It was not easy to watch the video clips of the procession carrying the coffin of slain Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, from the hospital to the church in Occupied Jerusalem. One can only imagine the bitter heartache of the pallbearers and mourners who were present at the scene.
The video clip in question, and you can easily look this up and find it, shows armed personnel of the Israeli military charging at the pallbearers and then attacking them. In the short clip, in one instance, Akleh's coffin falls, almost completely, because while one end of the coffin was held up, the ones holding up the other end were fully incapacitated by batons, chaos and what we, mere spectators can imagine, the weight of Israeli oppression.
Shireen Abu Akleh was 51 years old, an Al Jazeera journalist and a veteran in her professional field. She was well-known for her coverage of Israel and Palestine. While on the job, she was shot and killed by Israeli military on 11 May. For many in the region, they remember Akleh as the only familiar voice in news from their childhood, the one they watched on television to tell their side of the story. Akleh joined Al Jazeera in 1997.
Akleh was wearing her flak jacket marked with "PRESS" - which, for those journalists covering conflict and war zones, is meant to protect the person from violence and injury. But in this case, it did not. Eyewitnesses and freelance journalist Shatha Hanaysha (29) who was working with Akleh at the time of her death said Akleh was shot by Israeli military, who could clearly see Akleh's PRESS jacket.
Akleh and Hanaysha were covering Jenin refugee camp in occupied West Bank. Another Al Jazeera journalist, Ali al-Samoudi, was also wounded by a bullet in the back at the scene. He is now in stable condition.
Over the past four days, as tributes started to pour in, a clear distinction arose between the response to the news of a fallen journalist, Akleh, and others who also died on the job. In Akleh's case, with tributes also came a point of contention.
Who killed the journalist on Wednesday?
While Al Jazeera and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Thursday that Akleh was targeted and killed by the Israeli military, the Israeli counter vastly differed. At first, Israel's military said Akleh was killed by a stray bullet fired by Palestinian fighters. Later, the Chief Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi of Israel Military retracted the assertion.
The Israeli military released a video on Wednesday backing their claim that she was killed by Palestinian fighters. The video was widely shared by Israeli embassies, which was soon debunked by Israeli human rights group B'Tselem.
Spectators, activists and commentators point to the harrowing reality of the Palestinian plight, one which even journalists cannot escape. The cause of Akleh's death continues to be contested with the Israeli military ultimately saying they "cannot determine at this stage" who killed her.
Akleh joins the list of 17 journalists killed this year - either on dangerous assignment, during cross fire or by murder - according to Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
Akleh is not the first to have died as a result of Israel's brutal occupation. Yasser Murtaja (30), was killed in 2018, while working for AP at the time. Investigation is still pending. The Los Angeles Times said in 2019 "After announcing it would investigate the circumstances of his death in response to an international outcry, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has gone silent."
Nazih Darwazeh, a Palestinian cameraman, was shot in the head by Israeli forces while on the job in 2003. It is safe to assume there are many more names and persons lost to targeted killing while they were simply doing their job covering Israel-Palestine.
Bias, the value of Palestinian life and the media
The jobs of journalists and reporters in conflict or war zones are especially of dangerous nature. More often than not, they are stacked against odds, they are cornered, threatened and intimidated, simply for doing their job. But when news of a journalist's death breaks, it is expected that it will be met with solidarity and unified condemnation, at least from the news media world.
However, "Shireen Abu Akleh, Trailblazing Palestinian Journalist, Dies, Aged 51" a headline by The New York Times speaks differently. Her death is made passive, erasing the incredible assault by a military force that enjoys great depths of impunity, perhaps the greatest in the world.
According to CNN, Israel has been the largest recipient of US foreign assistance since World War II. And according to the non-profit organisation and website, USAFacts.org, "The United States approved over $3.8 billion in foreign assistance to Israel in 2019, the most recent year of complete data. About $8.5 million of that aid went towards the economy."
Ahmed Eldin, a journalist, corrected the NYT headline on his social media by replacing "dies aged 51" with "Assassinated by Israeli Sniper while wearing a press vest and reporting on Israeli military violence."
While most major news outlets have covered Akleh's killing, they seem to use passive language and erasing the fact that a Palestinian-American journalist was gunned down by Israeli military. The lack of outrage from journalists in the West is a deafening silence, and perhaps telling, that even in death, a Palestinian journalist will not be dignified and respected like an equal.
If not anything else, the video clip showing Shireen Abu Akleh's funeral procession met by the Israeli forces is telling of the plight of the Palestinians, even in death. No, the procession was not merely "intruded," as the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken would like you to believe (as leaders, governments and news outlets continue to use language more suited to their vested interests and views) but it was attacked and vilified because the coffin carried the voice who reported on the Palestinian plight and told the world the truth.
Following the procession, it has been reported that journalists were not allowed to film the funeral and mourners were asked by the Israeli military if they were Christian or Muslim.
Surrounding Akleh's death, Palestinian teenagers have been shot and killed in Jenin, a highly contested region in West Bank. And following her death on Wednesday, raids by Israeli military resumed in Jenin on Friday. And international organisations have called for an investigation into her death.