JERUSALEM — Shireen Abu Akleh originally studied to be an architect, but saw no future for himself in the field. So she decided to go into journalism instead and become one of the best-known Palestinian journalists.
“I chose journalism to be close to the people,” she said in a short film shared by Al Jazeera shortly after she was killed by gunfire in the West Bank on Wednesday. “It may not be easy to change reality, but at least I was able to bring their voice to the world.”
A Palestinian American, Mrs. Abu Akleh, 51, was a familiar face on the Al Jazeera network, where she spent 25 years reporting and making her name amid the violence of the Palestinian uprising known as the second intifada, which shocked Israel and the occupied population. West Bank as of 2000.
She was shot in the head in the West Bank city of Jenin, Al Jazeera and the Palestinian health ministry said, blaming Israeli forces for her death. The Israeli military further said: Twitter that “Palestinian armed gunfire” could have been responsible.
Mohammed Daraghmeh, the Ramallah bureau chief for the Arabic-language news channel Asharq News, who was friends with Ms Abu Akleh for many years, said she remained committed to all issues affecting the Palestinians, large and small.
He last spoke to her two days earlier, he said Wednesday, and told her that he didn’t think the events in Jenin were important enough for a senior journalist like her to report.
“But she went anyway,” he said. “She covered the story as it should.”
It wasn’t the biggest or political stories that most interested Ms. Abu Akleh, but the smaller ones that showed how people lived, said Wessam Hammad, a news producer at Al Jazeera who has worked with her for 17 years. He said she would see a story where others wouldn’t.
“Sometimes I’d say, ‘No, Shireen forget it, it’s not a big story.'” he said. “But she would always think about so many different angles of how we could do it, and how we could make it a very human and a very moving story about Palestinians that no other journalist would ever think to do.”
Born in Jerusalem to a Catholic family, Ms. Abu Akleh studied in Jordan and obtained a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She spent time in the United States when she was younger and obtained U.S. citizenship through maternal relatives, who lived in New Jersey, friends and colleagues said.
Al Jazeera said that after graduating from college, she worked for a variety of media outlets, including Voice of Palestine radio and the Amman Satellite Channel, before joining Al Jazeera in 1997. She quickly became a household name among Palestinians and Arabs in the Middle East, inspiring many to follow her path.
Her live television coverage and autographs became iconic for those who wanted to follow her lead, said Dalia Hatuqa, a Palestinian-American journalist and friend of Ms. Abu Akleh.
“I know a lot of girls who grew up actually standing in front of a mirror and holding their hair brushes and pretending to be Shireen,” Ms. Hatuqa said. “Her presence was so enduring and important.”
Among them was her 27-year-old niece, Lina Abu Akleh. As a young girl, she took her aunt’s written reports and recited them into her pink Barbie phone.
“I’ve always told her, ‘I don’t know if I have the courage and strength that you have,’ and she would say it’s not easy, it’s a very hard job,” said Lina Abu Akleh.
Her death also illustrated the dangers Palestinian journalists face in carrying out their jobs, whether in the occupied West Bank, Gaza or Israel, she said.
In a 2017 interview with Palestinian television channel An-Najah NBC, she was asked if she was ever afraid of being shot.
“Of course I’m scared,” she said. “At some point you forget that fear. We don’t kill ourselves. We’re going and we’re trying to figure out where to stand and how to protect the team with me before I think about how I’m going to get on screen and what I’m going to say. †
The Palestinian Authority ambassador to Britain, Husam Zomlot, called her the “most prominent Palestinian journalist”.
The Abu Akleh family became widely known in Palestinian society because of Ms. Abu Akleh.
“Everyone knows who Shireen is,” said her cousin, Fadi Abu Akleh. “Every time I introduce myself, people ask me, ‘How is Shireen related to you?'”
She lived in Ramallah, the West Bank and Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, she lived with her brother and his family, including two nieces and a nephew, to whom she was very devoted, her cousin said.
“She was my best friend, my second mother, my traveling companion,” said Lina Abu Akleh. “She was my everything.”
Their last trip together was to New York to spend the Christmas holidays with family in the United States.
Ms. Abu Akleh recently spent several weeks in the United States and returned to Ramallah about a month ago. But she never seems to have seriously considered living in the United States, Daraghmeh said.
Al Jazeera once sent her to the United States to work. After three months she returned to Ramallah.
“When she came back, she said, ‘I can breathe now. Everything in the US is technical and complicated,'” recalled Mr. Daraghmeh. “Life is simple here. I love Palestine. I want to stay here.”
A state funeral procession was held Thursday in the West Bank city of Ramallah, departing from the presidential headquarters and in the presence of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
She will be buried Friday in Jerusalem in a cemetery next to her mother.
“Shireen was a pioneer,” Ms. Hatuqa said. “I’m just sad she won’t be there to continue leading this industry.”
Raja Abdulrahim message from Jerusalem, and Ben Hubbard from Doha, Qatar. Hiba Yazbek contributed reporting from Nazareth, Israel. Kitty Bennett research contributed.