Saturday, May 14, 2022

“My idol was killed before my eyes,” says a journalist who witnessed Shireen Abu Akleh’s murder

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The two journalists were on the outskirts of Jenin in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday when they came under fire

Shatha Hanaysha struggled to find the words to describe the moment her idol, Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, fell to the ground just inches from her after being shot.

“I just wanted to go to Shireen to shake her to see if she was alive, but there was gunfire all around me,” she said I.

“This is the first time I’ve killed someone close to me. It was really hard for me.”

The moment was caught on video and shows Ms Hanysha, 29, a Palestinian freelance journalist, crouched against a wall, unable to reach the lifeless body of Ms Abu Akleh. The disturbing footage shows Ms Hanysha frozen in fear as more bullets are fired in her direction.

The two journalists were on the outskirts of Jenin in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday to cover an Israeli military attack. Both wore protective vests with the inscription “Press”.

It was this protective gear that Ms. Hanaysha believed would protect her from danger, as she could not imagine journalists coming under fire.

Her faith was so strong that Ms. Hanaysha thought she simply stumbled when Ms. Abu Akleh fell to the ground.

“I was waiting for her to come up, I saw her fall, but I didn’t realize she was shot,” she said.

“I tried to call her, to wake her up. After a few minutes I saw blood on the floor and I screamed.”

Ms Abu Akleh, a highly respected journalist in Palestine whose unflinching reporting has won millions of followers from across the Middle East, died after being shot in the head, the Palestinian Health Ministry said, drawing condemnation and grief from all parts of the world triggered world.

The 51-year-old has become synonymous with Al Jazeera’s coverage of life under occupation during her more than two decades of reporting in the Palestinian Territories. Ms. Hanaysha recalls seeing her on TV during the second intifada, or uprising, that killed thousands, most of them Palestinians.

“She was my idol when I was a young little girl. I dreamed of growing up one day and becoming a Shireen,” she said, fighting back tears.

“I don’t understand why my idol was killed in front of my eyes.”

Ms Hanaysha said she had no doubt that Israeli soldiers killed her role model because there was no other direction the bullet came from than her direction.

She said that when she, Ms Abu Akleh and two other journalists – including Ali Samood, who was also injured in the incident – approached the area by car, they stopped at a place specifically where they said they were for the Israeli forces visible to show that they were members of the press.

Israel initially denied that its forces killed Ms Abu Akleh, saying she may have been killed by Palestinian fire during a shootout in Jenin. However, that is what an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) official said. Wall Street Journalon condition of anonymity that the Israeli military is investigating the possibility that one of its soldiers killed the veteran reporter.

Israeli raids in the West Bank have often sparked clashes, bringing the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces or armed civilians since the beginning of the year to at least 42.

Israeli police fought with Palestinian mourners who crowded around the coffin of Ms Abu Akleh on Friday at the start of their funeral procession in Jerusalem, where officers charged at the huge crowd, nearly causing the group carrying her coffin to fall let.

Ms Hanaysha said she will always cherish the memories of working with Ms Abu Akleh and that she returned to the scene of her death on Friday to continue her reporting “because that is exactly what Shireen would have done”.

“That morning she was very happy, she came to us and said good morning, I remember her last smile to us,” she said.

“I was always in awe of her, she was always kind and sweet.

“Many mothers of murdered Palestinian children have come to the funeral to say goodbye and to tell the world that they are with their murdered children. That’s the great thing about Shireen, she lives with us all the time.”

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