The tragic death of an iconic journalist
A few thoughts about the tragic death of Al Jazeera’s iconic journalistic Shireen Abu Akleh while covering an IDF operation in Jenin in the West Bank.
- The courage of journalists who cover war zones is astounding. Why do they do it? It is relevant especially today in Ukraine, obviously. And with sad regularity it comes up again and again, belying poor Francis Fukuyama’s notion of history ending some 30 years ago. It is not ending at all, and it takes the form, as it ever did, of horrible iniquities and human cruelties alongside advancements and progress. Who can say which way it nets positive?
- The Palestinians are shameless for denying Israel a joint investigation into the reporter’s death. If someone shot Shireen on purpose it is more likely the Palestinian irregulars involved in the battle than the IDF (though nothing is impossible). If someone shot her by mistake then that is again more likely the Palestinian irregulars involved in the battle. It’s clear the Palestinian Authority assumes Israel will be blamed and is trying to milk it. This is a very dangerous game that is not cool. That said, the IDF investigating itself does not inspire confidence and a neutral third party should be involved.
- Assuming an Israeli bullet killed her is almost Trumpian in its disregard for facts. It attaches to the post-truth moment in which facts do not matter and narrative — and its fickle cousin “feelings” — are everything.
- Shireen was an icon, and it is strangely comforting that it is so. The Arab media was basically without any credibility until Al Jazeera showed up a quarter century ago (even though, yes, Qatar is a dictatorship). Shireen was the face of Al Jazeera in Israel, a symbol of better journalism and feminine empowerment.
- Whoever shot the fatal bullet the framing of the story in terms unfavorable to Israel is inevitable and attaches to Israel’s actions (which makes it less unfair). No other democratic country builds towns in a given territory for one ethnic group (Jews) while their neighbors (Palestinians) live under lesser and undemocratic conditions. If such is your policy, you’ll look like a thug and should expect to pay the price by being treated as one. Look in the mirror. Stop blaming the messenger. Freeze the indefensible settlements. The military occupation is a separate issue with its own complications.
- If Israel ever wakes up and again elects a government that offers the Palestinians a partition (as in 2000–1 and 2008) then the picture shifts. The Palestinians have negotiated too hard. It very much looks like they do not want a partition because they prefer a civil war in which they hope to demographically prevail.
- Meanwhile, Israel continues to cause itself damage with foolish actions like the police beating of mourners at the funeral. Let’s suppose there is some truth to the excuses (presented in no setting that is prominent and no way that is persuasive) that Islamist activists hijacked the funeral and were posing a danger to public safety. That is dramatically not what comes through in the images, and it looks like the police lost their wits entirely.
Rarely has a situation been so frustrating and messy, tragic and intractable. Global observers of good faith should not be naive. Local players of good faith should minimize the damage; some of them are in the PA and the current Israeli government.