Jerusalem (CNN) – Israeli police say they will hold an investigation “into the events that ensued during the funeral” procession of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh on Friday.
“Unfortunately, during the course of the funeral, severe violent events unfolded on the part of those participating that worsened the situation on the ground,” Israeli Minister of Public Security Omer Bar-Lev said in a statement to CNN.
“The investigative team appointed by Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai and headed by Brigadier General Anna Ben Mordechai — a seasoned commander who is familiar with the area in which the funeral took place — will hold a comprehensive investigation into what happened during the funeral over the next day, in order to produce lessons from the incident. These lessons will be presented to the police commissioner and then to me,” he added.
Israeli police came under criticism following Friday’s procession, in which television footage showed officers striking mourners with batons, forcibly taking down Palestinian flags, and arresting individuals carrying the flag. One video released by the Israeli police shows officers ripping Palestinian flags off the hearse carrying Abu Akleh’s coffin.
The Jerusalem Magistrate Court ruled in September 2021 that flying the Palestinian flag is not a criminal offense in Israel. Nevertheless, CNN witnessed the arrest of at least two individuals carrying a flag during Abu Akleh’s procession.
“Flying the Palestinian flag does not constitute an offense under Israeli law,” Israeli Knesset member Ahmad Tibi told CNN on Friday.
“When Omer Bar-Lev was appointed as Israel’s Public Security Minister, he issued a directive limiting confiscation of Palestinian flags from demonstrators to cases where there is an immediate risk of disturbance of the peace. But what the police are doing directly opposes the minister’s orders…What we see is flag-phobia of the Palestinian flag,” he added.
When asked by CNN to clarify the reason for the taking down of Palestinian flags and the arrest of individuals carrying the flag, Israel’s police force responded with a statement, which was also shared publicly on its Twitter account.
“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,” read the statement.
“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,” it added.
On Friday, mourners carried Abu Akleh’s coffin out of the St. Joseph hospital in East Jerusalem, where her body remained until the burial, but were met with strong resistance from Israeli police who compelled them to transport the body by car. A flash bomb and tear gas were fired, according to CNN reporters.
The 51-year-old Palestinian-American Al Jazeera journalist was a prominent voice across the Arab world, delivering what many said was “the voice of Palestinian suffering” and their “aspirations of freedom.”
Shireen Abu Akleh’s niece, Lareen, 19, at her aunt’s funeral procession in Jerusalem. Her poster reads: “Shireen Abu Akleh, an icon of journalism and of free speech”. Lareen is an aspiring journalist.
“She made a huge impact on Palestine and all the people. She left her fingerprint on everyone’s heart,” Lareen Abu Akleh, Shireen’s niece told CNN.
Nafisa Khwais, a Palestinian woman who considered herself a mother figure to Shireen, told CNN that she had spent all night at the funeral home where people came to mourn the veteran journalist.
“Shireen is my daughter. Her parents died, but we are all her parents. We are all her family,” Khwais said.
“Two weeks ago, she hid me behind her back when clashes erupted by Damascus Gate, and said to me: ‘Mother, come here. I’m so worried about you’ and handed me a bottle of water. I loved Shireen. She was the voice of all Palestinians,” she said.
Friday’s events prompted global reactions by various officials who said they were “shocked” by what they had seen.
“We were deeply troubled by the images of Israeli police intruding into the funeral procession of Palestinian American Shireen Abu Akleh. Every family deserves to lay their loved ones to rest in a dignified and unimpeded manner,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a post on Twitter on Friday.
A senior State Department official said later that Blinken had spoken to the journalist’s family and expressed his condolences while en route to an informal meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin, Germany.
Blinken offered “his deep condolences for their loss,” the official said. Blinken also offered the continued support of the State Department team in Jerusalem to their family and noted the importance of a free and independent press, the official said.
Norway’s Ambassador to Israel, Kåre R. Aas, said in a tweet that he was “shocked by the violent conduct of Israeli police forces during the funeral procession” adding that “such disproportionate force is inappropriate and unacceptable.”