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Tragedy of journalist’s death exploited to intensify conflict

May 17, 2022 | Ahron Shapiro

Shireen Abu Akleh
Shireen Abu Akleh

On May 11, Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was tragically killed in the line of duty while reporting on an IDF raid on terror suspects in Jenin. While Al Jazeera was quick to accuse Israel of targeting and murdering Abu Akleh, and even denied Palestinians were involved in a gunfight with IDF soldiers in the area at the time, cellphone videos from the scene soon came to light that proved that Palestinians were shooting in the area as well.

The IDF quickly announced it is conducting an investigation into the incident.

Earlier, while raising the possibility Abu Akleh had been a victim of indiscriminate Palestinian gunfire, it could not rule out the possibility that Abu Akleh had been inadvertently hit by IDF soldiers in the midst of the gun battle.

It may be impossible to know for sure, since the Palestinian Authority has refused to participate in a joint investigation with Israel, the US or other parties to conclusively determine the source of the fire that killed Abu Akleh, and the PA also refuses to show the bullet extracted from the journalist’s body to Israel. If Israel had access to the bullet, ballistic tests could be done on all the weapons used by its soldiers in the Jenin raid and determine if any of the guns had fired that bullet.

Of course, even if such an investigation determined that an IDF soldier had been responsible for firing the bullet that killed Abu Akleh, it would be another matter entirely to actually prove that the soldier had acted negligently or criminally. But that is precisely what a thorough investigation could potentially help sort out – the kind of investigation that the PA has refused to agree to.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for war journalists to get killed by stray fire in the line of duty. Following Abu Akleh’s death, Yediot Ahronot commentator Ben-Dror Yemini wrote an essay citing statistics of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which has recorded:

1,442 journalist fatalities between 1992–2022, 18 of which occurred as part of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Meanwhile, 190 journalists were killed in Iraq… This happened. It happens. It’s usually not intentional unless we’re talking about the cold-blooded murder of critics as had happened to 38 Russian journalists [murdered in various incidents].

Throughout the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, only one journalist has been considered ‘murdered’ and it was Suleiman Abdul-Rahim al-Ashi who was slain by the bullets of Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Presidential Guard.

It would be possible to fill many blogs on the articles and posts analyzing the incident and its aftermath, but the basic facts of the matter appear above. On May 13, AIJAC’s Tzvi Fleischer authored an AIJAC Update on the controversy surrounding Shireen Abu Akleh’s death, which offers more insightful stories and angles on this topic.

On a final note on this chapter of the Abu Akleh incident, it’s important to remember the context in which the raid took place – Israel has seen the emergence of a new terror wave in recent weeks, killing 19 Israelis and wounding many more, and most of the terrorists involved in these incidents have come from Jenin.

 

Police criticised after Palestinians riot at Abu Akleh’s funeral

Abu Akleh’s funeral in Jerusalem on May 13 was, on one hand, the largest Palestinian turnout for any funeral in memory but on the other hand, also descended into ugly and disrespectful rioting and chaos around the slain journalist’s casket as it made its way to the cemetery. Graphic video of Israeli police striking Palestinians near those carrying the casket – nearly leading to the casket falling to the ground – were carried on international news broadcasts, including in Australia. At the same time, fewer media outlets broadcast other known video clips showing rock and bottle-throwing Palestinians hiding under the casket and using it for cover.

Moreover, a disturbing security camera video released by the hospital where Abu Akleh’s body was stored seemed to show a very heavy-handed police presence there even before the funeral actually began.

Criticism of the police handling of the funeral was widespread both within Israel and in the Jewish diaspora, including among prominent supporters of Israel. The Jerusalem Post editorial on May 15, titled “Police accountability” in the print edition captured the mood of public sentiment well, calling into question the trustworthiness of Israeli police, its competence, as well as its judgement – not only over the Abu Akleh funeral fiasco but over a variety of incidents and major lapses, including the deaths of 45 religious Jews in a stampede at Mt. Meron on the Jewish holiday of Lag B’Omer one year ago.

The role of violent Palestinian provocateurs in the melee was not entirely overlooked, if perhaps overshadowed in the media by the police behaviour. Of note, on Twitter, Palestinian Human Rights activist Bassem Eid called out those who came to the funeral to cause trouble:

This is a new low… We’ve seen Palestinian extremists like Hamas use women and children as human shields, but today they used the dead body of #ShireenAbuAkleh as a human shield as rioters destroyed neighborhoods in Jerusalem.

For its part, Israeli police issued two statements over Twitter following the incident. The first gave the police’s own account of what happened:

Plans for the funeral procession of Shireen Abu-Akleh were coordinated in advance by the Israel Police together with the Abu-Akleh family.

On Friday, about 300 rioters arrived at Saint Joseph hospital in Jerusalem and prevented the family members from loading the coffin onto the hearse to travel to the cemetery – as had been planned and coordinated with the family in advance.

Instead, the mob threatened the driver of the hearse and then proceeded to carry the coffin on an unplanned procession to the cemetery by foot.

This went against the wishes of the Abu-Akleh family and the security coordination’s that had been planned to safeguard the large number of mourners.

Israel Police instructed that the coffin be returned to the hearse, as did the EU ambassador and Abu-Akleh’s own family, but the mob refused.

Israel Police intervened to disperse the mob and prevent them from taking the coffin, so that the funeral could proceed as planned in accordance with the wishes of the family.

During the riot that was instigated by the mob, glass bottles and other objects were thrown, resulting in the injury of both mourners and Police officers.

The second statement issued by Israeli police on the incident announced the launch of an investigation into police actions at the funeral, which will be transmitted to the Police Commissioner and made public in the near future:

The Israel Police prepared yesterday to facilitate a calm and dignified funeral for journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, and had coordinated the funeral arrangements with her family. Unfortunately, hundreds of rioters tried to sabotage the ceremony and harm the police.

As with any operational incident, and certainly an incident in which police officers were exposed to violence by rioters and in which force was subsequently used by the police, the Israel Police will be looking into the events that ensued during the funeral.

The 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.

Therefore, the Israel Police Commissioner, in coordination with the Minister of Public Security, has instructed that an investigation be conducted into the incident. The findings of the investigation will be presented to the Commissioner in the coming days.

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