Jerusalem clergy: Israeli police 'violently intruded' Abu Akleh's funeral

The police attacked "mourners, striking them with batons, using smoke grenades, shooting rubber bullets [and] frightening the hospital patients."

 Spiritual leaders attend a news conference regarding the funeral of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed during an Israeli raid in Jenin in the West Bank, in Jerusalem, May 16, 2022. (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
Spiritual leaders attend a news conference regarding the funeral of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed during an Israeli raid in Jenin in the West Bank, in Jerusalem, May 16, 2022.
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)

Israeli police "violently" attacked the pallbearers at the funeral of slain Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and "stormed" St. Joseph's Hospital in advance of the funeral, family members, Catholic bishops, diplomats, and hospital representatives said on Monday.

“We, the Bishops and the faithful of the Christian Churches in the Holy Land, hereby, condemn the violent intrusion of the Israeli Police into a funeral procession,” the clergymen said in a statement released at a news conference that included the participation of Latin Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa.

“The police stormed into a Christian health institute, disrespecting the Church... the health institute... and the memory of the deceased and forcing the pallbearers almost to drop the coffin,” they said.

The police’s “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,” the statement said.

Press conference participants and Abu Akleh family members who were at St. Joseph’s Hospital on Monday disputed the police’s contention that officers had acted on behalf of the Abu Akleh family to prevent rioters from forcibly parading the coffin through the streets of Jerusalem during Friday’s funeral, which began in the hospital courtyard.

 Victor, Lisa an Lina Abu Akleh at St. Joseph's Hospital on Monday. (credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF) Victor, Lisa an Lina Abu Akleh at St. Joseph's Hospital on Monday. (credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)

Abu Akleh had east Jerusalem residency and US citizenship through her mother, who was buried at the Mount Zion cemetery. The funeral procession, which was attended by thousands, was marred by violent clashes at St. Joseph’s Hospital.

Video footage showed police using their batons to beat mourners, including family members and pallbearers, almost causing the casket to fall to the ground. Those actions have been widely condemned.

St. Joseph’s Hospital on Monday released additional video footage that showed police actions in the parking lot and their entry into the hospital, also with batons.

Those who interacted with the police at the time of the funeral said the issue was the presence of Palestinian flags and Palestinian nationalistic chants.

Among the chants was, “With our soul and our blood, we will redeem you, Shireen.”

Police could be seen on video warning the mourners that unless the chants were halted and the flags removed, they would enter the hospital compound.

On its Twitter account, the police said officers were attacked with glass bottles and other objects. They said they had entered the hospital compound to halt a riot, and they “instructed that the coffin be returned to the hearse, as did the EU ambassador and Abu-Akleh’s own family, but the mob refused.”

The office of European Union Representative Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff disputed that statement, calling it “not accurate” and “misleading.”

“We would urge the Israeli police not to use references to EU officials in trying to justify their actions on occupied territories,” it said. “The EU ambassador was asked by a third party [not the Israeli police nor the family] to join in trying to calm down the tensions which were building up between the Israeli police and mourners. He was not ‘instructing’ anyone.”

The EU reaffirms the police actions were “inappropriate, disrespectful, and the use of force [was] disproportionate,” the office said.

Abu Akleh’s sister-in-law and her three adult children, Victor, Lina and Lareen, spoke with reporters after the press conference and also disputed the police statement.

The police actions had been problematic from the start, they said, adding that the pallbearers were bringing the coffin to the hearse when the police charged at them.

“They [the pallbearers] were not doing anything,” Lina said. “They attacked the pallbearers with batons; they smashed the hearse. It was a very barbaric scene. It was unacceptable and disrespectful, not just for the mourners but for my Aunt Shireen.”

“I was very scared that they [the police] might confiscate the casket as a way of punishing us, punishing the mourners,” she said.

At one point, Lina said, when police threw stun grenades, she ran into the hospital to hide from the violence.Lina’s mother, Lisa, said it was like a “war zone.”

The police actions were so restrictive that the family members had trouble entering the hospital for the start of the funeral, Lina said.

“So many other people were prohibited from entering” the hospital, she said.

Even in the immediate aftermath of Shireen’s death, police entered the family’s east Jerusalem home to demand the removal of Palestinian flags, Lina said.

Israel had wanted to silence her aunt, she said, and now, “even during her funeral, they were trying to silence the people.... They knew that she was the voice of truth. They knew that she was the voice of Palestine.”

Lina speculated that the police had not expected so many mourners would attend her aunt’s funeral.

“I don’t think they understood the impact she had, not just on Palestinians but on the entire world,” she said.

Abu Akleh, a veteran reporter for Al Jazeera, was killed on May 11 covering a violent IDF raid on a refugee camp in Jenin. It is unclear whether the fatal bullet to her head was fired by soldiers or by Palestinian gunmen. The location of the bullet wound just below the ear has led to speculation that it was a precision shot rather that a stray bullet.

An initial Palestinian Authority investigation concluded that Abu Akleh had likely been shot by a soldier, but it has refused to allow Israel to examine the bullet that killed her.

Israel has said an initial probe was inconclusive, and that without the bullet, it would not be possible to determine culpability.

In addition to the question of who killed Abu Akleh, the police have begun a probe into the events at St. Joseph’s Hospital at the start of the funeral.

It was unclear if the police had the authority to use batons when they entered the hospital compound, KAN News reported.