The funeral in Jerusalem on Friday, for a journalist who was highly respected for decades throughout the Arab world, drew thousands of people. The procession, under Palestinian flags and amid shouts of slogans, was one of the largest gatherings in Jerusalem in recent memory and was an unusually open display of Palestinian national sentiment, participants said.
At the beginning of the funeral, Israeli riot police assaulted a group of mourners who were trying to carry the coffin from a hospital in East Jerusalem to a church in the Old City. Police fired stun grenades and used batons to hit mourners and people carrying the coffin, which at one point almost fell to the ground.
Mass crowds and police beatings during the funeral of a journalist in Jerusalem
Officers also “zealously” gathered Palestinian flags, despite directives not to do so from the Internal Security Ministry, said Esawe Frej, Israel’s regional cooperation minister and Israeli-Palestinian member of the leftist Meretz party. In a tweet on Friday, he said Israeli police “disgraced the memory and funeral” of Abu Akleh.
Israeli police initially said their actions were carried out in response to threats to public order. They said they had coordinated with the family to transport the coffin in a hearse and claimed the procession was overtaken by a crowd of rioters who insisted on carrying it on foot.
“We will not allow the funeral to serve as a cover and sponsor for violent riots,” Israeli police told reporters on Friday. Police shared a video they said showed funeral participants “throwing objects.”
Washington Post reporters attending the funeral saw no evidence that mourners were threatening police or throwing objects at them, other than a plastic water bottle or two just before police charged the gathering, followed by a barrage. of bottles during the melee as the police attacked. the mourners
Abu Akleh’s brother, Antoun Abu Akleh, told the AFP news agency that “there was no agreement” between his family and the police on the funeral arrangements. “We gave them the number of participants and the route of the funeral and this is what happened,” the agency quoted him as saying.
On Saturday, police said they were “investigating the events” at the funeral but continued to insist the officers had been attacked.
The images of the beatings were met with outrage from Palestinians, condemnation from some foreign governments and strong criticism from some inside Israel, where politicians, human rights defenders and some police officers denounced what they said was a irresponsible reaction to an overwhelmingly nonviolent event that was being watched by a worldwide audience.
“Even if Palestinian flags were waved, some anti-Israel slogans were shouted and some stones were thrown,” the police should have exhibited more cautious judgment, an unidentified Israeli police person told Israel’s Channel 12 news on Saturday.
Footage of the funeral showed “a shocking display of brutality and unbridled violence,” Oded Shalom wrote in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the funeral footage “deeply disturbing.” The European Union delegation for relations with the Palestinians said she was “dismayed.” Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), a Palestinian-American member of Congress, said it amounted to “violent racism, enabled by $3.8B in unconditional US military funding,” in a message posted on Twitter.
When President Biden was asked about the handling of the funeral, he said, “I don’t know all the details, but I know it needs to be investigated.”
On Saturday, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai and Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev ordered an investigation into possible misconduct, saying the results would be presented to officials in the coming days.
On Sunday, Israeli security forces were on the highest possible alert and had reinforced troops ahead of Palestinian “Nakba Day,” which commemorates the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled or were expelled from their land as result of the establishment of Israel. in 1948.
Hamas has called on Palestinians to ascend the disputed holy site known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount, where violent clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces last May preceded the outbreak of an 11-day war in Gaza.
The Israeli army has changed its response to Abu Akleh’s murder, saying first that she was likely to have been hit by a bullet fired by Palestinian gunmen, and then that it was investigating the possibility that an Israeli soldier fired the fatal shot.
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The army said it was studying two possible scenarios: that she was hit by a Palestinian gunman firing at Israeli military vehicles, or by an Israeli soldier who fired from the gap of an armored vehicle in response to Palestinian fire. A press release on Friday detailing the findings says Israeli military vehicles were parked about 200 meters from Abu Akleh’s location.
The Palestinian public prosecutor’s office, in a statement revealing its preliminary findings, contradicted Israeli claims that Abu Akleh was between Israeli and Palestinian fire. He said Israeli troops were the only ones firing at the time Abu Akleh was killed, with the closest Israeli troops some 150 meters away. He added that Israeli soldiers continued to fire at the spot where she had been standing, “hindering attempts by colleagues and citizens to provide first aid.”
The Palestinian Authority has rejected Israeli requests for a joint investigation, saying it will conduct its own investigation and has refused to hand over the bullet that killed Abu Akleh to Israeli authorities.
Abu Akleh’s killing comes amid a weeks-long spike in violence that has seen Palestinian assailants, many from around Jenin, carry out deadly attacks in Israel, killing at least 19 people. The Israeli army has stepped up raids in the West Bank, killing at least 30 Palestinians, according to local reports.
Steve Hendrix in Jerusalem contributed to this report.