A year on, Shireen Abu Akleh’s legacy still reverberates, as colleagues seek justice

Road in Ramallah home to Al Jazeera bureau where journalist worked renamed in her honor, while construction set to begin on a media museum named for her

Pictures of slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh are displayed inside the news channel's office in Ramallah, May 9, 2023. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)
Pictures of slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh are displayed inside the news channel's office in Ramallah, May 9, 2023. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

AFP — A year after an Israeli bullet likely killed Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, her West Bank office remains almost untouched, but mourners’ flowers have piled up in an adjacent room.

The Ramallah street where the news bureau is located has been renamed after her, and a new museum will soon honor her work and that of other reporters covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Fellow journalists say they still have not accepted the loss of Abu Akleh, 51, whose many years of fearless reporting had made her a household name across the Arab world.

Camera operator Majdi Bannoura, who was with her the day she died, said, “Despite the passing of a year since her death, I still don’t believe that she is gone. Sometimes I feel that I’m living in a dream.”

Walid al-Omari, the Qatari news channel’s bureau chief for Jerusalem and Ramallah, said, “Shireen’s colleagues and I are unable to separate anything from Shireen’s influence. So, we have kept the office as it was,” he added, his voice breaking.

Abu Akleh died on May 11, 2022, while covering an Israeli raid in the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank. While the Israeli army conducted its own investigation and acknowledged the bullet that killed her was “in very high likelihood” shot from an IDF gun, it has firmly rejected allegations that the veteran journalist was deliberately targeted.

Shireen Abu Akleh stands next to a TV camera above the Old City of Jerusalem, in an undated photo. (Al Jazeera Media Network via AP)

Her killing prompted a global storm of outrage and calls for an international investigation. The anger flared further when Israeli police attacked mourners and pallbearers at her funeral in east Jerusalem.

Large murals have since been painted in honor of the journalist, including on the concrete wall Israel has built as part of its security barrier along the West Bank.

Al Jazeera took her case to the International Criminal Court in December.

“We continue to work and to press for the prosecutor and the court to act and take a stand on this case,” Omari said.

The Committee to Protect Journalists this week accused the IDF of taking no accountability for the killings of at least 20 journalists — 18 of whom were Palestinian — in the past two decades.

“The killing of Shireen Abu Akleh and the failure of the military’s investigative process to hold anyone accountable is not an isolated case,” said CPJ director Robert Mahoney. He charged that the system “seems fashioned to evade responsibility.”

Walid al-Omari, Al Jazeera’s bureau chief for Jerusalem and Ramallah, stands in the midst of pictures and other objects displayed in memory of slain journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, in the room that used to be her office in Ramallah on May 9, 2023. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

In response to the CPJ report, the IDF said it “regrets any harm to civilians during operational activity” and that it considers “the professional work of journalists to be of great importance.”

It added that the Israeli army “does not intentionally target noncombatants, and live fire in combat is only used after all other options have been exhausted.”

Rodney Dixon, a lawyer appointed by Al Jazeera to take up Abu Akleh’s case, has argued there was an attempt by Israel “to completely cover up” the circumstances of her death.

He described Abu Akleh’s killing as part of a “systematic and large-scale campaign” against Al Jazeera, noting Israel’s 2021 bombing of a Gaza building where the channel and other outlets have offices.

In the year since her death, Abu Akleh has been memorialized by Palestinians, and the road where the office is located is now named Shireen Abu Akleh Street. The cornerstone of a Shireen Abu Akleh Museum for Media will be laid during a ceremony in Ramallah on Thursday, one of a string of commemorative events.

Her brother Anton Abu Akleh said his family were still waiting for justice, speaking at a cultural event on Wednesday in Ramallah.

“During this past year, we have gone through several stages, experiences and challenges as we try to obtain Shireen’s rights, and achieve justice for her,” he told the audience.

Bureau chief Omari said his slain star reporter “was not just a great journalist for Al Jazeera. She was a team on her own. [Losing her] has left a huge void.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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