‘We don’t expect criminals to investigate their own crimes’: DN speaks to Lina Abu Akleh

The niece of the slain journalist has been at the forefront of the fight for justice for the late Al Jazeera journalist.

Six months have passed since renowned Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed by an Israeli sniper in an incident that shook the world to its core.

While the world bid farewell to the journalist who was known as the “voice of Palestine” throughout the past decades, her name and legacy continue to live on.

At the forefront of the fight for justice for Abu Akleh stands her niece Lina Abu Akleh, who has been relentlessly demanding accountability for her aunt’s killing.

With Abu Akleh being a US citizen, her niece went to Washington, Tel Aviv’s main backer and ally, to put the state in the hot seat, pressing it to investigate the harrowing crime.

“We don’t expect criminals to investigate their own crimes and we expect that the US upholds the values they preach, whether it’s related to the freedom of press, protection of journalists, human rights or democracy,” Lina told Doha News last month in Doha.

During her time in Doha, the home of Al Jazeera, Lina and her family met with Qatar’s Assistant Foreign Minister Lolwah Al-Khater.

“It’s an honour to be here, I’m very happy to be here despite how emotional it is, because Shireen was actually visiting Qatar last year in the summer,” said Lina, who also visited the Al Jazeera headquarters and met with her late aunt’s colleagues.

The whole world witnessed the Zionist regime’s targeting and subsequent murder of Abu Akleh on live television as she covered yet another raid in Jenin on 11 May. Abu Akleh was killed while performing her duty, clad in her blue vest and helmet, clearly identifying her as a member of the press.

For decades, Abu Akleh was at the forefront of exposing ongoing atrocities by the Israeli occupation, and remained faithful to exposing them further until her last breath. In lieu with her journalistic integrity and ethos in exposing Israel’s crimes against humanity, she was described as “the martyred witness” in her death, by many across the Arab world.

Beyond the heavy weight of grief, the bereaved family of Abu Akleh have been working to hold the perpetrators of the crime to account.

“It’s been six months since Shireen was killed and we still continue to call on accountability[…]because if we don’t do it, then we won’t achieve anything. We know the challenges[…]but we will continue this fight for justice no matter how long and whatever it takes us,” said Lina.

Testimonies and investigations

Based on numerous witness testimonies, Abu Akleh was shot in a precise area in her skull that was not covered by the helmet she wore at the time. 

Her life-long Al Jazeera colleague Givara Budeiri who saw Abu Akleh’s body said the bullet completely shattered her skull, indicating the weapon was used by developed military.

Shortly after the prominent journalist was killed, Israel was quick to attempt to distort the truth about the fatal shooting, which Al Jazeera said was deliberate. 

After pointing the blame at alleged Palestinian fighters, Israeli human rights group B’Tselem countered the claims in a separate research.

The bullet itself dismissed the claim by Israel on the involvement of Palestinian fighters, and prompted a US examination. 

Washington later claimed it was likely fired ‘unintentionally’ from Israelis, in an apparent attempt to divert blame for the killing.

“At the end of the day, the US has a duty to protect their citizens abroad and to investigate any crime, especially when a citizen is killed by a foreign army, just like they would do in other cases,” said Lina, adding that the FBI should also open an investigation.

However, the most important testimony at the time was by Palestinian journalist Shatha Hanaysha, who was next to Abu Akleh during her last moments. 

Hanaysha said Israeli snipers also continued to fire bullets after Abu Akleh dropped dead, preventing anyone around her from providing her with medical assistance.

US media outlets have also conducted various investigations, amplifying the testimonies of the witnesses on site, with the most recent probes conducted by The New York Times and the Washington Post.

In July, the family travelled to the US after President Joe Biden dodged a meeting with them during his Tel Aviv and West Bank visits. 

Abu Akleh’s family met with US State Secretary Antony Blinken instead, though the meeting yielded no progress in the case of the slain journalist.

During the same month, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on US authorities to follow up on its meeting with Abu Akleh’s family “with substantive action to investigate her death and bring those responsible to justice.”

“We do have hope and hope is what continuously drives us towards this pursuit for justice,” noted Lina.

To date, Israel has not been held to account for its attack on Abu Akleh’s funeral, during which occupation forces were seen trying to push her coffin off of the shoulders of pallbearers. Qatar condemned the violent attack on mourners at the time, with the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani saying that Abu Akleh was denied “a dignified burial”.

On being recognised

When asked about the ongoing fight for justice, Lina said that while it has its challenges, there were moments where she felt the work was finally being noticed.

“We’ve had moments where we feel like our work is being recognised, and especially my work was recognised recently by Time,” said Lina.

In September, Time Magazine named Lina as one of its Time100 Next personalities as part of the advocates category.

“I felt like my voice is being heard and this is ultimately to get [all] our voices heard and to continue to keep Shireen in the media and have people talk about her,” she said.

Beyond the Middle East and North Africa region, where Abu Akleh’s voice once echoed through every television screen, celebrities globally have joined the fight for justice through their social media.

One prominent celebrity is Dutch-Palestinian supermodel Bella Hadid, who was also in Doha at the same time as Lina. In a heartfelt moment, Lina was seen pinning Abu Akleh’s face on Hadid’s shoulder.

In what Lina described as “a memorable moment”, Hadid personally asked Abu Akleh’s niece to pin the image on her top.

“She raised awareness, she posted about her, and it means a lot to see people with such influence, with such an audience, using their platform to advocate for justice and do what’s right despite the challenges they might face from speaking the truth,” said Lina.

Beyond the television

Abu Akleh is largely associated with her journalism-based work in Palestine, with many generations growing to hear her news sign-off: “Shireen Abu Akleh, Al Jazeera, Ramallah.”

But apart from her role as a journalist, Abu Akleh is remembered by many as a vibrant woman who loved life. 

“She always used to tell me to enjoy life, as she was someone who really looked forward towards life. She always looked forward to the future and I now try to live my days by her words,” Lina told Doha News.

Many people harbour memories with Abu Akleh, including many Palestinians she once helped during challenging times to her charity work. 

Her words of wisdom, humour and humanitarian side continue to be among the main memories that her colleagues, family and friends continue to carry with them.

While Abu Akleh’s unique voice is no longer heard and her face is now missing from the screens, her legacy continues with many aspiring journalists influenced by her ethos and professionalism.

Until now, the world continues to mourn the loss of Shireen Abu Akleh as they continue the fight for justice.

At the end of the day, the people are the ones who have the ability to make a difference, to challenge the system, to challenge the state, and we continue to rely on them, organisations, journalist associations, to be our allies and stand with us during these difficult times,” said Lina.

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