli occupation, as well as her coverage of major news events like the Palestinian uprising, known as the Second Intifada, of 2000 to 2005. According to Al-Jazeera, she also covered the wars in Gaza, the Lebanese-Israeli war in 2006, and the 2016 U.S. elections.

Abu Akleh was honored in various Palestinian villages before her burial on May 13, 2022. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas awarded her the “Star of Jerusalem” medal, usually reserved for dignitaries, at her state service in Ramallah on May 12, calling her a “martyr for truth and the free word.”  Thousands of people attended her funeral in Jerusalem, where Israeli police stormed the hospital where her body was kept and attacked mourners carrying her coffin.