Palestinians mark Nakba amid rising anger over death of Shireen Abu Akleh

Killing of American-Palestinian journalist adds to anger at rallies commemorating mass displacement during the creation of Israel

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Palestinians rallied on Sunday to mark the Nakba, or catastrophe, 74 years after Israel’s creation, amid mounting anger over police action against mourners at the funeral in Jerusalem of Shireen Abu Akleh, an American-Palestinian journalist who was shot dead while covering an Israeli military operation in the occupied West Bank.

The annual demonstrations across the West Bank, annexed East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and inside Israel lament the displacement of more than 700,000 Palestinians during the conflict that surrounded the creation of Israel in 1948.

Akleh, 51, was a veteran reporter on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and on the plight of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. She was shot dead on Wednesday during an Israeli raid in Jenin, a West Bank flashpoint.

Her funeral on Friday was marred by chaos as baton-wielding Israeli police tried to grab Palestinian flags carried by mourners as Abu Akleh’s coffin left Jerusalem’s St Joseph’s Hospital. Pallbearers struggled to stop the casket from toppling to the ground in the melee. Israeli police have vowed to investigate the incident, which caused outrage after television footage seen around the globe.

Israeli police attack group carrying journalist Shireen Abu Akleh's coffin

Israeli police attack group carrying journalist Shireen Abu Akleh's coffin

The US, EU and UN have condemned the killing of Akleh as well as the police action at her funeral.

The foundation of the late South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu said Israeli police “attacking pallbearers” was “chillingly reminiscent of the brutality” seen at the funerals of anti-apartheid activists.

As Israel reopened following the Sabbath, local commentators joined the chorus of criticism.

“The footage from Friday documented a shocking display of unbridled brutality and violence,” Oded Shalom said in the Israeli daily newspaper Yediot Ahronot.

“The Jerusalem District Police decided to come down like a tonne of bricks on anyone who dared to hold a Palestinian flag,” he 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 said.

Israel forbids public displays of Palestinian flags in Jerusalem and regularly cracks down when they are hoisted.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry on Sunday called for the international community “to acknowledge that Israel’s policies are illegal, untenable, and cannot be defended”, in statement issued to mark the Nakba.

“The Nakba is an ongoing Israeli colonial project, which aims at cleansing the land of the Palestinian people, forcibly displacing them, and replacing them with illegal settlers. The Nakba never ended, nor has Israel’s brutality, oppression, and cruelty,” the ministry said in the statement carried by the Palestinian Wafa news agency.

Thousands of Palestinians streamed through central Ramallah in the West Bank for the main Nakba rally, with crowds also turning out in Gaza city, in the Israeli-blocked strip.

At a student Nakba event at Tel Aviv University, police said three Arabs were arrested “for attacking demonstrators and police officers”.

The arrests followed a confrontation with Im Tirtzu, a right-wing Israeli movement holding a counter rally.

Arab TAU student Aline Nasra said that demonstrators were assaulted by police as they moved to protect one of their members from Im Tirtzu threats.

The right-wing Israelis taunted the Arab students, including with calls that Israel is only for “Jewish people”, she said.

Al Jazeera on Sunday posthumously aired a report produced by Abu Akleh that retraced the fate of the Palestinian people since 1948, with a particular focus on refugees and the displaced.

The Palestinian public prosecution said an initial probe showed Israeli troops responsible for the death of the reporter, who was 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.

Israeli troops have clashed repeatedly with Palestinian militants during a raids near Jenin in recent months following attacks inside Israel.

A Palestinian militant wounded in the clashes there, Daoud Al Zubaidi, died from his injuries in an Israeli hospital on Sunday. He was the brother of Zakaria Al Zubaidi, who led the armed wing of Palestinian President Mahmoud 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 in Jenin on Friday. He was buried on Sunday.

Updated: May 15, 2022, 4:11 PM