Church leaders condemn attack at funeral of slain Palestinian journalist

ROME – Christian churches in Jerusalem have united in condemning the scenes of Israeli police beating mourners at the funeral of a Palestinian-American journalist who was shot and killed in the field, allegedly by the Security Forces. Israel Defense Forces (IDF). They called police violence an attack on religious freedom.

The declaration was signed by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa; the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilus III; “and the faithful of the Christian Churches of the Holy Land”.

Journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, a seasoned reporter from AlJazeera and a Catholic, was reportedly killed by the IDF while covering the army storming of the Jenin refugee camp on the morning of May 11 in the occupied West Bank. She wore a blue vest clearly marked “Press”.

Abu Akleh was a respected and familiar face on Al Jazeera Arabic and a household name across the Arab world, known for its coverage of the harsh realities of Israel’s indefinite military occupation of Palestinian territories, now in its 55th year. She was widely recognized in the West Bank and was an American citizen.

“We hereby condemn the violent intrusion of the Israeli police into a funeral procession of slain journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, as he traveled from St. Joseph’s Hospital to the Greek-Melkite Cathedral Church,” it said. the press release published on Monday, and read by Pizzaballa at Saint-Joseph Hospital.

Father Thomas Grysa, charge d’affaires of the Vatican delegation to the Holy Land, speaking at the same press conference, said the police had “violated in a very brutal way” the right to “religious freedom”. .

“This episode constitutes a moment of tension between Israel and the Holy See, even if it is not the first,” he said, according to the Italian news agency ANSA.

The Patriarchates statement says that the police broke into a Christian health institute, disrespecting the church, disrespecting the health institute, disrespecting the memory of the deceased and almost forcing the porters to drop the coffin.

“The Israeli police’s invasion and disproportionate use of force, attacking mourners, beating them with batons, using smoke grenades, firing rubber bullets, frightening hospital patients, constitutes a serious 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 statement read.

Saint Joseph Hospital belongs to the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Apparition, a congregation of French origin present in the Holy Land for almost 200 years. It was described in the statement as an institution that has “proudly” been a place of encounter and healing for all, regardless of religious or cultural affiliation.

Israel Police pledged to investigate the chaotic incident, which was broadcast live around the world and drew widespread condemnation, including from the United States, European Union and United Nations . The police have also pledged to investigate the death of Abu Akleh, which eyewitnesses say was caused by a single shot to the head, allegedly fired by the Israeli army.

Israeli police said they had agreed with Abu Akleh’s family that there would be no nationalist slogans or Palestinian flags in the funeral procession.

However, the Associated Press reported that Abu Akleh’s brother Anton disputed these claims. He said Monday that the family had given the funeral arrangements to Israeli police, and said the police did not want any Palestinian slogans or flags. But he said ‘it’s something we can’t control’.

Anton, who was one of the pallbearers, said the police also wanted to know the funeral itinerary, but there was no other agreement. “We wanted to put the coffin in the car,” he said. “We were going towards the car when they attacked us.”

Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa, center, talks to Jamil Koussa, director general of St. Joseph’s Hospital, under an image of Israeli police in riot gear during the funeral of the Al Jazeera correspondent slain, Shireen Abu Akleh, Friday, during a press conference about police violence against pallbearers during the funeral, in East Jerusalem, Monday, May 16, 2022. Pizzaballa, the highest Catholic cleric in the Holy Land, said the Israeli police attack on mourners at Abu Akleh’s funeral was a violation of human rights and scorned the Catholic Church. (Credit: AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo.)

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

Martha J. Finley