For Palestinian journalists, Shirin Abu Akleh’s death is near home

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JERUSALEM – Thousands of people, both mourning and working, marched on the streets of Ramallah on Thursday carrying the body of Al Jazeera reporter Shirin Abu Akleh, who was killed on the streets of Ramallah – dozens of Palestinian journalists reporting a big story .

“We’ve all been telling each other that what happened to Shirin could happen to us,” said Ahmed Mashal, the Jerusalem-based producer of the German broadcaster ZDF who has worked with Abu Akleh on hundreds of campaigns, riots and rallies for two decades. “We know we can be hit by bullets anywhere, anytime.”

Abu Akleh was shot dead on Wednesday as he was covering an Israeli military operation in a West Bank refugee camp. Colleagues accuse the Palestinian official and his network of killing Israel. Israel says Akleh and producer Ali al-Samudi, who were wounded, were caught in a crossfire between Israeli troops and Palestinian militants, and it is not yet known who hit them.

Like many Palestinian journalists, since Abu Akleh’s assassination, Mashaal has spent hours mourning, setting toggle and live shots in mourning for his 30-year-old friend, calling the source and filing the latest trauma at work (Israel and the Palestinian Territories) where at least according to the Committee to Protect Journalists , 19 journalists in the last three decades – all but three Palestinians have been killed

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Abu Akleh was one of hundreds of journalists covering Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. But unlike international reporters who are given a broader notion of impartiality, local journalists often, without any fault of their own, often identify themselves with one side, which puts them in regular danger and may cast doubt on each of them.

“You’re caught between the two sides trying to be objective,” Mashal said. “Sometimes when you go to a young man and ask him, ‘Why are you throwing that stone?’, He looks at you and says: ‘Aren’t you here? Don’t you have professional experience? ‘

The Israeli military’s suspicions are even more pronounced.

“You have to be very careful around the army,” said Mashaal, who said he had been pushed and punched and that Israeli soldiers had taken his car keys into the field. “We all know the rules. Shirin was always very careful.

Abu Akleh and other journalists who arrived in Jenin on Wednesday to cover the activities of the Israeli Defense Forces were following a well-practiced protocol. Two journalists who were part of the small group said they walked slowly and deliberately past the IDF vehicle and paused to be as prominent as possible. Everyone wore a blue protective vest labeled “Press.”

“We waited about 10 minutes to make sure the Israeli army could identify us as journalists,” said Shatha Hanaisha, a reporter for the Ultra Palestine website.

Samudi, the producer, who was shot in the upper back, said they were using all the skills he had taught her over the decades. “We do what the Israeli army tells us to do,” he said in an interview from the hospital where he was recovering.

Al Jazeera’s crew came to Jenin that the Israeli military was conducting an operation to arrest suspected militants, one of a few dozen during a spike in a terrorist attack against Israel that killed at least 19 people.

Israeli officials say journalists were caught in crossfire and noted that journalists are often forced to take such risks. After initially saying it was “probably” that a Palestinian militant had shot Abu Akleh, the IDF has now said it is investigating the possibility of him being hit by an Israeli round.

Palestinian authorities have called the May 11 assassination of Shirin Abu Akleh, a senior Al Jazeera reporter in the West Bank, a “murder.” (Video: Nitish Upadhyay, Hadley Green / The Washington Post)

On Thursday, Palestinian Minister of Civil Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh called the killings “murders.” He said the Palestinian Authority had rejected Israel’s request for a joint investigation.

Although politicians can trade thorns, Palestinian journalists are tasked with reporting, often critically, the soldiers and police they encounter at armed checkpoints almost daily.

The patchwork of territories – patrolled by some Israelis, some Palestinian police, and some Israeli settlers and even Palestinian militants – makes going on any story an unexpected journey.

Rania Jabaneh, a producer at Al Jazeera since 2002, said: He described Abu Akleh as a consultant and friend who praised how he had to withdraw from the procession on Thursday in the wake of another report. “Nablus, trying to get to Hebron, you feel like you’re covering the islands.”

Mohammed Daraghmeh, a longtime reporter who is now the head of the Asharq News bureau, said he had recently returned to his home in Ramallah after a day of pending evictions of Palestinian families south of Hebron. As he crosses a bend where Israeli settlers often wait for buses and rides, he sees a soldier pointing his automatic weapon directly at his windshield.

“I was afraid he was going to pull the trigger,” he said. “[The killing of] Shirin reminds me again that no place in Palestine is safe. You could have a helmet, you could have a vest, and you would die anyway. “

But still, like his friend Abu Akleh, Daraghmeh, 58, says he spends his time in the dramatic limestone hills and chaotic West Bank city.

“He always prefers to be on the field,” he said. “You touch the story. You feel the heat. It’s better than being in the office. “

Mashal said the work has become more risky in recent years. A decade or so ago, Palestinian journalists knew how to set up near or behind Israeli troops when they were fighting stone-throwing Palestinians, arguing that it was better not to be in front of a gun.

“We could have survived being hit by rocks,” he said. “We have used the Israelis as protection.”

Now that both sides are well-equipped, it is difficult for journalists to find a safe place.

And yet, when she attends her friend’s memorial service and files the story of her death, Mashal says she has no plans to abandon a routine that is both terrifying and rewarding, even though her children have urged her to retire in recent days.

“Of course I’m going to continue,” he said. “This is my life.”

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