Shireen Abu Akleh’s funeral attacked by police: Israel's sadism and imperialist hypocrisy

After assassinating popular Palestinian-American Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh last week, the Israeli state would not even allow her body to reach its final resting place in peace. In a shocking act of sadism, Israeli police attacked Abu Akleh’s funeral procession on Friday, using batons and stun grenades against mourners escorting her coffin from a hospital in East Jerusalem to a cemetery in the nearby Old City.

Footage shows officers pulling people out from the huge crowd and dragging them towards nearby police stations, in addition to tearing Palestinian flags out of their hands. At various points, under attack from the police, the pallbearers lost their grip on the casket, almost causing it to fall to the ground in a final indignity to the murdered journalist.

The police justified their actions by accusing the crowd of “nationalist incitement” and “throwing stones”. One wonders how pallbearers with both hands on a coffin were able to throw stones!

These disgusting lies can easily be disproved through analysis of ample video evidence. There are two real explanations for the police’s brazen brutality, in broad daylight and in plain view of news cameras.

Firstly, the Israeli state was nervous about Abu Akleh’s funeral turning into a major protest if her coffin was allowed to be carried publicly through East Jerusalem. This was the same reason the police raided Abu Akleh’s house shortly after her death, removing Palestinian flags and attempting to prevent her home from becoming a vigil.

They also patrolled the streets before the funeral, suppressing any hint of Palestinian resistance, even instructing women to remove hijabs bearing the colours of the Palestinian flag.

Their demand to escort the casket by car (which they claimed was “according to the family’s wishes”) was likely an attempt to prevent a public demonstration. In the end, Abu Akleh’s journey to the cemetery was completed by car, with the police continuing to rip Palestinian flags off the vehicle.

‘Armed with cameras’

The second reason is the same that made an IDF sniper confident enough to kill one of the most popular journalists in the Arab world. Namely, Israel enjoys the backing of the most powerful imperialist countries, particularly the United States. As a consequence, it believes it can get away with any amount of vicious oppression towards the Palestinians.

This callous hubris was embodied by Israeli military spokesperson Ran Kochav, who justified the deaths of Palestinian journalists at the hands of the Israeli military because they are “armed with cameras.” Apparently, an instrument designed to document the truth is a deadly weapon worthy of a lethal response in the eyes of the Israeli state.

However, scenes of armed police savagely striking unarmed pallbearers, denying the IDF’s murder victim the dignity of a peaceful burial, were shocking even by Israel’s standards. The images enraged ordinary people all over the world, and forced Israel’s most-ardent apologists to issue belated and sheepish words of condemnation.

Blairite MP for the British Labour Party, Wes Streeting, who was in the middle of a PR tour of Israel while these events were underway, criticised the actions of the police as “awful and distressing”.

He was joined by Labour leader Keir Starmer, who condemned “violence by Israeli forces” and called for an independent inquiry into Abu Akleh’s death – having spent months trumpeting his “unconditional” support for Israel, and helping smear pro-Palestine voices in the party as antisemitic.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden criticised Friday’s scenes, after promising on the Democratic primary campaign trail not to introduce any conditions for continued US support for Israel. Additionally, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the attack on Abu Akleh’s funeral left him “deeply troubled”, while the State Department urged an “immediate and thorough” investigation into the shooting.

These cynical platitudes reflect a degree of embarrassment from these ardent ‘defenders of democratic values’ at having the brutality of one of their main allies graphically revealed on the world stage.

Weasel words

Nobody can be in any serious doubt about the culprit for Abu Akleh’s murder – despite the Israeli state initially blaming her death on “indiscriminate fire” by Palestinian gunmen, before backtracking to the claim it was “impossible to be sure” who was at fault.

This manufactured ambiguity was assisted by the western press, who used every semantic trick in the book to downplay Israel’s culpability.

Passive and equivocal headlines were issued by the Guardian (“Al Jazeera accuses Israeli forces of killing journalist in West Bank”); Fox News (“Al-Jazeera reporter dies following disputed incident in the West Bank”), the Associated Press (“Al Jazeera reporter killed during Israeli raid in West Bank”) and the New York Times (“Al Jazeera journalist is killed during clashes in the West Bank.’)

The latter printed a barefaced lie that Al Jazeera described “clashes” between the Israeli military and Palestinian gunmen, when in fact Al Jazeera said no such thing. They clearly (and accurately) reported that there were no Palestinian gunmen present when Abu Akleh was killed, forcing the New York Times to issue a mealy-mouthed correction.

Coverage of Abu Akleh’s funeral was no better, with Fox News running the headline: “Israeli police clash with mourners carrying casket of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh”, and the Daily Mail in Britain wrote that her casket was “jostled” by the police.

By contrast, all of Russia’s crimes and atrocities in the Ukraine war (real and alleged) have been condemned without any qualification and used to justify the escalation of NATO involvement in the conflict, as well as hammering Russia with economic sanctions.

For example, the western press clearly and unambiguously reported that American photojournalist Brent Renaud was killed by Russian troops in Irpin back in March. The Guardian printed a statement by the Kyiv region police chief, accusing Russia of “cynically killing even journalists of international media who are trying to show the truth about the atrocities of Russian troops in Ukraine.”

We note that Renaud was apparently not on assignment, and in a vehicle when he was killed. Whereas Abu Akleh was out in the open, and clearly labelled as a journalist.

The very different tenor of this coverage can be explained by the fact that the western ruling classes have an interest in continuing what they now openly admit is a proxy war with Russia on Ukrainian soil. As a result, they use every opportunity to whip up outrage at home to justify the war. By contrast, they have no interest in sanctioning Israel or supporting Palestine’s struggle for liberation.

This double standard was even evident at the recent finale of the 2022 Eurovision song contest. Russia was excluded due to its invasion of Ukraine, and various acts besides Ukraine featured Ukrainian flags and colours. But the band Hatari – Icelandic entrants in the 2019 final, hosted in Tel Aviv – were sanctioned for displaying Palestinian flags in a gesture of solidarity. This year, Israel faced no consequences despite committing a war crime while the contest was going on.

Propaganda and misinformation

The evidence that the IDF killed Akleh is overwhelming. Israeli troops were in range at the time of her death, she was wearing a bullet-proof vest clearly labelled ‘PRESS’, and she was shot below the ear, to avoid her protective helmet, reportedly with an M16 rifle such as that used by the Israeli army.

She was also a well-known figure throughout the region, making it more likely hers was a targeted and conscious killing. The Israeli army is even reportedly in the process of interrogating a soldier suspected of being the shooter.

But Israel attempted to muddy the waters by complaining that the Palestinians refused to hand over Abu Akleh’s body for an autopsy, to prove whether one of their men had fired the shot. This argument was repeated in the western press to undermine the credibility of the many witnesses to the shooting.

The Palestinian Authority, the main representative of the Palestinians in the West Bank where Abu Akleh was killed, stated it did not trust Israel to facilitate an impartial investigation.

This is hardly unreasonable given Israel’s farcical attempt to blame anonymous Palestinian gunmen for the killing. Even having rowed back on this, they are trying to dodge blame by suggesting that a bullet could have deflected off the ground or a wall and struck Abu Akleh.

We recall that, when the Ukrainian government made allegations of war crimes in Bucha during the town’s occupation, the Russians requested an investigation, in which they would be permitted to present their own side of the story. This was refused on the grounds that Russia could not be trusted – but there was no re-examination of the credibility of the allegations in that instance.

The scandal of Abu Akleh’s murder and the brutality visited upon her funeral provoked fury around the world, coinciding with protests this weekend to mark the 74th anniversary of the ‘Nakba’ – the mass expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in 1948.

In addition to protests in Palestine (with the largest taking place in the occupied West Bank), and Israel (which saw the arrest of three Palestinian students in Tel Aviv), there were significant international manifestations of grief and solidarity.

Along with large demonstrations in the Middle East (including Syria, Turkey and Lebanon), there were marches in the west, with thousands hitting the streets in London, for example. Many in the crowd carried photographs of Abu Akleh, demanding justice.

In some cases, the state intervened to suppress demonstrations. For example, in Berlin, the government banned a vigil for Abu Akleh, along with any visible presence of Palestinian flags, on the grounds these posed an “immediate risk” of antisemitic chants, intimidation and violence!

Ultimately, the German police detained 170 pro-Palestinian activists in Berlin, for such offences as chanting “free Palestine”, carrying the Palestinian flag and wearing a keffiyeh.

Naked hypocrisy

Abu Akleh’s slaying exposes the naked hypocrisy of the imperialists, who are perfectly happy to aid, abet and commit war crimes when it suits them, but will raise a hue and cry over the exact same crimes committed by their adversaries.

The UN Security Council has condemned the killing of Abu Akleh and called for an “independent investigation”, but these are empty words when the US has the right to veto any resolution from this body targeting one of its closest allies.

Left to ‘international institutions’ like the UN, we can reasonably assume this case will be allowed to wind down before a toothless investigation produces an ‘inconclusive’ result. This is what passes for ‘justice’ on the basis of capitalist imperialism.

Justice for Abu Akleh and Palestine as a whole will never be granted on the basis of ‘international law’. And neither crocodile tears nor half-hearted words of sympathy are a salve to the suffering of the Palestinian people, coming from the same governments and institutions who have funded and armed their tormentors for decades.

Only a revolutionary struggle, uniting workers, the youth and the poor of the entire region, can finally liberate the Palestinian people from the shackles of occupation and oppression.

It is the duty of the working class and its organisations throughout the world to show solidarity with this struggle for freedom and a dignified existence, which can only be guaranteed for future generations in the form of a Socialist Federation of the Middle East and North Africa.

Waging this struggle is the best way to honour Abu Akleh and all of Palestine’s martyrs.

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