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The living room TV was almost never off. The updates were crucial, I gathered, as I was rarely allowed to change the channel from Al Jazeera.
And there she was — so present, her voice was so somber, her sign-off so distinctive, and her intonations so recognizable.
It was unconscious in the beginning, but I started copying her sign-off. First in front of the TV — “Shireen Abu Akleh, Al Jazeera, occupied Jerusalem” — and then later in front of my mirror, where I perfected the routine.
Shireen Abu Akleh’s voice was the soundtrack of my childhood.
I was five years old when the second intifada broke out in 2000. My family and I were in Jordan, safe across the river in a small town called Ain Al-Basha, but we still had extended family on the other side who were not.
And so Abu Akleh walked us through all the events — from Ariel Sharon’s controversial visit to Al Aqsa Mosque; to the killing of Muhammad al-Durrah; to the Palestinian bombings; to the Israeli army’s incursion of the West Bank; to the battle of Jenin.
Abu Akleh was always there. Until one day she wasn’t.
AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images
Abu Akleh was a Palestinian-American journalist for Al Jazeera. She started working for the organization in 1997 and stayed for 25 years, until she was killed in Jenin on May 11.
She was the first female correspondent I remember seeing in our region. She was brave and unwavering – a true trailblazer for many other women to follow her path, including myself.
We thought that someone else always had to tell the Palestinian side of the story, because historically, that’s how it worked out. Abu Akleh challenged that.
She took the microphone and turned it to Palestinian mothers and children, she spoke to Palestinian prisoners, and she went to Palestinian refugee camps. Her reporting stood out because she was one of them, she understood their plight, and she felt their pain because it was also her pain.
She wasn’t trying to be a “voice for the voiceless,” Abu Akleh knew well that Palestinians have their own voice. All she did was amplify it.
By doing that, she not only made me feel seen as a young Palestinian girl, but she also brought the story of Palestinian people into all of the Arab world’s living rooms. So when she was killed, it devastated Palestinians across the region.
When I saw the news of her killing I was, ironically, attending a hostile environment training. It’s a high-stress training that’s supposed to prepare journalists for events like the one Abu Akleh encountered. I was in disbelief for the entire day because, well, she’s Shireen Abu Akleh.
Later that night as I doomscrolled through Twitter, I saw one tribute after another for her and I realized something: a new generation of the little Palestinian girls were also perfecting their Abu Akleh routines in front of their mirrors.
Abu Akleh is dead, but her spirit isn’t.