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Israelis divided over Abu Akleh death

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It was never going to be an innocent Friday funeral procession in Jerusalem. And, from the moment the news broke last Wednesday that Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American and a 25-year veteran of the Al Jazeera network, had been killed, it was never going to be less than a public-relations disaster for Israel.

The fact is: Abu Akleh was killed while covering an Israeli military raid in the Jenin refugee camp.

From there onwards, the facts are disputed. It’s not even known if she was married and had children. It’s been reported both yes and no.

“The killing of Shireen Abu Akleh has left me furious,” wrote James Zogby, the founder and president of the Arab American Institute. “Furious that a wonderful journalist has been taken from the world. Furious because of the predictable way Israel has responded to this tragedy. And furious at the United States for its failure to take a principled stand in ensuring that the truth is known about Shireen’s death and there’s accountability for it.”

I’m also furious. Though I never knew Shireen personally, I’m furious at the predictable Palestinian and international response. In fact, everything that has transpired in the week since Abu Akleh was killed could have been written before it happened.

“The Israeli response to Shireen’s killing has been predictable,” continued Zogby. “Their hasbara [propaganda] machinery went into overdrive, doing what they have always done – a combination of denying, lying, and obfuscating about what may have happened.”

The same charge is levelled by a sizeable part of the Israeli population, predictably those amongst the political right, against the Palestinians and global community. I, for one, agree with the criticism.

First of all, Palestinian officials immediately accused Israel of killing her. But on what basis? Even left-leaning human-rights groups admit they’re not sure who’s to blame.

The Israeli “Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories”, B’Tselem, sent a researcher to Jenin to take a video of the area in which Abu Akleh was shot. It showed that the Palestinian gunmen were about 300m from her, separated by a series of walls and alleyways. While presumably proving she couldn’t have died from Palestinian fire, the group still, until now, admits it hasn’t been able to come to a conclusion about who was behind the shooting. It says it needs the bullet to be matched to the barrel of a gun, but the Palestinians have refused to release the bullet, predictably saying they don’t trust Israel.

Bellingcat, a Dutch-based international consortium of researchers, gathered and analysed video and audio on social media, from both Palestinian and Israeli military sources. The group looked at factors such as time stamps, the locations of the videos, shadows, and a forensic audio analysis of gunshots. It concluded that while Palestinian gunmen and Israeli soldiers were in the same area, it was Israeli fire that killed Abu Akleh. But, importantly, it also acknowledged that it couldn’t be 100% certain. Without the bullet and evidence of the weapons used by the army and GPS locations of Israeli forces, it said it was impossible to make any final conclusions.

The Palestinians have – predictably – refused a joint probe with Israel, saying they will handle the investigation alone and deliver results very soon.

“We refused to have an international investigation because we trust our capabilities as a security institution,” Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh announced. “We won’t hand over any of the evidence to anyone because we know that these people are able to falsify the facts.”

Pointedly, very little has been written about why the Israeli army was in Jenin in the first place. In recent weeks, the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) has escalated its activities in the area in an effort to try and prevent the stream of recent terror attacks. Seventeen Israelis and three foreigners have been killed inside Israel since March in the worst spate of violence in recent years. Four of the assailants came from Jenin.

CCTV footage released on Monday, 16 May, shows dozens of Israeli police officers rushing into East Jerusalem’s Saint Joseph’s Hospital on Friday, where Abu Akleh’s body was being held prior to her funeral procession. The officers are seen hitting and shoving people inside the hospital, including patients, and firing from the grounds of the medical centre. The scenes set the stage for what was to follow. A large crowd gathered outside to escort her casket to a Catholic church in the nearby Old City. Soon, clashes broke out between Israeli police and mourners, many of whom were holding Palestinian flags and shouting, “Palestine! Palestine!” and “We sacrifice our soul and blood for you, Shireen.” The police hit pallbearers, causing one man to lose control of the casket as it nearly fell to the ground. Police ripped Palestinian flags out of people’s hands and fired stun grenades to disperse the crowd. At least 10 people needed medical assistance.

Like just about every incident that happens in Israel, the public – predictably – is divided.

Left-wing domestic media has been critical of the police’s actions, demanding answers. Citing unnamed police sources, Haaretz newspaper reported that the police had been given specific orders to take down any flags they encountered at the funeral. Further orders were issued on the day for police to go, with clubs in their hands, all the way up to the pallbearers.”

Right-wing Israelis, who still comprise the majority of the population, are – if not openly supportive then at least condoning of – the Israeli police’s actions. More than 10 000 Palestinians showed up to pay their respects to Abu Akleh, the largest Palestinian funeral in more than two decades. It was inevitably going to be an opportunity to stir up pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel sentiment, they say, and how could Israeli police not react when you had people throwing stones and waving Palestinian flags on Israeli territory.

“What does the world want,” one bitter Likud supporter challenged me. “That we sit idly by when this happens. That would send a message that we’re okay with it, and we’re not, and never will be. This was an anti-Israel journalist who for 25 years spewed hatred against the state of Israel.”

A left-wing Labour supporter entreated. “The Israeli police has a lot to answer for. This was a funeral, a funeral! So people want to wave Palestinian flags, it’s understandable. Why must our police, every time, be so brutal when it comes to Palestinians? What we saw unfold was nothing short of racism. There are many nationalistic funerals held in Israel and the police never intervene. There was no suggestion that this funeral was going to become violent.”

So at the end of the day, Israeli society remains divided. As Jerusalem and the Palestinians continue to wrangle over the investigations – including the one being conducted by Israel in spite of human-rights groups saying the country has a poor record of investigating wrongdoing by its security forces – one cannot help but assume that no one will change their minds even after the results are published.

  • Paula Slier has been the Middle East bureau chief of RT for many years, and is the founder and chief executive of Newshound Media International, and the inaugural winner of the Europcar Women in Leadership Award of the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards.

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  1. yitzchak

    May 19, 2022 at 2:56 pm

    1) The Palestinians have not shown anybody the bullets that killed her and injured her cameraman for ballistic tests.Somehow they will disappear
    2)The pre-emptive cartoon in the Daily Maverick today by Z(sh)apiro was a disgrace, while the jury is still out.
    3) PS has understated the deaths of 3 Israelis well within the Green Line who were hacked and axed to death in Elad. All except the shooting in Ariel were in unoccupied territory
    4)I should hope that if Israel is exculpated in this matter that all those (Al Jazeera.BBC.IOL,daily maverick) be trashed thoroughly
    5) The necromancers who hijacked her procession are to blame for this indecency at her funeral which was taken over as another propaganda exercise.
    6) Palestinian flags in Israel proper is an incitement and insurrection

  2. Larry

    May 22, 2022 at 12:03 pm

    I think this is a very well written article.
    Surprisingly balanced and non judgemental. The gist is very clear. No one is innocent.
    Well done, Paula. I for one would love to see the respective outcome reports. 👍

  3. Wenzile Mthiyane

    Aug 8, 2022 at 5:52 pm

    Well written indeed

    I so wish the IDF didn’t beat mourners even those handling the coffin. I’ve never seen anything more uncouth. I only showed how much respect they had for the deceased. They really wouldn’t shoot her dead.

    Tell us about the prosecution of the officers by the Jewish justice system, convince us that it stands for “human rights”.

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