UN Experts Condemn Killing of Al Jazeera Reporter as Israeli Police Rush Her Funeral Procession
© AP Photo / Maya LevinIsraeli police confront with mourners as they carry the casket of slain Al Jazeera veteran journalist Shireen Abu Akleh during her funeral in east Jerusalem, Friday, May 13, 2022.
© AP Photo / Maya Levin
On Wednesday, Shireen Abu Akleh, a long-time Al Jazeera reporter, was slain while documenting an Israeli military raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin. According to the network, she was clearly recognizable as a reporter by the helmet and vest, and there was no firefight in the area.
The tragic death of Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh was condemned by a panel of UN human rights experts on Friday, who warned it could be considered a war crime.
In a statement, the UN's Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR) called for a thorough and independent investigation into the killing of the journalist. According to the panel, Abu Akleh's killing is "another serious attack on media freedom and freedom of expression, amid the escalation of violence in the occupied West Bank."
"We demand a prompt, independent, impartial, effective, thorough and transparent investigation into the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh,” the statement reads. "We urge the Israeli and Palestinian authorities and other stakeholders to cooperate with such an investigation."
According to the UN experts, "authorities have an obligation not to harm journalists and to protect them from harm under international humanitarian law and international human rights law."
"The killing of Abu Akleh, who was clearly performing her duties as a journalist, may constitute a war crime," they added.
According to the UN body, since 2000, more than 40 Palestinian journalists have been killed, with hundreds more maimed or targeted for violence. Female Palestinian journalists "regularly experience violence" in the course of their profession just because they are journalists, the statement said.
According to UN experts, Abu Akleh's death occurred at a time when violence in the West Bank and Gaza has been on the rise in recent years. According to the statement, the number of Palestinians killed in clashes with Israelis has reached its highest level since 2014. It also reportedly occurred during a spike in attacks against Palestinian journalists.
"The role of journalists, especially in a context of heightened tension and marked by continuous abuses, like the occupied Palestinian territory, is critical," they said. "Lack of accountability gives carte blanche to continue the litany of extrajudicial executions. The safety of journalists is essential in guaranteeing freedom of expression and media freedom."
Police Swoop at Journo's Funeral, Almost Topple Her Casket
Meanwhile, as thousands of people packed the streets of Jerusalem for Abu Akleh's funeral and burial on Friday, carrying her body from the hospital in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, Israeli police kicked and assaulted mourners with batons, nearly causing the pallbearers to drop the casket.
Local media reported that Israeli police officers and troops also stormed the hearse carrying her body in order to grab Palestinian flags. According to the Times of Israel, "over 10,000" Palestinians came to pay their respects to Abu Akleh.
After Palestinians attempted to carry Abu Akleh's coffin to the Old City on foot while carrying several Palestinian flags, conflicts ensued at Saint Joseph's Hospital, according to the publication. The procession was reportedly scheduled to begin at the Jaffa Gate by the police, which is less than 3 km from there.
Officers rushed the gathering, allegedly in an attempt to force mourners to remove the Palestinian flags. In an attempt to disperse the gathering, police reportedly fired stun grenades at those carrying Abu Akleh's casket, which nearly tumbled to the ground. Police later alleged that during "violent riots," mourners near the coffin threw rocks and debris at officers.
“Officers had to disperse and repel the rioters and make arrests in order to allow the funeral to take place,” the police reportedly said, adding that six people had been detained.
As may be seen on multiple videos online, although some Palestinians were later filmed throwing objects during the fighting, no such stone-throwing is visible before the police attacked the crowd.
The Al Jazeera broadcaster denounced the violence, adding that it "holds the Israeli government fully responsible for the safety and security of all the mourners and the family of our colleague Shireen."
At the Mount Zion Protestant Cemetery, Abu Akleh was eventually buried next to her parents, according to reports.
According to the Israeli military, the initial inquiry into Abu Akleh's death revealed that fierce fighting was taking place in Jenin around 200 meters from where she was slain, but it was unable to verify whether she was shot by Israeli forces or Palestinian rebels.
The military reportedly stated on Friday that Palestinian militants fired hundreds of rounds at an Israeli military vehicle, some of which were fired in the direction of Abu Akleh. It said that Israeli forces retaliated and that it couldn't determine who killed her without conducting a ballistic examination.
However, as some eyewitnesses and the media have claimed that there was no firefight in the immediate vicinity of the journalists, an anonymous source in the Israeli army allegedly said that the Israeli military forces admitted that Abu Akleh could have been killed by one of their soldiers.