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Family speaks out after Israeli police beat mourners at funeral for Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh

Israel faces backlash over funeral violence
Israel faces backlash over police attack at funeral of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh 07:41

Video of Israeli police beating pallbearers at Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh's funeral precession in Jerusalem sparked shock and condemnation around the world. Dozens of officers attacked mourners with batons on Friday and at one point an officer can be seen hitting the men carrying her coffin.

"We were deeply troubled by the images of Israeli police intruding into the funeral procession of Palestinian American Shireen Abu Akleh," wrote U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Twitter  Saturday. "Every family deserves to lay their loved ones to rest in a dignified and unimpeded manner."

Israeli police say they are investigating the events surrounding the incident but they accuse "rioters" for sabotaging the funeral by "throwing stones and other objects at Israeli Police officers."

That didn't satisfy the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, the city's lead Catholic clergyman, who said the "Israeli police's invasion and disproportionate use of force… is a severe violation of international norms and regulations."

Her niece, Lina Abu Akleh, was in the front row when the police attacked the crowd of mourners and pallbearers on their way to a church in Jerusalem's Old City.

"There were no clashes, we were merely carrying the casket," Lina says. "I had to run. One of the Israeli forces told me, 'If you do not get away from here, I will beat you.'"

Israeli security forces confront Palestinian mourners carrying the casket of slain Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh to a church  in Jerusalem, on May 13, 2022. AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images

The attack by the police came amid growing anger at Israeli forces that ramped up last Wednesday. Shireen Abu Akleh was reporting on an Israeli operation in the West Bank city of Jenin when a bullet struck her in the head. Eyewitnesses say Israeli forces were responsible.

A spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Neftali Bennet responded to the killing by saying: "Shireen Abu Akleh's death is a tragedy. There's no other word for it. She was an experienced journalist, whom many of my own colleagues used to work with." But they added, "Without any concrete evidence, hasty accusations against Israel that are being made right now are misleading and irresponsible."

Calls by Israel for a joint investigation have been rejected by Palestinian authorities.

"She was assassinated and that was a way to silence her," said Lina Abu Akleh, blaming Israel for her death. "They need to be held accountable."

U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price condemned her killing and said "the investigation must be immediate and thorough and those responsible must be held accountable. Her death is an affront to media freedom everywhere."

For more than 20 years, Shireen Abu Akleh worked as a reporter for the Qatar-based news channel Al Jazeera. She became an icon to many Palestinians and Arabs throughout the Middle East as she entered their homes through their TV sets to bring them the daily events from Israel and the West Bank. Pictures of her working now adorn walls throughout the Palestinian territories.

But for Lina, she wasn't just a famous face — Shireen was her confidant, mentor and best friend. The 27-year-old student got the call that her aunt had been injured, and turned on Al Jazeera to learn that she had died from her wounds. It was one of her greatest fears; she had long worried about Shireen's safety.

"I used to tell her, 'Shireen, be careful, you need to take care that you don't get hurt,'" Lina recalls. "She would tell me, 'Don't worry, we are journalists. At the end of the day we are protected by our vests and they can see, it says capital letters: PRESS. So we do have the right to report and they won't get near us.'"

Shireen Abu Akleh was wearing that vest when she was shot and killed. Lina is glad to see the international calls for an investigation into her aunt's death — but she doesn't need an investigation to know who she thinks is responsible.

"It's important to have accountability to show that Israel can't get away with another crime," she says.

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