US, EU blast police violence at Abu Akleh’s funeral

Bar Lev initiates probe • UNSC condemns journalist killing

 US President Biden speaks about situation in Russia and Ukraine, in Washington (photo credit: REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE)
US President Biden speaks about situation in Russia and Ukraine, in Washington

The international community over the weekend sharply condemned Israeli police violence against the mourners at slain Palestinian-American reporter Shireen Abu Akleh’s Friday funeral in Jerusalem, which almost caused pallbearers to drop her coffin.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the images of police with their batons out, broadcast globally in real time and widely circulated after the funeral, “deeply troubling.” Outgoing White House Press Secretary Jan Psaki added that they were “disturbing.”

France said it was “shocked” and Germany said it was “distraught.” Even Lithuania said it was “troubled.”

Police said they were protecting the procession against rioters. Some of those on the ground claimed that the violence occurred around police attempts to confiscate Palestinian flags, including those surrounding the coffin and the black hearse.

But the scene that grabbed everyone’s attention occurred at the start of the procession when pallbearers exited St. Joseph’s Hospital in east Jerusalem with Abu Akleh’s coffin wanting to parade it on foot to the Mount Zion cemetery, despite family plans for it to travel in a hearse.

In an apparent bid to ensure that the coffin was placed in a hearse, police officers burst through the courtyard gates and charged at the crowd, some beating pallbearers with batons and kicking them.

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 as stun grenades detonated.

US President Joe Biden said the unrest had “to be investigated.”

Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev on Saturday tasked Police Brig.-Gen. Anna Ben Mordechai Raziel with heading a team to probe the violence and provide a report within days.

The violence at the funeral heightened tensions in Jerusalem in advance of Nakba Day on Sunday, the Palestinian day of mourning for the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.

Thousands attended the two-day funeral which began in Ramallah on Thursday and ended Friday with her burial at Jerusalem’s Mount Zion cemetery.

It was the most highly publicized Palestinian funeral since the burial of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat in 2004 in Ramallah.

It is unusual for a Palestinian funeral of this scope, with its display of green, red, and white Palestinian flags, to be held in Jerusalem.

Abu Akleh, widely known in the Arab world as the voice of the Palestinian people for her work with Al Jazeera, was a Palestinian resident of east Jerusalem and held US citizenship.

She was fatally shot in the head on May 11 while covering a firefight between IDF soldiers and Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank city of Jenin.

Palestinians have accused the IDF of killing her but have refused to hand Israel the bullet for a forensic determination. Abu Akleh was wearing a press helmet that failed to protect her because she was shot just below the ear, a fact that has helped fuel speculation that this was a precision shot rather than a random bullet.

The IDF said on Friday that the results of its investigation were inconclusive because it was almost impossible to definitely determine culpability without the bullet.

The United Nations Security Council on Friday issued a unanimous “strong” condemnation of Abu Akleh’s killing but did not accuse either Israel or the Palestinian gunmen of causing her death.

In a text authored by the US, Norway and the United Arab Emirates, the UNSC “called for an immediate, thorough, transparent, and fair and impartial investigation into her killing, and stressed the need to ensure accountability.” It added that “journalists should be protected as civilians.”

The international community, including the US, the UN and the European Union had widely condemned her death, but on Friday it focused in addition on the violence at her funeral for which it did hold Israel responsible.

 High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell said the EU was “appalled” by scenes from the funeral in “occupied” East Jerusalem. It “condemns the disproportionate use of force and the disrespectful behavior by the Israeli police against the participants of the mourning procession.

“Allowing for a peaceful farewell and letting mourners grieve in peace without harassment and humiliation, is the minimal human respect,” Borrell said.

Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said, “these are disgraceful scenes of police brutality at a hugely sensitive funeral. No self-respecting democracy could stand over this treatment of people.”

Psaki said, that this was a “day where we should all be marking, including everyone there, the memory of a remarkable journalist who lost her life.

“We regret the intrusion into what should have been a peaceful procession. We’ve urged respect for the funeral procession, the mourners and the family at this sensitive time,” she said.

The PA condemned in the strongest terms “the brutal attack perpetrated by the occupation police on the coffin of the martyr Shireen Abu Akleh and the citizens carrying it.”

A statement issued by the PA Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the “restrictions” imposed by the Israeli authorities on the funeral procession, including preventing the raising of the Palestinian flag and the chanting of national slogans.

The ministry accused Israel of acting “in the most horrific and barbaric manner” during the funeral.

Israeli police said it had tried to “facilitate a calm and dignified funeral” and had “coordinated the funeral arrangements with her family.”

“On Friday, about 300 rioters arrived at Saint Joseph hospital in Jerusalem and prevented the family members from loading the coffin onto the hearse to travel to the cemetery – as had been planned and coordinated with the family in advance.

“Instead, the mob threatened the driver of the hearse and then proceeded to carry the coffin on an unplanned procession to the cemetery by foot,” the police stated.

“This went against the wishes of the Abu-Akleh family and the security coordination’s that had been planned to safeguard the large number of mourners,” it explained.

“During the riot that was instigated by the mob, glass bottles and other objects were thrown, resulting in the injury of both mourners and Police officers,” the police said in a statement in English it published on Twitter.

Some friends of the slain journalist said that they were unhappy with the attempt by hundreds of mourners to “kidnap” the coffin. “We don’t want to turn the funeral into a demonstration,” said one of the friends. “Many young men who came to the hospital wanted to take the coffin and march with it on the streets of Jerusalem.”

Muslim mourners outside the hospital read verses from the Koran and chanted “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great!). Christian mourners who were at the scene then read verses from the Bible.

Mourners also held Palestinian flags and some of them chanted, “with our soul and blood we will redeem you Shireen.”

Police had warned on a bullhorn that they would enter the hospital courtyard unless the violent chants stopped, a move that helped led to the confusion surrounding their motives when they burst into the St. Joseph’s courtyard.

At one point after it left the courtyard police also removed Palestinian flags from the hearse so that it had only a wreath and a cross.

The hearse moved toward the Cathedral of the Annunciation of the Virgin in the Old City for a ceremony.

Crowds of Palestinians lined the narrow alleyways of the Old City as the coffin was carried to the Mount Zion Cemetery nearby.

Her grave was covered in wreaths and the Palestinian flag draped over the grave cross as mourners surrounded it solemnly, paying tribute to Abu Akleh.

Six Palestinians were arrested during the funeral riots, police said. Dozens were wounded according to the Red Crescent.

Reuters and Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.