For Us, Palestinians, Shireen Abu Akleh Was a Legend

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Shireen Abu Akleh.
Shireen Abu Akleh.Credit: - - AFP

I remember myself as a girl after the second intifada, standing in front of a mirror holding a hairbrush or a remote control and imitating the deep, calm voice with which she ended her reports: Shireen Abu Akleh, Al Jazeera, Palestine.

That iconic sign-off, a catchphrase that every Palestinian child or teenager growing up in the shadow of the second intifada in the early 2000s associated with the new Al Jazeera reporter, took on a new meaning Wednesday: painful, heartbreaking and bleeding. Who would have believed that the woman with this deep, courageous voice would leave us so soon, in such a cruel way.

As I read the eulogies, the social media posts and the reactions to her death, I came to know that there is hardly a girl in the Arab world who hasn’t stood before a mirror, a hairbrush or a remote control in her hand, and said those words.

Abu Akleh wasn’t just another very professional journalist or a great reporter, she was the voice of my generation. She shaped our political consciousness to a large degree, and over the course of two decades was a notable model for commitment, professionalism, honesty, humanity and quality. It’s no wonder that she became an icon.

Every time there was a military operation, or a war, or an incursion by the Israeli army into the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, her voice became our soundtrack. In the days before the communications revolution and smartphones, she was the lens through which we saw the second intifada unfold. In many respects, during those difficult times she was the most important Palestinian personality there was, the one whom the entire world heard and saw day after day and through whom they were exposed to the injustices of the occupation. For me, she was a presence even before I understood what the occupation meant.

It was from Al Jazeera and Abu Akleh that I first learned about the refugee camps. She brought us the faces, the people, the shelling – and, most importantly, the truth (everything that wasn’t broadcast on Israeli television). I even saw the landscapes of the West Bank through her.

Today I particularly recalled her reporting from the Jenin refugee camp – not only because her dispatches from there had made such difficult viewing for a young person, or because it was the place where she met her death, but rather because she made me aware of how kind its inhabitants had been to her. She had been with them for 20 years, and they insisted that her funeral procession leave from the camp. It wasn’t just that she had covered them, but that she had become their voice.

Israelis don’t understand the depth of our anger and sadness. For us, the Palestinians, Shireen Abu Akleh was a legend. The entire Palestinian nation, in its homeland that stretches from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, both in exile and in the diaspora, in villages, cities and refugee camps, feel a sense of collective grief. That is the reason for the many tributes, for the demonstrations everywhere. Shireen Abu Akleh was the voice of the Palestinian who has no voice. Her loss is so egregious and so profound that despite everything that has been written, I cannot adequately put it into words.

I will end with something she said in a video posted on Al Jazeera’s website in October: “I chose journalism to be close to people, and I knew that it wouldn’t be easy to change the situation. But at least I managed to bring Palestinians’ voices to the world,”

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