Israeli police beat pallbearers at journalist’s funeral

Israeli police beat pallbearers at journalist’s funeral

JERUSALEM (AP) – Israeli riot police on Friday pushed and punched pallbearers at the funeral of slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, causing them to briefly drop the coffin in a shocking start to a procession that took place in perhaps the greatest demonstration of Palestinian nationalism transformed Jerusalem in a generation.

The scenes of violence are likely to add to feelings of sadness and outrage across the Arab world following the death of Abu Akleh, who witnesses said was killed by Israeli forces during a raid in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday. They also highlighted the deep sensitivity to East Jerusalem – which is claimed by both Israel and the Palestinians and has sparked repeated rounds of violence.

Abu Akleh, 51, was a household name in the Arab world, tantamount to Al Jazeera’s coverage of life under Israeli rule, which is well into its sixth decade with no end in sight. A 25-year veteran of the satellite channel, she was revered by Palestinians as a local hero.

Thousands of people, many waving Palestinian flags and shouting “Palestine! Palestine!” attended the funeral. It was believed to be the largest Palestinian funeral in Jerusalem since the death in 2001 of Faisal Husseini, a Palestinian leader and scion of a prominent family.

Before the funeral, a large crowd gathered to escort her coffin from a hospital in East Jerusalem to a Catholic church in the nearby Old City. Many of the mourners held Palestinian flags and the crowd began to shout, “We sacrifice our soul and blood for you, Shireen.”

Shortly thereafter, the Israeli police moved in, pushed and beat mourners with clubs. As helmeted riot police approached, they hit pallbearers, causing a man to lose control of the coffin as it fell to the ground. Police ripped Palestinian flags from people’s hands and fired stun grenades to disperse the crowd.

Abu Akleh’s brother Tony said the scenes “prove that Shireen’s accounts and honest words… had a powerful impact”.

Al Jazeera correspondent Givara Budeiri said the police action was like killing Abu Akleh again. “It seems that her voice is not silent,” she said during a report.

East Jerusalem, home to the city’s most important Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites, was captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War. It claims the entire city as its eternal capital and has annexed the eastern sector in a move that is internationally unrecognized.

The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state. Israel routinely cracks down on any demonstration of support for Palestinian statehood. The conflicting claims on East Jerusalem often escalate into violencewhich helped fuel an 11-day war between Israel and militants in Gaza last year, and more recently sparked weeks of unrest at the city’s most sensitive holy site.

Outside of prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque, Israel rarely allows large Palestinian gatherings in East Jerusalem and routinely cracks down on any demonstration of support for Palestinian statehood.

Police said crowds at the hospital chanted “nationalist incitement”, ignored calls to stop and threw stones at them. “The police officers were forced into action,” the police said. They released a video of a commander outside the hospital warning the crowd that if they don’t stop their incitement and “nationalist songs,” the police will come.

Just before midnight, Israel Police issued a second statement, claiming that they had coordinated plans with the family to move the coffin into a vehicle, but that a “mob threatened the hearse driver and then proceeded to carry the coffin carried on a wagon unplanned procession.” The police intervened “so that the funeral can proceed as planned according to the wishes of the family”.

Police claims could not be immediately verified. But earlier this week, Abu Akleh’s brother said the original plans were to take the coffin from the hospital to the church in a hearse and then carry it through the streets to the cemetery after the service.

Al Jazeera said in a statement that the police action “violates all international norms and rights.”

“Israeli occupation forces attacked those mourning the death of the late Shireen Abu Akhleh after storming the French hospital in Jerusalem, where they severely beat the pallbearers,” it said. The network added that it remains committed to covering the news and will not be deterred.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the images “deeply disturbing.”

The focus should be “to mark the memory of a remarkable journalist who lost her life,” Psaki said. “We regret the interference with what was actually a peaceful procession.”

During an event in the Rose Garden, US President Joe Biden was asked if he condemned the Israeli police’s handling of the funeral, and he replied: “I don’t know all the details, but I know it needs to be investigated.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “was deeply concerned by the confrontations between Israeli security forces and Palestinians who had gathered at St Joseph’s Hospital and the behavior of some police officers present at the scene,” according to a statement by his deputy spokesman, Farhan Haq.

Israeli police later escorted the coffin in a black van and tore Palestinian flags from the vehicle as it drove to the church.

“We die so that Palestine lives!” Crowds chanted. “Our beloved home!”

Later they sang the Palestinian national anthem and shouted “Palestine, Palestine!”. before her body was buried in a cemetery outside the old town.

Her grave was decorated with a Palestinian flag and flowers. Palestinian Ambassador to Britain Husam Zomlot and Al Jazeera Bureau Chief Walid Al-Omari laid flowers on the grave.

Salah Zuheika, a 70-year-old Palestinian, called Abu Akleh “the daughter of Jerusalem” and said the huge crowds were a “reward” for her love of the city.

“We already miss her, but what happened in the city today will not be forgotten,” he said.

Abu Akleh was a member of the small Palestinian Christian community in the Holy Land. Palestinian Christians and Muslims marched side by side on Friday in a show of unity.

She was shot in the head during an Israeli military attack in the West Bank city of Jenin. However, the circumstances of the shooting remain controversial.

Palestinians say army fire killed her, while the Israeli military said on Friday she was killed in a shootout with Palestinian militants. Who is responsible for her death cannot be determined without a ballistic analysis.

“The conclusion of the preliminary investigation is that it is not possible to determine the source of the fire that struck and killed the reporter,” the military said.

Israel has called for a joint investigation with the Palestinian Authority, asking them to hand over the bullet for forensic analysis to determine who fired the fatal bullet. The PA has denied this, saying it will conduct its own investigation and forward the findings to the International Criminal Court, which is already investigating possible Israeli war crimes.

Reporters who were at Abu Akleh, including one who was shot and wounded, said there were no clashes or militants in the immediate area. All wore protective gear that clearly identified them as reporters.

The PA and Al Jazeera, which have long had strained relations with Israel, have accused Israel of deliberately killing Abu Akleh. Israel denies the allegations.

Rights groups say Israel rarely gets through investigates the killing of Palestinians by its security forces and imposes lenient sentences on the rare occasions that this is the case. However, this case drew rigorous scrutiny because Abu Akleh was well known and also a US citizen.

Palestinians from and around Jenin have carried out deadly attacks in Israel in recent weeks, and Israel has launched near-daily arrest raids in the area, often resulting in shootouts with militants.

Israeli troops entered Jenin again early Friday, sparking renewed fighting.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health said 13 Palestinians were injured. The Israeli military said Palestinians opened fire when its troops moved in to arrest suspected militants. Police said a 47-year-old member of an Israeli special forces unit was killed.

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Associated Press Reporters Majdi Mohammed in Jenin, West Bank, Fares Akram in Hamilton, Ontario, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations, and Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates made contributions.

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