The brother of slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh Monday blasted the violent intervention by Israeli police into her funeral as “unacceptable and unjustifiable.”
“They could have easily blocked the road if they didn’t want to see the funeral leave the hospital but the attack was intentional and brutal,” Tony Abu Akleh told CNN.
Speaking at St. Joseph Hospital in East Jerusalem, where Friday’s funeral procession began, he said he had spoken to Israeli police before the event.
“The police called me and asked me to go to the police station and they wanted to know the route of the procession and the arrangements taken for the funeral. They asked us not to have any Palestinian flags risen, any slogans or chanting. They didn’t want to hear that,” Abu Akleh said.
“And they wanted to know the number of participating in the funeral procession. I told them I can’t give you any promises, I don’t have the numbers and I can’t control the crowd. This funeral is a national funeral for everyone to participate in. And that is what we saw,” he added.
The hospital condemned the “violent intrusion of the Israeli Police” in a statement on Monday.
St. Joseph Hospital called the events a “severe violation of international norms and regulations.”
“We, the Bishops and the faithful of the Christian Churches in the Holy Land, hereby condemn the violent intrusion of the Israeli Police into a funeral procession of the slain journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, as it was going from St. Joseph Hospital to the Greek-Melkite Cathedral Church,” the statement said.
“Israeli Police’s invasion and disproportionate use of force, attacking mourners, striking them with batons, using smoke grenades, shooting rubber bullets, frightening the hospital’s patients is a severe violation of international norms and regulations,” the statement added.
“The police assaulted the holiness of the site and the campus of the hospital and the funeral without consideration, knowing that the St. Joseph Hospital is under the auspices of the Vatican and protected by the French government,” it added.
In security camera footage shared by the hospital on Monday, more than a dozen police officers are seen pouring into the hospital building with batons drawn and moving aggressively through corridors. CNN has reached out to Israel Police for a response to the St. Joseph Hospital allegations.
Israeli Minister of Public Security Omer Bar-Lev told CNN on Saturday the police “acted to allow the funeral procession for journalist Shireen Abu Akleh to proceed in an orderly fashion, in coordination with her family and from a clear understanding of sensitivity and complexity of the event.
He added that “during the course of the funeral, severe violent events unfolded on the part of those participating that worsened the situation on the ground.”
Israeli authorities have said they will investigate the incident, with the police tweeting: “Israel Police supports its police officers, but as a professional organization that seeks to learn and improve, it will also draw lessons from the incident.”
Abu Akleh, 51, was shot and killed in Jenin on Wednesday. Palestinian and Israeli authorities are separately investigating the killing. Al Jazeera has accused Israel of intentionally killing the veteran journalist.
Shireen Abu Akleh (Arabic: شيرين أبو عاقلة; January 3, 1971 – May 11, 2022) was a Palestinian-American journalist who worked as a reporter for the Arabic-language channel Al Jazeera for 25 years, and was one of the most prominent names across the Middle East for her decades of reporting in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.
On May 11, 2022, while wearing a blue vest with “PRESS” written on it, she was shot and killed while covering an Israeli military raid on the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank. Al Jazeera, an AFP photojournalist and the Palestinian Ministry of Health reported that the IDF killed her; while initial Israeli statements suggested a Palestinian might have killed her, later press releases stated that the killer’s identity was as yet unknown. Abu Akleh was a leading journalist in the Arab world. Her career included reporting on major Palestinian events as well as analyzing Israeli politics; her television reporting and distinct sign-offs were well-known, and she inspired many other Palestinians and Arabs to pursue careers in journalism.
The manner of her death and the disturbance at her funeral drew widespread condemnation.
Early life and education
Abu Akleh was born in Jerusalem on January 3, 1971, to a Palestinian Arab Christian family from Bethlehem. She spent time in the United States, obtaining U.S. citizenship through members of her mother’s family who lived in New Jersey. Abu Akleh’s parents died when she was younger. She has one brother.
Abu Akleh attended secondary school in Beit Hanina, then matriculated at the Jordan University of Science and Technology to study architecture, but decided not to pursue the profession; she instead transferred to Yarmouk University in Jordan, from which she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. After graduating, Abu Akleh returned to Palestine.
I chose journalism to be close to people. It might not be easy to change the reality, but at least I could bring their voice to the world.
Abu Akleh, in an Al Jazeera television segment
Abu Akleh worked as a journalist for Radio Monte Carlo and Voice of Palestine. She additionally worked for the UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East), the Amman Satellite Channel, and for the MIFTAH (the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy). In 1997, she began working as a journalist for Al Jazeera, as one of their first field correspondents, becoming well known as a reporter on their Arabic-language channel. She lived and worked in East Jerusalem, reporting on major events related to Palestine including the Second Intifada, and additionally covering Israeli politics. She often reported on funerals for Palestinians killed by Israeli forces.
Having reported on events including the Battle of Jenin in 2002 and various Israeli operations in the Gaza Strip, and interviewed long-term Palestinian prisoners at Shikma Prison in 2005 as the first Arab journalist allowed inside, Abu Akleh expressed concern that she was being targeted by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and armed Israeli settlers. In one interview with Al Jazeera, she stated that she had repeatedly been accused by Israeli authorities of photographing security areas.
Abu Akleh continued in her role with Al Jazeera until she was killed in 2022. In July 2021, she was to be the first Al Jazeera journalist to broadcast live from Cairo when the network was allowed to return due to an improvement in Egypt–Qatar relations. At the time of her death, she had been studying Hebrew in order to better understand narratives in the Israeli media, and had recently gained a diploma in digital media.
Abu Akleh’s career inspired many other Palestinians and Arabs to become journalists; her live television reporting and distinct signoffs were particularly well-known. After her death, The New York Times and NPR both described her as “a household name” among Palestinians. The Times of Israel characterized her as “a veteran journalist […] among Arab media’s most prominent figures”. The BBC described her as being widely known and admired by both viewers and colleagues.
Of course I get scared. In a specific moment you forget that fear. We don’t throw ourselves to death. We go and we try to find where we can stand and how to protect the team with me before I think about how I am going to go up on the screen and what I am going to say.
Abu Akleh, asked in 2017 by An-Najah NBC if she was afraid of being shot while reporting
On May 11, 2022, the Palestinian Health Ministry announced the death of Abu Akleh. She had been reporting on an IDF raid on a house when, according to witnesses and Al-Jazeera, she was shot and killed by the IDF. Al Jazeera accused Israel of deliberately targeting the victim. Abu Akleh was present at a raid which the Israeli military stated was targeted at capturing “terror suspects”. Al Jazeera said that Abu Akleh was shot in the head by the IDF, and transported to Ibn Sina Hospital, where she was pronounced dead. She was 51 years old. Another journalist, Ali Samodi of Al-Quds newspaper, was shot in the back but survived; two other Palestinians were transported to a hospital in moderate condition. The Times of London reported that Abu Akleh was shot by a sniper. Shatha Hanaysha, a Palestinian journalist, said that she and a fourth journalist, along with Abu Akleh and Ali Samodi, had been pinned down by Israeli snipers, who did not cease firing even after Abu Akleh went down, preventing Hanaysha from pulling the victim in.
According to the Israeli military, Palestinian militants had fired on IDF soldiers, after which the soldiers returned fire. The IDF released a video showing Palestinian gunmen firing in the Jenin camp, purportedly in the area where Abu Akleh was killed. In the video a militant was heard saying “They [Palestinian militants]’ve hit one, they’ve hit a soldier, he’s laying on the ground.” As no Israeli soldiers were injured during the operation, Israeli authorities said it was likely the Palestinians had shot Akleh by mistake, thinking she was a soldier. A Haaretz report found the possibility unlikely as several buildings blocked a direct line of sight between that militant and the reporter.
Multiple eyewitnesses, including two journalists standing next to Abu Akleh, reported that the area had been relatively quiet immediately prior to her death and no Palestinians, civilian or otherwise, were present, disputing Israeli statements of her having died in a crossfire. Al Jazeera reported that according to their Ramallah bureau chief, Walid Al-Omari, there was no shooting by Palestinian gunmen; Mustafa Barghouti of the Palestinian National Initiative also stated that there was “no exchange of fire” at the scene. Al-Omari also stated that Abu Akleh had been wearing a helmet and was shot in an unprotected area under her ear, suggesting that this demonstrated she was “deliberately targeted”. Video of the shooting showed Abu Akleh wearing a blue flak jacket that was clearly marked “PRESS”. An Agence France-Presse photojournalist reported that Israeli forces had shot and killed Abu Akleh.
An autopsy at An-Najah National University was unable to determine who shot Abu Akleh; the pathologist found no evidence that she had been shot at close range. The autopsy confirmed that Abu Akleh was killed by a bullet which struck her in the head, causing skull fractures and damage to the brain. The bullet was recovered and sent for further examination.
Al Jazeera reported that Abu Akleh’s home was raided by Israeli forces after she was killed, who confiscated Palestinian flags and prevented “the playing of nationalistic songs”.
Al Jazeera additionally reported that thousands of people had gathered in Ramallah in honor of Abu Akleh, where her body was transported to the network’s offices for colleagues, friends, and family to “bid her the final farewell”. Alternative Syndicate of the Press journalists gathered to honor Abu Akleh in downtown Beirut. In her hometown of Beit Hanina, at least five Palestinians were injured in confrontations with armed Israeli soldiers, while at least three were detained; a crowd in front of her home protested her killing.
The Palestinian Authority scheduled a state funeral procession to be held on May 12, 2022, in Ramallah, beginning at the Palestinian presidential headquarters. Mahmoud Abbas, President of the State of Palestine, planned to attend. Abu Akleh’s body was transported from Jenin through Nablus and Ramallah to her funeral in Jerusalem. Abu Akleh’s funeral took place on May 13 in East Jerusalem. Thousands of mourners attended, many carrying Palestinian flags. The procession began at the Saint Joseph Hospital in East Jerusalem but was interrupted when a group of mourners blocked the hearse’s path, insisting her body could be carried on their shoulders. Israeli police burst through the gates and attacked mourners with batons and stun grenades, some repeatedly hitting and kicking pall bearers that were backed against a wall resulting in her coffin nearly falling to the ground. The Israeli police said they acted on the grounds of the crowd “disrupting public order”. Israeli police tried to prohibit the mourners from publicly displaying the Palestinian flag, but mourners were seen openly waving the flag and chanting “Palestine! Palestine!” The police claimed (without providing evidence) that stones were thrown at its officers. A video showed a police officer telling the crowd that “If you don’t stop these chants and nationalistic songs we will have to disperse you using force and we won’t let the funeral take place.”
The coffin was later loaded on to a hearse and transported to the Cathedral of the Annunciation of the Virgin for the funeral, and from there carried on foot to the Mount Zion Cemetery where she was buried next to her parents.
The European Union released a statement saying it was “appalled by the violence in the St Joseph hospital compound and the level of unnecessary force exercised by Israeli police throughout the funeral procession.” On May 16, the convent-run Saint Joseph Hospital cited a statement from an organisation representing 12 Christian denominations, the Christian Churches of the Holy Land group, as saying “The police actions constituted an “invasion and disproportionate use of force … (and) a severe violation of international norms and regulations, including the fundamental right of freedom of religion”
Abu Akleh’s death drew widespread condemnation. Al Jazeera described the killing of Abu Akleh as a “horrifying crime that breaches international norms” and was committed “in cold blood”. The network’s managing director Giles Trendle stated that the network was “shocked and saddened” by her death and called for a transparent investigation.
President Abbas stated that he considered Israeli forces “fully responsible” for Abu Akleh’s death. Hussein al-Sheikh, the Palestinian Civil Affairs Minister, wrote on Twitter that Abu Akleh had been “martyred by the bullets of the Israeli occupation”, adding that the “crime of silencing the word” had been “committed once again, and the truth is murdered by the bullets of the Israeli occupation”. Head of the Palestinian Mission to the United Kingdom Husam Zomlot described Abu Akleh as a “beloved journalist” and his close friend.
Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett initially posted a tweet blaming the death on Palestinian gunmen, citing a video posted by the Israeli military. Human rights organization B’Tselem documented the exact location from which Palestinian militants depicted in that video had fired and the exact location in which Abu Akleh had been killed, observing that the two locations were hundreds of meters apart and separated by multiple walls and buildings. The Washington Post verified the distance between the two locations. Later in the day, the Israeli military chief, Lt Gen Aviv Kochavi, said: “At this stage we cannot determine by whose fire she was harmed and we regret her death.” In the evening Benny Gantz said “We are trying to figure out exactly what happened,” and “I don’t have final conclusions”, and promised a transparent investigation.
On May 11, the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine, Francesca Albanese, said that the crime constitutes a “serious violation of international humanitarian law and is potentially a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.” On May 13, United Nations human rights experts, Albanese and three other UN rapporteurs, reiterated the point, followed later by a rare unanimous UNSC resolution condemning the killing and demanding “an immediate, thorough, transparent and impartial investigation into her killing”.
According to Amos Harel, Israeli communications on the incident were overly hasty, and risked feeding suspicions of a cover-up. Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel told Israel Hayom he assumed Palestinian gunfire was to blame for her death. According to Haaretz, Kochavi’s statement was made “before any offer was relayed to the Palestinians” and several hours passed before Foreign Minister Yair Lapid discussed the situation with senior PA official Hussein al-Sheikh, who denied that any offer was made.
The United States Ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides, said “I encourage a thorough investigation into the circumstances of her death and the injury of at least one other journalist today in Jenin.” US State Department spokesman Ned Price and US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield both strongly condemned the killing. The former called it an “affront to media freedom everywhere” and said the perpetrators “must be held accountable”, while the latter called for a “thorough investigation”.
According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), 144 Palestinian journalists have been wounded by Israeli forces across the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem since 2018. In April 2022, the International Federation of Journalists filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court accusing Israeli forces of systematic targeting of journalists. The complaint details four cases, Ahmed Abu Hussein, Yaser Murtaja, Muath Amarneh, and Nedal Eshtayeh alleged to have been targetted. The director of RSF, Christophe Deloire, described her killing as a violation of the Geneva Conventions and United Nations Security Council resolution 2222 on the protection of journalists. He stated that RSF was “disappointed” with a proposal by Yair Lapid that Israel should participate in a joint investigation into Abu Akleh’s death, saying that “an independent international investigation must be launched” instead. The Committee to Protect Journalists called for a “swift, immediate, and transparent investigation” into the killing, while the International Federation of Journalists condemned the killing “by Israeli troops” and called for an “immediate investigation”. Amnesty International described it as a “bloody reminder of the deadly system in which Israel locks Palestinians” and called for an end to “unlawful killings” of Palestinians by Israeli forces. The Palestine Journalists Syndicate described the killing as “a clear assassination perpetrated by the Israeli occupation army”.
Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani, deputy prime minister of Qatar, condemned what he called the “horrific crimes by the occupation against unarmed Palestinian people.” Deputy foreign minister Lolwah Al-Khater tweeted “state sponsored Israeli terrorism must stop” and “unconditional support to Israel must end.” The foreign ministry of Kuwait issued a statement condemning what they described as the killing of Abu Akleh by Israeli forces; similar statements were made by the foreign ministries of Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Djibouti, China, Iran, and South Africa.
While Israel and the Palestinians wrangle over the details of how the investigation into the death should proceed, several independent groups have launched their own investigations. Bellingcat carried out a video and audio analysis of social media from Palestinian and Israeli military sources concluding that while gunmen and Israeli soldiers were both present, the evidence supported witness accounts that Israeli fire was responsible. Israeli human rights group B’tselem is also conducting an investigation.
Minister of Defence Benny Gantz said the IDF had requested the Palestinians to let the Israelis examine the bullet. Israel also suggested a joint probe into the death, which was rejected by the Palestinian Authority on the grounds that it wanted an independent investigation.
After earlier stating that they would be willing to accept an outside partner, late Sunday, the Palestinians said that they would handle the investigation alone. The PA have announced they would fully handle the investigation internally, with Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh stating “We also refused to have an international investigation because we trust our capabilities as a security institution…We will not hand over any of the evidence to anyone because we know that these people are able to falsify the facts.”
The IDF has announced that it had begun investigating the possibility that one of its soldiers had shot and killed Abu Akleh, beginning inquiries into three shooting incidents that involved its soldiers, with one of them occurring within 150 metres (500 ft) of where Abu Akleh was located. An IDF official said that this was “the more probable to be involved in the death” of the three being investigated.
Israel said it would carry out “a comprehensive investigation of what happened during the funeral, in order to learn lessons from the event”. Findings would be presented in due course.