The death of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh is sad, tragic even, regardless of which side fired the bullet that killed her in Jenin. But the response to her death in comparison the responses to the deaths of many other journalists in this region is so exaggerated as to be comical.
It seems to be all anyone can talk about. From the White House to the United Nations to Al Jazeera’s headquarters in Qatar, defeating and incessant calls for investigation, even as everyone seems to have already extrajudicially determined Israel’s guilt.
Why did we not hear such calls or see such an overwhelming reaction on social media following the deaths of the journalists listed below, or the hundreds of others who met similar fates?
- In March 2003, British journalist Terry Lloyd was killed by US Marines in Iraq.
- In March 2014, Egyptian journalist Mayada Ashraf was shot in the back of the head while covering clashes between government forces and the Muslim Brotherhood.
- In 2019, Palestinian journalist Hani Al-Agha was jailed and tortured to the point of death by Hamas.
- In July 2021, Reuters reporter Danish Siddiqui was hit and killed by Taliban crossfire in Afghanistan.
To provide a comprehensive list would require a full encyclopedia. Hundreds of journalists have died covering the Middle East in just the past two decades, and hundreds more have been jailed. So why haven’t we heard their names being shouted more widely, or of this clearly pandemic-level problem in general?
Only one conclusion can be reached: None of those journalists died in such a way that Israel could be blamed.
Their deaths were no less tragic or less detrimental to the cause of a free press than that of Abu Akleh. And yet far fewer seemed to care.
So which is the genuine response? The relatively muted acknowledgement of the deaths of the journalists listed above? Or the vociferous outpouring of blame and condemnation over Abu Akleh?
Very few people actually care about the death of a single journalist, or apparently even of hundreds. And it’s doubtful that very many are truly mourning the demise of Abu Akleh and what it means for freedom of the press. That certainly must be the case among the Palestinians and other Arab states, where “freedom of the press” is about as existent as “democracy,” which is to say it isn’t.
More to the point, if conclusive evidence were to emerge that Abu Akleh was killed by a Palestinian bullet, most of those now bemoaning her death would quickly move on to a different topic.
The only thing genuine about their present response is the hatred for Israel. For if Israel weren’t involved, hers would have been quietly added to the list above, and the rest of the world would’ve never heard the name Shireen Abu Akleh.