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Israeli Police Face Backlash for Clashing With Mourners at Palestinian Journalist’s Funeral

Funeral aftermath of Al Jazeera Journalist. Photo: AP
Funeral aftermath of Al Jazeera Journalist. Photo: AP

Israeli police came under attack for their behavior at the funeral on Friday of a prominent Palestinian journalist, killed during an Israeli counterterrorism raid earlier in the week.

More than 10,000 people attended the funeral of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was buried in the Greek-Catholic cemetery on Mount Zion in Jerusalem.

Earlier, police scuffled with mourners provoking an international backlash.

“I would say first that we have all seen those images. They're obviously deeply disturbing,” said former White House spokeswoman, Jen Psaki.

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

Video of the incident showed a brief standoff, when mourners tried to form an unplanned procession on foot with the casket from St. Joseph’s Hospital to the Old City of Jerusalem.  They chanted and hurled objects at police. Police beat back the crowd and pallbearers, who almost dropped the casket.

Israel said it was doing an internal investigation of its officers. Police initially blamed about “300 rioters.”

“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 said in a statement.

In an interview with the Israeli paper, The Times of Israel, Shireen’s brother, Anton Abu Akleh, contradicted the police statement saying there was no mob.

“Everyone who was there was there to mourn Shireen. What’s this mob they’re talking about? And even if there were one or two, how many police do you need to deal with it? The whole story here is illogical and untrue,” Abu Akleh was quoted as saying.

According to Abu Akleh, police demanded there be no Palestinian flags or chanting but he said he told them he could not control the crowd as his sister’s funeral was “a mass funeral for all of Palestine.” 

Shireen was a well-known and highly respected Palestinian reporter for the Arabic language Al Jazeera channel. She was shot in the head and killed while covering an Israeli raid in the Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin.

The Palestinian Authority accused Israel of firing the bullet that killed Shireen though said its autopsy was inconclusive.  Since then, they have agreed to some international cooperation looking into the incident but refused to work with Israel.

Pinhas Inbari, Senior Researcher of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs says the Palestinian Authority and President Mahmoud Abbas are using Shireen’s death as a way back into the international limelight.

“The PA is not relevant anymore. Israel makes peace with the Arab countries. They don't need the Palestinians anymore.  And to the Arabs stop to finance, the PA only Israel is now financing the PA,” Inbari told CBN News.

The incident comes against the backdrop of a surge in terror attacks over the last two months where 19 Israelis have been murdered. Many of the terrorists have come from the area of Jenin prompting numerous raids to arrest them.

A veteran Israeli soldier was killed there on Friday during a separate operation to arrest suspects connected to terrorism.

Israel says it’s possible that Shireen was killed by Palestinian gunfire or was hit by Israel Defense Forces fire towards the Palestinian gunman near where she was standing.

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