Israeli police attacked the funeral of Shireen Abu Akleh in occupied East Jerusalem on Friday, nearly causing mourners to drop the casket of the renowned Palestinian American journalist.
Abu Akleh was fatally shot while covering an Israeli raid on a refugee camp in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday. Fellow journalists who witnessed the shooting said Israeli forces had fired on them. Israel’s prime minister and other senior officials initially said Palestinian militants were “likely” to blame, but the Israeli army admitted on Friday that one of its soldiers might have fired the fatal shot.
The assault on the mourners, who were beaten with clubs at a hospital in East Jerusalem, stunned viewers who watched it unfold on live television, further enraging Palestinians and the dead journalist’s colleagues and fans.
Israeli police said they attacked the procession because mourners waved Palestinian flags and chanted nationalist slogans. The televised assault on the funeral of a beloved figure only intensified the outrage over her death and the video was quickly remixed and shared across social networks.
Thousands of people later joined the procession for a beloved national hero before a funeral at a Catholic church in Jerusalem’s Old City.
The suppression of dissent continued throughout the day.
Later on Friday, Israel’s army said the results of an interim internal investigation suggested that its soldiers might have fired the shots that killed the Al Jazeera correspondent and wounded her colleague.
That admission marked a sharp retreat from the initial version of events offered by Israeli officials, who responded to anger over the killing of Abu Akleh on Wednesday by quickly distributing video of a Palestinian gunman firing down an alley during the raid. Officials also released statements calling it “likely” that the journalist was killed by a Palestinian militant, not an Israeli soldier.
Later the same day, however, a researcher for the Israeli rights group B’Tselem, Abdulkarim Sadi, recorded video showing that the Palestinian militant had been in a part of the camp that made it impossible for him to have shot Abu Akleh.
Israel’s military then released body camera video of its soldiers retreating from that part of the camp and emerging on a street where armored vehicles were waiting to extract them. Geolocation by the B’Tselem researcher and others showed that the Israeli armored vehicles were parked on the street where Abu Akleh was shot.
The interim Israeli investigation acknowledged that the Israeli vehicles were parked about 200 meters away from Abu Akleh, and said that if she was shot by an Israeli soldier, it must have been because the soldier “fired several bullets from a special slit in the jeep and through a telescopic site at a terrorist… and there’s a possibility that the reporter stood near the terrorist. ”
That version of events was flatly contradicted by several other journalists who were with Abu Akleh at the time and insisted that they were nowhere near any of the Palestinian militants in the camp.
Hagai El-Ad, the executive director of B’Tselem, told me by phone on Friday that there is no reason to expect the Israeli army to release any more of the video it collected from soldiers after the incident. The Israel Defense Forces, El-Ad said, has a track record of only releasing video evidence “when it is beneficial to support the Army version of events.”
The rights activist also called it “grotesque” that the United States had called for Palestinian authorities to conduct a joint investigation with Israel, given that Israel had repeatedly used slow-moving investigations to “whitewash” the killing of Palestinian civilians living under Israeli military rule .
The American pressure on Palestinian officials to allow Israel to take part in the investigation of itself shows the “US complicity in what’s going on here,” El-Ad said, even when the victim is, like Abu Akleh, an American citizen.