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Israel Police Finish Probe Into Violence at Reporter’s Funeral, Won’t Release Findings

Israeli police confront with mourners as they carry the casket of slain Al Jazeera veteran journalist Shireen Abu Akleh during her funeral in Jerusalem, Friday, May 13, 2022. (AP Photo)
Israeli police confront with mourners as they carry the casket of slain Al Jazeera veteran journalist Shireen Abu Akleh during her funeral in Jerusalem, Friday, May 13, 2022. (AP Photo)

JERUSALEM, Israel – Israel Police said it concluded its internal probe into the violence at the funeral of slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed on May 11 during an Israeli counterterrorism raid in the West Bank. However, police are refusing to release their findings.

Police launched the investigation after scenes of officers beating pallbearers with batons, causing them to nearly drop the veteran reporter’s casket, drew international backlash.  Israel Police blamed protestors at the funeral for the violence and said rioters threw rocks and other objects at officers.

Law enforcement officials delivered the results of the probe to Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai and Public Security Minister Omer Barlev.

In a statement confirming he had received the results of the investigation, Shabtai said: “The funeral procession of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was a complex event. It is impossible to remain indifferent to the difficult scenes.”

Shabtai said he ordered the investigation “so that [future] sensitive events such as these are not violently disturbed by rioters.”

“Under my guidance, the police reviewed the conduct of the forces on the ground, with the aim of drawing lessons and improving operational conduct in similar future incidents,” he said, adding that he trusts officers “to do their job faithfully for the safety of the entire public.”

Shabtai’s statement gave no details about what police uncovered in the internal probe. When asked by Ynet news why law enforcement officials won’t reveal what they found, a police source said, “That’s it for now.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the police’s actions at Abu Akleh’s funeral and on Thursday, Washington said it is “seeking further information from our Israeli partners.” Abu Akleh was a Palestinian Christian and an American citizen.

“Certainly, to us, typically these investigations, the findings of them are released publicly, but that’s, of course, not our call,” State Department Spokesperson Ned Price told reporters in Washington.

Israeli media reported that police would not be punished for their conduct. However, they gave contradictory reports about the results of the police probe.

Israel’s Channel 12 News reported Thursday that police had concluded that officers should not have used batons against the pall bearers but approved of them entering the hospital courtyard where the funeral procession began.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz cited unidentified sources who said the internal probe had found misconduct by the officers. The report said police had already decided prior to beginning the investigation that officers would not be punished.

“Obviously the images that emerged were unpleasant and could have been different, but overall the police acted well in a complex and violent incident,” the paper quoted an unidentified senior police officer as saying.

Meanwhile, Israel’s Kan public broadcaster reported that the probe found no misconduct.

On Thursday, Channel 12 cited an unidentified family member of Abu Akleh who said they alerted police during her funeral that her casket had been seized by extremists against the family’s wishes. The unidentified source appeared to corroborate the police’s narrative that officers were responding to rioters who allegedly hijacked the funeral.

However, Abu Akleh’s family has publicly rejected claims that a mob stole her casket, and her brother Anton accused police of starting the violence. Surveillance footage released by Christian leaders in Jerusalem after the funeral appears to show officers storming the hospital grounds where Abu Akleh’s body was kept before the procession began.

Anton rejected the internal probe by police, saying: “We don’t care what Israel says or does, everything is clear from the photos. The police are the aggressors,” he told AFP. “They are trying to cover up their actions and mistakes.”

Also on Friday, Al Jazeera, Abu Akleh’s former employer, released an image of the bullet that allegedly killed Abu Akleh. The reporter was shot dead while reporting on an Israeli arrest raid in Jenin, biblical Samaria.

The bullet has been at the center of the ongoing controversy surrounding her death. The image added little information and it appears to be the kind of bullet that is widely used by both Israeli forces and Palestinian terrorists, Israeli media reported. 

Witnesses and Palestinian officials say Israeli troops deliberately targeted Abu Akleh while she was reporting on the raid. Israel called that accusation that its forces intentionally killed Abu Akleh  a “blatant lie.” Israel’s military said she was killed during a shootout with Palestinian terrorists, yet it is impossible to know who fired the fatal bullet.

Israel has said it identified a soldier’s rifle that could have killed Abu Akleh, but it cannot make a final determination without the matching bullet. The Palestinians have refused to release the bullet to Israeli officials and rejected calls for a joint investigation into her death.

The Palestinians don’t trust Israel to investigate its own forces and worry Israel would falsify facts. Likewise, Israel doesn’t trust the Palestinians to conduct a fair and independent investigation. The deep mistrust between the Israelis and Palestinians means neither side will likely accept the conclusions reached by the other.

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