Talia Kainan

How to sell the spectacle

For many weeks, we have seen hundreds of articles detailing the case of Ms. Shireen Abu Akleh’s death. The circumstances of her demise, the handling of the funeral, the various investigations, and the larger questions the case poses regarding freedom of press in Israel. Each of these subjects were widely covered by the news agencies and outlets of the world. There isn’t a professional in the game nowadays that doesn’t know her name – and the public statements made in that name following her tragic death.

This case is not remarkable in its complexity, nor in the interest it piqued among high profile figures – but rather it is remarkable in the media management performed by the family of the deceased. The Abu Akleh family members’ recent media presence represents a recently developed skill among many Palestinians – personal promotion of an issue, using the media.

This is a skill we have seen before – notably, by Ahed Tamimi, infamous for her imprisonment after assaulting an IDF soldier. Understanding the press is a valuable skill. Understanding how to promote your personal story in the media, without seeming “cheap” or a “sellout”, is even more valuable.

This is a skill Israelis often fail to develop, and has long been held by Palestinians. The core question in the Abu Akleh case is about freedom of press – was Shireen Abu Akleh shot because of her role as a journalist, or despite that role? Does Israel intentionally suppress and silence reporters, or is there room for State protected criticism?

The Abu Akleh family has insisted that Shireen’s death was intentional, repeating that it was an execution, that Shireen met her demise because of her criticism of the IDF and Israel.

However, The IDF has claimed in its public statements from the first moment that in any case, no IDF soldier would purposely shoot at a journalist. It is up to every reader to decide whether they have faith in that statement.

However, they have also emphasized that they view with great importance freedom of press. This is a direct transference of values from the State of Israel, which holds these views as well.

If Israel did not care about journalists, it would not have gone to such great lengths – public statements by the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defense, and the Chief of General Staff publicly displaying every step of the investigation – while handling the case – and expressing condolences over Abu Akleh’s death. These statements reflect the values the leader of Israeli establishments wish to strengthen at the time, echoed on Twitter and press releases.

It would seem then, that Israel cares a great deal about the press. Freedom of Press is a long-standing value for the State of Israel, as for many other liberal establishments. The battlefield is the realm of uncertainty – and the battlefields in the Palestinian territories are no different – mistakes happen, and they are tragic. However, it is incorrect to assume from one tragic event Israel’s stance on liberal values, Freedom of Press among them.

About the Author
Talia is currently a law student at Hebrew University and served in the International Branch of the IDF Spokesperson's Unit. Born and raised in Jerusalem.
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