The assassination of Shireen Abu Akleh and my field testimony on the Israeli occupation's "investigations"
Due to the assassination of Shireen Abu Akleh, the crimes of the occupation, and the conflicting talks of conducting an "investigation" into her murder, I am inclined to submit a brief "case study", so that everyone interested can learn about what had already happened as well as what may happen with Shireen's assassination "investigation".
Originally, I intended to publish an extensive article for the 35th anniversary of the first Palestinian Intifada in Gaza, this major event in the life of the Palestinian people taking place seven months from now, which is worthy of substantial analysis. However, with the assassination of Shireen Abu Akleh, the continuous crimes of the occupation forces, and the conflicting talks of an "investigation" into her murder, I am inclined to submit a brief "case study" so that all those interested can learn about what had already happened as well as what may happen with the “investigation” of martyr Shireen Abu Akleh's assassination.
In furtherance of the compelling evidence that I have witnessed, I will cite a single paragraph of the lengthy press release delivered to the world from the Gaza Strip during the first Palestinian Intifada on December 15, 1987 - the author of that press release then is also the author of this article. Back then, I was a journalist in the Haaretz newspaper's supplement in "Tel Aviv", Ha'ir, meaning "The City".
"I felt like a living target. Fortunately, the voice recorder in my possession was working, I think, to at least document how I was to be killed. At the same time, approximately 30 military vehicles violated the hospital area, and gunfire was heard from all sides. Even the wounded jumped over the hospital wall to the adjacent vineyards. Others fled to the alleyways between neighboring homes, where soldiers had difficulty entering. I heard the screams of those trapped. They were beating them with batons."
The cultural and professional atmosphere at home had driven my interest in journalism ever since high school. For many reasons, which I will not discuss here, I was forced to study Journalism at first and later International Relations and Politics at Tel Aviv University. And because I was a Yafa resident, despite my mother and grandmother’s opposition to studying Hebrew, I studied the language and became fluent in it at a time when most Palestinians in western Palestinian territories occupied in 1948 struggled to learn it. At that time, Hebrew was becoming more prominent, as 20 thousand Palestinians in Yafa became engulfed by 3 million Israeli settlers.
My first lengthy report, in Hebrew, was for the Tel Aviv University newspaper on the Palestinian University of Birzeit. I was still a student until I was "discovered" by the editor-in-chief of the Haaretz newspaper in "Tel Aviv". He motivated me to write in the supplement on the basis that they were interested in covering Arab issues. My first priority was to highlight Yafa's suffering and the schemes of forced displacement, disinformation, and gentrification that the occupation conducts daily. It wasn't until a few months later that the editorial board requested that I shift my focus toward eastern Palestine occupied in 1967.
Outbreak of Intifada
On December 8, 1987, an Israeli truck driver ran over Palestinian workers in the Gaza Strip. Amidst feelings of loss, pain, and trauma, Palestinians arranged for the funerals of the martyrs. Some unrest flared on the third and fourth days of funeral processions.
Later, on December 12 and 13, the editorial department urged me to travel from Yafa to the Gaza Strip. I could not travel at that time, as I was finalizing a lengthy report on the economic corruption of the occupation's system in the West Bank. On the morning of December 15, 1987, I traveled to the Gaza Strip to report on what later turned out to be a day to be remembered. I also found out that I was the only journalist in Gaza after the Israeli occupation declared the strip a closed military region after I entered it without knowledge from the Israeli authorities.
During my coverage of the developments in the Gaza Strip, which turned out to be 20 hours of absolute bloodshed, I was wounded in the face and taken to Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza. The doctors there operated on me without anesthetics under very harsh conditions as an Israeli military incursion into the vicinity of the hospital was taking place.
Nevertheless, I refused to stay in the hospital or get some rest. With the assistance of Palestinian field commanders and the help of intellectuals such as the late Dr. Haider Abdul Shafi, the late Dr. Rabah Mahanna, and Lawyer Raji Al-Saurani, among others, I was able to move around and complete my report necessities.
I was able to collect testimonies and documents as well as take shocking photographs of the scenes in and around the Gaza hospital until I saw the killings and incursions committed by the IOF. Later, and despite the lockdown, I was able to return to Yafa the next day. There is no need to expand much on that point. The purpose of this story is that I was able to get back and got admitted to the Ichilov Hospital in "Tel Aviv" where I got treated. Soon after, and due to my determination to write and publish the report, I left the hospital despite my injury.
Press without technology
At that time, prior to the development of communications technology, it was difficult to report news immediately. Today’s world has mobile phones, but at the time, the greatest technological advancement was still the fax machine, thus limiting communication from a single person to another single person rather than to the masses. Reporting on fast-paced and historical events such as the outbreak of the Intifada was a difficult task, and this was to the benefit of the Israeli government. The latter banned fax machines after the PLO leadership in Tunisia was able to contact the PLO in Palestine and share information about the outbreak of the First Intifada.
In addition to the absence of communication devices, platforms were also limited. No satellite channels were available, especially Arab ones. It was possible to distribute what had become a global press precedent for a Palestinian popular resistance movement that had entered contemporary history as the most prominent confrontation between a liberation movement and occupation forces. It was a difficult, slow and painstaking issue for everyone and for me personally as a journalist at the heart of the event. At the very least, journalism, without modern communication technologies, is frustrating.
The turmoil of the newspaper's policy toward me
After the hospital, I went to my office in the newspaper building (my colleague in the office was now the editor of Haaretz... But this is another story). I continued to write the report for many hours, from 15 to dawn on Wednesday, 16 December, when the supplement should have been closed and sent to print for distribution from dawn on Friday, 18 December 1987.
After I had left the hospital. I went directly to my office at the newspaper. I continued writing my report from Tuesday, December 15 until the dawn of Wednesday, December 16 when the paper was to be sent for publishing and distribution by Friday 18th of December 1987. Despite the absence of the Editor-in-Chief then, the Deputy Editor sent the report for "military" censorship, which did not prevent its publication. During this process, the alternate editor changed some terminology, but the Editorial Department did not inform the spokesman of the Army or the Chief of Staff's Office so that publication would not be blocked, given this global press race.
I didn't realize that this report, published under the heading "This is not a rebellion...It’s a war” will weaken the occupation, military, political rhetoric, and media, for half a year until the storm "calms down." I knew this will bring me a lot of attention and that there will be consequences for me as a journalist. The other factor, which prevented the rapid distribution of the press report (at the outset), is the self-censorship of Israeli journalists, the majority of whom serve in the reserve of the occupying army of the IOF.
The storm began abroad as soon as an excerpt of the report was leaked, translated, and misquoted by some foreign and Israeli journalists working for global newspapers, such as the French newspaper Liberation correspondent Shalom Cohen. Within a few days, the report was also translated into German, Spanish and other languages. It has also been translated into English by a number of journalists and academics, primarily Professor Israel Shahak, who published it in English in the Journal of Palestinian Studies.
The late Professor Edward Said described this report, in a number of his writings, as "a report of great clarity and audacity". CBS Senior Correspondent Bob Simon called Khoury-Machool the "Intifada forecaster" because he insisted that it existed, (despite the denial of occupation), calling it a war.
In the meantime, "Israel's" ruling foundation had been waging a vicious media campaign against me because they claimed that "I slaughtered the holy cow” as I defamed the reputation of the occupation army and hurt its image locally and globally. The report removed the mask of the so-called "Moral Army,” which led the Israeli journalist, Gail Ronen, to say that “Makram Khoury-Machool caused serious damage to "Israel's" reputation in the world."
At the instigation of the Security Service and coordination with the occupation army, the then chief military analyst in "Israel," who worked for Haaretz at the time, veteran Ze'ev Schiff, launched a campaign in the context of incitement against me, defining me as the typical "Palestinian military correspondent" in an attempt to deny my credibility and reputation. He also sought to accuse Makram Khoury-Machool of "encroaching" on a distinctive and sensitive press field, the military field, which is available exclusively to distinguished Israeli journalists.
The report of Makram Khoury-Machool was described by the journalist writer, Jacob Ha 'lion, as "the written text that goes beyond those methods, which accompanied the Holocaust ovens during Nazism" in the newspaper Maariv.
During those difficult weeks, I have undergone police, military, as well as military police investigations. The later Head of Government of "Israel" and Commander of the 2008 War on the Gaza Strip (lawyer and Likud MP) Ehud Olmert filed a complaint against me for "inciting insurgency," thus subjecting me to military and police investigations aimed at intimidating me and obtaining security information on the movements of the Intifada leadership in the Gaza Strip. The editor-in-chief, (one of "Israel's" most prominent journalists to date), told me then that security agents were planning to physically harm me, but he persuaded them, after a hard effort, not to do so!?
The outrage that prevailed in the occupation regime was twofold: firstly against the newspaper and its editorial staff which published my report, and then against me personally and "the rudeness and atrocity of my journalistic work".
Here, I would like to emphasize that the occupation’s strategy was to implement two schemes: the first "clean up the reputation of the army" and with it the occupation’s entity as a whole; secondly, to attempt to destroy me professionally, psychologically, socially and politically. During that technologically underdeveloped era, as opposed to today’s political-public interaction through live media, the only politician to immediately vocalize concerns pertaining to my case in the Knesset, after he received a call from the Gaza Strip, was the late poet Tawfiq Ziad, mayor of Nazareth (then a member of Parliament of the Communist Party). A mentally and physically terrorizing atmosphere emerged against me, and direct and indirect threats of assassination started reaching me on a daily basis.
It was no easy task. The only option for me was to take refuge amongst Palestinians living in Western Palestine - “citizens” of the Apartheid State. The stakes were high, but the men of Yafa rose up to the occasion and put in place secret measures that ensured my and the vicinity of my residence’s security in coordination with my childhood friend and neighbor, the late journalist Khamis Abu Al-Afiyah. My guardian angel was my late brother, Adib, who was unarmed, yet stayed up night and night again to protect me.
Adib and I stayed in our family home in Yafa after my mother and grandmother passed away. My father moved to Al-Jalil. During the period discussed above, my brother insisted on studying journalism in "my school" and wanted to follow in my footsteps. He broke into resistance media outlets for years up until his death in October of 2018.
Denials and Campaign methods
In this context, the occupation, on both political and military levels, had launched a campaign with the following purposes:
1. The absolute denial and contradiction of the recorded events I had stated in the press report, or the media event as a whole, hoping they could paint my report as fraudulent.
2. A political smearing campaign against me, journalist Makram Khoury-Machool, tainting me as hostile to “Israel”.
3. Discredit my journalistic credibility and tarnish my name in an attempt to get me fired from a Hebrew Israeli newspaper that follows a left-wing, Zionist liberal agenda.
4. Launch a racist frenzy campaign that called me an anti-Semite. Maarif journalist, Yaqoub Ha'leon, published my press report on the Intifada and described it as a "written text that goes beyond those methods, which accompanied the Holocaust ovens during Nazism."
In parallel, complex "investigations" were launched with the aim of exonerating the occupation:
1. Prior to my return from the Gaza Strip to Yafa, the occupation forces investigated me, unofficially. They attempted to diminish the weight of that bloody day and tried to negotiate with me the death toll hoping to manipulate me into changing the figures.
2. The "Military Police" investigation unit launched an individual and closed investigation, without the participation of the newspaper and without the presence of lawyers from my side.
3. On its part, the management of Haaretz did not take a firm and principled position to defend me. They did not say, "We trust what our reporter said," as would have happened if the journalist had been Jewish, but rather, in order not to be criticized by the right, management stated that they "believed their Arab correspondent." In order to satisfy the "delusional Zionist left conscience", Haaretz initiated an independent investigation (sometimes in my presence) into the Gaza Strip incident. The investigation was called Operation "Reclaim the Event" and took place on the central battlefield, near the Shifa Hospital in Gaza.
The finalized "Military Police" report in the occupation army denies everything in my press report. It denied all the killings of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. More importantly, the report denied the existence of a Palestinian Intifada altogether. Consequently, the aim of "discrediting" my reputation as a journalist was achieved, at least among the Jewish readership, and the occupation forces regained their "clean reputation" as a “non-murderous” army, characterized by "weapon purity."
The newspaper's investigative report was lame, as its aim was to engineer the news in such a way that did not lead to the "loss of Jewish readership,” mostly center Zionists. On the other hand, they sought to diminish media criticism given that the newspaper responded racially, with the only Palestinian Arab journalist on the newspaper's editorial board.
What is significant, however, is that the names of the occupation soldiers who committed murder in the Gaza Strip have not been identified or disclosed. Names were replaced by vague letters and several paragraphs have been eliminated or censored which has emptied the "military police" report of any content. As a result, IOF murderers have never been tried in any court. On the contrary, several members and operations of the IOF have been added to the list of "heroes and heroic acts" succeeding the killing of Palestinians during the first Palestinian Intifada.
The chances of occupation in escaping punishment are not great
Preliminary follow-up by the occupation forces to the oppressive media campaign in the Jenin events which led to the assassination of Shireen Abu Akleh indicates that the occupation's approach and methods of deception and evasion, as well as its attempts to mislead public opinion, locally, regionally, globally and in multiple languages, remain unchanged.
The occupation changed its position several times regarding the assassination incident through its media statements. It aimed each time to pass messages ranging from total denial to possible "mistake" and claiming that the soldiers did "not know" that this was the journalist Abu Akleh. They did all that to avoid any accusations of "premeditated" murder.
However, the denial campaign escalated since the occupation police superintendent in occupied al-Quds congratulated the crew who suppressed the transfer of Abu Akleh's coffin from Mar Yusuf French hospital. Furthermore, Member of Parliament, Merav Ben Ari, said that she did not regret the killing of Shireen, and concluded that the occupation army decided not to open an investigation into her assassination at all.
Last, but not least, the author of this article left Palestine for Oxford in September 1990. Since then, the media "power equation", which prevailed 35 years ago, has changed. Certainly, technology and camera crews captured all the scenes of Shireen Abu Akleh’s assassination in Jenin. And inevitably, such documentation will have an impact, not only on the persistence of the Palestinian narrative but also through the distribution and engagement of the aforementioned documentation of eyewitnesses’ evidence that can condemn the occupation on the local, regional, and global stage.
In the last three decades, the process of "political and media interaction" has also evolved as a result of the availability of immediate global media coverage allowing social media to play a crucial role in the battle of consciousness. It was also assumed that, with financial resources, legal services would be leased to the world's best law firms, and criminals would be brought before the International Criminal Court.
Such technological developments, alongside multiple other documentations, could teach the occupation a significant lesson and affect its long-term credibility as a whole. Nothing else, no alternative action that can possibly be taken against the IOF, even if it finds its way to court, will offer Palestinians justice. The occupation has historically orchestrated entire media campaigns to show the world its alleged democracy but has realistically always allowed murderers to walk free in return for a sum of money when they deserve to be in prison. For example, the criminal Shedmi, who supervised the Kafr Qassem massacre in October 1956, was fined despite having confessed to being guilty in a press encounter just before his death in 2018.
So the chances of the occupation in escaping punishment are not great whether for crimes it has directly or indirectly committed. Today, their crimes can be punished in multiple courts, provided that the Palestinian authorities do not directly get involved in the given case. Palestinians should also refuse any political agreement, taking advantage of this tragedy, at the price of Shireen Abu Akleh’s soul, regardless of whether it is foreign or Arabs that are mediating for such an agreement. Palestinians should also demand the participation of global media watchdog organizations in investigating the facts that accompanied the targeting of the journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.
Any decision other than this would amount to another great betrayal, not only for the martyr Shireen Abu Akleh but for all journalists who have been martyred or wounded in Palestine, from the Nakba until the present. Moreover, any betrayal for Palestinians inside Palestine is equally a betrayal for Palestinian activists across the world.