Police probe said to conclude its use of force at Abu Akleh’s funeral was avoidable

Internal investigation, launched amid global outcry after cops rushed mourners, beat pallbearers at Al Jazeera reporter’s burial, set to lead to an officer being ‘demerited’

Shireen Abu Akleh's casket almost hits the ground outside Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Jerusalem, May 13, 2022 (Screenshot / Washington Post)
Shireen Abu Akleh's casket almost hits the ground outside Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Jerusalem, May 13, 2022 (Screenshot / Washington Post)

An internal police investigation into the events surrounding the funeral for slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh has found the use of force by officers against participants in the procession could have been avoided, according to a television report Thursday.

The investigation is primarily focused on incidents of police officers rushing at and beating pallbearers, and firing stun grenades, outside an East Jerusalem hospital during the May 13 funeral procession, nearly causing Abu Akleh’s casket to fall to the ground.

Police have faced intense scrutiny and global criticism over officers’ violent behavior at the funeral, which also saw officers, club drawn, enter the Saint Joseph’s Hospital itself. Police commissioner Kobi Shabtai launched the internal investigation the next day.

According to Channel 13, the interim report concluded that the use of force — including stun grenades — could have been avoided. A commanding officer at the scene will reportedly have a demerit added to his personal record over the incident.

The report said the investigation also found that police received intelligence about a potential attempt by thousands of demonstrators to reach Jerusalem’s Haim Bar-Lev Street, to disturb the peace and try to harm Jews driving there.

Police said it was therefore necessary to prevent crowds from reaching the road and that was the reason the casket was taken by a hearse to the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City.

Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American and a 25-year veteran of the Al Jazeera satellite channel, was killed on May 11 during clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen while covering an Israeli military raid in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank. The Palestinians have accused Israeli forces of intentionally targeting her, while Israel has said there is not yet conclusive evidence that would determine whether she was shot by IDF soldiers or by Palestinian gunmen.

Mourners carry the coffin of slain veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh during her burial at the Mount Zion Cemetery outside Jerusalem’s Old City on May 13, 2022. (Hazem Bader / AFP)

Video footage documented both the police violence against the pallbearers and others outside the hospital, and showed dozens of Israel Police officers rushing into the hospital, hitting and shoving people inside, including patients, and firing from the grounds of the medical center.

Some of the video clips — including security footage from inside Saint Joseph’s Hospital — were presented by local Christian leaders at a press conference during which they tore into police conduct during Abu Akleh’s funeral.

The Palestinian Red Crescent emergency service reported that its medics treated 33 Palestinians for injuries during the funeral; six were hospitalized.

Initial reports of the event said that police had designated the funeral procession to begin at the Jaffa Gate, but a group of Palestinians at the hospital seized Abu Akleh’s casket in an attempt to begin an impromptu march.

After a brief standoff, officers rushed the crowd, beating mourners and firing stun grenades into the crowd.

In official statements, police later said a mob of 300 rioters had seized the casket against the wishes of the family, and intended to march with it from the hospital to Jaffa Gate, in breach of understanding the police had reached with the family. Anton Abu Akleh, Shireen’s elder brother, said this untrue, said the family and mourners had hoped to hold a “smooth procession” but were “bombarded” by officers as they left the hospital.

Abu Akleh’s body was eventually driven by van from the hospital, surrounded by a police escort, to the Greek Melkite Church near Jaffa Gate, and from there in procession on foot for burial at a cemetery on Mount Zion. Officers tore Palestinian flags off the van before escorting it to the church.

Israeli police officers are seen in Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Jerusalem, from where Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh’s funeral set out, on May 16, 2022. (Screen capture: Twitter)

Police also released a video of a commander warning the crowd that he would not allow the procession to go ahead if they kept singing “nationalist and inciting chants.”

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