“I chose journalism to be close to people, and I knew that it wouldn’t be easy to change the situation. But at least I managed to bring Palestinians’ voices to the world.”
– Shireen Abu Akleh
Shireen Abu Akleh is the latest Palestinian journalist to be murdered by the Israeli occupation military — ”latest” because murdering Palestinian journalists is nothing new for the Zionist military. Around this time last year, the Israeli military bombed a civilian building in Gaza which housed the offices of the Associated Press and Al Jazeera. An investigation by the United Nations found that during Gaza’s Great March of Return protests in 2018-2019, Israel’s military murdered two journalists and injured at least 115 other journalists. In fact, members of the Knesset have even voiced their support for Israeli soldiers in these instances: far-right politician Itamar Ben-Gvir tweeted last night, “I fully support Israeli soldiers, as Al Jazeera correspondents have often obstructed their work by intentionally standing in the middle of the battlefield.”
Israeli forces undeniably target Palestinian journalists, yet members of the U.S. press are denying it. Many of the biggest news outlets are pushing an editorial line which obscures the fact that this was a murder of a journalist committed by Israeli occupation forces.
As someone who considers myself a professional journalist, the lack of solidarity from people who call themselves journalists when another journalist is targeted and killed is sickening. Shireen’s death should be causing an uproar from every single news outlet. I’m not naive: I understand there are class interests that cause major publications to back the interests of U.S. imperialism in their editorial lines. I understand that the bourgeois press as an institution has long aided the violence of U.S. imperialism and its proxies in occupying Israel. That does not make it any less sickening and hurtful witnessing entire news outlets throw Palestinian journalists under the bus.
Despite my hatred for the capitalist journalism industry, I still take a lot of pride in calling myself a journalist. This is because I truly believe the act of journalism can play an important role in bringing about change for humanity when those who pursue journalism treat their profession as a public service. Shireen Abu Akleh was the type to treat journalism as a public service. In fact, I’m willing to say that all Palestinian journalists who risk their lives to platform the Palestinian struggle for liberation are the type to treat journalism as a public service. I’m sick of seeing Palestinian journalists killed for their selfless reporting, just to watch other journalists repeat the Israeli state’s line under the guise of objectivity.
The journalism industry is so set on covering for the Zionist state of Israel that when journalists challenge Israel, they risk losing their jobs. This was shown when the Associated Press fired reporter Emily Wilder for making social media posts critical of Zionism. This was shortly after Israel literally bombed the Associated Press’s office in Gaza. While there are plenty of journalists who don’t show solidarity with Palestinian journalists for ideological reasons, there are also many who stay silent because they want to keep doing journalism themselves, and there is no guarantee they will be able to find work if they are more vocally supportive of Palestinian journalists. I believe that being silent is the wrong decision morally, but I understand that concerns over finding work make many people more willing to put morals aside. After all, the pressures of surviving capitalism extend to the field of journalism.
That said, I will never stop demanding that anyone who wants to call themself a journalist show solidarity with Palestinian journalists. Most people who work in newsrooms have an even greater obligation to show solidarity with Palestinian journalists than with the capitalists who own mainstream publications. We are far more likely to end up on the receiving end of state violence than to end up as owners of mainstream media like The New York Times or Condé Nast. This was demonstrated in the United States just a few years ago when reporters were attacked for covering the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. Cops targeted journalists and mainstream outlets continue to pump out copaganda and smear anti-racist protesters. The journalists who were attacked by cops while covering protests should be disgusted that the outlets they work for have more solidarity with the state than with their own reporters, or with reporters attacked by an apartheid state abroad.
Rather than ignoring the ways in which mainstream outlets cover for state violence in order to maintain individual career-security, journalists should be joining together to raise hell against the owners of corporate outlets and their colleagues who put financial gain over the roles journalism should serve: giving platforms to those who would otherwise have none and challenging those in power.
Journalists should wield the power of their labor to fight back when their employers obscure the murders of Palestinian journalists. The largest tech workers’ union in the United States was formed at The New York Times. These workers walked out against the Times’ unfair labor practices. Imagine if they walked out to demand The New York Times platform more voices scrutinizing Shireen’s murderers in their coverage of her death. Imagine if they walked out until the Editorial Board released a public call for an independent investigation into her death. The power of a unionized newsroom should not only be used in labor struggle. Workers at news outlets should organize walkouts, work-stoppages, strikes, and other collective tactics in response to their outlet pushing editorial lines in service of U.S. imperialism and other interests of those in power.
It is also essential for journalists to understand the role that corporate outlets have always played in serving the ideological interest of capitalism and imperialism. Workers at major outlets can and should use their collective power to force concessions from the owners of these outlets, but that will not change the class interests that drive the editorial line of major publications. This is why journalists must build up progressive outlets and revolutionary publications. Whether more independently funded outlets like Democracy Now!, Common Dreams, or Truthout or openly revolutionary outlets like Left Voice and the international news network we’re a part of, there must be options for journalists to give working-class and oppressed people a platform that exists independently of capitalist and imperialist influence.
For giving a platform to Palestinians, Shireen deserves to be memorialized in the pages of every major publication. She deserves to have her murder covered as a murder, with her killers named for all to read. She deserves an independent investigation, led by press freedom groups with reputations for scrutinizing Israel’s attacks on journalists.
When the capitalist owners of the biggest publications in the world refuse to cover attacks on the press accurately and demand accountability, those of us who entered this industry for more than just a paycheck must organize collectively to fight for solidarity with our Palestinian colleagues. And we must fight together with our Palestinian colleagues against the capitalists who use the press as a tool of the oppressors instead of as a tool for the oppressed.