By Jonah McKeown
Christian leaders of the Holy Land on Monday condemned recent violence at the funeral of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, saying the “tragic episode” has “deeply wounded” the Christian community.
Abu Akleh was a Melkite Greek Catholic and a Palestinian American who was killed while covering an Israeli raid on a refugee camp in the West Bank May 11. The BBC reported that during her funeral procession on May 13, Abu Akleh’s coffin “almost fell” as police waded into the crowd brandishing batons and using stun grenades. Israeli police say they moved in on the crowds after apparently being hit with stones.
Abu Akleh, who wrote for the Qatar-based news site Al Jazeera, was covering a raid on the Jenin Camp by Israeli security forces last week when she was struck in the head by a live bullet. She was wearing a blue flak jacket bearing the word “press” in large letters. In the same incident, Al Jazeera producer Ali Samoudi was shot and wounded.
The journalist’s killing has been widely condemned, and Israeli and Palestinian authorities have traded blame for her shooting death, the BBC reported.
The Christian leaders called the police’ actions at the funeral, which took place in the parking compound of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Jerusalem, a “violent intrusion.”
“The Police stormed into a Christian health institute, disrespecting the Church, disrespecting the health institute, disrespecting the memory of the deceased and forcing the pallbearers almost to drop the coffin,” they said.
“Israeli Police’s invasion and disproportionate use of force, attacking mourners, striking them with batons, using smoke grenades, shooting rubber bullets, frightening the hospital’s patients, is a severe violation of international norms and regulations, including the fundamental human right of freedom of religion, which must be observed also in a public space.”
The leaders who signed the statement include the Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, and the bishops and the faithful of the Christian Churches in the Holy Land.
The hospital, which has served patients of all religions since the 1950s under the care of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition, served as the starting point for Abu Akleh’s funeral procession. The coffin was supposed to be transported in a hearse. Israeli police claim that the walking procession was “unplanned” and unwanted by the victim’s family, and that they intervened to take the coffin back from “rioters.”
Abu Akleh’s brother Anton said the family had given the funeral arrangements to the police, the AP reported. He said: “We wanted to put the coffin in the car. We were going to the car when they attacked us.”
The Christian leaders wrote in their statement that “The St. Joseph Hospital has always proudly been a place of encounter and healing for all, regardless of their religious or cultural belonging, and it intends to continue to be so.”
“What happened last Friday deeply wounded not only the Christian community, the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition, owner of the Hospital, and all the hospital staff, but also all peoples who in that place have found and still find peace and hospitality.”
Abu Akleh’s funeral Liturgy was held at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Annunciation, the seat of the Melkite Greek Patriarchal Dependent Territory of Jerusalem.
On May 12, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem called “for a thorough and urgent investigation of all the circumstances of [Abu Akleh’s] killing and for bringing those responsible to justice.”
“This blatant tragedy brings back to human conscience the need to find a just solution to the Palestinian conflict, which refuses to enter oblivion although 74 years have passed since the Nakba,” the patriarchate said.
The AP reported that Bellingcat, a Dutch-based investigative journalism group, “found that while gunmen and Israeli soldiers were both in the area, the evidence supported witness accounts that Israeli fire killed Abu Akleh.”
The incident at the funeral comes at a time of particularly high tension between Israel and Palestine after several violent incidents in recent months, the BBC notes.
Pope Francis has frequently asked Catholics around the world to pray for peace in the Middle East.