A PALESTINIAN journalist who was with Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh on the day when she was shot dead by Israeli state forces has recounted how the crime was committed, describing the shooting as a ‘deliberate attempt’ to kill the journalists.
Shatha Hanaysha, an eyewitness to the shootings, described the events leading to the cold-blooded murder of Abu Akleh in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, saying ‘it was an Israeli sniper’ that shot at them, the Middle East Eye news portal reported on
At the time of the murder, Abu Akleh and Hanaysha were covering an Israeli raid on a Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin.
Israeli forces had stormed the camp and surrounded the house of Abdallah al-Hosari, whom they killed on March 1, to arrest his brother.
‘We made ourselves visible to the soldiers who were stationed hundreds of metres away from us. We remained still for around 10 minutes to make sure they knew we were there as journalists,’ she wrote in a blow-by-blow account of the shooting incident.
As no warning shots were fired, the journalists, all wearing press helmet and body armour, felt safe enough to move towards the camp, however: ‘Out of nowhere, we heard the first gunshot,’ the young Palestinian journalist said.
In the ensuing chaos, the journalists, one of whom was injured by the first gunshot, tried to find a place to hide that could provide protection from gunfire, she said.
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Right then, she added: ‘Another bullet pierced Shireen’s neck, and she fell to the ground right next to me.’
‘We were not caught up in crossfire with Palestinian fighters like the Israeli army claimed. The location of the incident was in a relatively open area, away from the camp where Palestinian fighters can’t operate because they would be at a disadvantage there,’ she added.
This is while Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett claimed that ‘it appears likely that armed Palestinians – who were firing indiscriminately at the time – were responsible for the unfortunate death of the journalist.’
Hanaysha, however, said that while Palestinians normally use semi-automatic rifles that spray bullets continuously, the bullets fired on that day were different.
They were ‘sporadic’ and ‘precise’ and shot only when one of them moved, ‘one bullet at a time’.
‘What happened was a deliberate attempt to kill us. Whoever shot at us aimed to kill,’ she added, saying: ‘Israel does not differentiate between the old and the young, men and women, civilian journalists and combatants. Everyone is a target.’
Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations Riyad Mansour said he holds the Israeli army responsible for the assassination of Al Jazeera’s Abu Akleh, and that his country will ‘not accept’ Israeli participation in the investigation of the veteran journalist’s killing.
Mansour told reporters at the UN headquarters in New York on Wednesday that the account provided by the Israeli side is not in accordance with the facts, adding that a probe into the murder with ‘criminals’ is not acceptable.
‘The story of the Israeli side does not hold water. It is fictitious and it is not in line with reality and we do not accept to have an investigation on this issue with those who are the criminals,’ he said.
The Palestinian ambassador to the UN called for an ‘internationally credible’ investigation without the involvement of Israeli authorities.
‘Some are asking the ICC (International Criminal Court) to conduct this investigation; that would also be acceptable to us. There are a variety of options. The most important thing is that the Security Council speaks with one voice against such a crime, against the assassination of Shireen Abu Akleh,’ Mansour said.
Ravina Shamdasani of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights also called for an end to the ‘impunity’ and urged an ‘independent, transparent investigation’ into the killing of Abu Akleh.
‘We are appalled at the killing of journalist #ShireenAbuAkleh while covering an Israeli military operation in Jenin, #Palestine,’ Shamdasani wrote in a twitter post.
Qatar, the Arab League and Jordan all condemned the shooting.
The Israeli forces initially said they were looking into the possibility that ‘Palestinian gunmen’ were to blame.
But hours later, Israeli Chief of General Staff Aviv Kochavi, apparently reversing his previous stand, said that deciding which side was responsible is not possible at present.
Israeli’s Defence Minister Benny Gantz also said that he does not have ‘final conclusions’, adding: ‘We are trying to figure out exactly what happened.’
The ICC has already opened an investigation into possible war crimes by Israel in both the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip. However, Israel does not recognise the court’s jurisdiction and has called the war crimes probe unfair and anti-Semitic.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said it ‘strongly condemned’ this latest targeted killing of a Palestinian media worker and has pledged to add the murder to the case lodged at the International Criminal Court (ICC) which details the systematic targeting of Palestinian journalists.
IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said: ‘While the full details of this horrific murder are still emerging, testimony from journalists who were with her when she was killed point towards this being another deliberate and systematic targeting of a journalist.
‘Yet again journalists, wearing press vests, clearly identified were targeted by Israeli snipers.
‘They were not alongside demonstrators, they were not a threat – they have been targeted to prevent them bearing witness and telling the truth about the Israeli action in Jenin.
‘We will seek to add this case to the ICC complaint submitted by the IFJ, detailing such systematic targeting.
‘We must demand an end to, and justice for, Israeli targeting and killings of Palestinian journalists.’
The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS) said of Akleh’s killing that that this crime was ‘deliberate and planned to assassinate her’.
‘There are a few testimonies from the journalists who were with her when she was killed, saying that they were moving as a group, all wearing journalists’ gear and clearly identified when they were shot at by Israeli snipers, they were the only group in the street. There were no demonstrators or exchange of fire,’ the union said in a statement.
Al Jazeera producer, Ali Samoudi, was also shot in the back with a live bullet. Samoudi is reported to be in stable condition.
Giles Trendle, managing director of Al Jazeera English, said the network was ‘shocked and saddened’ by the death of Shireen Abu Akleh and called for a transparent investigation into her murder.
‘As journalists, we move on. Our mission is to move forward. We will not be silenced despite attempts to silence us,’ Trendle said. ‘Our mission is to continue to inform the world of what is happening. And that is more important than ever.’
The IFJ, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS) and the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians filed a formal complaint with the International Criminal Court over Israel’s ‘systematic targeting of Palestinian journalists’.
The complaint cited the killing of two journalists who were fatally shot by Israeli snipers, Ahmed Abu Hussein and Yasser Mortaja, while covering the Great March of Return protests in 2018.
It also cited the targeting and bombing of buildings housing media in the Gaza Strip including the al-Jalaa building which housed Al Jazeera and Associated Press offices, destroyed by an Israeli air raid last May.
The UN Human Rights Council commission said in a report in 2019 that it had ‘found reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot journalists intentionally, despite seeing that they were clearly marked as such’ during the 2018 protests along the border of the Gaza Strip and Israel.