JERUSALEM—Thousands of mourners participated in the funeral procession for Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, who before being killed by gunfire on Wednesday was one of the best-known Palestinian faces in the world.
The funeral was marred by violence as some mourners threw rocks at the hundreds of police officers who attempted to secure the procession’s route, and who responded with batons and stun grenades. At one instance, the coffin carrying Abu Akleh’s remains almost slipped and fell to the pavement amid the disorder and the jostling.
For the past 25 years, millions of viewers saw reports from the region on the most widely watched news channel in the Arab world accompanied by the iconic reporter’s calm delivery and the words “This is Shireen Abu Akleh, Palestine.”
In a statement, police said they attempted to coordinate a “dignified funeral” with Abu Akleh’s family.
“Unfortunately,” the statement said, “under cover of the funeral, and taking cynical advantage of it, hundreds of people began disrupting the public order before it even began. As the coffin was about to exit the hospital, stones began to be thrown at officers from the hospital’s plaza, and the officers were forced to use riot dispersal means.”
In a video posted online by Israel Police, officers are seen ripping Palestinian flags off of the hearse carrying her coffin.
Akleh was shot and killed in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin early Wednesday morning, as she covered a firefight between Israeli army soldiers and Palestinian militants. Al Jazeera and the Palestinian government claim she was “fatally shot by Israeli forces.” An autopsy undertaken by a Palestinian forensic institute said its examination proved “inconclusive.”
The Israeli army, which is also investigating the incident, has not had access to the bullet that killed her, and says its interim examination was also inconclusive.
While there are indications that behind the scenes, Israelis and Palestinian are in fact sharing information they have gathered since the fatal incident, officially they only agree on one thing: they don’t know whose killed her.
For many Palestinians, who shot the lethal bullet is a moot point. No one attending the funeral agreed to be named, but from their point of view, Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank is to blame for the journalist’s death, no matter who shot the bullet.
At her Jerusalem funeral, at least 1000 mourners rhythmically called out her name as they accompanied her casket towards Jaffa Gate, on its way to her final resting place next to her parents, in the Catholic cemetery on Mount Zion.
Helicopters roared above and police dodged rocks thrown by mourners and used batons against participants in the final procession, which began at the French Hospital in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah and wound its way, with Abu Akleh’s coffin carried aloft, to the Cathedral of the Annunciation of the Virgin, where Father Fadi Diab led the service.
Uniformed Palestinian scouts attempted to instill order as the procession wound its way along the narrow, ancient Greek Catholic Patriarchate Road inside Jerusalem’s Old City.
It was the last tribute after three days of public grief for the lifelong Jerusalemite, whose sendoff, with numerous processions spread over three days in all the major cities of Palestine, resembled a state funeral.
“Jews shot her. Muslims held her funeral procession. And Christians buried her,” has become a popular slogan in Jenin in the days since she was shot and killed.
Reporters, religious leaders, Arab members of the Israeli and Palestinian communities attended a memorial ceremony in Ramallah on Thursday, in which a guard of honor played music as Abu Akleh’s Palestinian-flag-draped coffin was carried past the residence of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who announced at the service that he had rejected Israel's offer for a joint investigation into Abu Akleh’s killing, choosing instead to take the matter to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
At least ten people required medical attention after the clashes outside the hospital, in which police violently confiscated Palestinian flags brandished by many of the mourners in which the Israeli police said were “calls for nationalistic incitement.”
Khaled Abu Toameh has known Abu Akleh for most of his life. She shared a classroom with his sister at Jerusalem’s Rosary Sisters School.
In an interview, Abu Toameh, the Palestinian Affairs correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, described Abu Akleh as fearless and soft-spoken.
“She was a very brave woman,” he said. “She loved her work, which she did mostly from in the field. She really was the first Palestinian war correspondent. She was always there, always in the sights.”
Abu Toameh recalled an incident during the Second Intifada, in which he and a Danish journalist cowered behind cars as bullets flew overhead between Israeli army forces and Fatah fighters, “and she was standing there in the middle, reporting live… She seemed to enjoy it.”