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“Their Words Were As Dangerous As Bullets”

Shuruq As’ad discusses journalism during genocide
The ceiling of a shawarma restaurant in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, with Shireen looking over.
January 2024

Last November, Shuruq As’ad, a member of the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate, spoke to us about the challenges facing reporters in Gaza, how the news is produced, and the search for justice for the murder of Shireen Abu Akleh by the Israeli occupation. An extended version of this interview can be read in The Nation.

With almost everyone in Gaza currently displaced from their home, how are ordinary Gazans getting their news?

This is a very big challenge, and not just because of the displacement. You have around 66 media headquarters that have been bombed and 24 distribution networks that don’t work anymore. And in case you’re not familiar, most people in Gaza get their news from the radio because they don’t have televisions at home. But now, with most of the radio stations bombed, we’re looking for alternatives. For example, we’re trying to figure out if we can do a joint venture with BBC to get some time on the airwaves.

How would you characterize the way that western, and especially US, outlets have covered what is happening in Gaza since October?

Mainstream American outlets, ones that call themselves very professional in journalism, became spokespeople for the IDF after October 7. They really bought the story of the Israeli army about what happened that day, and it was a lie. They did not even cover the bases of simple, ethical journalism to make sure the information they delivered was accurate, and instead bought the story that Palestinians killed children and cut heads and burned and raped without any evidence. This was shocking to me. I knew that these outlets were never really accurate or two-sided [when covering Palestine] but with this it was even more clear. I remember at one point CNN embedded with the IDF to investigate whether soldiers were based in Al-Shifa hospital, which is very strange to me as a journalist who looks for facts. If Palestinians were ever in their coverage, it was a soundbite from Hamas taken from social media, something to help the IDF say that we are criminals.

The most dangerous thing they do is depict this war as beginning on the 7th of October. When they reported on Ukraine, they used to go back in history, twenty or even one hundred years. They did not do this in Palestine. They did not refer to any political ground or history. They were misleading people, and their words were as dangerous as bullets. Their coverage helped lead to the shooting of three Palestinian students studying the U.S. and the killing of a Palestinian-American child in Chicago.

There is one more point I want to make. We have 8,000 Palestinians in prison. Those people are kidnapped, too, from their homes, brutally. More than 2,800 have not had a fair trial. We have children, women, old people — nobody even sees them, not the Red Cross or even their families. Why does no one talk about them? CNN went to visit Israeli hostages after they’d been released — in their homes, in their rooms with their books, surrounded by their friends — but they did no stories about Palestinians released, as if those children in prison at age 12 and 13 were not human beings with their own stories to tell.

More than a year and a half after her death, we still do not know the identity of the soldier who killed Shireen Abu Akleh in May 2022. How do you think about pursuing justice in other similar cases in a court of law that has repeatedly failed to bring the killers of Palestinian journalists to justice?

We are so disappointed that no justice was served in our colleague’s case, after all the evidence and even after the UN said that Israel is responsible for her killing. We know that all the courts and human-rights organizations are usually under pressure from so many countries, especially the U.S. [in these cases]. But we cannot lose our faith. Human rights and international law — these have been grounds for us since the Nakba, tools that we refer to on our journey to freedom and an end to occupation. I really have faith that one day, we will be able to hold Israel responsible for the killing of Shireen, Yasser Murtaja, and others, even if it takes time.