The Israeli newspaper Arab 48 reports that at least 33 mourners were injured by Israeli security forces who attacked the Christian funeral procession to a cathedral for the body of murdered American correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh on Friday.
The actions of the Israeli security forces can only be explained by settler-colonial fear that the indigenous people will refuse to give up their identity and melt away. Frequent police attacks on peaceful worshipers at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in recent weeks are also attempts to break up gatherings where Palestinians proclaim and reinforce their identity as rightful inhabitants of the land. National identities are fluid and always being constructed and reconstructed. Just as Ukrainian nationalism has been reinforced by the Russian invasion, so Palestinian nationalism has been given a fillip by Israeli attacks on East Jerusalem neighborhoods in the past year, and this is even true for the 20 percent of Israeli citizens who are of Palestinian heritage.
Ms. Abu Akleh’s body was at Saint Joseph French Hospital in Sheikh Jarrah, a neighborhood of Occupied East Jerusalem. Mourners gathered there and Muslims prayed Friday prayers outside.
After that, pall-bearers led the procession with her casket, heading for the Cathedral of the Annunciation of the Virgin about a mile and a half away. The Melkite Catholic cathedral is in the heart of the Christian quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. The Abu Akleh family are Melkite Catholics, a uniate church with an Eastern Orthodox rite that doctrinally is in full communion with Rome. Many Levantine Christians are Eastern Orthodox, as in Greece and Russia, but in the medieval period some of them recognized the pope.
Israeli security forces were determined to prevent the mile and a half procession from becoming a Palestinian pride parade, and surrounded the hospital with reinforcements. They attacked the mourners, hitting the pall-bearers with batons, and at one point almost causing Ms. Abu Akleh’s casket to go crashing down onto the ground. They also deployed stun grenades. Some Palestinians were displaying the Palestinian flag, and the Israeli security forces grabbed those flags away and charged the mourners.
Al Jazeera managing director Mohamed Moawad was astonished by the disrespect and brutality of the Israeli police, in “attacking the funeral of their victim.” He noted that the funeral procession was made up of peaceful civilians and that there was no security threat that would justify police attacks.
Although the Israeli forces attempted to excuse their behavior by claiming that the crowd threw rocks at them, even CNN noted that its cameras did not see any evidence of that. The crowd did throw plastic water bottles, but that appears to have been a response to the security forces’ interference with the funeral.
The police locked up the gate of the hospital, trapping a big crowd of mourners in the courtyard, and did not release them until after the funeral was over.
The Israeli authorities insisted that the body be brought to the church in a hearse, and after the attack on the mourners, the family reluctantly agreed.
In footage captured at the scene, an Israeli policeman can be seen roughing up the pall-bearers, some of whom wanted to ride in the back with the coffin, pulling one man out onto the ground. They also knocked off a Palestinian flag that was draped over the hearse.
The casket arrived at the church and services were held there. Al Jazeera reported that Israeli forces prevented many mourners from attending the services, asking people if they were Christian or Muslim and refusing to let the Muslims attend.
Then the Israeli security forces again went on a rampage, attacking the mourners gathered outside the church. They also went through and systematically tore down posters of Ms. Abu Akleh that had been pasted on the walls of the church and the surrounding neighborhood by Palestinian youth, and they arrested some of those putting up the posters. The text on the posters blamed the Israeli army for killing Ms. Abu Akleh, which it almost certainly did.
Despite this concerted harassment and physical beatings, a procession took the casket from the church to the cemetery at Mt. Zion. Police threw up barricades on side streets along the route of the procession to the cemetery to keep people in the neighborhood from joining it, and put a helicopter up over the old city to intimidate mourners, according to Arab 48 correspondent Omar Dalasheh.
Meanwhile, Arab 48 reports that Israeli Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi admitted on Israeli television on Friday that it was “entirely possible” that prominent American correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh was killed by a bullet fired by an Israeli soldier. The remark was an about-face for Israeli authorities, who initially attempted to blame Palestinian resistance fighters and who even released a doctored video attempting to implicate the latter. Journalists around Ms. Abu Akleh such as Ali Al-Samudi, who was also shot, said that there were no Palestinian fighters in their vicinity and that their position took concerted sniper fire for three full minutes. If this report is true, then Ms. Abu Akleh did not get caught in the crossfire– she was targeted by snipers as were her camera crew.
The astonishingly uncivilized behavior of the Israeli security forces elicited widespread international condemnation, including from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and White House spokesperson Jen Psaki, although as usual the American response was a bit mealy-mouthed, only complaining about an “intrusion” into the funeral. It is sort of like calling the January 6 insurrection an “intrusion” into the capitol.
European Union High Representative Josep Borrell said that the EU was “appalled” by the scene on Friday. In a statement, he said, “The EU condemns the disproportionate use of force and the disrespectful behaviour by the Israeli police against the participants of the mourning procession. Allowing for a peaceful farewell and letting mourners grieve in peace without harassment and humiliation, is the minimal human respect. The EU reiterates its call for a thorough and independent investigation that clarifies all the circumstances of Shireen Abu Akleh’s death that brings those responsible for her killing to justice.”
Editor’s Note: This essay originally appeared on May 14, 2022, on Informed Comment: Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion, a website featuring commentary by Professor Juan Cole. It was reproduced here with the consent of Professor Cole.
Image Credit: The Independent