Israel to investigate police actions during journalist's funeral amid widespread international condemnation
Police state that violence began when a group of Palestinians sought to take the casket on their own against the family's wishes
Israeli police will launch an investigation into police actions that marred the funeral of an Al Jazeera reporter in Jerusalem on Friday despite an earlier statement defending police actions.
“The Israel Police supports its police officers, but as a professional organization that seeks to learn and improve, it will also draw lessons from the incident,” police said in a statement on Saturday.
Scenes from the funeral, which were broadcast around the world, showed police charging rioters and beating pall bearers with batons. Later at Jaffa Gate, more violence erupted as police barricaded the entrance to the church where Abu Akleh’s funeral was conducted. Several people were arrested and many injured.
Late Friday night, the police department issued a statement saying that officers intervened because rioters tried to interrupt the procession. Police released a video of officers being met with rocks thrown from under Abu Akleh’s coffin when they arrived.
Rioters hiding near and under the coffin after throwing stones and other objects at Israel Police officers in Jerusalem pic.twitter.com/SpnxM0uLre— Israel Police (@israelpolice) May 13, 2022
“About 300 rioters arrived at Saint Joseph hospital in Jerusalem and prevented the family members from loading the coffin onto the hearse,” police said in a statement late Friday night. “The mob threatened the driver of the hearse and then proceeded to carry the coffin on an unplanned procession. This went against the wishes of the Abu Akleh family and the security coordination.”
“Police intervened to disperse the mob and prevent them from taking the coffin, so that the funeral could proceed as planned in accordance with the wishes of the family,” the statement said.
Nevertheless, the actions drew widespread international condemnation. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the administration was “troubled by the images of Israeli police intruding into the funeral procession.”
“Every family deserves to lay their loved ones to rest in a dignified and unimpeded manner,” he tweeted.
Abu Akleh, 51, was born in Jerusalem and also held American citizenship.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the images were “deeply disturbing,” and U.S. President Joe Biden called for an investigation. The European Union said it was “appalled.”
Abu Akleh’s brother, Tony, seemed to contradict the police statement in an interview with BBC, saying the family planned a “small procession” but were “bombarded” by police in riot gear as they left the hospital.
“It is really very sad to see this happening at a funeral. We were hoping to have a small procession from the hospital to the church and then to the cemetery,” he said. “But unfortunately, the minute we started walking out of the hospital we were bombarded by several Israeli police, and just for nothing. We were just leaving the hospital for the church. We were shocked to see them just starting beating people, throwing stun grenades, tear gas. All this – we cannot explain it. This happened without any explanation.”
Tony said that authorities asked for the identities of the mourners expected ahead of the funeral.
“They were clearly informed that we are not in a position to know the numbers. This funeral was for all the Palestinian people, not only for Shireen’s family or friends. They are paying respects for what she did for Palestine, for her reports over a period of 25 years,” he said.
But a Washington Post article appears to corroborate the fact that officers were trying to restrain Palestinians at the hospital from taking Abu Akleh’s casket on a march to the Old City rather than in the hearse as had been agreed upon. According to the Post, Tony reportedly sought to calm the crowd and have them return his sister’s body.
“For God’s sake, let us put her in the car and finish the day,” he was quoted as saying.
Internal Security Minister Omer Barlev said the police acted properly and in coordination with Abu Akleh’s family “with a clear understanding of the sensitivity and complexity of the incident.”
“Unfortunately, during the funeral, serious violent incidents developed on the part of the participants, which worsened the situation on the ground,” he said.
However, criticism of police actions is coming from within the department as well, according to a report on Channel 12. One source told the TV network that the Jerusalem commanders should not have obstructed the procession with consideration to the international implications.
“Even if Palestinian flags were raised and anti-Israel cries were heard, and even if some stones were thrown, the event commanders had to consider their steps carefully before ordering the police to break in with batons and reach as far as the pall bearers,” the source said.
It was estimated that 10,000 mourners gathered to pay respects to Abu Akleh. During the procession of her casket from the Greek Melkite church near Jaffa Gate inside the Old City to the Mount Zion cemetery, all of the Old City churches rang their bells for the Palestinian Christian woman – a rare show of unity between the denominations.
Nicole Jansezian was the news editor and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS.