Thursday 12 May 2022

Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh

was shot and killed in the West Bank yesterday. 

I don't know what happened but I suspect the Israeli authorities will be deeply concerned about this because she was well regarded by them as well as all those to and for whom she reported.

I never met her. I have never met almost all the journalists with whom I have sometimes had fleeting contact. 

Yes, I had brief contact with her once. It was over ten years ago now. I didn't know her name then. I was, to say the least, wary of even speaking to her.  I made her wait while I made a very expensive international call on a mobile which did not belong to me. It might all sound all very "spy drama" but dealing with people in Palestine is something you do carefully, very carefully. She checked out so I listened to what she wanted and why she wanted it. At the conclusion of the conversation I did as she asked and arranged for what she wanted to happen to actually happen. When that was done she risked her life for a second time and went back to the person who had asked her to get help from me. They worked together in one of those moments of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation that still make me hope that the peace process is not completely snuffed out. 

I had no great role to play in any of this. If I had not been available there were other people who could have been asked. I just happened to be there. 

Now I feel privileged, privileged to have had any contact with Shireen. She sounded pleasant, friendly, concerned - and willing to risk her life to help others. I saw her occasionally in news reports and she always seemed the same. That very brief contact made me even more aware of the dangers of her job. It made me even more aware of the dangers faced by journalists who report from war zones and the other complex humanitarian emergencies the world has to face.

I look at these people and think they have to go on working under the same conditions as the people living in the places from which they are reporting. They sleep (in their bullet proof vests) when and where they can. They eat when and where they can. They go without both food and sleep at times. They work in all sorts of weather and at all hours of day and night. They do it all under the constant danger of being imprisoned, tortured, and even killed by the "enemy". 

Listening to them it is easy to believe they are simply dispassionately reporting on what is going on around them. I don't believe that is the case. These international war and disaster reporters face the very worst of human tragedies every day. If they are good at their job they will appear to remain calm but when what they see stops affecting them then they can no longer do their job effectively. 

When I was contacted late last night it was by the person Shireen had risked her life for all those years ago. The words were simple, "Cat, I have lost a friend." Perhaps we all have - we just don't know it.

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