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Shireen Abu Akleh: Israeli forces assault mourners carrying casket ahead of burial

Despite Israeli forces' attacks, thousands march through Jerusalem's Old City to bid Palestinian journalist farewell
Family and friends carry the coffin of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed by Israeli forces, during her funeral in Jerusalem, on 13 May 2022 (MEE/Latifeh Abdellatif)

Israeli forces fired stun grenades and assaulted mourners carrying the coffin of slain journalist Shireen Abu Akleh outside a Jerusalem hospital on Friday, ahead of her funeral service and burial in the Old City.

Palestinian mourners insisted on carrying Abu Akleh’s coffin on their shoulders from the St Joseph French Hospital to the Roman Catholic church in the Old City, before taking her to her final place of rest, the Mount Zion Cemetery. 

Before they could leave the hospital premises, Israeli forces attacked them, pushing them back, storming the yard and making arrests. 

At least 14 people were detained and 33 wounded in the Israeli crackdown, Palestinian sources said. 

An Al Jazeera live stream captured the moment mourners nearly dropped Abu Akleh’s coffin as Israeli forces beat them.

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Givera al-Budeiri, a long-time colleague and close friend of Abu Akleh, described the heavy-handed crackdown on mourners gathered outside the hospital live on air as it unfolded.

“Occupation forces are storming the hospital. They are now firing bullets. We are talking about a hospital here, not an area of conflict,” she said, distressed and holding back tears.

"Even in her death, Shireen has exposed the actions of occupation forces," another Al Jazeera journalist said.

'Even in her death, Shireen has exposed the actions of occupation forces'
- Al Jazeera journalist 

Moments later, Israeli officers forced mourners to place the coffin inside a car and only allowed it to leave the hospital if unaccompanied. People in the hospital who wanted to join the procession were prevented from doing so.

When the casket finally arrived at the Roman Catholic church, more supporters were waiting to attend Abu Akleh's funeral service. 

'Fitting tribute'

Thousands of Muslim and Christian Palestinians from Jerusalem and the Palestinian community in Israel, including Haifa and Nazareth, came to pay their respects to the veteran journalist at the Old City church on Friday. 

“A nation united, raise your hands and raise your voices,” Palestinians chanted ahead of the service. "Muslims and Christians, raise your voice in union."

Many of Abu Akleh’s colleagues and fellow journalists were also at the funeral.

The renowned journalist was known and highly regarded by viewers across the Arab world, particularly in Palestine, where her death has resonated with people from across the political and social spectrum.

Palestinian mourners wave national flags as they carry the casket of Abu Aklel inside a church before her burial in Jerusalem. (AFP)
Palestinian mourners wave national flags as they carry the casket of Abu Aklel inside a church before her burial in Jerusalem (AFP)

Her killing, the attacks on other journalists and the crackdown on her funeral procession have brought Palestinians together in what has been described as a rare moment of national unity. Across the Old City of Jerusalem, church services have been dedicated to Abu Akleh, with Palestinian flags flying.

"I'm watching these scenes of Shireen's funeral and it's both a celebration of her life and also a great deal of anger at the way she was killed," Palestinian lawyer Diana Buttu told Middle East Eye.

"Shireen touched every single Palestinian house. Every Arab house. She brought Palestine to the Arab world and through her the world understood what it means to be a Palestinian," Buttu added. 

“Seeing these thousands of people is such a fitting tribute for Shireen. She was really the person who did her best to make sure that our stories were heard and I can’t tell you how proud I am to say that she was my friend.”

A woman reacts during the funeral of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, on 13 May 2022 (Reuters)

Following the funeral service, large crowds carried Abu Akleh's coffin 300 metres from the church to Mount Zion Cemetery, with heavily-armed officers stationed across the Old City.

Israeli special forces gathered outside the church, arresting and assaulting several people who waved the Palestinian flag.

Still, thousands of Palestinians determined to give Abu Akleh a fitting farewell marched along the narrow road leading to the cemetery.

'Seeing these thousands of people is such a fitting tribute for Shireen. She was really the person who did her best to make sure that our stories were heard'

- Diana Buttu, Palestinian 

A cross of flowers, carried in front of the coffin by Muslim and Christian crowds, finally arrived in the graveyard. 

There, in an extraordinary moment, representatives from the Christian denominations in Jerusalem rang church bells in tandem, a gesture of unity seldom seen in the city's history. 

Draped in a Palestinian flag, which Israeli authorities had banned supporters from carrying, the coffin of Abu Akleh was finally placed in the ground in a plot alongside her parents.

Israeli restrictions ahead of the funeral

Ahead of the funeral, Israeli forces had imposed a number of restrictions that Palestinians saw as an attempt to disrupt the service and limit the number of people attending.

They banned Palestinian flags at the funeral and imposed a ban on posters and the chanting of nationalist songs.

Abu Akleh’s brother was called in for questioning on Thursday night, in a move many denounced as an effort to pressure the family and disrupt Friday's proceedings.

According to local sources, Israeli forces stormed Abu Akleh's home on Thursday, attempting to tear down a Palestinian flag that was erected in her honour.

Since her killing, Israeli forces have maintained a heavy police presence in Jerusalem. Despite the restrictions and intense crackdown, thousands of Palestinians vowed to gather for the funeral service and walk alongside her coffin until her burial.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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