Palestinians rallied Sunday to mark the “Nakba,” or catastrophe, 74 years after Israel’s creation, with condemnation spreading over a police raid on the funeral of a slain journalist.
The annual demonstrations across the occupied West Bank, annexed east Jerusalem and inside Israel came with tensions high over the killing of 51-year-old Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh. The Palestinian-American was shot dead Wednesday during an Israeli raid in Jenin, a West Bank flashpoint. A prominent Palestinian militant leader wounded in clashes there, Daoud al-Zubaidi, died from his injuries in an Israeli hospital Sunday.
Israeli police have vowed to investigate the chaos that marred the day of Abu Akleh’s funeral, after television footage seen across the globe showed pallbearers struggling to stop the casket from toppling to the ground as baton-wielding police descended upon them, grabbing Palestinian flags.
The scenes Friday sparked international condemnation, including from the United States, European Union and United Nations. Late South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s foundation said Israeli police “attacking pallbearers” was “chillingly reminiscent of the brutality” seen at the funerals of anti-apartheid activists.
As Israel reopened following the Shabbat pause, local commentators joined the chorus lambasting the raid as Abu Akleh’s coffin emerged from Jerusalem’s St Joseph’s hospital.
“The footage from Friday,” wrote Oded Shalom in leading Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot, “documented a shocking display of unbridled brutality and violence”.
“The Jerusalem District Police decided to come down like a tonne of bricks on anyone who dared to hold a Palestinian flag,” Shalom wrote.
“As if holding up a flag — a mere piece of cloth, for God’s sake — at a funeral procession for an hour or two could have had any impact whatsoever” on Israeli claims to control over Jerusalem, he added.
Israel forbids public displays of Palestinian flags in Jerusalem and regularly cracks down when they are hoisted.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has yet to comment on the raid, avoiding the controversy in public remarks before his Sunday weekly cabinet meeting. Al Jazeera on Sunday posthumously aired a piece produced by Abu Akleh on the Nakba, which marks Israel’s 1948 declaration of independence.
A highly respected reporter, she was killed while wearing a helmet and a bulletproof vest marked “Press”.
Israel’s army said an interim investigation could not determine who fired the fatal bullet, noting that stray Palestinian gunfire or Israeli sniper fire aimed at militants were both possible causes. The Palestinian public prosecution said an initial probe had shown that the “origin of the shooting was the Israeli occupation forces”.
Abu Akleh’s posthumously aired piece retraced the fate of the Palestinian people since 1948, with a particular focus on refugees and the displaced.
More than 700,000 Palestinians fled or were forced from their homes during the conflict that surrounded Israel’s creation.
There are now 5.7 million Palestinian refugees spread across the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, the UN says. The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics puts the global Palestinian population at 13.8 million.
Since suffering a series of attacks since March 22, Israel has launched multiple raids in the occupied West Bank.
One of the latest casualties of the conflict, Daoud al-Zubaidi, was the brother of Zakaria, who headed the armed wing of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah movement and briefly escaped from an Israeli prison last year.
The most recent Israeli fatality was special forces police officer Noam Raz, 46, who was shot Friday in Jenin. He was being buried on Sunday.