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The Duality of Shireen Abu Akleh's Death

Akiva Eldar
Akiva Eldar
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A Palestinian artist paints a mural in honor of slain Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Gaza City, earlier in May.
A Palestinian artist paints a mural in honor of slain Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Gaza City, earlier in May.Credit: MOHAMMED ABED - AFP
Akiva Eldar
Akiva Eldar

As far as we know, no one asked journalist Shireen Abu Akleh if she wanted to become a symbol of the Palestinian struggle against the occupation, freedom of the press or anything else. Presumably, she would not have spared the 57 Democratic members of the U.S. Congress who got themselves up a headline about a Palestinian journalist just because she held a U.S. passport.

In a letter they sent to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and to FBI head Christopher Wray, with, of course, a copy to the media, the lawmakers wrote that: “As an American, Ms. Abu Akleh was entitled to the full protections afforded to U.S. citizens living abroad,” and that the United States had an obligation “to uphold the values that our nation was founded on, including human rights, equality for all, and freedom of speech.”

Don’t these values also apply to Muhammad Assaf, who was shot to death a few weeks ago in front of his little nephews? The letter makes no mention of the occupation, not a peep about the crushing of human rights, equality and freedom of Abu Akleh’s people. When one of their own is killed, these lawmakers are not satisfied by Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s statement that “no army in the world investigates itself like the IDF.” Suddenly, they are ardent for the FBI to force an outside investigation of the incident on Israel.

If those members of Congress – only a quarter of House Democrats (after all, it’s not a good idea to anger AIPAC in an election year) – truly feared for the values on which their nation was founded, they would have long ago demanded that their little friend investigate the circumstances of the deaths of hundreds of Palestinians – including children, the elderly and women – by the occupation forces and put the guilty parties on trial.

According to figures published this week by the NGO Yesh Din, in 2019 and 2020 the military received 273 complaints of offenses by soldiers against Palestinians. Of these, 144 were shut without criminal investigation, and most others were shut without an indictment. The chance that a complaint by a Palestinian will lead to a soldier being put on trial is only 2 percent. Soldiers convicted of such offenses are given sentences that vary from light to ludicrous.

Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Herzog, didn’t appreciate the letter. He said the lawmakers had ignored the background of Abu Akleh's death, and that “Israel is fighting a deadly wave of terror attacks.” For Herzog, too, the occupation is not part of the “background.” The response of Brig. Gen. (res.) Herzog represents the position of most of the Israeli public and its elected officials; when wood is chopped, splinters fly and anyone who dares place responsibility on Israel/the occupation for the killing of civilians is an antisemite.

While Palestinian politicians, first and foremost Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, have turned Abu Akleh into a symbol of the fight against the occupation, Israel’s Foreign Ministry has harnessed the tragic incident for its propaganda. The ministry’s special envoy for combatting antisemitism and delegitimization, the actress Noa Tishby, did wonders.

Thousands of journalists have been killed in recent years in war zones in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya, Mexico and the Philippines – but no one knows the names of any of them, Tishby complained in a video on TikTok and Twitter. Only the name of one journalist, the one killed in a clash between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian terrorists, is used for hate-filled criticism by the international community, the media and celebrities, according to her.

The “double standard” with regard to Abu Akleh’s death, the Foreign Ministry’s envoy stated, is, of course, antisemitism and racism against Jews. It seems that rumors about the 55-year-old occupation, which were quashed on their way to the Democrats on Capitol Hill, didn’t reach Tishby in Hollywood, either.

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