The death of Shireen Abu Akleh, Al Jazeera’s celebrated Palestine correspondent—who was shot in the head while covering a gun battle between Israeli army forces and Palestinian fighters in the West Bank city of Jenin last Wednesday—has spiraled from tragedy into a full-blown diplomatic crisis for Israel.
A series of clumsy reactions to the journalist’s death, and the police’s catastrophic handling of her funeral on Friday, where officers beat pallbearers with batons and dispersed the crowds with stun grenades, have left Israel exposed to a diplomatic maelstrom, with criticism coming from even the country’s strongest allies.
Israeli police has not responded to queries about its deployment of anti-terror police at the funeral, or its methods of riot control.
Videos of Abu Akleh’s coffin tipping over, slipping from the pallbearers’ hands and almost hitting the ground drew a rare rebuke from Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who personally called Abu Akleh’s family to express condolences over the death of the renowned Palestinian American journalist.
The United States was “deeply troubled to see the images of Israeli police intruding into her funeral procession,” Blinken said, in a statement. actions that could further escalate tensions. ”
More forcefully, the European Union said it was “appalled” by the scenes unfolding during Abu Akleh’s funeral and condemned “the disproportionate use of force and the disrespectful behavior by the Israeli police against the participants of the mourning procession.”
An Israel police statement released at midnight on Friday, the day of the funeral, claimed that a “mob” had threatened the driver of the hearse carrying Abu Akleh’s coffin, disrupting plans “coordinated in advance by the Israel Police together with the Abu Akleh family . ””
“Israeli police intervened to disperse the mob and prevent them from taking the coffin, so that the funeral could proceed as planned in accordance with the wishes of the family,” police said, in a statement that was ripped to shreds by the journalist’s brother, Tony Abu Akleh, who told CNN that the police’s actions amounted to an “intentional and brutal” attack.
Towards the end of one video, a commander appears to be reprimanding some of the officers.
On Monday, east Jerusalem’s Saint Joseph’s Hospital, where Abu Akleh’s body was prepared for burial, released a video of about a dozen Israeli police officers raiding its wards for no apparent reason.
Israel police have announced an investigation into the incident, which saw officers ripping Palestinian flags from the hands of mourners and, in one case, preventing a mourner from approaching the procession because her headdress was in the colors of the flag, which is legal to display in Israel.
Over the weekend, it emerged that Jerusalem District Commander Doron Turgeman had ordered his officers to confiscate Palestinian flags from Germany, where he was a member of a police delegation.
Turgeman has gained notoriety in recent years for the rough policing of his officers, which included attacks on foreign journalists covering protests against former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
On Monday, Israeli media reported that the police were investigating whether officers assigned to secure the funeral had even been authorized to use batons..
The police’s definition of mourners as a “mob,” which drew worldwide attention, appeared to be a mistranslation of the words “lawbreakers and agitators”Which appeared in the Hebrew version of the police statement.
In a radio interview, former Israel Defense Forces spokesperson Jonathan Conricus slammed the police for not schematically any English-speaking communications professionals before describing the incident as “a Palestinian ambush” which should have been foreseen, and included the willing cooperation of the foreign media stationed in Israel.
Conricus declined to explain his terminology when approached by The Daily Beast.
“Israel’s credibility is not very high in such events.”
A unanimous United Nations Security Council resolution demanding an independent investigation into how the trailblazing reporter was killed, on the job, and a growing chorus of calls from the White House for an “immediate and thorough” examination do not appear to be bearing fruit.
Almost a week after Abu Akleh’s death, the investigation into its cause appears to be stagnant. A Palestinian coroner who performed an autopsy and examined the bullet that passed through her helmet said results were “inconclusive.”
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that the Israeli army’s was firm in its decision “to have a full-scale investigation of this process,” but admitted not having arrived at any results.
“We are in the middle of the investigation, and I do not want to rule out any scenario at the moment,” he said, underscoring the importance he attributes to “safeguarding human life and freedom of the press,” and requesting forensic data from the Palestinian government.
But a rapid analysis of open source data undertaken by Bellingcat, the independent investigations organization, supports witness testimony that the shots that hit Abu Akleh were fired by the Israeli army..
A report entitled “Unraveling the Killing of Shireen Abu Akleh” concludes that it is most likely that Abu Akleh was shot by an Israeli soldier.
Israel has not made a good name for itself in probing the deaths of reporters killed in action. The Israeli army claims that the death of 30-year-old photojournalist Yasser Murtaja remains under investigation four years after he succumbed to his wounds on April 6, 2018. Murtaja was shot in broad daylight while covering protests on the border between Gaza and Israel. Like Abu Akleh, he was wearing a flak jacket emblazoned with the word “PRESS”.
Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai, also a former IDF spokesperson, admitted as much, telling an Israeli radio station that based on past experience, “Israel’s credibility is not very high in such events.”