The leaders of the Catholic Churches in the Holy Land have sharply criticised the use of force by Israeli police during the funeral procession of Christian Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, on 13 May.
In a statement published on the website of the Latin Patriarchate, headed by Italian Franciscan Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin and Greek Patriarchs of Jerusalem accuse Israel of having disrespected Christian institutions.
The police intervention took place at the Saint Joseph Hospital, from where the funeral procession began. “The Police stormed into a Christian health institute, disrespecting the Church, disrespecting the health institute, disrespecting the memory of the deceased and forcing the pallbearers almost to drop the coffin”, says the statement.
“Israeli Police's invasion and disproportionate use of force, attacking mourners, striking them with batons, using smoke grenades, shooting rubber bullets, frightening the hospital's patients, is a severe 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 Patriarchs show themselves to be particularly aggrieved by the fact that the incident took place in a hospital that “has always proudly been a place of encounter and healing for all, regardless of their religious or cultural belonging.”
“What happened last Friday deeply wounded not only the Christian community, the sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition, owner of the Hospital, and all the hospital staff, but also all people who in that place have found and still find peace and hospitality. The Sisters and the staff of St. Joseph Hospital will keep their commitment to be a place of healing. The tragic episode of last Friday makes this commitment even stronger than ever.”
The police say they acted to disperse members of the crowd who had held up the procession and were insisting on carrying the coffin on their shoulders, accusing them of “disrupting public order”, but footage from the scene seems to show that the display of Palestinian flags and chanting of nationalist songs was one of the factors that aggravated the authorities.
Renowned journalist Shireen Abu Akhleh was a Melkite Greek Catholic with years of service covering Palestinian issues. On 11 May, she was present as Israel Defence Forces stormed the refugee camp in Jenin, in the West Bank.
During the operation, Abu Akleh was shot in the head, with eyewitnesses claiming that the deadly shot, which pierced her just below her helmet and above her bulletproof vest, came from Israeli forces. Israeli officials initially disputed this claim, releasing footage to support the idea that she had been shot by Palestinian militants, but Israeli newspaper Haaretz said this was unlikely, as several buildings blocked the militants in the video from the spot where the reporter was killed.
In a previous statement, published just after her death, the Latin Patriarchate demanded an investigation and the punishment of those responsible. “We pray for the rest of Shereen's soul, who was an example of duty and a strong voice for her people and ask God to grant her brother and relatives the consolation of faith. We pray that the Palestinian people find their way to freedom and peace”, it said.
- By Filipe d’Avillez
Featured Image: Jerusalem panorama from the Mount of Olives.