I will be honest about something. Since the cold-blooded execution of Palestinian, veteran journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh by an Israeli sniper I have felt rather nonplussed. A rarity for me. But it does happen.
It happens when I feel overwhelmed with joy. It happens when I feel like I am overcome with despair. And when that despair is mixed with rage, I sometimes feel like I can’t even breath.
The shock and anger over the killing of Shireen, a beloved reporter for Al Jazeera whose face was well known throughout Palestine and the Middle East, would be almost overshadowed by the horrendous actions of the Israeli police at her funeral procession in occupied East Jerusalem.
Descending on the mourners carrying Shireen’s coffin like attack dogs, Israeli police clubbed unarmed Palestinians in a scene reminiscent of apartheid South Africa. White police frequently targeted the funerals of murdered activists and independent journalists who reported on the brutality of the apartheid regime. It is worth reminding that Israel has recently been designated an apartheid state by the UN, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem.
Israel quickly defended its actions stating that “stones were being thrown at police.” Not one major media outlet thought to ask them why the Israeli police were at her funeral in the first place. Perhaps it is because if they did, it would reveal the nature of the arrangement of power. This was occupied East Jerusalem. The same state responsible for Shireen’s death was now disgracing her funeral. As is par for the course in commenting on anything related to the defense of Palestinian human rights, when one does it they can expect an avalanche of hate mail and vile accusations of antisemitism. And it should be said that Jews who stand in solidarity with their Palestinian sisters and brothers are not spared this treatment either. On the contrary, they are often the first to be smeared or silenced.
Antisemitism is a vile social hatred and is responsible for the untold suffering of millions of people over the course of centuries. It should always be condemned whenever it surfaces. But the accusation has also been used as a suffocating blanket against any person who dares defend Palestinian human rights or criticizes Israel or the political ideology of Zionism. It has been an effective bludgeon to silence dissent, debate, or even reasoned discussion.
But times have changed and the old methods are wearing thin. Perhaps it is thanks to social media. Perhaps it is due to decades of Israeli occupation, or a powerful military that carpet bombs entire neighbourhood blocks, or evicts families and villages as bulldozers demolish their homes. Perhaps it is due to scores of discriminatory laws against Palestinian citizens of Israel, or the fact that Palestinians in the occupied territories or in Gaza have absolutely no real agency over their lives, or the hundreds of thousands of illegal settlers in the occupied West Bank, many of them violent, moving into Palestinian homes. Perhaps it is due to the complicity of powerful state actors like the US, EU, UK and Canada who obfuscate and run interference for every single questionable or criminal act committed by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) while chiding the Palestinians for nearly every action they take, including nonviolent movements like Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) called for by Palestinian civil society. Perhaps it is a new generation of young people, many of them Jews outside of Israel, for whom universal human rights are not merely a campaign slogan and for whom the threats, smears and lies no longer work.
Whatever combination of the change in international public opinion, it is doubtful that Shireen will get any justice for her murder. Israel still has too much political and economic power, as well as the backing and funding of the most powerful empire on earth, to ever have to really answer for it. But with each injustice its veneer of being a democracy becomes worn and ludicrous.
Like the oppressive, hyper-capitalist, theocratic Emirates and Saudi Arabia which have warmed to it in recent years thanks to the political chicanery of US president Trump, Israel can no longer count itself as a democracy without people questioning the validity of such a claim or thinking critically about what they have witnessed with their own eyes. Like the beating and hosing down of Black civil rights workers in the Jim Crow South or the brutal massacres of Black and Brown people in apartheid South Africa, these visual testimonies and crime scenes cannot be unseen. No spin team, no matter how moneyed or well oiled, can undo it.
Like all states with brutal or abysmal human rights records, the taint remains until something substantial is done to address the wound. But for that to occur, it would have to reconcile with who it is. And nation states never do this on their own.
Till her dying breath, Shireen lived up to something she said in an interview with her employer Al Jazeera a few years ago: “I chose journalism to be close to the people. It might not be easy to change the reality, but at least I was able to bring their voice to the world.” And for that, the world should be forever grateful.
Kenn Orphan, May 2022