The Current

Killing of Palestinian reporter is 'very big loss' for the people whose stories she told: UN official

Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed in the occupied West Bank town of Jenin on Wednesday.

Journalist Shireen Abu Akleh brought plight of refugees to the world: Tamara Alrifai

Shireen Abu Akleh is seen in this undated photo standing next to a TV camera with the Old City of Jerusalem in the background. (Al Jazeera Media Network/The Associated Press)

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The killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh will be "a very big loss" for the refugees whose stories she told, says a United Nations spokesperson who knew the veteran reporter.

"She brought the voice of Palestinians, including Palestine refugees, and their plight and their daily challenges to the world globally through Al Jazeera," said Tamara Alrifai, a senior spokesperson for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

"This is going to be a very big loss for UNRWA and a very big loss for Palestine refugees," she told The Current's Matt Galloway.

Abu Akleh was shot and killed Wednesday, while covering an Israeli military raid in the occupied West Bank town of Jenin. 

WATCH | Al Jazeera reporter killed during Israeli raid in West Bank

Al Jazeera reporter killed during Israeli raid in West Bank

11 days ago
Duration 2:28
Veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed while covering an Israeli military raid in the occupied West Bank town of Jenin.

Other reporters at the scene said they were fired on by Israeli forces, despite having made their presence known. Abu Akleh was wearing a flak jacket that clearly identified her as a journalist. Al Jazeera has accused Israel of deliberately killing her, and vowed to take legal action.

The Israel army initially suggested Abu Akleh might have been killed by stray Palestinian fire, but later walked back that suggestion, which was also discounted by Al Jazeera and an Israeli human rights group. The Current contacted the Israel Defense Ministry for an interview or comment, but did not receive a response.

Israel has carried out near-daily raids in the West Bank in recent weeks amid a wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Abu Akleh's death sparked an outpouring of grief and anger in the region and across social media. She had covered the region for almost three decades, since she became one of Al Jazeera's first field correspondents in the late 1990s. 

Alrifai said that over those years she "became the face and the voice of Palestinian news," who focused on the people she met, and put their stories in a political and historical context. 

"She really gave female war correspondents a brand, a name in the Middle East," she said.

Rania Zabaneh, a producer with Al Jazeera English in the West Bank, said she can't yet speak about Abu Akleh in the past tense.

"For many of us, it's still shocking. It's devastating. She was a friend, a colleague, a mentor and an idol," she said.

Shireen Abu Akleh's coffin is carried to a hospital in the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah on Thursday. (Mahmoud Illean/The Associated Press)

Abu Akleh inspired next generation: journalist

Fares Akram, a correspondent for the Associated Press, said that Abu Akleh was such a prominent figure that "kids would imitate the way she spoke on the TV."

"When she joined Al Jazeera more than two decades ago, I was still in high school and watching her encouraged me to become a journalist," he said.

Steve Hendrix, the Jerusalem bureau chief for The Washington Post, said Abu Akleh's impact has inspired a new generation of journalists, who will continue to tell the stories to which she dedicated her career.

"I'm constantly inspired and amazed by the number of young people who are fully aware of the complexities of doing journalism here," he told The Current

"It's a complicated story, and solutions are really, frankly, nowhere on the horizon. But I do feel like we can take heart that there are people who are going to be here telling it."

Alrifai said the work of the UNRWA will continue to push for media globally to tell those stories, and for the world to hear them. 

"We owe it to the Palestinian refugees themselves. We owe it to professional, credible journalists like Shireen to continue that mission."


Written by Padraig Moran, with files from the Associated Press. Produced by Howard Goldenthal, Ines Colabrese and Enza Uda.

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