JERUSALEM — Israeli riot police on Friday pushed and beat pallbearers at the funeral for slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, causing them to briefly drop the casket in a shocking start to a procession that turned into perhaps the largest display of Palestinian nationalism in Jerusalem in a generation.
Continue reading: Here’s What We Know About Shireen Abu Akleh, Al Jazeera Journalist.
These scenes were sure to increase the outrage and grief felt across the Arab World following the murder of Abu Akleh. Witnesses claim that he was shot by Israeli soldiers during an attack in the occupied West Bank. They also illustrated the deep sensitivities over east Jerusalem — which is claimed by both Israel and the Palestinians and has sparked repeated rounds of violence.
Abu Akleh, 51, was a household name across the Arab world, synonymous with Al Jazeera’s coverage of life under Israeli rule, which is well into its sixth decade with no end in sight. As a veteran satellite channel broadcaster for 25 years, she is remembered by Palestinians and was considered a national hero.
Thousands of people, many waving Palestinian flags and chanting “Palestine! Palestine!” attended the funeral. The funeral was the largest Palestinian one in Jerusalem since Faisal Hasseini died in 2001. He was a leader in Palestine and a scion in a wealthy family.
Before the burial began, large numbers of mourners gathered to transport her casket from the east Jerusalem hospital to the Catholic Church in the Old City. Many of the mourners held Palestinian flags, and the crowd began shouting, “We sacrifice our soul and blood for you, Shireen.”
Israel police quickly moved in and started pushing and clubbing the mourners. They approached pallbearers and hit them. The casket fell to the ground as one of the men lost control. Police ripped Palestinian flags out of people’s hands and fired stun grenades to disperse the crowd.
Abu Akleh’s brother, Tony, said the scenes “prove that Shireen’s reports and honest words … had a powerful impact.”
Givara Budieri, Al Jazeera’s correspondent said that police tactics were like killing Abu Akleh. “It seems her voice isn’t silent,” she said during a report by the broadcaster.
East Jerusalem, home to the city’s most important Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites, was captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. The Israeli government claims Jerusalem as the eternal capital, and it has annexed East Jerusalem in an international move not recognised internationally.
Palestinians consider east Jerusalem the capital for a future independent country. Israel regularly clamps down against any support for Palestinian statehood. The conflicting claims to east Jerusalem often spill over into violence, helping fuel an 11-day war between Israel and Gaza militants last year and more recently sparking weeks of unrest at the city’s most sensitive holy site.
Except for prayers at Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, Israel does not allow large Palestinian gatherings to take place in East Jerusalem. It also routinely bans any support of a Palestinian state.
Police said the crowd at the hospital was chanting “nationalist incitement,” ignored calls to stop and threw stones at them. “The policemen were forced to act,” police said. They issued a video in which a commander outside the hospital warns the crowd that police will come in if they don’t stop their incitement and “nationalist songs.”
An Israeli official said the details of the funeral had been coordinated with the family ahead of time to ensure it would run smoothly, but that “masses began gathering around the hearse of Shireen Abu Akleh and chaos ensued,” preventing the procession from going along its intended route. According to regulations, the official spoke under anonymity.
Continue reading: The Problems With Israel’s Version of the Killing of Reporter Shireen Abu Akleh
Earlier this week, Abu Akleh’s brother said the original arrangement was to move the casket in a hearse from the hospital to the church, and that after the service, it would be carried through the streets to the cemetery. Although it was unclear why the plans changed, pallbearers were seen leaving the hospital with the casket.
Al Jazeera said in a statement that the police action “violates all international norms and rights.”
“Israeli occupation forces attacked those mourning the late Shireen Abu Akhleh after storming the French hospital in Jerusalem, where they severely beat the pallbearers,” it said. It stated that the network will continue to cover news as it is committed and unaffected.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the images “deeply disturbing.”
The focus should be “marking the memory of a remarkable journalist who lost her life,” Psaki said. “We regret the intrusion into what should have been a peaceful procession.”
During a Rose Garden event, U.S. President Joe Biden was asked whether he condemns the Israeli police actions at the funeral, and he replied: “I don’t know all the details, but I know it has to be investigated.”
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “was deeply disturbed by the confrontations between Israeli security forces and Palestinians gathered at St. Joseph Hospital, and the behavior of some police present at the scene,” according to a statement from his deputy spokesman, Farhan Haq.
Later, Israeli police escorted a casket in black van to the church and removed Palestinian flags from the vehicle.
“We die for Palestine to live!” crowds chanted. “Our beloved home!”
Later, they sang the Palestinian national anthem and chanted “Palestine, Palestine!” before her body was buried in a cemetery outside the Old City.
The grave of the deceased was decorated with flowers and a Palestinian flag. The Palestinian ambassador to the U.K., Husam Zomlot, and Al Jazeera’s bureau chief, Walid Al-Omari, placed flowers on the grave.
Salah Zuheika, a 70-year-old Palestinian, called Abu Akleh “the daughter of Jerusalem,” and said the huge crowds were a “reward” for her love of the city.
“We already miss her, but what had happened today in the city will not be forgotten,” he said.
Abu Akleh belonged to the tiny Palestinian Christian community of the Holy Land. As a sign of unity, Palestinian Christians marched with Muslims alongside each other Friday.
During an Israeli military raid on Jenin, West Bank, she was hit in the head. The circumstances surrounding the shooting are still unclear.
While the Palestinians claim she was killed by army fire, the Israeli military claimed that her death occurred during a firefight with Palestinian militants. The Israeli military said without ballistic analysis that it was unable to determine the cause of her death.
“The conclusion of the interim investigation is that it is not possible to determine the source of the fire that hit and killed the reporter,” the military said.
Israel demanded a joint investigation by the Palestinian Authority, and that the bullet be handed over for analysis. This will allow Israel to identify who was responsible for the fatal shot. The PA refused and stated that it will carry out its own investigation.
Abu Akleh was accompanied by several reporters, one of whom was wounded and another who was injured. They said that there had been no fighting or militants within the immediate vicinity. The protective gear they were wearing clearly identified them all as reporters.
Continue reading: Israel-Palestine exists in a state of permanent conflict, punctuated by periodic carnage. Only the Watching World can stop it
Al Jazeera and PA have long had tensions with Israel. They accuse Israel for deliberately killing Abu Akleh. Israel refutes the allegations.
Right groups claim that Israel doesn’t follow through with its investigations of the murders of Palestinians perpetrated by its security forces, and only occasionally punishes them harshly. The case of Abu Akleh, who was well-known in the United States and a citizen, attracted a lot of attention.
In recent weeks, deadly Palestinian attacks on Israel were carried out by militants from Jenin and surrounding areas. Israel launched almost daily raids to arrest the suspects.
Israeli forces pushed back into Jenin on Friday. This sparked renewed fighting.
According to the Palestinian Health Ministry 13 Palestinians had been injured. According to the Israeli military, Palestinians fired upon its troops’ attempts to capture suspected militants. According to police, a member of an elite commando force in Israel was shot and killed.
— Associated Press reporters Majdi Mohammed in Jenin, West Bank, Fares Akram in Hamilton, Ontario, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed.
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