On Wednesday a Palestinian journalist covering an Israeli raid in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank was shot dead allegedly by an Israeli soldier, though this was denied by the Israeli military. The killing of a clearly identified member of the press in a conflict area violates international law and the UN has called for a prompt and transparent investigation into her death.
Two days later I was flicking through news channels and while BBC was obsessing over the Wagatha Christie trial, I began to follow the live coverage of Shireen Abu Akleh’s funeral on Al Jazeera. I listened to eye witness accounts of fellow reporters standing with her when she was shot in the neck, and with her colleague Ali Samudi who was shot in the shoulder. Another in the group said they had been told about Israeli snipers on the roofs, but as it was quiet and they were wearing vests marked ‘press’ they felt safe from any real danger. Now, in their minds they were not caught in crossfire but rather targeted because they were Palestinian journalists.
The 51 year old veteran reporter was much loved and respected, so it was no surprise that thousands flocked to pay tribute by accompanying her coffin from the hospital in occupied East Jerusalem. I watched horrific scenes unfold as the Israeli police brutally assaulted the pallbearers. Officers fired tear gas and stun grenades and beat the mourners with batons in their efforts to confiscate national flags. At one point the coffin almost hit the ground, so fierce was the attack.
Politics and People
I feel privileged to have watched this live coverage, because there were details largely missed by other news outlets. Shireen was a Christian from Bethlehem and was buried in a Christian cemetery on Mount Zion. Her death united all Palestinian communities and has brought them a fresh emphasis on working together for their cause. In the months before her death Shireen was studying Hebrew in order to better understand Jewish reporting. The priest who would conduct her funeral was interviewed briefly above the bedlam as he headed into the church.
“I am standing here in Jerusalem to declare that we Christians believe in the power of love, not the love of power, and in the words of Jesus, ‘Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.’”
On Friday bells from a variety of denominations throughout Jerusalem rang out for half an hour in mourning, and today sirens wailed across the West Bank as hundreds of thousands in refugee camps remember Nakba, Arabic for catastrophe, when the state of Israel was founded.
The events of these last few days are a reminder of how deep the anger and bitterness of this conflict runs in Palestinian hearts and minds, and how heavy-handed Israeli forces can be in response. As Christians we don’t need to take sides. We can love the people without endorsing the actions of their governments. Let’s stand with the church on both sides of the conflict, interceding and lamenting and like Shireen having compassion for the poor and oppressed. Like her, may we be willing to speak truth to power and support peacemaking initiatives, knowing that deep and lasting peace only comes through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.