Veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was laid to rest in Jerusalem on Friday, but not before her funeral procession was interrupted by Israeli police who beat onlookers and pallbearers, forcing them to briefly drop one end of the coffin.
The confrontation took place outside the hospital where mourners, many waving Palestinian flags, picked up Abu Akleh’s casket. They intended to march on foot to a church in nearby Old City, as Abu Akleh was a Christian, but were assaulted by Israeli forces.
Horrible scenes as Israeli security forces beat the funeral procession for slain journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and the crowd momentarily lose control of her casket pic.twitter.com/DEJF5Ty9tZ
— Emir Nader (@EmirNader) May 13, 2022
Video shows the pallbearers being violently shoved to one side of the street, struggling to maintain control of the casket as officers beat and kicked those in the crowd.
Abu Akleh, 51, was shot in the head on Wednesday while covering an Israeli military raid in the occupied West Bank, which cradles the city of Jerusalem. Both a colleague who was injured and the Al Jazeera network identified Israeli forces as firing the fatal shot.
After the clash outside the hospital, Abu Akleh’s family was permitted to transfer the casket to a vehicle and drive it to a Catholic church in the Old City, The Associated Press reported. Police fired tear gas at those who remained.
Even the hearse was not unscathed: Video showed Israeli officers snatching Palestinian flags from the vehicle carrying Abu Akleh’s body.
Israeli police confirmed in a statement to The New York Times that they took “enforcement action” after witnessing “nationalist incitement” during the procession.
At various points in the procession, mourners sang the Palestinian national anthem and chanted things such as “Palestine, Palestine,” “We die for Palestine to live” and “our beloved home,” according to the AP.
Abu Akleh’s brother acknowledged that the scene outside the hospital was “distressing” in an interview with the BBC World Service after her funeral.
“As much as it was distressing, it showed the love and how much Shireen was well-known, well-trusted in the media world, in Palestine especially,” Tony Abu Akleh said. “It was one big Palestinian funeral for Shireen.”
Israeli officials warned the family against displaying any Palestinian flags or chanting pro-Palestinian sayings, he told the BBC.
The violence also appalled the international community. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said his office was “deeply troubled” by the images that emerged from Jerusalem.
“Every family deserves to lay their loved ones to rest in a dignified and unimpeded manner,” Blinken tweeted.
The European Union’s spokesperson said the entire bloc was “appalled” by the scenes and “disrespectful behavior” by Israeli police.
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.
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) May 13, 2022
Abu Akleh was a Palestinian and U.S. citizen who had covered life in the disputed lands for decades, becoming a well-respected source on the topic. Thousands of people turned up for her funeral in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Israel claims the whole city as its capital, although much of the world does not recognize it as such due to the ongoing conflict with Palestinians, who hold claim to the eastern part of the city. Earlier this year, Amnesty International joined the human rights groups accusing Israel of perpetuating an apartheid system against Palestinians both within Israel’s borders and in disputed territories, including the West Bank.
The day of Abu Akleh’s death, she was wearing protective gear identifying her as a member of the press. Other reporters at the scene told the AP the journalists had made their presence known to Israeli soldiers. They said they did not see any Palestinian militants, and there were no clashes in the immediate area where Abu Akleh was hit, contradicting claims from the Israeli military that Palestinian fighters had fired hundreds of rounds, some in her direction.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price called Abu Akleh’s death “an affront to media freedom everywhere” and said the investigation must hold responsible parties accountable.
That reaction contrasted with the furious U.S. denunciation of Russia in response to journalists killed in the Ukraine war; unlike Russia, Israel is considered an American ally.