Israel Police decided on Saturday to investigate the conduct of its officers who raided the funeral of a slain Al Jazeera journalist, forcing mourners to briefly drop the coffin during the ceremony in Jerusalem.
Police forces beat pallbearers with batons at the start of Friday’s funeral procession for Shireen Abu Akleh, who witnesses said was killed by Israeli troops on Wednesday during a raid in the occupied West Bank. The Israeli army says Palestinian gunmen were in the area and it is unclear who fired the fatal bullet.
The shocking scenes of the funeral and death of the 51-year-old Palestinian-American journalist have sparked global condemnation and calls for investigations, including from the United States and the United Nations.
In a statement Saturday, Israel Police said its commissioner had ordered an investigation that would be concluded in the coming days.
“The Israel Police stands by its officers, but as a professional organization that seeks to learn and improve, it will also learn from the incident,” the statement said.
At the same time, senior officials including Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev appeared to close ranks in support of the officers, reiterating earlier claims that troops present at the funeral acted in response to the violence. Human rights groups said Jerusalem police frequently use excessive force against Palestinians, without being investigated or held accountable.
The funeral attack added to the sense of grief and outrage that followed the death of Abu Akleh, a veteran journalist and household name in the Arab world. They also illustrated the deep sensitivities over East Jerusalem – which is claimed by both Israel and the Palestinians and has sparked repeated cycles of violence.
Ahead of the burial, a large crowd gathered to escort his coffin from a hospital in East Jerusalem to a Catholic church in the nearby Old City. Many mourners held Palestinian flags, and the crowd began to shout, “We sacrifice our souls and our blood for you, Shireen.
Shortly after, the Israeli police intervened, shoving and beating the mourners. As helmeted riot police approached, they struck pallbearers, causing one man to lose control of the coffin as it fell towards the ground. Police snatched Palestinian flags from people’s hands and fired stun grenades to disperse the crowd.
On Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US administration was “troubled by footage of Israeli police interfering with the funeral procession” of Abu Akleh, who was also a US citizen. “Every family deserves to rest their loved ones with dignity and without hindrance,” he tweeted.
Unanimous condemnation came Friday from the UN Security Council, which called in a rare statement for “an immediate, thorough, transparent and impartial investigation into his murder”.
On Friday evening, the Palestinian public prosecutor said preliminary findings show that Abu Akleh was killed by deliberate fire from Israeli troops. The prosecutor said the investigation would continue. The Israeli army said earlier on Friday that she was killed in an exchange of fire with Palestinian militants and could not determine the source of the shot that killed her.
Israel called for a joint investigation with the Palestinian Authority and urged it to hand over the bullet for forensic analysis to determine who fired the fatal bullet. The PA refused, saying it would conduct its own investigation and send the results to the International Criminal Court, which is already investigating possible Israeli war crimes.
The AP and Al Jazeera, which have long had strained relations with Israel, have accused Israel of deliberately killing Abu Akleh. Israel denies the charges.
Abu Akleh was a member of the small Palestinian Christian community in the Holy Land. Palestinian Christians and Muslims marched side by side on Friday in a show of unity.
She was shot in the head Wednesday morning during an Israeli military raid in the West Bank city of Jenin.
Associated Press writer Fares Akram in Hamilton, Ont., contributed.