Police disgraced Israel, damaged its narrative at Shireen Abu Akleh's funeral - opinion

Videos on Friday showed Israel Police treating mourners and rioters at Shireen abu Akleh's funeral with brutality.

 CLASHES ERUPT between rioters and security forces during the funeral of Shireen Abu Akleh in Jerusalem on Friday.  (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
CLASHES ERUPT between rioters and security forces during the funeral of Shireen Abu Akleh in Jerusalem on Friday.
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)

Following the death of Shireen Abu Akleh in a Jenin firefight between IDF troops and Palestinian gunmen, Israeli authorities managed to secure a decent public relations position – only to have the good will and legitimacy ruined by the Israel Police.

The official public relations stance of the state and military was directly contradicted by the actions of the police.

At Abu Akleh’s funeral on Friday, Israel Police reacted to rioters commandeering the coffin and hurling objects by wading into the crowd with swinging batons – even hitting those carrying the coffin, almost causing it to fall to the ground. They also tore Palestinian flags off the hearse.

Videos of the incidents went online immediately, receiving almost as much attention as the initial videos of Abu Akleh’s death.

“Three hundred 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,” Israel Police explained in a statement. “Israel 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.”

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

In an interview, a family member disputed the police account.

Had Israel Police done nothing, perhaps it would have been blamed for not acting. In this case, there would have been some violence – which could have been contained within a larger anti-riot perimeter. Unlike with beating mourners, there is no resulting visual of inaction.

Perhaps the funeral would have been derailed by rioters, in which case, Israel would have had a public relations coup in that Palestinian extremists would have been put in the spotlight for disrespecting the dead and hijacking the procession. Thankfully, Israel Police managed to snatch this public relations defeat from the jaws of their victory.

The official Israeli stance on Abu Akleh has been that it is mournful over the death of Abu Akleh, and while it believes it more likely that she was killed by indiscriminate Palestinian gunfire, it is possible errant IDF weapons fire was the cause – which is why Israel is pushing for investigation. This was widely seen by public diplomacy experts as a just position, as well as being good optics. The onus was on the Palestinian Authority for their stubborn refusal to perform a joint investigation, which many saw as an attempt to conceal the truth.

Israel Police actions have ruined the Israeli public relations narrative. Outside observers see no difference between police and IDF, and many commentators have referred to the actions of the police as being that of the military.

While Prime Minister Bennett and his officials struck a mournful tone about Abu Akleh’s death, the whole world has now seen Israeli security servicemen disrespecting the dead by beating pallbearers and removing flags, which makes Bennett’s position seem inauthentic.

Instead of Israel’s narrative of Abu Akleh’s death occurring during necessary anti-terrorism operations, Israel Police had restored the narrative of victims of the occupation by engaging in overwhelming forces against those that seemed the most vulnerable of people.

While Israel argued that its soldiers’ discriminate fire was unlikely to have been directed at Abu Akleh, the police discredited the position by seemingly targeting innocent civilians.

Even the air of legitimacy afforded by Israel acknowledging that Abu Akleh may have been killed by IDF fire was damaged, when Israel police blamed everyone else but themselves as soon as it thought to respond – which was several hours later than it should have been.

Also, late was the opening of an investigation into police action, announced by the police commissioner and which Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev announced almost a day later.

All of this together has undermined the sense that Israel would respond responsibly to any outcome of the Abu Akleh investigation, returning the spotlight from the PA to Israel.

Now, instead of one investigation, there are two.

The investigation into Israel Police cannot take days, as the authorities have promised – Public relations crisis have a short window before the narrative is cemented.

The only way to restore Israel’s legitimacy regarding the Abu Akleh investigation and restore its narrative is to act quickly and decisively on the funeral incident – publicly admonishing the police and punishing those in command.