Police to investigate clashes at Abu Akleh funeral

Clashes between police and Palestinian mourners packed around Abu Akleh's coffin occurred at the start of her funeral in Jerusalem on Friday.

 Police clash with mourners at the funeral of Shireen Abu Alkeh in Jerusalem on May 13, 2022 (photo credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)
Police clash with mourners at the funeral of Shireen Abu Alkeh in Jerusalem on May 13, 2022
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)

The Israel Police Commissioner in coordination with the Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev instructed on Saturday that an investigation be conducted regarding clashes that occurred during the funeral of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed during a gunfight between IDF special forces and armed Palestinians in Jenin. 

The findings of the investigation will be presented to the Commissioner in the coming days.

At the start of the Friday funeral procession in Jerusalem, masked police officers faced scores of flag-waving and chanting Palestinians in the compound of St. Joseph's Hospital in east Jerusalem, television footage showed.

Officers then charged the crowd, and at one point the group carrying her coffin backed against a wall and almost dropped the casket, recovering it just before one end hit the ground. 

The funeral in Jerusalem was interrupted after Israeli forces confiscated Palestinian flags hoisted by Palestinians at the funeral, held in a Jerusalem church near Jaffa Gate.

Six Palestinians were arrested during the funeral. Videos shared from the scene show Israeli forces using riot control methods such as batons and stun grenades on the Palestinian rioters.

 Family and friends carry the coffin of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed during an Israeli raid in Jenin in Jenin, May 13, 2022.  (credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD) Family and friends carry the coffin of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed during an Israeli raid in Jenin in Jenin, May 13, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)

A few minutes after the clashes with the police, her coffin was placed in a vehicle that headed toward the Cathedral of the Annunciation of the Virgin in Jerusalem's Walled Old City, where the ceremony proceeded peacefully.

According to the police, the group of Palestinians they described as rioters had begun throwing stones in the hospital compound and police officers were forced to act in order to ensure the safety of the funeral.

"Incitement and violent riots began in the hospital plaza both before and at the beginning of the funeral procession," the police spokesperson said.

"The rioters hurled stones and other objects toward the police officers who, in response, acted to disperse the riot. The officers arrested a handful of the rioters in order to allow the funeral to continue in a safe and lawful manner," the spokesperson said.

"The stones and objects were hurled at officers from rioters who were near the coffin at the hospital. These rioters damaged the funeral procession vehicle, even trying to prevent it from driving once the coffin was inside. The Israel Police operated to prevent the funeral's disruption and continuation as planned.

"Unfortunately, there are those who choose to cynically use the death of the journalist with ill intent. As of now, six suspects have been arrested who violated public order and attacked police officers both before and at the beginning of the funeral procession."

In a later statement, both Israel Police and Bar Lev claimed that they had coordinated police presence at the funeral with Abu Akleh's family. Police said that the rioters interrupted the otherwise peaceful event in order to "sabotage the ceremony and harm the police." However, in this follow-up, they make no mention of the alleged stone-throwing, but rather said that they had gone in to confiscate Palestinian flags being waved by rioters within the procession.

"As with any operational incident – and certainly an incident in which police officers are exposed to violence by rioters and had no choice but to use force – Israel Police will investigate the funeral procession, as well," the police statement read. "Israel Police backs its officers, but as a professional organization that is learning, it will work to draw lessons from the incident."

Abu Akleh, who had covered Palestinian affairs and the Middle East for more than two decades, was shot while reporting on an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday. Israel's government initially suggested Palestinian fire might have been to blame, but officials have also said they could not rule out the possibility that it was Israeli gunfire that killed her.

The clashes drew international condemnation.

"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," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote on Twitter.

"The EU condemns the disproportionate use of force and the disrespectful behavior by the Israeli police against the participants of the mourning procession," the EU said on its diplomatic service's website on Friday. "Allowing for a peaceful farewell and letting mourners grieve in peace without harassment and humiliation, is the minimal human respect."