US religious freedom report notes attack on Abu Akleh funeral

US report describes details of assault by Israeli forces on the funeral of slain Al Jazeera journalist in Jerusalem.

Washington, DC – An annual US report on religious freedom around the world has noted Israeli forces’ attack on the funeral of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Jerusalem last year, acknowledging that Israeli police beat mourners at the procession.

The 2022 Report on International Religious Freedom, released on Monday, said that on May 13, 2022, Israeli authorities used force to “disrupt” the funeral of the Palestinian-American reporter who had been fatally shot by Israeli forces days earlier. The attack sparked international condemnations last year.

“Prior to the procession, dozens of Israeli police officers wearing protective gear rushed crowds gathered at the hospital containing her body, entered the hospital, hitting and shoving people inside with batons and deploying tear gas and concussive grenades, according to Israeli media and footage released by the hospital,” the US Department of State report read.

It cited Israeli media reports as saying that a police officer told mourners that the funeral procession would not start until “nationalistic chants” by the crowd stopped.

“Video during the funeral procession documented police beating pallbearers with batons so that the coffin dropped almost to the ground,” the United States report said. “Police confiscated Palestinian flags from the casket, the hearse, and mourners.”

While the administration of US President Joe Biden previously expressed concern about the “intruding” on Abu Akleh’s funeral by Israeli police, Monday’s report marks a detailed acknowledgement of the incident. Israeli authorities did not punish officers involved in the attack.

Last year, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was “deeply troubled” by “images” of the assault on Abu Akleh’s funeral but stopped short of denouncing Israel’s conduct.

“Every family deserves to be able to lay their loved ones to rest in a dignified and unimpeded manner,” Blinken said at that time.

Abu Akleh, a veteran Al Jazeera correspondent, was fatally shot by the Israeli military while covering a raid in the Palestinian city of Jenin on May 11, 2022.

Last week, Abu Akleh’s family and Al Jazeera Media Network renewed calls for accountability in the case on the first anniversary of her killing.

The Biden administration has condemned the shooting death of Abu Akleh but adopted the Israeli account that the journalist was killed unintentionally. Even so, multiple independent investigations by media outlets and eyewitnesses have said that the journalist was not in the immediate vicinity of any fighting when she was shot.

Washington, which provides Israel with at least $3.8bn in military assistance every year, has also rejected efforts to seek accountability for Abu Akleh at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Jerusalem raid

Monday’s report also noted criticism by religious minorities and rights groups of Israel’s basic law, which states that “the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish People”.

The report addressed an Israeli National Police (INP) raid on Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site, in April 2022.

“Media reported that INP beat mosque staff, the elderly, young persons, and paramedics,” it said.

“According to the Palestinian Red Crescent, INP hindered the arrival of ambulances and paramedics; Palestinian media said dozens of injured worshippers remained trapped inside the compound.

“Media reported at least 158 Palestinians were injured and estimated that INP detained 300-400 persons; INP reported that three officers were injured.”

Israeli forces similarly stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan this year.

The US report on Monday cited restrictions on Easter services at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem in 2022 that were also enacted this year.

“Authorities said they would allow 4,000 worshippers to attend the services, with 1,800 allowed in the church. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate stated that 11,000 persons usually attend. The patriarchate released a statement saying that it ‘was fed up with police restrictions on freedom to worship’,” it said.

“A police representative said the decision was ‘totally about safety and not at all about anything else.'”

Introducing the report, which covers more than 200 countries and territories around the world, US Ambassador for International Religious Freedoms Rashad Hussain said he had attended Muslim, Christian and Jewish religious services during a visit to Jerusalem and the West Bank last month.

“I sat down with government leaders as well as leaders of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities to discuss the importance of religious co-existence and protecting access to these religious sites,” Hussain said on Monday.

Other findings

  • The report renewed criticism of what the US says are “severe violations” by China against religious minorities, including Uighur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists. Beijing has previously denounced Washington’s accusations of abuses of religious freedom, including allegations of genocide against its Uighur population.
  • In its section on India, a US ally, the document noted reports of “violence by law enforcement authorities against members of religious minorities in multiple states”, including the flogging of Muslim men and demolition of Muslim-owned homes and shops. India has also rejected previous US accusations of religious freedom violations.
  • The report highlighted the death of Mahsa Amini in Iranian police custody last year after she was arrested for allegedly wearing her hijab improperly. “Her death sparked nationwide protests against the mandatory hijab and the government’s treatment of women,” the report said. “Social media and international press reported women of all ages, including schoolgirls, protested by publicly removing and in some cases burning their hijabs.”
Source: Al Jazeera