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A Look Back at Shireen Abu Akleh: A Journalist Who Inspired Generations

Shireen Abu Akleh was a Palestinian American reporter working for the Qatar-based AlJazeera network. With over 25 years of experience, she became one of the most prominent journalists covering the conflicts between Israel and Palestine on the field, while inspiring many to pursue careers in journalism and to bravely show the ongoing realities of occupation.

Abu Akleh was born in 1971 in Jerusalem, and raised by her Melkite Catholic family from Bethlehem. As a child, her parents would often tell her stories of a Palestine that existed before Israel's founding through the British Mandate for Palestine. This inspired her to provide a voice for Palestine, its people, and its centuries-old heritage. In fact, as an adolescent, she would turn down the offer to complete her study in architecture at the Jordan University of Science and Technology and, instead, would pursue an education in journalism at Yarmouk University, in Jordan.

After obtaining her degree, she returned to the Palestinian Territories where she started working for various media companies. This included working for Sawt Filasteen (Voice of Palestine) radio station in 1994. However, in 1997, Abu Akleh would go on to work for AlJazeera a year after the network began operations, and would work for their Palestinian office for the rest of her career.

She was well-known for covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the forefront, while giving a voice to the Palestinian people who would have otherwise been overlooked by other news outlets. Her brave coverage included the 2000 Intifada, the Israeli attacks at Al Aqsa compound, the Jenin raids, and the airstrikes by the Israel Air Force (IAF) in the Gaza Strip. In 2005, she became the first Arab journalist to hold interviews with Palestinian prisoners at Shikmah Prison in Ashkelon, Israel.

Undoubtedly, Abu Akleh's fearless journalism caused tensions between her and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), as well as Jewish settlers in the West Bank. In an interview with BBC, she said that Israel had even accused her of reporting in security areas. Following improved relations between Egypt and Qatar, in July 2021, Abu Akleh was chosen to be the first AlJazeera journalist, since Egypt's boycott, to report live in Cairo. In October, the network marked its 25th anniversary via a promotional video, with Abu Akleh stating the following: "In difficult moments, I overcame fear. I chose journalism to be close to people. It is not easy, perhaps, to change reality, but I was at least able to get that voice out to the world. I am Shireen Abu Akleh."

Sadly, May 11, 2022 would make a dark chapter for journalism. On that day, Abu Akleh was at the Jenin refugee camp reporting on an IDF raid against a Palestinian family, but the world would soon be horrified by clips of what seemed to be the journalist's lifeless body, and her fellow colleagues, and Palestinian civilians, scrambling to get her to the hospital. She was pronounced dead by the Palestinian Ministry of Health later that day, with the cause of death being a bullet wound to the head.

On May 13, Abu Akleh was laid to rest at Mount Zion Cemetery, in Jerusalem, following an attack by Israeli forces againt funeral goers, but the impact she left as a journalist would never be forgotten. In addition to giving a voice to Palestinians, her journalistic career had inspired other women to pursue careers on the field, with news outlets calling her a trailblazer.

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