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Police violence at journalist’s funeral said to be over waving of Palestinian flags

Officers were ordered to take down any display of Palestinian national banner, with only the deputy district commander overseeing events; police insist plans properly approved

Israel police at the funeral procession of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh at St Joseph hospital in Jerusalem, May 13, 2022. (Jamal Awadl/Flash90)
Israel police at the funeral procession of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh at St Joseph hospital in Jerusalem, May 13, 2022. (Jamal Awadl/Flash90)

Police who intervened at the funeral of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, beating mourners and firing stun grenades into the crowd, became embroiled with mourners by attempting to seize the Palestinian flags they were displaying, the Haaretz daily reported on Sunday.

Officers had been given specific orders to take down any flags they encountered at Friday’s funeral procession for Abu Akleh, according to the newspaper report that cited unnamed police sources.

The order was given by Jerusalem District Police Commander Doron Turgeman, but overseen by his deputy, Danny Levi, as Turgeman himself was away in Germany as part of a police delegation.

At a preparation meeting the day before the funeral, Turgeman, who participated remotely, instructed that Palestinian flags be confiscated by officers during the funeral, according to the report.

“You can’t give orders remotely without being there on the ground,” a police source told Haaretz.

The source said that while removing one or two flags that might lead to a provocation might be possible, “there is no way to fight against dozens if not hundreds of flags at such a sensitive event, when every confrontation can lead to further violence.”

Israeli police confront mourners as they carry the casket of slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, almost topplling it, during her funeral in Jerusalem, May 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Maya Levin)

On the day itself, an even lower-ranking officer than Levi “ordered the cops to go, with clubs in their hands, all the way up to the pallbearers,” Channel 12 News reported.

More than 10,000 Palestinians showed up to pay their respects to Abu Akleh during the long, tense funeral on Friday that wound across Jerusalem from Sheikh Jarrah to the Mount Zion cemetery. But the day was marred by scenes of police beating Palestinian mourners bearing her casket at the St. Joseph’s Hospital.

In footage from the scene, Palestinians carried her casket forward in an attempt to form an impromptu procession on foot. After a brief standoff — during which some Palestinians hurled objects at police — officers rushed the crowd, beating mourners and firing stun grenades into the crowd. Under police attack, the pallbearers nearly dropped Abu Akleh’s casket.

Throughout the procession, police confiscated Palestinian flags from those attending, including pulling them from cars and windows of buildings, Haaretz reported.

The violence sparked widespread international condemnation. In the aftermath, Israeli police said they had acted against a mob of “300 rioters” who had violently seized the coffin, attacked cops, and sought to march on foot to the Old City, in violation of the family’s wishes.

In an interview with The Times of Israel on Sunday, Anton Abu Akleh, Shireen’s brother, said this police account was untrue. “Everyone who was there was there to mourn Shireen. What’s this mob they’re talking about? And even if there were one or two, how many police do you need to deal with it? The whole story here is illogical and untrue,” he said.

Police said in response to the Haaretz report that Levi’s operational plan for the funeral was approved “with all the relevant commanders and entities” including coordination with Abu Akleh’s family. In the interview, Anton Abu Akleh said that while he had met with police ahead of the funeral, and they demanded no flag-waving, he never agreed to their conditions.

Colleagues and friends react as the Palestinian flag-draped body of veteran Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh is brought to the news channel’s office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 11, 2022. (Abbas Momani/ Pool via AP)

All the decisions and orders decided on before the funeral and as it proceeded were made by officers on the ground, led by Levi, the police statement said Sunday. “Any attempt to paint a different situation is not truthful,” police said.

Even before the procession started, “there were calls of incitement that were accompanied by violent disruptions and the hurling of stones, bottles and objects at police,” the statement continued.

As a result, “police were forced to intervene and to push back the rioters that tried to turn the funeral into an illegal violent and inciting demonstration.”

Confiscation of PLO flags that were waved along with calls of incitement and rioting “was carried out in accordance with the law and the existing orders on the matter.”

There are no clear rules on when Palestinian flags are permitted to be displayed, and instructions from the attorney general are to remove them only when “there is a concern at the level of a high probability that waving the flag will lead to serious disruption of the public peace,” according to Haaretz.

Last year, Public Security Minister Omer Barlev, who is responsible for police, asked the police commissioner to limit the confiscation of flags at public events.

Arab Israelis and left-wing activist students, attend a rally marking the Nakba at the Tel Aviv University on May 15, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Many Palestinian flags were waved without intervention by police during a demonstration held Sunday morning at Tel Aviv University by Arab Israelis and left-wing activists to mark the Nakba, what the Arab world sees as the “catastrophe” of Israel’s establishment in 1948.

An internal police probe of the funeral and how it was handled by the force will be presented to Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai on Monday, Channel 12 news reported.

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