Israel attacks Shireen Abu Akleh’s funeral

Palestinians mourn around the grave of slain Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh in Mount Zion Cemetery near Jerusalem on 13 May.

Ilia Yefimovich DPA

Israeli police in Jerusalem on Friday stormed the funeral for Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

The Al Jazeera correspondent was fatally shot in the head while covering a military raid in Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank two days earlier, causing shock and anger among Palestinians and around the world.

Meanwhile, an Israeli officer was killed by Palestinian resistance fighters in Burqin, a Palestinian town near Jenin, on Friday.

Israel edged towards admitting that its forces were responsible for the legendary TV correspondent’s death after two days of attempting to deflect blame to Palestinians.

A group of independent UN human rights experts on Friday condemned Abu Akleh’s killing and demanded “a prompt, independent, impartial, effective, thorough and transparent investigation” into her death.

Another journalist, Ali Samoudi, was shot in the back during the same incident and was reported to be in stable condition.

“Authorities have an obligation not to harm journalists and to protect them from harm under international humanitarian law and international human rights law,” the experts said.

They added that Abu Akleh’s killing, which “may constitute a war crime,” should be probed as part of the International Criminal Court’s ongoing investigation in Palestine.

On Thursday, Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Authority, rejected calls for a joint investigation with Israel into Abu Akleh’s death “because they committed the crime and because we don’t trust them.”

He said that the PA “will go immediately to the International Criminal Court in order to track down the criminals.”

Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights organization, concluded after a preliminary field investigation that Abu Akleh was killed by Israeli soldiers and that “the murder … amounts to willful killing, a war crime” under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Funeral attacked

If Israel thought that the apparent deliberate killing of a journalist wearing a flak jacket marked as “press” and a helmet would drop out of the news cycle, its police made a grave miscalculation by attacking Abu Akleh’s funeral.

Live coverage showed Israeli officers using batons against the pallbearers carrying Abu Akleh’s casket, nearly causing them to drop it:

Israeli police claimed that Palestinians were throwing stones in the hospital compound in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood where Abu Akleh’s casket was being carried.

“Reporting from the scene, Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan said the Israeli forces targeted mourners because they did not want them to walk with Abu Akleh’s coffin,” according to that outlet, for which Abu Akleh was a high-profile and longtime correspondent.

Video distributed by Israeli police showed officers grabbing a Palestinian flag off of her casket:

Amid widespread condemnation, Israel attempted to justify its attack on the funeral by releasing a video that shows one person throwing an object that appears to be a water bottle from the funeral crowd:
Despite it being an obvious act of unjustified brutality, some of Israel’s apologists bought into the narrative. European Union officials decried the “unnecessary” and “disproportionate” use of force, as though any amount of force used by Israeli police against Abu Akleh’s funeral would be acceptable.
In Washington, the Biden administration refused to condemn what was plainly an attack on Abu Akleh’s funeral, saying that “we regret the intrusion into what should have been a peaceful procession.”
While the Biden administration condemned the killing of Abu Akleh, a US citizen, it has said that it would be satisfied with the Israeli military investigating itself over her death.
Usually strongly pro-Israel France broke away from the apologist pack by specifically criticizing the “police violence” at St. Joseph’s Hospital, “an establishment under French protection.”
Meanwhile, Jewish solidarity campaigners in Germany were banned by police from holding a vigil in Abu Akleh’s memory on Friday.

“​​The event is one of a number of gatherings that have been forbidden by the authorities under an unprecedented and wide-ranging ban on pro-Palestinian protest in the German capital,” according to Al Jazeera English.

While police prevented the vigil in Berlin, Israeli forces in Jerusalem harassed Palestinians throughout the course of Abu Akleh’s funeral before she was finally laid to rest.

While shocking, Israel’s violent repression of Abu Akleh’s funeral procession is hardly surprising.

Israel has long sought to erase Palestinian life in Jerusalem and has banned the Palestine Liberation Organization and Palestinian Authority from maintaining any presence in the city.

Israel viewed its supposed sovereignty over occupied East Jerusalem as “at risk” due to the massive funeral mobilization, according to an Al Jazeera English correspondent, and attempted to prevent Palestinians from displaying their flag and from broadcasting nationalist songs.

Amid the anguish over Abu Akleh’s killing and shock at the police brutality against her funeral was a feeling of assuredness that despite its decades of efforts, Israel has failed to break the Palestinian people and their national liberation cause.
While eyes were on Abu Akleh’s funeral in Jerusalem, 15 Jewish families moved into a building in the West Bank city of Hebron.
This video shows Jewish settlers rushing to bring mattresses and other materials into the building, which belongs to a Palestinian family:
Israel’s transfer of its civilian population into occupied territory is a war crime under international law.

And it’s also the purpose of its military occupation of the West Bank that is about to stretch into its 56th year.

Protecting its illegal settlement enterprise by stamping out Palestinian resistance is why the Israeli army was in Jenin refugee camp the day Shireen Abu Akleh was killed and on Friday morning, when an Israeli commando was fatally injured by fighters.

The Israeli officer killed in Burqin village, adjacent to Jenin refugee camp, was identified as Noam Raz from the Yamam “counterterrorism” unit of the Israeli police. The Times of Israel described him as “a founding member and resident of the settlement of Kida” in the West Bank.

Raz was shot following an hours-long standoff after Israeli military forces surrounded the home of Mahmoud al-Dabai in Jenin refugee camp.

Daoud Zubeidi, the brother of Zakaria Zubeidi, the Fatah military leader who escaped from Israeli prison last year, was reportedly critically injured during the Israeli raid in Jenin.

The Tel Aviv daily Haaretz, citing Israeli military officials, reported that “some of the forces that entered the refugee camp were there as part of the Israeli probe into Abu Akleh’s death.”

Israel backtracks from blaming Palestinians

The Washington Post reported on Thursday that “the Israeli military said that it was investigating the possibility that the fatal shot may have been fired by one of its soldiers.”

The paper added that it “marked a significant backtrack from Israel’s initial explanation for the shooting — that Abu Akleh was ‘most likely’ hit by fire from Palestinian militants.”

An Israeli military spokesperson told The Washington Post that it had taken the guns from the soldiers involved “to have them available for ballistic testing,” the paper said.

A senior Israeli military official told The Wall Street Journal that a bullet fired by a soldier “could have deflected off the ground or a wall and struck” the journalist.

The Palestinian Authority has refused to comply with Israel’s demand to hand over the bullet that killed Abu Akleh for ballistic testing.

Israel has mishandled evidence in its previous investigations into the killing of Palestinians by its forces and has an overwhelming interest in deflecting blame elsewhere.

Human rights groups have long excoriated Israel’s self-investigations as whitewashing mechanisms intended to shield it from international accountability rather than delivering justice to Palestinians.

Witnesses, including the journalists who survived the attack, have asserted that there was no exchange of fire at the time that Abu Akleh was hit and that the press crew came under direct Israeli attack.


Maureen Clare Murphy

Maureen Clare Murphy's picture

Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.