This is the flash that lights up reality better than anything else.
Shireen Abu Akleh — daughter of Palestine, longtime Al Jazeera journalist, a voice several generations of Palestinians grew up hearing — was assassinated by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) on May 11 while reporting from the city of Jenin in the occupied West Bank. The city became a symbol of resistance during the Second Intifada, when Palestinians resisted a brutal attack launched by the Israeli military in March and April of 2002. Abu Akleh was there, and her reporting brought her to a place of prominence in the Arab-news world that is only more respected in her death.
Abu Akleh’s murder in cold blood, the raiding of her home in Beit Hanina while friends and family were mourning and the subsequent attacks by the IOF on her funeral proceedings that nearly caused pallbearers to drop her coffin demonstrates (yet again) the boundlessness of the subjugation and dehumanization Palestinians have been subject to for decades.
While Palestinians live in a constant state of war against the Israeli occupation, tensions have been high since last May’s incursion on the Gaza Strip (a two-week Israeli air assault that left 260 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead). They reached a boiling point in April during Ramadan, when Israeli forces again and repeatedly attacked civilian Palestinian worshippers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, a flash point of last year’s violence.
Not only do governments and the media constantly lie about the reality of the Israeli occupation, but they also ignore the voices of Palestinians, questioning the eyes which bear witness to butchery on a daily basis.
Flirting with fearful symmetry, the assassination of Abu Akleh occurred nearly a year to the day that Israeli airstrikes leveled a building that housed the offices of Al Jazeera and the Associated Press and came on the heels of continuous and fatal raids on the Jenin refugee camp. It is no surprise that the Israeli state targets Al-Jazeera, one of the few mainstream media outlets willing to discuss the realities of life for Palestinians living under zionist rule.
In murdering Abu Akleh and silencing one of the Arab world’s most prominent voices, the Israeli state sent a reminder that no Palestinian — Muslim or Christian, journalist or otherwise — is safe, in life or death.
The initial responses in the fallout of Abu Akleh’s assassination from Western governments, namely the United States, and corporate media was muted, if not outright obfuscating. Most notably, a New York Times obituary for the murdered journalist mastered the art of passive language in its title: “Shireen Abu Akleh, Trailblazing Palestinian Journalist, Dies at 51.”
It was not until May 24 that CNN and several other media outlets finally began reporting that Abu Akleh was killed in a “targeted attack.” However, this is what Shireen’s colleagues and other witnesses had been saying from the moment of her death. Not only do governments and the media constantly lie about the reality of the Israeli occupation, but they also ignore the voices of Palestinians, the eyes which bear witness to butchery on a daily basis.
But the images those eyes see cannot be fully ignored when they are recorded as photographs.
There were no militants anywhere near Shireen and her crew when she died, as was initially speculated by Israeli military spokesperson Ran Kochav. He went so far as to say that Shireen and her colleagues were “filming and working for a media outlet amidst armed Palestinians. They’re armed with cameras, if you’ll permit me to say so.”
Armed with cameras? Not only is this statement denigrating of the long and illustrious career of Abu Akleh, but it sets a dangerous and fatal precedent for anyone trying to document the truth behind the Israeli occupation. Are the foot soldiers of the occupation to cower in fear in the face of a young Palestinian recording the physical abuse, arrest, or even death of a friend or family member? Is this fear justification to fire one’s weapon? Kochav’s logic makes every Palestinian holding and pointing a cellphone camera a target for the same Israeli snipers that killed Shireen.
If the camera is to be viewed as a weapon, then let us place this notion within its rightful historical context. To do so, we must use the logic put forth by Latin American filmmakers several decades ago as part of the Third Cinema movement. A radical movement which sought to counteract Hollywood filmmaking and the arthouse fare emanating from Europe, Third Cinema filmmakers posited the camera as a tool in the dialectical process. If film could expose the bear realities of neo-colonialism to the masses actually living through this financial, political and cultural strain, it could ignite action. Third Cinema sought to fight confusion and “create a consciousness for liberation.”
If the camera is to be viewed as a weapon, then let us place this notion within its rightful historical context.
This is not meant to denote the footage of Shireen’s assassination as cinema. On the other hand, in reappropriating Kochav’s quote, this writer seeks to show that popular opinion towards a Goliath of an enemy has been changed by camera before, and it can certainly happen again.
The occupational forces fear the camera for its ability to expose truth and instill affect amongst the dispossessed. If global opinion is to turn against the Israeli apartheid state, then the camera, which in the 21st century has becomes ubiquitous, will be just as important a tool as any other means of resistance.
Not only is the Times headline inaccurate, but it refuses to expose the reality of what is happening in Palestine, which is what Abu Akleh lost her life trying to do. When asked why she chose journalism, Abu Akleh responded, “I chose journalism to be close to people. It might not be easy to change the reality, but at least I could bring their voice to the world.”
Via the camera and her words, Abu Akleh exposed the Israeli apartheid state. On her way to what would become her final assignment, she emailed the following message to her colleagues: “Occupation forces storm Jenin and besiege a house in the Jabriyat neighborhood. On the way there, I will bring you news as soon as the picture becomes clear.” As many across the globe mourn the assassination of Shireen Abu Akleh, one must wonder how much clearer this picture can get.
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