Shireen Abu Akleh: Israel police find misconduct during funeral, but won't seriously punish officers

Shireen Abu Akleh: Israel police find misconduct during funeral, but won't seriously punish officers
The Israeli police launched an investigation following international outcry after Shireen Abu Akleh's coffin was almost dropped when officers brutally assaulted pallbearers at her funeral in May.
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Shireen Abu Akleh was killed by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank [Nasser Ishtayeh/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty-archive]

An Israeli police investigation has found that officers engaged in misconduct during the funeral of slain Palestinian Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, but those who oversaw the event will not face serious punishment, an Israeli newspaper reported on Thursday.

Israeli riot police brutally assaulted mourners at the funeral, kicking and beating the pallbearers with batons and causing them to nearly drop the casket in a shocking start to the 13 May procession in occupied East Jerusalem.

The violence drew international condemnation and added to the sense of grief and outrage across the Arab world which followed the killing of celebrated reporter Abu Akleh by Israeli forces on 11 May.

The veteran journalist was covering a military raid in the occupied West Bank.

The Haaretz daily, citing unidentified sources, said on Thursday that an internal police investigation had found misconduct by officers.

But it said police had determined prior to the investigation that the commanders who oversaw the event would not be disciplined.

The report said that it was suitable for police to use violence under the circumstances but they could have refrained from using clubs.

It was not clear if any of the officers who attacked the pallbearers would be punished.

"Obviously the images that emerged were unpleasant and could have been different, but overall the police acted well in a complex and violent incident," the paper quoted an unidentified senior police officer as saying.

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In a statement, Israel's national police chief, Kobi Shabtai, confirmed that he had ordered the probe to "learn lessons and improve the operational procedures" of the police.

He appeared to acknowledge police shortcomings, but also cast blame on the mourners, despite footage broadcast live on TV showing the police violently attack peaceful mourners.

"One cannot remain indifferent to the difficult images and it is our obligation to probe these matters so that sensitive events like these will not descend into violence by rioters and will retain the required respect," he said.

His statement gave no details on the actual findings of the probe or consequences for those who oversaw the events.

Abu Akleh's brother Anton rejected out of hand the police investigation into the violence at her funeral.

"We don't care what Israel says or does, everything is clear from the photos. The police are the aggressors," he told AFP. "They are trying to cover up their actions and mistakes."

Abu Akleh also held American citizenship and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticised the Israeli police actions at the funeral.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said the United States was seeking more information about the probe into the funeral.

"Certainly, to us, typically these investigations – the findings of them – are released publicly," Price told reporters in Washington.

Price reiterated that the United States believed the funeral had "disturbing intrusions into what should have been a peaceful procession".

The results of the investigation were presented to Israel's minister of public works, a police spokesperson said.

Israeli rights groups frequently accuse the country's authorities of failing to investigate or prosecute wrongdoing by the security forces.

Thousands of Palestinians attended the funeral of Abu Akleh, 51, who was a household name across the Arab world for her reporting on life under Israel's illegal occupation.

A 25-year veteran of the Al Jazeera satellite channel, she was revered by Palestinians as a local hero.

Israel has said it has identified a soldier's rifle that might have killed Abu Akleh, but that it cannot make a final determination without matching it to the bullet.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) has refused to turn over the bullet, saying they do not trust Israel to conduct an honest investigation.

The PA's probe into the killing of Abu Akleh concluded that an Israeli soldier shot her dead in what it described as a war crime.

Israel has denied the allegations, arguing that she could have been killed by a Palestinian gunman, despite eyewitness testimony and other evidence showing its forces were responsible.