Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

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Abu Dhabi, UAE CNN  — 

Veteran Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was a household name in the Arab world.

For two and a half decades, she chronicled the suffering of Palestinians under Israeli occupation for tens of millions of Arab viewers.

Abu Akleh, 51, was shot dead in the West Bank on Wednesday as she reported on Israeli military raids in the city of Jenin. Her producer was also shot and is in stable condition.

Her employer, Al Jazeera, decried her death as “a blatant murder” by Israeli forces. Three eyewitnesses told CNN that the journalists were shot by Israeli troops and that there were no Palestinian militants immediately near to the journalists. The Israeli military’s Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi said it is “not possible” yet to determine which direction she was shot from, promising an investigation. Earlier, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett claimed “there is a significant possibility” that she was shot by Palestinian crossfire.

Abu Akleh joined Al Jazeera a year after it was established in 1997, at the age of 26. The channel became pivotal for television journalism in the Arab world for its round-the-clock, breaking coverage of pan-Arab issues. It was controversial in the West and in the Middle East alike for airing interviews with unsavory figures like Osama bin Laden and Arab opposition figures.

But Al Jazeera’s biggest pull for audiences was arguably its coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It raised eyebrows in the Arab world by becoming the first major pan-Arab news outlet to label Israel on a map and for giving airtime to Israeli officials at a time when the vast majority of Arab nations didn’t recognize the Jewish state. But it also didn’t shy away from covering minute details of Palestinian suffering, often angering Israel.

Abu Akleh became the face of that coverage at home and around the region. She covered the Gaza wars of 2008, 2009, 2012, 2014 and 2021 as well as the 2006 war in Lebanon, according to Al Jazeera.

“I will never forget the magnitude of destruction or the feeling that death was sometimes close,” Abu Akleh said of her coverage of Israel’s 2002 incursion into the West Bank in a video published by Al Jazeera in October.

“We used to sleep in hospitals or under the roofs of people we did not know, and despite the danger, we were determined to keep reporting,” she said.

Givara Budeiri, a fellow Al Jazeera journalist who had known Abu Akleh for more than two decades, told CNN that her friend was a very brave journalist, but she had a crippling fear of heights.

“Shireen never shied away from covering any event,” said Budeiri. “She never feared anything, except for standing at the top of a high building.”

She recalled that Abu Akleh would say that if she hadn’t taken up journalism, her career of choice would be to run a shelter for stray animals.

Palestinian writer Mariam Barghouti tweeted that she recalled Abu Akleh’s “voice echoing in the house as she covered the brutality of a military invasion” when she was a child. The Al Jazeera reporter was the only journalist to cover her own arrest by soldiers, Barghouti wrote.

Abu Akleh was born in Jerusalem in 1971 to Christian Palestinian parents from Bethlehem, according to Al Jazeera. After graduating, she studied architecture at the University of Science and Technology in Jordan, then moved to study journalism. She obtained her bachelor’s degree from Yarmouk University in Jordan.

Before joining Al Jazeera, she worked at Voice of Palestine Radio, Amman Satellite Channel, the Miftah Foundation, and France’s Radio Monte Carlo. She also worked with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, according to Al Jazeera.

“Every house … inside Palestine or outside of Palestine, is mourning Shireen because she is our voice to the world,” said Terry Bullata, a friend and former schoolmate of Abu Akleh. “She is the voice of our suffering under the occupation. She is the voice of our aspiration for freedom.”

Akleh said she had chosen journalism to be “close to the people.” At the time of her death, she was learning Hebrew to understand Israeli media narratives better, Al Jazeera said.

“In difficult times, I overcame fear,” Abu Akleh said in the October video. “It may be difficult to change reality, but at least I managed to bring that voice to the world.”

Additional reporting from Abeer Salman in Jerusalem

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