“Unfortunately, serious violent events occurred during the funeral among the participants that worsened the situation on the ground,” Israeli Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev said in a statement to CNN.
“The investigative team, appointed by Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai and led by Brigadier General Anna Ben Mordechai – an experienced commander familiar with the area where the funeral took place – will conduct a comprehensive investigation into what happened during the funeral the following day, to learn lessons from the incident. These lessons will be presented to the police commissioner and then to me,” he added.
The Jerusalem 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 flags during Abu Akleh’s procession.
“Raising the Palestinian flag is not an offense under Israeli law,” Israeli Knesset member Ahmad Tibi told CNN on Friday.
“When Omer Bar-Lev was appointed as Israel’s Minister of Public Security, he issued a directive limiting the confiscation of Palestinian flags from protesters to cases where there is an immediate risk of disrupting the peace. But what the police are doing, goes directly against the orders of the minister … What we are seeing is flag phobia of the Palestinian flag,” he added.
When asked by CNN to clarify the reason for the downing of Palestinian flags and the arrest of those carrying the flag, the Israeli police responded with a statement, which was also shared publicly on its Twitter account.
“Israeli police yesterday prepared to facilitate a calm and dignified funeral for journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and had coordinated funeral arrangements with her family. Unfortunately, hundreds of rioters tried to sabotage the ceremony and harm the police,” is stated in the statement.
“The Israeli police support its police officers, but as a professional organization that wants to learn and improve, it will also learn lessons from the incident,” it added.
On Friday, mourners carried Abu Akleh’s coffin from St. Joseph Hospital in East Jerusalem, where her body remained until burial, but met strong resistance from Israeli police, who forced 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 throughout the Arab world and, according to many, conveyed “the voice of Palestinian suffering” and their “aspirations of freedom”.
“She has had a huge impact on Palestine and all people. She left her fingerprint on everyone’s heart,” Shireen’s niece Lareen Abu Akleh told CNN.
Nafisa Khwais, a Palestinian woman who considered herself a mother figure to Shireen, told CNN she spent the night at the funeral home where people came to mourn the veteran journalist.
“Shireen is my daughter. Her parents have passed away, but we are all her parents. We are all her family,” Khwais said.
“Two weeks ago she hid behind her back when clashes broke out at 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 sparked global reactions from several officials who said they were “shocked” by what they had seen.
“We were deeply disturbed by the images of Israeli police intruding on the funeral procession of Palestinian-American Shireen Abu Akleh. Every family deserves to rest their loved ones in a dignified and unhindered manner,” said the US Secretary of State. Affairs Antony Blinken in a post Friday on Twitter.
A senior foreign ministry official later said 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 expressed his “deep condolences for their loss,” the official said. Blinken also offered the continued support of the Foreign Ministry team in Jerusalem to their families and stressed 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 “appalled by the violent behavior of the Israeli police during the funeral procession”, adding that “such disproportionate violence is inappropriate and unacceptable”.