Israeli police attack funeral-goers, nearly toppling the coffin of Palestinian journalist
(JTA) — Israeli police armed with batons and stun grenades attacked mourners during an East Jerusalem funeral procession on Friday for Shireen Abu Akleh, the prominent Palestinian journalist who was killed by gunfire Wednesday during a clash in the occupied West Bank.
Video showing dozens of officers in helmets rushing the crowd and at one point nearly causing the pallbearers to drop the coffin, went viral on social media. It shows the officers beating some funeral-goers with nightsticks, and knocking at least one to the ground.
The police said they had rushed the funeral-goers because they “disrupted the public order” by throwing stones, and released video showing an empty plastic bottle and two other objects being thrown toward the officers just before they moved on the pallbearers.
Abu Akleh, 51, was born and raised Christian in Jerusalem, and had U.S. citizenship. She had been a correspondent for Al Jazeera for 25 years, and was well known throughout the Arab world for her brave reporting dating back to the violent second intifada in the early 2000s.
The funeral unraveled amid ongoing mystery and disputes about exactly how Abu Akleh was killed two days before as she covered an Israeli military raid in the Jenin refugee camp, and Palestinian protests of the operation.
The Israeli army released its preliminary investigation into the shooting on Friday, saying it is “not possible to unequivocally determine the source of the gunfire” that killed Abu Akleh.
The report said an Israeli soldier, firing from an armored vehicle with a telescopic sight, “fired a few bullets” at a Palestinian gunman near Abu Akleh that could have mistakenly hit her. “There is the possibility,” the statement said, that the journalist, who was standing behind the gunman, “was hit by the soldier’s fire.”
The army has also said she may have been hit, accidentally, by Palestinian fire, and that investigators need the bullet that killed her in order to determine for certain. But the Palestinian Authority has thus far refused to provide it.
Israeli leaders initially blamed Abu Akleh’s killing on Palestinian gunmen, but acknowledged within a day that Israeli forces may have been responsible. Biden administration officials have called for a robust investigation. President Joe Biden is due to visit Israel next month.
The killing happened early Wednesday, when Israeli troops were in the Jenin area to arrest Palestinians suspected of carrying out a spate of deadly attacks inside Israel in recent months. Clashes have continued there, and an Israeli police officer shot Friday by Palestinian protesters died of his wounds.
The officer, 47-year-old Noam Raz, was a member of a special anti-terror unit. At least 13 Palestinians were wounded, two of them critically, in the fighting in Jenin as well as in the nearby village of Burqin.
Thousands of people joined Abu Akleh’s funeral procession, which followed a memorial service in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Thursday in which Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas awarded her the Star of Jerusalem, an honor usually reserved for ministers or diplomats, and called her “a martyr for truth and for the free word.” She was to be buried next to her parents in a cemetery on Mount Zion.
The police attack on the funeral sparked immediate criticism.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said the video of the officers’ attack was “deeply disturbing,” adding: “We regret the intrusion into what should have been a peaceful procession.”
U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who is Palestinian-American, said it showed the “dehumanization” of Abu Akleh “continues after death.”
Esawi Frej, an Arab lawmaker and minister in the Israeli government tweeted that the police had “desecrated” her memory. “showed zero respect for the mourners” and produced “a needless flare-up.”
And the European Union’s delegation to the Palestinians said, also on Twitter, that it was “appalled by the violence” and “the level of unnecessary force” used by the police.