May 13, 2022 - World

U.S. "deeply troubled" by Israeli police's actions at Shireen Abu Akleh's funeral

Israeli police beat mourners carrying Shireen Abu Akleh's casket outside a hospital in Jerusalem.

Israeli police beat mourners carrying Shireen Abu Akleh's casket outside a hospital in Jerusalem. Photo: Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency via Getty Image

The U.S. is "deeply troubled by the images of Israeli police intruding into the funeral procession" of Palestinian American Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Jerusalem on Friday, Secretary of State Tony Blinken said in a statement.

Driving the news: Footage aired live on Al Jazeera shows Israeli police beating Palestinian mourners, including some carrying the coffin of Abu Akleh, with batons and firing stun grenades as they tried to leave a Jerusalem hospital at the start of the procession.

What they're saying: "Every family deserves to be able to lay their loved ones to rest in a dignified and unimpeded manner, " Blinken said.

  • "We remain in close contact with our Israeli and Palestinian counterparts and call on all to maintain calm and avoid any actions that could further escalate tensions," he added.
  • Separately on Friday, President Biden told reporters that he doesn't know "all the details" about Abu Akleh's death, but it "has to be investigated.” It was the first time he publicly addressed the Palestinian American's killing.

Abu Akleh's brother, Tony, told the BBC after the funeral that Israeli police "wanted us to not have any Palestinian flags risen during the funeral, not to chant. They wanted to restrict the movement of the funeral in some ways."

  • "We were trying to leave the hospital and we were faced with many soldiers brutally beating participants," Tony Abu Akleh said, adding that the White House "should take some action" against Israel.
  • "She gave her life for Palestine and I think it's time to put an end to the occupation atrocities in Palestine."

The latest: Israel's chief of police ordered an investigation into the "operational incident," a spokesperson announced Saturday. The statement claimed "hundreds of rioters tried to sabotage the ceremony and harm the police" and that "force was subsequently used by the police."

  • "The Israel Police supporters its police officers, but as a professional organization that seeks to learn and improve, it will also draw lessons from the incident," the spokesperson said.
  • After the incident on Friday, the police spokesperson had claimed the police intervened at the start of the procession to disperse a "mob and prevent them from taking the coffin, so that the funeral could proceed as planned in accordance with the wishes of the family."
  • The spokesperson said that police had coordinated plans for the funeral procession in advance with Abu Akleh's family. According to police, the coffin was supposed to be loaded into a hearse.

The big picture: Thousands had gathered in Jerusalem Friday for the funeral of the veteran journalist who was killed Wednesday while covering an Israeli military operation in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin.

  • Palestinians, Al Jazeera and journalists who witnessed Abu Akleh's death say she was killed by Israeli gunfire.
  • The Israeli military earlier Friday released preliminary findings of its investigation into the journalist's death, saying it's impossible to know from whose fire Abu Akleh was killed without a ballistic examination of the piece of the bullet that was removed from her body.
  • The military said it had offered to do a joint ballistic examination of the bullet with the Palestinians and U.S. experts, but Palestinian officials refused the proposal.

Behind the scenes: Earlier Friday, U.S. officials conveyed a protest to the Israeli government about the actions of the Israeli police during the funeral procession, two U.S. and Israeli sources told Axios.

  • Israeli and U.S. officials told Axios that on Thursday the U.S. ambassador to Israel told Israeli officials that the Biden administration wanted the funeral to be respectful and that access should be granted to all those who wanted to participate. Israeli government officials told the U.S. they would make an effort for that to happen, according to the officials.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with Tony Abu Akleh's comments to the BBC and Saturday's statement from Israeli police.

Go deeper