Picture of slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh at a vigil to condemn her killing, in front of the office of Al Jazeera network, in Gaza City, Wednesday, May 11, 2022.
AP Photo/Adel Hana
Melissa Harris-Perry: Thanks for sticking with us I'm Melissa Harris-Perry and this is The Takeaway. [Arabic] I'll never forget the amount of destruction or the feeling that death was so close to us, that's veteran journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh speaking about the conflict that she covered for 25 years for Al Jazeera. The Palestinian reporter also a US citizen was shot and killed yesterday May 11th while reporting on a raid by Israeli army forces in the occupied West Bank. Abu Aqleh and her colleagues were wearing jackets identifying them as press, one of her coworkers was also shot and injured.
Witnesses alleged that Israeli forces deliberately attacked these journalists which the Israeli Defense Forces initially denied suggesting the reporters were caught in the crossfire. Following condemnations and calls for investigations by the US, the United Nations and others, Israel's defense minister said late Wednesday that "We're trying to figure out exactly what happened." With me today is Robert Mahoney the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists which documents attacks on journalists and press freedoms around the world. For 26 years he worked for Reuters and served as the agency's Jerusalem bureau chief from 1990 to '97. Robert, welcome to The Takeaway.
Robert Mahoney: Great to be here.
Melissa Harris-Perry: How did you react when you learned about the killing of Shireen Abu Aqleh?
Robert Mahoney: I was deeply shocked and saddened but at the same time I'm afraid it's not surprising because this is dangerous work. Other journalists that I've known over the years have been injured or killed doing exactly what Shireen was doing.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Was it unusual this assignment for someone like Shireen to be heading to the front lines of an army raid?
Robert Mahoney: Not at all unusual it's something that journalists particularly photo journalists and TV journalists do every day. The Israeli army is used to the presence of journalists and journalists very, very aware of how to behave around Israeli soldiers. These journalists were clearly marked as press, they wear those blue flak jackets and dress in a way that distinguishes them and over the years that has worked we have not seen huge casualties so when this happens, it's shocking. The other thing I would add is that this is a journalist who is extremely well known and has been doing this for 25 years.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Can you help to contextualize that, are there unique dangers and conditions that Palestinian journalists face in the occupied territory?
Robert Mahoney: There are, first of all we are talking largely about a very urban environment that's to say that there are walls, there are compounds. These are soldiers that have come in that are occupying an area where the people don't want them there. The soldiers are jumpy, it's very difficult to approach them but you need as a journalist to be able to document what's going on, you need to be able to take photographs, you need to be able to shoot video and those are the dynamics in which you're working.
The Israeli forces contend that Palestinians were firing at their troops and that the first reports were that Shireen was caught in crossfire may even have been shot by a Palestinian. Subsequent independent first investigations cast out on that Israeli version. It looks according to the witnesses who were with her including her producer who was himself shot and wounded that this group of journalists was in clear sight of an Israeli patrol and had been there for a while and then suddenly shots rang out.
The producer was hit first and went down and then Shireen was hit in the head, why they opened fire we don't know. It's absolutely vital that we get to the bottom of what happened and that those who are responsible for this face the consequences of their actions.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Robert since 1992 the Committee to Protect Journalists, you all have documented 19 killings of Palestinian journalists or Palestinian-American journalists which one is it? I just want to be sure that I'm clear about that.
Robert Mahoney: That's 19 journalists total that includes Palestinians and international journalists.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Is this a space of mounting or escalating tensions or are we talking about something that has been consistent for a couple of decades? Help us to understand the extent to which this horrifying loss is indicative of anything larger.
Robert Mahoney: You've had an occupation of the west bank in Gaza for generations, each year there is a rising of tensions and frustration. It boils over in attacks sometimes on Israeli troops within those occupied areas and also on attacks on Israelis within Israel, that's the background to what we are talking about at the moment. There has been a spate of attacks on Israeli civilians within inside Israel and within Israeli settlements in the West Bank, that's the background to this killing of Shireen.
The Israeli forces were at a refugee camp in Janine in the north of the West Bank, they say looking for suspects in the killings of Israelis, that's the background. Every year there is this cycle of violence and every year there is a possibility that journalists who are documenting this get injured. The last big upsurge in killings of journalists we saw was in Gaza back in 2014 when seven journalists and media workers were killed documenting the violence there.
I'd also like to remind people that exactly a year ago, Al Jazeera the outlet for which Shireen worked, their office in Gaza was bombed by Israel. The building in which it stood was bombed along with the office of the Associated Press so there is an annual cycle of violence and the press gets caught up in that.
Melissa Harris-Perry: The IDF officials have said they've set up a task force to investigate Shireen's killing, do you think that's enough?
Robert Mahoney: No it's not enough because we're asking the party that's accused of the crime to investigate itself. I think what would satisfy us and the United States and the United Nations have all called for a credible independent investigation, what form that takes is to be determined. I have been covering this story long enough to know that if you leave it to the Israel Defense Force to investigate itself, you will probably not get the full story.
I'm not accusing them of bad faith but honestly I was very caught up back in 2008 into the killing of a Reuters journalist in Gaza and the military advocate general of the Israel Defense Force exonerated everybody in that killing when there was clear evidence of targeting of a Reuters cameraman at that time. I think in terms of many in the international community and many on all Palestinians there's no credibility to an IDF investigation.
I think an independent and thorough investigation into this is necessary for the reasons I mentioned earlier which is the effect that this will have on the ability of reporters to operate freely and do their jobs.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Robert Mahoney is the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. Thanks so much for joining us Rob.
Robert Mahoney: It's my pleasure, thank you Melissa.[music]
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