Saturday, May 21, 2022

Riots at the Funeral Cortege of Journalist Shireen Abu Akleh - Hugh Fitzgerald


by Hugh Fitzgerald

The real story of why Israeli police intervened.


You have all seen the videos of Israeli police appearing to be beating back, for no apparent reason, Palestinian mourners trying to hold onto, or to reach, the coffin of Shireen Abu Akleh. The videos make the police look bad, because the viewer has not been provided with any context: why are the police doing what they are doing? But if you investigate further and find out what the police felt they had to do for the sake of Shireen Abu Akleh’s family, your mind will change. A report on what the Israeli police were trying to do, and ultimately succeeded in doing, is here: “Israel Police: Officers Intervened at Reporter’s Funeral to Prevent ‘Mob’ From Taking Coffin Against Family’s Wishes,” Algemeiner, May 13, 2022:

Israeli police said Friday that they charged a group of Palestinians carrying the coffin of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh to prevent them from taking the coffin on an “unplanned procession by foot,” against the wishes of the slain journalist’s family.

Shireen’s family did not want her funeral turned into a political spectacle and circus; they wanted her coffin to be taken from St Joseph’s French Hospital to the church for her funeral, and then to the cemetery on Mt. Zion, in a quiet and dignified fashion, and not be held aloft by a raucous mob of rioting Palestinians, chanting anti-Israel slogans, wearing T-shirts with photographs of M-19 rifles printed on their front, and shouting the Muslim war cry “Allahu akbar,” which would surely have disturbed Shireen’s Christian family. Shireen in death was more valuable to the Palestinians than she was when alive; she was no longer a person but had become a weapon in the Palestinian propaganda war, and the Palestinians were determined to make the most of her funeral and burial, whatever the family itself wanted.

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,” an Israel Police statement said.

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,” it continued. “This went against the wishes of the Abu Akleh family and the security coordinations that had been planned to safeguard the large number of mourners.”

The group refused instructions from Israel Police as well as the Abu Akleh family and an EU diplomat, the statement continued.

This provides an entirely different understanding of the violence just outside St. Joseph’s French hospital. The Israeli police were only trying to enforce the wishes of the Abu Akleh family, who had planned to have her coffin travel by hearse to the Mt. Zion cemetery, where she was to be buried next to her parents. The Israeli police were beating back those trying to grab the coffin and violate her family’s wishes. The 300 Palestinian rioters who had arrived to appropriate the coffin prevented Shireen Abu Akleh’s relatives from loading the coffin into the hearse, to be transported to the church. The mob prevented the hearse itself from moving by threatening the driver, then they seized the coffin from the pallbearers who were relatives and friends of Shireen Abu Akleh, and tried to make off with it, on their unstable shoulders, so as to parade it through the streets of Jerusalem, accompanied by Allahu-akbaring crowds (Shireen Abu Akleh was a Christian), to the church for the funeral. Instead the Israeli police managed, within just a few minutes, to wrest control of the casket from the mob so that it could be placed in the hearse, which then drove off to the church.

The videos of those few minutes, when the police were struggling to wrest control of the casket from the mob, however, did great damage to Israel’s image. One saw policemen pushing and wielding their batons at what, to the unwary, simply seemed to be grieving Palestinians determined to carry the coffin of their “martyr” to her funeral. There was no way to know, from those videos that every national newscast carried, that rioters were violating the wishes of the Abu-Akleh family, who wanted the casket to be transported by hearse, instead of being carried by a raucous and mostly Muslim mob as part of political theatre, and that the Israeli police were attempting only to enforce the family’s desires. Nor could viewers see the M-16 rifles imprinted on the tee-shirts worn by the members of the mob, or hear what they were shouting. 

Israeli 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,” it added. “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.”

Several minutes after police intervened, Abu Akleh’s coffin was placed in a vehicle that headed toward the Cathedral of the Annunciation of the Virgin in Jerusalem’s Walled Old City, where the funeral ceremony proceeded peacefully.

Police said earlier Friday that six suspects were arrested at the scene for violating public order and attacking police officers before and at the beginning of the funeral procession.

What was the reaction of the Bidenites to Israel’s attempts to enforce the wishes of the Abu Akleh family? They rushed to judgment.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US was “deeply troubled” by the violent scenes, and said American officials remained in close contact with Israeli and Palestinian authorities, calling on parties to “maintain calm and avoid any actions that could further escalate tensions.”

That is exactly what the Israeli police were trying to do: to “maintain calm” by preventing rioters from grabbing and making off with the coffin as part of their celebration of Abu Akleh’s “martyrdom,” and to ensure that the coffin travelled by hearse to the cemetery as the family had wanted. And that is what the police accomplished within a few minutes, taking control of the coffin and having the designated pallbearers place it in the hearse – but the videos offer no context in showing Israeli police using batons to beat back those trying to make off with the coffin, and preventing it from being loaded into the hearse.

The Bidenites were quick to deplore the “intrusion of what should have been a peaceful procession” at the funeral of Shireen Abu Akleh, failing to realize that the “peaceful procession” had been destroyed not by the Israeli police, but by 300 Palestinian rioters who ha arrived to seize the coffin of the dead woman, attempting to take it away from family members who did not want her funeral turned into a violent political event. The Israeli police were trying to prevent those rioters from grabbing the coffin, and to ensure that it was placed in the hearse that would take it to the cemetery. The police succeeded, and the coffin went, as the family wanted, by hearse to the that it remained with the pallbearers chosen by the family.

The Bidenites, however, were quick to comment, apparently unwilling to wait to hear Israel’s explanation of the violent encounter between police and rioters outside the St. Joseph’s French Hospital. A report on their reaction is here: “US Conveys ‘Anger, Frustration’ to Israel Over Violence at Journalist’s Funeral,” Algemeiner, May 13, 2022:

The White House Friday described as “deeply disturbing” footage from the Jerusalem funeral of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh that showed Israeli police forces rushing the start of the procession.

The White House apparently saw the scenes of baton-armed Israeli police, trying to keep hundreds of rioters from making off with the casket, without understanding what was going on – that Israeli forces intervened only to ensure that the family’s wishes to have the casket transported by hearse to the church would be carried out.

“We have all seen those images, they’re obviously deeply disturbing,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. “We regret the intrusion of what should have been a peaceful procession.”

The Bidenites ought to have discussed the situation with Israel, to understand what exactly was going on with the casket, the family, and the rioters, before issuing their hasty and wrongheaded condemnation, that appears to blame the Jewish state, which ought instead to be praised for rescuing the casket from those who wanted to exploit it for their own purposes.

Meanwhile, Israeli media reported that the administration of President Joe Biden conveyed a harsher message to Jerusalem. According to the Walla! news site, White House sources said there was “anger and frustration” at the actions of Israeli police during the funeral procession.

“We have urged respect for the funeral procession, the mourners and the family at this sensitive time,” Psaki said.

Respect “for the funeral procession, the mourners, and the family” are exactly what the Israeli police were trying to enforce. It was not they who were intent on ignoring the family’s wishes, but the rioters.

Asked if she condemned the Israeli forces’ actions, she responded: “I think when we said they were disturbing, we obviously were not justifying them.”

If the Bidenites had understood the true situation, they would not have expressed “anger and frustration” – even privately — with the Israelis. They would have said, instead, that “we deplore the attempt of several hundred people to interfere violently with the funeral cortege of Shireen Abu Akleh by trying to seize the casket, snatching it away just before it could be put into the hearse. After a few – minutes, order was thankfully restored by the police, the casket placed in the hearse, according to the wishes of the family, and then transported to the Cathedral of the Annunciation of the Virgin for her funeral.”

That is what the Bidenites should have said. As usual, they rushed ahead with their condemnation of Israel, based on a gross misunderstanding of what the dead girl’s family wanted, and what the rioters were trying to accomplish in snatching the casket away from the pallbearers. 

Israel now must patiently explain to Washington and to the world what the protesters tried to do, and why the Israeli police were right to prevent them, instead of letting a mob violate the wishes of the deceased woman’s family. There is, of course, the perennial problem whenever Israel is maligned and then tries to set the record straight. It’s what Mark Twain once said: “A lie can go halfway round the world, while the truth is still putting on its shoes.”


Hugh Fitzgerald


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