JERUSALEM — Israeli police officers attacked mourners Friday during the funeral procession of a prominent Palestinian-American journalist who was murdered this week in the occupied West Bank, forcing the porters to nearly drop the coffin.
Video shown police in Jerusalem beat and kicked porters carrying the coffin containing the body of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, beat other mourners with batons and forced a man to the ground. During the uproar, the porters were pushed backwards, briefly losing control of one end of the box.
The incident took place outside an East Jerusalem hospital where mourners had gathered to take the coffin of Ms Abu Akleh, who was a Christian, to a nearby church for her funeral.
It was one of many spasms of tension during a fraught afternoon as riot police in several locations in East Jerusalem faced crowds of mourners who waved Palestinian flags and chanted Palestinian slogans. Israel considers East Jerusalem part of its capital, but it is mainly populated by Palestinians, and much of the international community considers it occupied territory.
The funeral procession incident lasted about a minute and followed a tense standoff between riot police and mourners in which at least one empty plastic bottle was thrown at police.
The police then suddenly stepped forward on the coffin, brandishing sticks and kicks at the mourners. As police approached, mourners threw projectiles, including what appeared to be a stick, and officers threw what appeared to be stun and smoke grenades.
In a statement, Israeli police said they were taking “enforcement action” after some mourners began chanting “nationalist incitement” and after officers alerted the crowd. When the coffin was carried from the hospital, police said, they were “forced to act” as “rioters began throwing rocks at the police officers”.
Police later released videos showing an empty plastic bottle and two other bottle-shaped objects being thrown at the officers just before advancing on the porters, and separate undated videos showing several rocks on the ground. There was no clear indication of when or how the stones had reached that spot.
Ms. Abu Akleh was shot and killed in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday morning during an Israeli attack on the city of Jenin. Witnesses said she was killed by an Israeli soldier.
The Israeli military said Friday that while it was possible that Ms. Abu Akleh was accidentally killed by Israeli fire, initial investigations suggested she could also have been hit by a Palestinian gunman.
On Thursday, the Israeli police warned the family of Ms. Abu Akleh for displaying “flags and slogans” at the funeral, Ahmad Tibi, a Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament’s Knesset, said.
At one point during the funeral, a man wearing a wreath stood between the porters and the police. Later, as the black hearse with its coffin began to slowly make its way through the crowd, an Israeli police officer tore three Palestinian flags from the vehicle and threw them to the ground, video shows.
Church bells in the old town rang as mourners chanted, “With our souls, with our blood, we sacrifice for you, Shireen.”
A spokeswoman for Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett declined to comment, as did a spokesperson for Israel’s public security minister, Omer Bar Lev, who oversees the police.
The funeral was attended by thousands of people and took place a day after a state memorial was held in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Mourners lined the courtyard of the Palestinian Authority’s presidential headquarters to pay tribute and bid farewell to a person considered by many Palestinians to be a trailblazing journalist.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas awarded her the Star of Jerusalem, also known as the Quds Star. One of the highest honors the Palestinian president can bestow is traditionally bestowed upon ministers, ambassadors and members of parliament. Mr Abbas described Ms Abu Akleh as a “martyr for the truth and for free speech.”
She was later buried in Mount Zion Protestant Cemetery, next to her parents.
Hiba Yazbek contributed from Nazareth, Israel, and Iyad Abu Hweila from Gaza City.