'She Taught Me How to Be A Journalist,' Young Journalist Reflects On Reporting Shireen Abu Akleh’s Killing
May 11 2023

I never quite understood the concept of having a role model. Why would people be so attached to a person they never met?

It was not until May 11, 2022, that I understood — the day the world lost Shireen Abu Akleh. On that day, I also lost a role model and a distant voice of reason.

Without recognizing it, Shireen taught me all about journalism before I stepped foot in a university.

I paid attention to her strength when she resisted Israeli forces, preventing her from doing her job. I carefully listened to her calming voice narrating the stories of millions of Palestinians living under the Israeli Occupation of Palestine.

When I was a teenager, I would read out passages from Arabic newspapers, trying to imitate Shireen’s narration style.

Ten years later, I found myself at the news desk reporting Shireen’s killing. As a journalist who writes thousands of words on a daily basis, that day, all words failed me.

I was an hour into my news shift in Doha, I was scanning feeds, looking for local stories to cover. My Twitter feed was filled with images of Shireen, but it did not occur to me that something had happened to her.

When I refreshed my feed, more images of Shireen flooded my screen. Something inside me was holding me back from reading the tweets and processing the words. Eventually, I began to read.

“Israeli forces killed Shireen Abu Akleh.”

A wave of denial struck me. I informed my editor to get her approval to begin writing the news piece for our website.

I cried as I wrote, tears falling on my keyboard. It was as if I had lost a dear friend.

When I arrived at the office, viral footage of Shireen getting shot kept replaying in my mind. Al Jazeera was playing on the TV at the office. The channel aired some of Shireen’s past news packages.

It was at that moment that I realized Shireen's voice will only be heard from pre-recorded news reports and that I would never see her grace the television screen reporting live again.

Growing up, I thought of Shireen as the face of journalism and Palestine. I only knew journalism through her and could not imagine it without her.

I often felt as if she was holding my hand, guiding me through my professional journey — from high school to university and my current work as a journalist.

The moment she departed this world, I felt her hand let go of mine, leaving behind nothing but memories of her and the journalistic legacy that I only hope to follow.

While I cannot point to a specific time when I began perceiving her as a role model, all I can remember is being starstruck as I watched Al Jazeera for hours, sitting next to jeddo (my grandfather)  as young as the age of five.

Like any Palestinian household, Al Jazeera was always playing in the background at my late grandfather’s house. He only ever grabbed the TV remote to raise the volume whenever Shireen appeared on the screen.

Her voice was the only one that mattered to him.

When jeddo left this world 12 years ago, I found myself still glued to the screen, set at the loudest volume whenever Shireen was reporting. What would my grandfather have felt had he witnessed the cold-blooded killing of Shireen?

Perhaps the pain I felt is attributed not only to the loss of Shireen but also the loss of the memories I shared with jeddo, who taught me all about Palestine by telling me stories about his hometown, al-Lydd.

The image of Shireen that nests in my memories are of her light blue button-down shirt and her short hair, which perfectly framed her expressive, humble features.

Whenever I met someone from Al Jazeera in Doha, I asked if they had ever met her, curious about their personal interactions with her and her personality away from the camera.

I often imagined my own interactions with her; what advice would she give me while we sipped a cup of coffee?

These were mere scenarios in my head.

Coincidentally, I had tried requesting an interview with her a year before she was killed, and I keep regretting not fighting to speak to her, even if it was in a virtual forum.

I only got to see a glimpse of her vibrancy through memories shared by her family and friends. And through clips shared on social media, I empathized with her lifelong colleagues, Givara Budeiri and Najwan Simri, as they bid farewell to Shireen.

How can one ever cope with such a great loss?

As I listened to Shireen’s reports over the past week playing on repeat on Al Jazeera as it marked the one-year anniversary of her murder, the emotions I had felt the day I found out about her death hit me all at once.

But even if her soundbites are not playing near me, I still see Shireen in different moments through my work. Whether it is through the news scripts I write before standing in front of the camera, the tone I choose to use when reporting in the field, or in my coverage of the region, particularly of Palestine.

The last time she used her famous sign-off may have been her farewell to the screen, to us… But her legacy lives on. Shireen continues to be an immortal force in my life and a voice of reason that accompanies me as I progress through my career in journalism.

I will forever proudly say that Shireen Abu Akleh was and remains my role model.

About The Author: 

Asmahan Qarjouli is a young Palestinian-Jordanian journalist based in Doha, Qatar. Her reporting primarily focuses on foreign affairs and culture in the MENA region and beyond while amplifying the voices of marginalized communities. She often explores unique angles of cultural stories that merge history and politics, including Arab pop culture. Her interests also include crisis and conflict reporting.

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