This morning a beep on my phone woke me up at 8am. It was a notification from a Telegram channel called “Martyrs of Palestine”. I was not surprised. After all, it is not uncommon for us Palestinians to wake up to the news that one or more of us has been killed in a raid by the Israeli occupying forces; in the West Bank, such raids occur almost every night, just before the break. of dawn
But I froze when I read the short message: “Shireen Abu Akleh – 51 years old – 11/05/2022 – Jenin Refugee Camp”. He was sure it was a mistake, a notification sent by mistake.
As I tried to process what I had just read, my WhatsApp and Twitter feeds were flooded with news, photos and videos from Shireen. That was true. They had killed her, assassinated. she was horrified Tears began to roll down my cheeks. I still can’t stop crying, hours later, as I write this.
Shireen Abu Akleh was an icon in Palestine and the Arab world. She was loved and respected by all. Her immaculate journalistic reputation preceded her. Her face and her voice were in our homes every day. She spoke from Palestine and was heard by the whole world. She gave a voice to the voiceless and never backed down from her commitment to her work.
Many journalists of my generation and even older prepared for the profession by standing in front of their mirrors, or in front of a group of friends, and repeating their iconic farewell: “Shireen Abu Akleh, Aljazeeeera, Filasteen.”
To me, she was much, much more than a professional role model. As a child, she was the first, and for a long time, the only celebrity I knew by name and looked up to.
I was a little boy during the second Intifada. In 2002, when I was only seven years old, I experienced the large-scale incursions of the Israeli army into the West Bank. I heard tanks rolling through the streets, attack helicopters firing overhead, windows shattering from air strikes.
I couldn’t go out most days, so the TV in our house was my only window to the outside world. Shireen, along with some of his colleagues, were constantly on screen. I asked myself, “Do they ever get tired? Do you ever feel afraid? I greatly admired her and her team.
Around that time, I started making scrapbooks. Every day, I would take my dad’s day’s papers once he finished reading them and cut out pictures of them, pasting them in my scrapbook. I once found a very small picture of Shireen in a magazine. I cut out the tiny photo and glued it to the inside cover of my scrapbook. I thought it should be on the first page. I was a big fan. She was a hero to me.
That same year I also had the opportunity to meet Shireen for the first time. One day, I insisted on joining my father, who was also a journalist, to visit al-Muqata’a, the headquarters of the late Palestinian Authority leader, Yasser Arafat.
Al-Muqata’a had been destroyed. Evidence of the bombing was all around us, and wrecked vehicles littered the yard. What I had been watching on television was suddenly under my feet. Since they were colleagues in journalism, my dad knew Shireen. He asked her to meet me and told her about the cut out picture he had pasted into my scrapbook. I was shy and embarrassed, but I still remember how she greeted me, speaking kindly to a seven-year-old boy who wanted to grow up to be a brave journalist like her and my father.
Years passed, times changed, and television screens were saturated with Palestinian journalists, reporting bravely from the ground. But Shireen remained a respected veteran. She was one of the first, inspiring a whole new generation of journalists to tell the story of Palestine, and over the years she was always one of the most dedicated to the job. Every budding TV journalist knew and admired her. She had a great reputation in the local journalistic community.
For the past two years, I have been among the journalists who had the privilege of reporting alongside her in Jerusalem. Together we face the brutality of the Israeli forces. I felt safe in her presence. She was a leading figure and a mentor.
Shireen never wavered in her commitment to journalism, to the city of Jerusalem, to all of Palestine, and to the Palestinian people here and abroad. All who knew her would speak fondly of her amazing spirit, her open heart and her exemplary courage and professionalism in the line of duty.
Last month we marked 20 years since Israel carried out the Jenin refugee camp massacre. A young Shireen was there, reporting from The Battle of Jenin. I vividly remember seeing the reports of her on the television screen; there were Israeli tanks and destroyed houses in the background, in 2002.
Twenty years later, we lost Shireen, murdered by the same invading occupation forces, in the same refugee camp.
Today, all Palestinian homes are in mourning. All Palestinians are in shock, processing this great loss. We Palestinians know death; we know this well. But we are not insensitive to the pain of losing our loved ones, our heroes, our icons, our future over and over again to the Israeli occupation. Each time, we grieve. We cry, but we also become more firm and determined.
Shireen once said, “It’s not easy for me to change reality, but the least I can do is let our voices reach the world.” In her life, Shireen delivered her message and gave voice to the voiceless in the most powerful way. We will continue her mission. And soon, Palestine will be free.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.