Speed Reads

Freedom of religion

Vatican slams Israel for attacking funeral of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh

The top Catholic officials in Jerusalem strongly criticized Israel on Monday for Friday's attack on the funeral procession of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Israeli riot police stormed the courtyard of St. Joseph Hospital, where Abu Akleh's funeral procession was starting, and kicked and beat the pallbearers, causing them to nearly drop the coffin.

"The Israel Police's invasion and disproportionate use of force — attacking mourners, striking them with batons, using smoke grenades, shooting rubber bullets, frightening the hospital patients — is a severe violation of international norms and regulations, including the fundamental human right of freedom of religion," Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin patriarch of the Holy Land, said at Monday's press conference.

Monsignor Tomasz Grysa, the Vatican's representative in Jerusalem, said Israel's "violent intrusion" into Abu Akleh's funeral "brutally violated" a 1993 agreement between the Roman Catholic Church and Israel that "upholds and observes the human right of freedom of religion." Jamil Koussa, St. Joseph Hospital's director, said the target of the raid was Abu Akleh's coffin itself and declared it an attempt to "horrify people in the building."

Israel's police force defended its conduct on Friday, saying it had "intervened to disperse the mob and prevent them from taking the coffin," instead of putting it in a hearse, as Abu Akleh's family had planned. Abu Akleh's brother Anton disputed that rationale, saying he "never gave any promises to the Israeli police."

Abu Akleh, who was Catholic, was shot dead Wednesday while covering an Israeli raid on the Jenin refugee camp. Witnesses said Israeli forces shot Abu Akleh, who was wearing a blue protective vest clearly marked "Press." Israel, after first suggesting a Palestinian gunman had fired the fatal shot, said it will investigate whether she was hit by Israeli fire

Dutch open-source research consortium Bellingcat said that based on evidence from Palestinian and Israeli military sources, Israeli soldiers "were in the closest position and had the clearest line of sight to Abu Akleh," suggesting she was killed by Israeli fire.