Ramallah, occupied West Bank – Shireen Abu Akleh’s radiant smile and compassionate face greeted and escorted the hundreds of attendees from the entrance into the Ramallah Cultural Palace to their seats.
The 700-seat auditorium was full on Tuesday night for the event organised by the Popular Art Center (PAC), a Ramallah-based Palestinian cultural organisation, whose board Shireen sat on.
Large banners and pictures of the slain Al Jazeera reporter in memorable moments throughout her 51-year life lead the audience into a poignant yet painful memorial ceremony held two days before the first anniversary of her killing.
A number of Palestinian political, religious and cultural leaders, including Atallah Hanna, the head of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, as well as ministers from the Palestinian Authority, were in attendance.
The audience was taken on a beautifully executed journey of traditional and contemporary song and dance performances dedicated to Shireen, as well as statements made by her family, friends, and colleagues, that left many in tears.
“It was a very remarkable, moving and sad event – it was as though she left us today, not a year ago,” attendee Vivienne al-Dalou, who came with her young daughter, told Al Jazeera.
“We came because it is part of keeping Shireen’s memory alive. All she has given us and Palestine cannot be forgotten and will remain in our hearts. Until now, we are very affected by her killing. She is a martyr who left us too soon, and she will remain an icon,” said al-Dalou.
Shireen was a veteran reporter from Jerusalem who was shot dead by an Israeli soldier on May 11, 2022, while clearly identified in a press vest and helmet and reporting on an Israeli army raid on the Jenin refugee camp in the northern occupied West Bank.
She was a household name throughout Palestine and the Arab world for more than 20 years while working as an Al Jazeera Arabic TV correspondent covering the Israeli occupation.
“During this year, we passed through many phases and challenges in order to try and achieve the justice for Shireen that so many have been waiting for,” Tony Abu Akleh, Shireen’s brother, said on stage.
“Not merely justice for the assassination of Shireen, but for the assassination of every Palestinian at the hands of the brutal occupation, that is unfortunately accustomed to this kind of arrogance without accountability,” he continued.
Iman Hammouri, PAC director, gave an emotional statement along with Walid al-Omari, the head of the Al Jazeera Palestine office, and Rula Muzaffar, who was a close friend of Shireen’s.
“A year has passed with your colleagues and I drowning in the heartbreak of separation,” al-Omari said. “A year, and you have not left us for a second. We mention you and remember you in every situation, place and time.”
Along Shireen’s path
Heavy applause and standing ovations were given for a number of performances, including a song dedicated to Shireen by the Edward Said National Conservatory Daughters of Jerusalem orchestra, and performances of the dabkeh – a traditional Arab form of dance – by different troupes.
A special dance number was performed by the students of the PAC who held up candles and danced around Shireen’s press jacket hanging from the ceiling to a song of hope and love dedicated to the slain reporter.
Iman Hammouri, who was also a close friend of Shireen’s, told Al Jazeera Shireen was someone who “considered art and culture was a way of sending a message to the world, in the same way that journalism and media do”.
“Shireen was one of the people who was really involved in the centre. No matter how busy she was, she would do things like greet the artists who were coming from abroad to perform at our festivals at the Jordanian border when they arrived – in all modesty,” said Hammouri.
“She was always very encouraging of youth, pushing them to dance dabkeh and to participate in competitions. That is why the students wanted to dedicate a number to her, because they really felt her absence. In an ode to her loyalty to the centre, we thought that the least we could do is to revive her memory,” she continued.
Shireen’s killing was a national tragedy that sent shockwaves throughout Palestine, the Arab world, and internationally. Her funeral procession in May 2022 extended over three days, from Jenin to Jerusalem, and was one of the longest processions in Palestinian history – with tens of thousands of people participating, in a testament to the outpouring of grief and respect for the slain journalist.
Events surrounding the anniversary of her killing began on Sunday, with a memorial mass organised by her family and friends at the al-Liqaa Melkite Greek Catholic Church in Beit Hanina, occupied East Jerusalem.
On May 11 – the day she was killed last year – the Ramallah Municipality along with the Al Jazeera Media Network will lay the cornerstone for the Shireen Abu Akleh Press Museum.
Palestinian political and civil society leader Khalida Jarrar who attended the ceremony on Tuesday told Al Jazeera, “Shireen’s words always gave me a strong push of support when I was in Israeli prisons – she was one of the first people I would see at my military court hearings.”
“The message today is that the people are continuing along Shireen’s path. Shireen’s body may be gone, but she is with us in every event, happening and detail that may occur. I think it is difficult for our people to forget someone like Shireen.”