Israeli police said they would investigate “the events that unfolded at the funeral” of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh on Friday.
“Unfortunately, during the funeral, serious violent events unfolded on the part of the attendees which escalated the situation on the ground,” Israeli Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev said in a statement to CNN.
“The investigation team appointed by Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai and led by Brigadier General Anna Ben Mordechai – a seasoned commander who knows the area in which the funeral took place – will conduct a thorough investigation into what happened. passed by during the funeral the next day, in order to learn lessons from the incident. Those lessons will be presented to the Commissioner of Police and then to me,” he added.
Israeli police came under fire after Friday’s parade, in which TV footage showed officers beating mourners with batons, forcibly removing Palestinian flags and arresting people carrying the flag. Video released by Israeli police shows officers tearing Palestinian flags from the hearse carrying Abu Akleh’s coffin.
The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ruled in September 2021 that flying the Palestinian flag was not a criminal offense in Israel. Nonetheless, CNN witnessed the arrest of at least two individuals carrying flags during Abu Akleh’s motorcade.
“Flying the Palestinian flag is not an offense under Israeli law,” Ahmad Tibi, a member of Israel’s Knesset, told CNN on Friday.
“When Omer Bar-Lev was appointed Israel’s Public Security Minister, he issued a directive limiting the confiscation of Palestinian flags from protesters to cases where there is an immediate risk of public disorder. But what the police are doing is in direct opposition to the minister’s orders… What we see is the phobia of the Palestinian flag,” he added.
When asked by CNN to clarify the reason for the removal of the Palestinian flags and the arrest of those carrying the flag, the Israel Police responded with a statement, which was also shared publicly on its Twitter account.
“Israeli Police yesterday prepared to hold a quiet and dignified funeral for journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and coordinated funeral arrangements with her family. Unfortunately, hundreds of rioters attempted to sabotage the ceremony and harm the police,” the statement read.
“The Israel Police stands behind its officers, but as a professional organization that seeks to learn and improve, it will also learn from the incident,” he added.
Mourners carried Abu Akleh’s coffin out of St. Joseph’s Hospital in East Jerusalem on Friday, where his body remained until burial, but met heavy resistance from Israeli police who forced them to transport the body in a 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 in the Arab world, delivering what many have called “the voice of Palestinian suffering” and their “aspirations for freedom”. .
“She had a huge impact on Palestine and all the people. She left her fingerprint on everyone’s heart,” Lareen Abu Akleh, Shireen’s niece, told CNN.
Nafisa Khwais, a Palestinian who considered herself a mother figure to Shireen, told CNN she 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 relatives. We are his whole family,” Khwais said.
“Two weeks ago, she hid me behind her back when clashes broke out near Damascus Gate and said to me, ‘Mother, come here. I’m so worried about you’ and handed me a bottle of water. I loved Shireen. She was the voice of all Palestinians,” she said.
Friday’s events drew global reactions from various officials who said they were “shocked” by what they had seen.
“We were deeply disturbed by the footage of Israeli police interfering with the funeral procession of Palestinian American Shireen Abu Akleh. Every family deserves to rest their loved ones with dignity and unhindered,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a Twitter post on Friday.
A senior State Department official later said Blinken spoke to the journalist’s family and expressed his condolences as he traveled to an informal meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin, Germany.
Blinken offered “sincere condolences for their loss,” the official said. Blinken also offered the continued support of the State Department team in Jerusalem to their 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 the Israeli police forces during the funeral procession”, adding that “such disproportionate force is inappropriate and unacceptable”.