JERUSALEM — Israeli police on Friday assaulted mourners at the funeral procession for a prominent Palestinian American journalist killed this week in the occupied West Bank, forcing pallbearers to nearly drop the coffin.
The video showed police in Jerusalem beat and kicked pallbearers carrying the coffin containing the body of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, beat other mourners with batons and threw a man to the ground. During the commotion, the pallbearers were pushed backward, causing them to briefly lose control of one end of the coffin.
The incident happened outside an East Jerusalem hospital, where mourners had gathered to take the coffin of Ms Abu Akleh, who was a Christian, to a nearby church for her funeral.
It was one of several spasms of tension during a busy afternoon, as riot police in several locations in East Jerusalem confronted crowds of mourners waving Palestinian flags and chanting Palestinian slogans. . Israel considers East Jerusalem part of its capital, but it is mostly populated by Palestinians, and much of the international community considers it occupied territory.
The funeral procession incident lasted about a minute and followed a tense confrontation between paramilitary police and mourners in which at least one empty plastic bottle was thrown in the direction of police.
The police then suddenly advanced towards the coffin, swinging batons and aiming kicks at the mourners. As the police advanced, mourners threw projectiles, including what appeared to be a baton, and officers threw what appeared to be stun and smoke grenades.
In a statement, Israel Police said they had “taken coercive action” after some mourners began chanting “incitement to nationalism” and after officers issued a warning to the crowd. As the coffin was taken out of the hospital, police said they were ‘forced to act’ because ‘rioters started throwing stones at the officers’.
Police later distributed a video showing an empty plastic bottle and two other bottle-shaped objects being thrown towards officers moments before they advanced on the porters, and another undated video showing several rocks on the ground . There was no clear indication of when or how the stones had reached this location.
Ms Abu Akleh was shot dead Wednesday morning in the occupied West Bank during an Israeli raid on the city of Jenin. Witnesses said she was killed by an Israeli soldier.
The Israeli army said on Friday that while it was possible that Ms Abu Akleh was mistakenly killed by Israeli fire, its initial investigation suggested that she could also have been hit by a Palestinian gunman.
On Thursday, Israeli police warned Ms Abu Akleh’s family against displaying “flags and slogans” at the funeral, said Ahmad Tibi, a Palestinian member of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.
At one point during the funeral, a man holding a wreath stood between the pallbearers and the police. Later, as the black hearse carrying his coffin began to slowly make its way through the crowd, an Israeli police officer ripped three Palestinian flags from the vehicle and threw them to the ground, video showed.
Church bells throughout the Old City rang out as mourners chanted, “With our souls, with our blood, we sacrifice for you, Shireen.
A spokeswoman for Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett declined to comment, as did a spokeswoman for Israeli Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev, who oversees the police.
The funeral was attended by thousands and took place a day after a state memorial service was held in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Mourners stood in the courtyard of the Palestinian Authority’s presidential headquarters to eulogize and bid farewell to a person considered by many Palestinians to be a pioneering journalist.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas awarded him the Star of Jerusalem, also known as the Quds Star. One of the highest honors the Palestinian president can bestow, it is traditionally given to ministers, ambassadors and members of parliament. Mr Abbas described Ms Abu Akleh as a “martyr of truth and free speech”.
She was then taken to be buried at Mount Zion Protestant Cemetery, next to her parents.
Hiba Yazbek contributed reporting from Nazareth, Israel, and Iyad Abu Hweila from Gaza City.