image Photo: Reuters

Israel faces criticism over reporter’s funeral

Allegations of disproportionate force are being leveled at Jerusalem police for their handling of violence that erupted at the funeral of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

By Erin Viner

Thousands of Palestinians flooded the streets of east Jerusalem on Friday to escort Abu Akleh’s coffin, from the Saint Joseph Hospital to the Greek-Melkite Cathedral of the Annunciation of the Virgin for burial.

Abu Akleh, 51, was covering an arrest operation launched by the IDF amid a deadly wave of Arab terrorist attacks in Israel.  She was fatally shot on 11 May under disputed circumstances while covering a gunfight between Palestinian terrorists and IDF forces in Jenin. The Palestinian Authority (PA) refused Israel’s offer to conduct a dual investigation to determine culpability for her death and denied Jerusalem the opportunity to conduct joint forensic examination of her body or the bullet that killed her. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of assassinating Abu Akleh and demanded an international response; while Israeli leaders have denied that she was targeted, but that without evidence it is impossible to establish whether she may have been accidentally shot by a soldier or a Palestinian gunman during the firefight.

Israel has pointed to video released by Palestinians in Jenin at the time of the incident at the time of the incident in which they are heard boasting after firing into an alley, “We hit a soldier.” (Click here to see the video).  The IDF said that because no Israeli troops were injured that day, the gunmen might have been referring to Abu Akleh, who was wearing a protective helmet and flak jacket.

The funeral began in St. Joseph’s courtyard, where many of the mourners waved Palestinian flags while shouting, “With our soul and our blood, we will redeem you, Shireen.” Video footage shows Israeli police warning that they would enter the hospital complex unless the flags were removed and the chanting of violent threats was ceased.

According to a police statement, riot officers intervened after orders to return the casket to the hearse were refused by a mob who intended to parade it through the streets. After being attacked with glass bottles and other objects, said the police in a Twitter post, forces entered the hospital compound to stop the ensuing riot.

Images of police sparked widespread outcry for the use of batons and other crowd-dispersal means against the rioters, who were seen nearly dropping the coffin.

An organization representing 12 Christian denominations released a statement yesterday condemning actions by Israeli riot police as an “invasion and disproportionate use of force, attacking mourners, striking them with batons, using smoke grenades, shooting rubber bullets, frightening the hospital patients, is a severe violation… of the fundamental human right of freedom of religion, which must be observed in a public space.”

Israeli leaders have long maintained that the freedom of worship is ensured for all religions throughout the Jewish State.

While blaming violence by “hundreds of rioters” for the confrontation, Israeli police have launched an investigation into the incident.

The Al Jazeera journalist was a Palestinian Christian who held American citizenship through her mother.

In a carefully-worded statement on Twitter, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken commented on the matter, saying, “We were deeply troubled by the images of Israeli police intruding into the funeral procession of Palestinian American Shireen Abu Akleh. Every family deserves to lay their loved ones to rest in a dignified and unimpeded manner.”