On Wednesday morning, 11 May 2022, the Palestinian people and the world woke up to the tragic news of the unlawful killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Al Jazeera and other news channels released the testimonies of Abu Akleh’s colleagues who were eyewitnesses at the scene of the incident, notably journalist Ali al-Samoudi, who suffered a bullet wound in his back. According to their testimonies, the Al Jazeera team, along with a group of journalists, was near an UNRWA schools in Jenin refugee camp (occupied West Bank), wearing their press vests and protective helmets. They affirmed that the area was calm and free from clashes when Shireen was shot in the face. Targeting her in the most deadly, unprotected area of her upper body indicates an attempt to cause severe harm.
Information from the scene indicates that Shireen Abu Akleh’s killing was carried out in blatant violation of international human rights law, particularly Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It also constitutes a violation of the rules of international humanitarian law that protect journalists during armed conflict by classifying them as civilians. As such, they may not be targeted.
Shireen Abu Akleh’s apparent extrajudicial killing is further evidence of a trend by Israeli forces and authorities to systematically attack journalists and media personnel working to expose the violations of international law that make up Israel’s colonial dispossession and prolonged military occupation of Palestine. Al Mezan’s two dozen years of monitoring and reporting from the ground indicate that a slew of war crimes and crimes against humanit have apparently been committed by Israeli authorities, including the seriously grave crime of apartheid. Al Mezan points out that Israeli forces have repeatedly killed Palestinian journalists, including Reuters photographer Fadel Shana’a, who was killed in a direct shelling incident on 16 April 2008, and the photographer Yasser Murtaja, who was shot on 7 April 2018 with a bullet to the abdomen, while he covered the ‘Great March of Return’ demonstrations. Both of them were wearing their press vests when killed.
According to the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, 48 Palestinian journalists have been killed since 2000. Crucially, Israeli authorities have conducted no criminal investigations into any of the killings, and no soldiers have been held to account. A testament to Israel's chronic impunity, on 3 May 2022, Al Mezan received a response from the Israeli Military Advocate General rejecting the Center’s criminal complaint into the killing of Yasser Murtaja and refusing to indict the shooter. No reparations were given either. This being the case despite the admission that Murtaja, who was unarmed and working in his journalistic capacity at the time of the shooting, was killed by Israeli soldiers.
Although its forces have targeted Palestinian journalists and their offices, Israel continues to enjoy impunity, with the international community remaining silent. The apparent double standard applied to Palestine by the international community is a shameful bias, and at its roots, is evidenced by the fact that in 74 years of occupation the international community has taken no meaningful action to ensure compliance with international law or hold perpetrators accountable. This fact stands in stark contrast to intervention in other conflicts and situations of grave injustice.
Al Mezan extends its condolences and sympathies to Abu Akleh’s family and friends, to her colleagues at Al Jazeera and to all fellow journalists working in Palestine. The Center also reiterates its calls on the international community to promptly intervene to protect journalists in Palestine and to avoid the recurrence of similar incidents.
Al Mezan also calls on the International Federation of Journalists and international, regional, and Arab journalist organizations to stand in solidarity with Palestinian journalists and pressure their governments to fulfil their obligations under international law. Lastly, Al Mezan urges the International Criminal Court to take effective steps to investigate apparent crimes committed by the Israeli forces in Palestine, including against journalists.