Usually my blogposts are about culture, archaeological finds, interesting places to visit, and entertaining feature articles. I purposely avoid anything political or potentially inflammatory. In the past month there has been much misinformation and information that has been conveniently hidden or deleted about the events surrounding the death of Palestinian-American journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh. As of this morning there are reports out by CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera and other mainstream news outlets – all completely defamatory to Israel. I have followed this story carefully from the beginning, detail by detail. I can no longer be silent about the tragic (and it was utterly tragic) death and funeral of the reporter Shireen Abu-Akleh. I will start at the beginning to set the stage.
Jenin, population 41,000 is the northernmost city in the West Bank and has become a symbol of Palestinian resistance. It has been in existence since the late 1800s when its recorded population was below 1,000, all Muslim. Because of its location at the southern end of the fertile Jezreel Valley, it became an outpost of the Turkish & German forces united against the Allied powers in WWI for their forays into northern Israel. Jenin was captured by the British in 1918 and came under the the rule of British Mandated Palestine. By the 1930s, the town was the northern spearhead for raids and ambushes of the Jewish villages in the Jezreel Valley. After the British left, and during the newly-formed State of Israel’s 1948 War of Independence (in which the nascent country was attacked from all sides by the neighboring Arab countries), the town was reinforced by Iraqi forces entering through Jordan. The strategic town fell into Israeli hands in 1967 during the Six Day War, but was then promptly transferred by Israel to the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority according to the Tabah Agreement.
Since coming under the full control of the PA in 1996, Jenin has become a hotbed of terror-organizing, smuggling, and illegal activity. The surrounding area is very agricultural and the surrounding small villages have about 256,000 population, all but 3% Muslim in this area. It is the regional center of government for the PA. It is also known as a militant stronghold exporting terror. Jenin is a heavily armed city. At least 23 of the suicide bombers during the 2002-2005 Second Intifada were from Jenin. Over 1,000 people in Israel, both citizens and international tourists, were murdered in these bombings, shootings and stabbings.
This year, from March 21 – May 5, during Ramadan, a new wave of terror broke out in Israel. In seven separate terror attacks on citizens, 19 people were murdered, 36 injured. Three of these attackers were from Jenin and two were from a town 7.2 miles to the east. Following the attacks, the Israel Defense Forces and Israel Security Forces conducted counterterrorism operations in Jenin and the immediate vicinity with the clear objective ”to uncover and prevent any future terrorist attacks based on reliable and actionable intelligence. We have already thwarted dozens of pre-planned attacks, thereby saving the lives of civilians. The IDF in no way targets non-militants in any of its activities.”
The IDF had entered the refugee camp on the outskirts of the city in prior days to raid a cache of illegal weapons. Most were home manufactured or smuggled in through Jordan. They arrested several known terrorists and suspected accomplices.
The Fateful Day: A Tale of Two Narratives
On the morning of May 11, IDF soldiers entered Jenin Camp on the outskirts of the city and apprehended eight suspected terrorists. During this planned counterterrorism operation, dozens of Palestinian gunmen ambushed the soldiers from the buildings and alleyways above, from all directions. Very shortly afterwards, videos of the ambush were posted to Facebook, Tiktok and Instagram by the Palestinians. The gunmen were recklessly firing pot-shots around corners and hurling improvised explosives at the troops. The Israeli soldiers responded with gunfire. At the time of the activity, hundreds of bullets were volleyed and the AlJazeera journalist, Shireen Abu-Akleh, was caught in the middle and killed. In the uploaded video, you can hear the Palestinian gunmen yelling in Arabic, ”We got one. We killed a soldier. An IDF soldier is down.” However, no Israeli soldier was reported killed or injured.
This is where the two different narratives begin. It is essential we get to the truth, because the truth matters and facts matter. And now 57 U.S. legislators have called on the United States FBI and the U.S. State Department to investigate the journalist’s death, to sanction Israel and to condemn Israel for acts of aggression and humanitarian violence because the reporter was a dual Palestinian and American citizen.
The IDF Chief General of Staff Aviv Kochavi stated, ”During the operation in Jenin, suspects indiscriminately fired an enormous amount of gunfire at IDF soldiers and hurled improvised explosive devices. Forces fired back with live fire. Our soldiers in Jenin acted under fire, as in many cases, demonstrating courage and determination to protect the citizens of our State. As in many other events, the Palestinians launched extensive fire at our forces and indiscriminately wild fire in every direction. Unlike the Palestinians, IDF soldiers carry out trained and selective shooting. At this point it is not possible to determine what shooting the reporter who was killed [sic] and we are very sorry for her death. In order to reach the investigation of the truth, we have set up a special team that will find out the facts and present them as fully and as soon as possible.” Initially Israeli officials stated that Abu-Akleh was likely killed by an errant Palestinian bullet. Later that evening, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said, ”It could have been Palestinians who shot her – or erratic fire from our side.” This opened up an entirely new narrative.
Shireen’s lifeless body was immediately taken to a Palestinian coroner who removed and kept the bullet. The officials conducting the autopsy said they were unable to determine the bullet’s origin. The Palestinians have refused Israeli requests for a joint investigation into her unfortunate and untimely death. Without the bullet, the Israeli government cannot accurately determine what happened. The Israeli government wants a full investigation to happen in order to find out as much information as possible.
The Palestinian narrative has been spread throughout the mainstream media and has gained considerable traction. “Not only was Abu-Akleh shot by Israeli troops, rather than hit by indiscriminate Palestinian gunfire, but she was deliberately targeted by Israel in order to silence the voice of Palestine (David Horovitz, left of center, Times of Israel).” Al Jazeera comments on that day: ”We condemn this heinous crime, intended to prevent the media from carrying out its message, and we hold the Israeli government and the occupational forces responsible for her death. We hereby call on the international community to condemn and hold Israel occupational forces accountable for the deliberate killing of our colleague Shireen Abu-Akleh.”
The head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of “execution” and said, “We vow to bring the matter before the Hague to the International Criminal Court to punish the criminals. We have rejected a joint investigation with the Israeli authorities because they are the ones who committed the crime.” This was said without full evidence. Senior PA official Jibril Rajoub, called Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett a Nazi, accusing him of giving the direct orders to hunt down and assassinate the journalist. This was a spurious comment and outright lie that has been disseminated throughout the world by the mainstream media.
The Funeral of Shireen Abu-Akleh
By now, many of you have seen the (heavily edited) video clip of the funeral procession of Abu-Akleh. It was floated first on social media then picked up by legacy news outlets. It is very misleading. The images of Israeli police shoving, pushing and hitting away the pall-bearers burns an indelible image into one’s psyche. It is a very tiny portion of a much larger story. The clipped video was disseminated throughout the world to make it seem as if the Israeli Police interfered with the procession, when in fact, it was the exact opposite. The various videos are shown and explained below:
Jerusalem is a political and religious hotbed waiting to boil over. In the days leading up to the death of Ms. Abu-Akleh, throughout the Ramadan period, gangs of roving youth from East Jerusalem were going into (the main city of) Jerusalem tearing down Israeli flags that lined the streets for Memorial Day, Independence Day and Jerusalem Day. For many Israeli Arabs, the formation of Israel as the Jewish State, their ancient and ancestral homeland, marks ”The Nakba” or The Great Catastrophe. There were riots on the Temple Mount with young men barricading themselves into the iconic gold-domed Al Aqsa Mosque, using it as a fortress from which to throw rocks and explosives.
Shireen Abu-Akleh was a Melkite Christian born in Jerusalem in 1971. Her immediate family was originally from Bethlehem. Orphaned at an early age, she went to live with her mother’s family in New Jersey receiving a Catholic education both there and on her return to Israel for high school. She graduated from Yarmouk University in Jordan with a degree in journalism. Fluent in Hebrew, Arabic, English, and Greek, she was hired by Al Jazeera in 1997. Her career, reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, women’s issues, and global dialogue made her a leading journalist and an inspiration to many young Palestinian girls. She resided in East Jerusalem at the time of her death.
After her death, Abu-Akleh’s shrouded body was carried on a stretcher draped with a Palestinian flag from Jenin through Nablus, then Ramallah for the residents of the West Bank to pay their respects before it reached Jerusalem, where the Christian funeral was scheduled to take place. Her family made arrangements for her coffin to be taken by hearse from the hospital to the church, not paraded through the streets of East Jerusalem. The following is the direct account of the notes written by the Israeli Police Force on the events of May 13:
– Plans for the funeral procession of Shireen Abu-Akleh were coordinated in advance by the Israel Police together with the family. – On Friday, about 300 rioters arrived at St. Joseph Hospital in Jerusalem and prevented the family members from loading the coffin onto the hearse to travel to the cemetery as had been planned and coordinated with the family in advance. – Instead the mob threatened the driver of the hearse and then proceeded to carry the coffin in an unplanned processional route to the cemetery by foot. – This went against the wishes of the Abu-Aklah family and the security coordinations that had been planned to safeguard the large number of mourners. – Israel Police instructed that the coffin be returned to the hearse, as did the EU ambassador, and Abu-Akleh’s own family, but the mob refused. – Molotov cocktails and fireworks were thrown by the mob at the police. Israel Police intervened to disperse the mob and prevent them from taking the coffin, so that the funeral could proceed as planned in accordance with the wishes of the family. – During the riot that was instituted by the mob, glass bottles, Molotov cocktails, fireworks, rocks and other objects were thrown, resulting in the injury of both mourners and police officers.
Incidentally, the Israel Police is made up of a vey diverse force of Arab Christians, Muslims and Druze as well as Jews, both secular and religious. Full, uncut footage of the procession shows the throwing of rocks by the mob on the sidelines. After an explosive device is hurled towards the pallbearers and rolls under the coffin, an Israel Police officer shoves the pallbearer and kicks the explosive, causing a melee to ensue and the coffin to almost be dropped. This was what was only partially shown in the edited video above.
The mob that gathered in front of the hospital tried to prevent the coffin from ever getting to the hearse. They were chanting anti-Israeli slogans, waving Palestinian flags, blocked the hearse and snatched the coffin. A Palestinian flag was attempted to be laid over the coffin in order to cover up the crucifix. When the police stepped in to try to disperse the rioters, flash bangs were hurled from the roof by the mob and objects hurled at the police. Amjad Abu Asbeh of the PA explained that the Palestinians wanted to carry the coffin on their shoulders through East Jerusalem ”so that it would not seem like a Christian funeral with a church car.” The men of the mob wrestled the coffin away so they could carry it as the tradition is for shahids, Islamic martyrs killed in battle.
Shireen’s brother told the BBC, ”We were leaving the hospital towards Church and Israel Police came and bombarded us without the family knowing why.” It must be understood that the family is in an extremely difficult position. As Christians, who have been heavily persecuted by the Muslim contingent, telling the fullness of what actually happened, they will surely face persecution, including real death threats from the PA and Hamas. A question that begs answering is who has more interest in the funeral processing peaceably as planned, the Israeli authorities and the family of Abu-Akkeh or the mob, the PA and Hamas?
In the United States, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stated, ”You know…Shireen Abu-Akleh. We need to have eyes on what happened. She was killed by Israeli forces in Palestine. Hmmmm… and you know, aahh…we can’t allow this. A lot of people will say you’re treating this differently and ….. mmmm… you’re, you’re, you’re picking them out and you’re treating them differently. Our, our, our tax dollars are a part of this. Our resources are a part of this. We can’t even get healthcare in the U.S. and like our taxes are funding thiiiiiiiissss (throws hands up). Shireen Abu-Akleh was murdered by a government that receives unconditional funding by our country with zero accountability.” AOC has over 8 million Twitter followers, over 8.5 million Instagram followers as well as a commanding Youtube presence.
U.S. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib attended Nakba Day rallies in Dearborn, Michigan May 15. Accusing Israel of her deliberate and targeted murder, Tlaib also called for a moment of silence on the House floor in honor of Ms. Abu-Akleh, later tweeting, ” When will the world and those who stand by Apartheid Israel that continues to murder, torture and commit war crimes finally say ’Enough’? Shireen Abu Akleh was murdered by a government that receives unconditional funding by our country with zero accountability.” She called for immediate boycott, sanctioning and divestment from all Israeli products as well as co-introducing legislation to have Nakba Day declared an official American holiday.
These false narratives, the misrepresenting of the truth, the failure to cooperate in an unbiased full investigation all help to destabilize the already fragile Middle East. Just last year, Israel was normalizing relations with several of its Arab neighbors as part of the historic Abraham Accords. Last week Israeli delegates from the high-tech sector and cultural entrepreneurs flew to Morocco to visit the Parliament and participate in several pre-arranged meetings throughout the country. Many of the talks and scheduled events were canceled as the rumor spread that Israel had assassinated the journalist to ”hide the truth about her reporting on Apartheid atrocities.” In those meetings that did take place, extra security was required for the protection of the attendees.
Using this latest twisting of truth to their advantage, Palestinian youth throughout the Western world organized protests, marches and parades. In particular, American youth, recruited mostly on campuses, took to the city streets, flags in hand. Their chants include ”From the River to the Sea, Palestine must be free!” Do they understand that they are saying from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea (the entirety of Israel, not just a small part), the Land must be completely free of Jews? What happened to peace, love and tolerance. Also chanted was the Arabic ”Khybar, Khybar yo Yahud…” I’m pretty sure they do not know their chant is a reference to the complete massacre of the entire Jewish town of Khayybar and the expulsion of all the Jews of Saudi Arabia by Mohammad in 628 CE. The disseminated false narratives have ripple effects throughout the world and are not just isolated within Israel. It has the potential to lead to anti-Semitic violence and to the destabilization of power in the Middle East.