It’s been 42 days since Shireen Abu Akleh’s assassination.
On May 11th 2022 in occupied Jenin; as cameras rolled and her colleagues were nearby, Israeli occupation forces shot Shireen dead in plain sight as she stood by a tree.
Deliberate. Immediate. Permanent.
The the kind of grief that many of us are experiencing having never met Shireen but feel a familiarity toward a trusted hero, is one that tells us a terrifying truth: we are not allowed to dream because we are confined to voicelessness. Ultimately, historically and presently, in our part of the world, if you have a voice that resonates – you will be threatened, incarcerated or killed.
As for Palestinian truth: Shireen was the witness and now she is the proof.
I came across the news inconspicuously as I scrolled social media. A mute post that suddenly screamed so loudly that my ears felt like they were bleeding. I pleaded that it be that I misread the piece. But there was nothing to plead. She’d already been murdered. Her family, friends and colleagues were already there, crying by her head and at her feet.
My hands desperately scrolling for mention of Shireen’s friend, journalist Givara Al Budeiri. To know of Shireen and her courage is to know of Givara and hers. To know Shireen’s been brutally murdered is to know Givara’s heart must have just been blown apart. I scrutinized the photos and videos until I found Givara; and when I saw her weep, only then did I finally stop shaking uncontrollably and start crying inconsolably.
I was 17 when I first saw the very dignified, calm and devoted Shireen speak to camera from occupied Palestine. It was the first time I recognized in someone something I dreamt but couldn’t imagine: an Arab female TV journalist reporting from the field, telling our people’s stories, from our part of the world, to whomever is willing to watch. She addressed us from Palestinian homes, alleys and lands, before heading to world conferences and treaties, showing young women like me that there is a road that can lead to telling our truth, our way.
Both Shireen and Givara were like premonitions: young, brilliant and full of determination. They were proof that I didn’t need to choose between what I want to do and where I want to live. That I didn’t have to go far away to become a real news reporter, and a female one at that. And that it’s possible to be the kind of journalist who would one day be entrusted to people’s homes ; carrying the mic in one home, while appearing on the screen in another, recounting their truth.
The mere fact that Shireen and Givara decided to report from their own homeland; occupied, dangerous and all, embodied steadfastness. A world that in Arabic is far more mighty and poignant, made to measure for the exact type of strength needed to endure the scale of collective tragedy while lifting the load alone. الصمد.
But now all I see is betrayal.
How can so many eyes cast on them not be enough to protect Givara from her brutal arrest last summer, and Shireen from her recent fatality? Weren’t we meant to be their armor, their protection? Aren’t our eyes enough? The answer is of course, a clear, resounding ‘NO’, and now I remember why it’s can be dangerous to dream. Shireen’s was perhaps the most divisive journalism of all. Hers was the journalism of Palestine, of lives being lived and lives being taken. Hers was the journalism of existence, of resistance.
It seems obvious now that a bullet would inevitably be shot to permanently silence Shireen, to kill the dream and unleash a nightmare. The betrayal was to ever think otherwise. We knew in our hearts it could happen but we decided to live as if it won’t until she took a bullet for our incontinence. The betrayal was in the naivety that we perhaps also call – ‘hope’. Accepting that is in itself a travesty but yet somehow it’s true.
So this is the final story Shireen left us with. The story of the very short cycle of the truth: Arabs, and particularly Palestinian, are held hostage by the brutality of colonialism and the risk of standing up to it is simply fatal. Shireen did in her death what she dedicated her life to; and her funeral served as a large-scale mural on the insolence and impunity of occupation beating on the audacity and threat of resistance.
Shireen’s final story is a tale of two conflicting truths looking each other in the eye from across a threshold: futility and defeat on one side, courage and hope on the other. It is visceral to still believe in the dream she embodied while accepting the horrifying reality that she died for that dream.
I didn’t last in journalism long enough to live up to my idol Shireen, because ultimately, I was scared to do what she did.
I looked to telling stories another way, and every time I would watch Shireen on my screen still doing what she did best, I would be met by a huge sense of relief that the worst I thought could happen had not. Until 42 days ago.
The last 42 days have been very long ones. It has taken me all of them to get the words out and it feels like nothing because Shireen is no longer here and that’s the absolute truth.
Rest in your power, Shireen. Thank you for the dream. Thank you for the stories. Thank you for the truth.