Shatha Hanaysha struggled to find the words to describe the moment her idol, Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, fell to the ground after being shot, just inches away from her.
“I just wanted to get to Shireen, to shake her, to find out if she was alive, but there was shooting all around me,” she told i.
“This is the first time I saw someone killed near me. It was hard for me, really.”
The moment was captured on video, showing Ms Hanysha, 29, a Palestinian freelance journalist, crouched against a wall and unable to reach Ms Abu Akleh’s lifeless body. The disturbing footage shows Ms Hanysha frozen in fear as more bullets are fired in their direction from her.
The two journalists were in the outskirts of Jenin in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday to report on an Israeli military raid. They both wore protective vests marked with the word “press”.
It was this protective gear that Ms Hanaysha thought would shield them from danger, as it was inconceivable to her that journalists would come under fire.
Her belief was so strong, that when Ms Abu Akleh dropped to the ground, Ms Hanaysha thought she simply tripped.
“I was waiting for her to come up, I saw her falling but I didn’t realize she had been shot,” she said.
“I tried to call her, to wake her. After some minutes I saw blood on the ground, and that’s when I screamed.”
Ms Abu Akleh, a highly respected journalist in Palestine whose unflinching coverage gained her millions of supporters from across the Middle East, died after she was shot in the head, the Palestinian health ministry said, sparking condemnation and an outpouring of grief from all over the world.
The 51 year-old became a household name synonymous with Al Jazeera’s coverage of life under occupation during her more than two decades reporting in the Palestinian territories. Ms Hanaysha remembers watching her on television during the second intifada, or uprising, that killed thousands of people, most of them Palestinians.
“She was my idol when I was a young small girl. I dreamt to grow up and become Shireen one day,” she said as she choked back tears.
“I don’t understand why my idol was killed in front of me.”
Ms Hanaysha said there is no doubt in her mind that Israeli soldiers had killed her role model, because there was no other direction the bullet was coming from except from their direction.
She said when she, Ms Abu Akleh and two other journalists – including Ali Samood, who was also injured in the incident – approached the area by car, they specifically stopped at a place where they could make themselves visible to Israeli forces, to make clear that they were members of the press.
Israel initially denied its forces had killed Ms Abu Akleh, saying she may have been killed by Palestinian fire during a shootout in Jenin. However, an official from the Israel Defense Force (IDF) told the Wall Street Journalon the condition of anonymity, that the Israeli military is investigating the possibility that one of its soldiers killed the veteran reporter.
Israeli raids in the West Bank have often sparked clashes and have brought the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces or armed civilians since the beginning of the year to at least 42.
Israeli police fought with Palestinian mourners packed around Ms Abu Akleh’s coffin at the start of her funeral procession in Jerusalem on Friday, where officers charged at the huge crowds and almost caused the group carrying her coffin to drop the casket.
Ms Hanaysha said she will always treasure the memories of working alongside Ms Abu Akleh, and that she returned to the site of her death on Friday to continue with her coverage “because that’s what Shireen would have done”.
“That morning she was very happy, she came to us and said good morning, I remember her last smile to us,” she said.
“I was always in awe of her, she was always kind and sweet.
“A lot of mothers of murdered Palestinian children went to the funeral to say goodbye, to tell the world that she stood by their murdered children. That’s the great thing about Shireen: she is alive with us all the time.”