Israeli Police to Investigate ‘Events’ Related to Funeral of Palestinian Journalist Shireen Abu Akleh: Minister

“Unfortunately, during the course of the funeral, serious violent events by the participants developed that worsened the situation on the ground,” Israel’s Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev said in a statement to CNN.

“The investigation team appointed by Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai and headed by Brigadier General Anna Ben Mordechai, an experienced commander who is familiar with the area in which the funeral took place, will conduct a thorough investigation of what happened during the funeral for him the next day, in order to produce lessons from the incident. These lessons will be presented to the police commissioner and then to me,” he added.

Israeli police came under fire after Friday’s procession, in which television footage showed officers beating mourners with batons, forcibly toppling Palestinian flags and arresting flag-bearers. A video released by Israeli police shows officers ripping Palestinian flags from the hearse carrying Abu Akleh’s coffin.

The Jerusalem Trial Court ruled in September 2021 that flying the Palestinian flag is not a criminal offense in Israel. However, CNN witnessed the arrest of at least two people carrying a flag during the Abu Akleh procession.

“Flying the Palestinian flag does not constitute a crime under Israeli law,” Israeli Knesset member Ahmad Tibi told CNN on Friday.

“When Omer Bar-Lev was appointed Israel’s Minister of Public Security, he issued a directive limiting the confiscation of Palestinian flags from protesters to cases where there is an immediate risk of disturbing the peace. But what the police are doing is in direct opposition to the minister’s orders. … What we see is flag phobia of the Palestinian flag,” he added.

When asked by CNN to clarify the reason for the toppling of the Palestinian flags and the arrest of the people carrying the flag, Israel’s police force responded with a statement, which was also shared publicly on its Twitter account.

“Israel Police prepared yesterday to facilitate a quiet and dignified funeral for journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and coordinated funeral arrangements with her family. Unfortunately, hundreds of rioters tried to sabotage the ceremony and harm the police,” the statement read.

“The Israel Police stands by its police officers, but as a professional organization seeking to learn and improve, it will also draw lessons from the incident,” he added.

On Friday, mourners removed Abu Akleh’s coffin from St. Joseph’s hospital in East Jerusalem, where his body remained until burial, but were met with strong resistance from Israeli police who forced them to transport the body by car. A flash bomb and tear gas were fired, according to CNN reporters.

The 51-year-old Palestinian-American Al Jazeera journalist was a leading voice throughout the Arab world, broadcasting what many said was “the voice of Palestinian suffering” and their “aspirations for freedom.”

Shireen Abu Akleh's niece, Lareen, 19, at her aunt's funeral procession in Jerusalem.  Her poster reads:

“She had a great impact on Palestine and on all the people. She left her fingerprint on everyone’s heart,” Lareen Abu Akleh, Shireen’s niece, told CNN.

Nafisa Khwais, a Palestinian woman who considered herself a mother figure to Shireen, told CNN that she had spent the entire night at the funeral home where people came to mourn the veteran journalist.

“Shireen is my daughter. Her parents are dead, but we are all her parents. We are all her family,” Khwais said.

“Two weeks ago, he hid me behind his back when the fighting broke out at Damascus Gate and said, ‘Mother, come here. I’m so worried about you’ and handed me a bottle of water. He loved Shireen. She was the voice of all Palestinians,” he said.

Nafisa Khwais, 63, sits outside Shireen Abu Akleh's home in Ramallah, where mourners have gathered.

Friday’s events sparked global reactions from several officials who said they were “shocked” by what they had seen.

“We were deeply concerned by the images of Israeli police invading the funeral procession of Palestinian American Shireen Abu Akleh. Every family deserves that their loved ones rest in a dignified and unhindered manner,” said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in a statement. post on Twitter on Friday.

A senior State Department official later said that Blinken had spoken with the journalist’s family and expressed condolences while on his way to an informal meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin, Germany.

Blinken offered “his deep condolences for your loss,” the official said. Blinken also offered the continued support of the State Department team in Jerusalem to his family and stressed the importance of a free and independent press, the official said.

Norway’s ambassador to Israel, Kåre R. Aas, said in a tweet that he was “shocked by the violent conduct of Israeli police forces during the funeral procession,” adding that “such disproportionate force is inappropriate and unacceptable.”

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