JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli riot police pushed and punched pallbearers at the funeral of slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh on Friday, prompting them to briefly toss the coffin in a shocking start to a procession that became perhaps the greatest display of Palestinian nationalism. in Jerusalem in a generation.
The scenes of violence are likely to add to the sense of grief and outrage across the Arab world that followed the death of Abu Akleh, who witnesses said was killed by Israeli troops on Wednesday during a raid in the occupied West Bank. They also illustrated deep sensitivities about 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 throughout the Arab world, synonymous with Al Jazeera’s coverage of life under Israeli rule, which is well into its sixth decade with no end in sight. With 25 years of experience on the satellite channel, Palestinians revered her as a local heroine.
Thousands of people, many waving Palestinian flags and chanting “Palestine! Palestine!” attended the funeral. It was believed to be the largest Palestinian funeral in Jerusalem since Faisal Husseini, a Palestinian leader and scion of a prominent family, died in 2001.
Before the burial, a large crowd gathered to escort his coffin from an East Jerusalem hospital to a Catholic church in the nearby Old City. Many of the mourners held Palestinian flags and the crowd began to shout: “We sacrificed our soul and our blood for you, Shireen.”
Shortly after, the Israel police entered, pushing and beating the mourners. As riot police wearing helmets approached, they punched the pallbearers, causing one man to lose control of the coffin as he 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 reporting and honest words … had a powerful impact.”
Al Jazeera correspondent Givara Budeiri said the police crackdown was like killing Abu Akleh all over again. “It seems that his voice is not silent,” he said during a briefing.
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 It is not internationally recognized.
The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state. Israel routinely clamps down on any show of support for the Palestinian state. Conflicting claims to East Jerusalem often escalate into violence.that helped fuel an 11-day war between Israel and Gaza militants last year and, more recently, sparked weeks of unrest at the city’s most sensitive holy site.
Outside of prayers at the Al Aqsa Mosque, Israel rarely allows large Palestinian gatherings in east Jerusalem and routinely cracks down on any show of support for Palestinian statehood.
Police said the crowd at the hospital shouted “nationalist incitement”, ignored calls to stop and threw stones at them. “The cops were forced to act,” police said. They released a video of a commander outside the hospital warning the crowd that the police will come in if they don’t stop their incitement and “nationalist chants.”
Shortly before midnight, the Israeli police issued a second statement stating that they had coordinated plans with the family to place the coffin in a vehicle, but that a “mob threatened the driver of the hearse and then proceeded to carry the coffin in a vehicle.” ”. unplanned procession. He said police intervened “so that the funeral could proceed as planned in accordance with the wishes of the family.”
The police claims could not be immediately verified. But earlier this week, Abu Akleh’s brother had said that the original plans were to move the coffin in a hearse from the hospital to the church, and that after the service, it would be carried through the streets to the cemetery.
Al Jazeera said in a statement that the police action “violates all international norms and rights.”
“Israeli occupation forces targeted those mourning the late Shireen Abu Akhleh after storming the French hospital in Jerusalem, where they severely beat the pallbearers,” he said. The network added that she remains committed to covering the news and will not be discouraged.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the footage “deeply disturbing.”
The focus should be “marking the memory of a remarkable journalist who lost her life,” Psaki said. “We regret the intrusion into what should have been a peaceful procession.”
During an event in the Rose Garden, US President Joe Biden was asked if he condemns the actions of the Israeli police at 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 disturbed by the clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians gathered at St. Joseph’s Hospital, and the behavior of some police officers present at the scene,” according to a statement from his deputy spokesman, Farhan Haq.
Israeli police later escorted the coffin in a black van, ripping Palestinian flags from the vehicle as it headed to the church.
“We die for Palestine to live!” crowds chanted. “Our beloved home!”
Later, they sang the Palestinian national anthem and chanted “Palestine, Palestine!” before his body was buried in a graveyard outside the Old City.
His grave was decorated with a Palestinian flag and flowers. Palestinian ambassador to the UK Husam Zomlot and Al Jazeera bureau chief Walid Al-Omari laid flowers at the grave.
Salah Zuheika, a 70-year-old Palestinian, called Abu Akleh “the daughter of Jerusalem” and said the large 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 together on Friday in a show of unity.
He was shot in the head during an Israeli military raid in the West Bank city of Jenin. But the circumstances of the shooting remain in dispute.
Palestinians say army gunfire killed her, while the Israeli army said on Friday she was killed during an exchange of fire with Palestinian militants. She said that she could not determine who was responsible for her death without ballistics analysis.
“The conclusion of the provisional investigation is that it is not possible to determine the source of the fire that reached and killed the reporter,” the army said.
Israel has called for a joint investigation with the Palestinian Authority and for it to hand over the bullet for forensic analysis to determine who fired the fatal round. The Palestinian Authority has refused, saying it will conduct its own investigation and send the results to the International Criminal Court, which is already investigating possible Israeli war crimes.
Reporters who were with Abu Akleh, including one who was wounded by a gunshot, said there was no fighting or militants in the immediate area. They all wore protective gear that clearly identified them as reporters.
The Palestinian Authority and Al Jazeera, which has long had a strained relationship with Israel, have accused Israel of deliberately killing Abu Akleh. Israel denies the accusations.
Rights groups say Israel rarely complies on investigations into the killing of Palestinians by its security forces and dictates lenient punishments on the rare occasions that it does. This case, however, drew intense scrutiny because Abu Akleh was well known and also a US citizen.
Palestinians in and around Jenin have carried out deadly attacks. in Israel in recent weeks, and Israel has launched almost daily arrest raids in the area, often initiating shootouts with militants.
Israeli troops entered Jenin again early Friday, sparking renewed fighting.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said 13 Palestinians were injured. The Israeli army said the Palestinians opened fire as its forces entered to arrest suspected militants. Police said a 47-year-old Israeli special commando unit member was killed.
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 contributed.