Biden: Israel Police Actions at Abu Akleh's Funeral 'Must Be Investigated'

U.S. Secretary of State Blinken said the U.S. was 'deeply troubled' by the event adding 'every family deserves to lay their loved ones to rest in a dignified and unimpeded manner.'

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
Violence erupts between Israeli security forces and Palestinian mourners carrying the casket of slain  Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, Jerusalem, Friday.
Violence erupts between Israeli security forces and Palestinian mourners carrying the casket of slain Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, Jerusalem, Friday.Credit: Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration issued on Friday perhaps its harshest public rebuke of Israel to date over scenes of Israeli police violence at the funeral of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed earlier in the week while covering an Israeli military raid in the West Bank city of Jenin.

Television footage from the funeral procession showed Israeli forces using stun grenades on a crowd in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, as well as striking with clubs mourners who were carrying the late Al Jazeera journalist's casket.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. was "deeply troubled by the images of Israeli police intruding into the funeral procession of Palestinian American Shireen Abu Akleh," adding "every family deserves to lay their loved ones to rest in a dignified and unimpeded manner."

Blinken's rebuke came shortly after U.S. President Joe Biden said "I don't know all the detail, but I know it has to be investigated" when asked about Israeli forces' action at the funeral.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, who called the images "deeply disturbing," said "this is a day where we should all be marking, including everyone there, the memory of a remarkable journalist who lost her life."

Psaki said the U.S. "regrets the intrusion into what should have been a peaceful procession," adding that they have "urged respect for the funeral procession, the mourners and the family at the sensitive time."

She added that the U.S. remains in close touch with Israeli and Palestinian authorities and is working to provide assistance and bridge cooperation, "especially given the images we've seen today," though is not currently involved in any investigation.

Senator Chris Murphy, the Connecticut Democrat who chairs the Senate subcommittee dealing with the Middle East, described the scenes as "awful to watch," adding that his team is "working to get answers about what happened here."

Several hours later, Murphy said: "I haven’t heard any credible explanation why this level of force was used on these mourners. What happened is unacceptable."

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill on Thursday.Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP

Senator Chris Van Hollen echoed Murphy's comments, saying the violence "simply adds trauma on top of a tragedy." The Maryland Democrat called for "immediate accountability for these attacks on people mourning Abu Akleh's death," while reiterating his previously issued call to bring her killer to justice.

Sen. Bernie Sanders called for the U.S. to condemn Israel's actions, saying "the attack by Israeli forces against mourners at the funeral of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh is an outrage."

Sen. Elizabeth Warren called both Abu Akleh's killing and Israeli forces' attacks on mourners "deeply disturbing," calling for a full independent investigation.

Rep. Sara Jacobs called the events "horrific and inexcusable," calling for a full investigation into both the violence at the funeral and Abu Akleh's death.

"Live coverage of Israeli officers attacking attendees of Shireen Abu Akleh’s funeral, almost toppling the casket to the ground, disturbed me deeply," said Rep. Andy Levin. "What can justify this?"

“No one should be attacked while mourning. There’s no excuse,” said Rep. Jamaal Bowman, who called it a “prime example of the inhumane treatment of Palestinians living under occupation.”

He further called for a full and independent investigation of Abu Akleh’s “murder and this abhorrent violence by the Israeli police.”

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said she was "deeply distressed" by the images from the funeral, adding "the tragedy of her killing should be handled with the utmost respect, sobriety and care."

Rep. Rashida Tlaib described the scenes as "sickening" and "violent racism, enabled by $3.8 billion in unconditional military U.S. funds." The Palestinian-American Democrat from Michigan added that "for the Israeli apartheid government, Shireen's life didn't matter - and her dehumanization continues after death," directly asking the State Department if they "condemn this horror or does being Palestinian make you less American? This is just cruel."

Tlaib is one of four U.S. lawmakers to publicly implicate Israel for Abu Akleh's killing. At least eight other House Democrats and three Senate Democrats joined the White House and State Department in urging a thorough investigation and accountability, while stopping short of accusing Israel of killing her.

Hundreds of people gathered outside the hospital where the procession began, with many of them flying Palestinian flags and chanting what police dubbed "nationalistic incitement calls."

At least 10 required medical assistance. Police said the group of Palestinian rioters had begun throwing stones in the hospital compound. "The policemen were forced to act," they added. The police spokesperson said that while "the Israel Police is working tirelessly to allow such events to take place with sensitivity and in accordance to the law, and will not allow rioters… to assault officers under the guise of these events." There was no immediate comment from Palestinian authorities.

Israel has called for a joint investigation with the Palestinian Authority into the killing, and for the PA to hand over the bullet for forensic analysis to determine who fired the fatal round. Palestinian officials have refused, saying it will conduct its own investigation and take the case to the International Criminal Court, which is already investigating possible Israeli war crimes.

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