Times of Israel Amends Erroneous Piece on Akleh Funeral

After communication with CAMERA, the Times of Israel amended a piece that had misrepresented tensions during the funeral of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. 

The earlier version of the piece, written by Aaron Boxerman, argued that Israeli police violently rushed the funeral merely because attendees waved Palestinian flags.

Boxerman further suggested that the police lied about stone throwing by some at the funeral, suggesting that video footage belied the police claims.

But a detailed account in the Washington Post and footage of the incident paints a very different picture.

The Post report notes that the coffin was essentially wrested from the deceased’s family by Palestinians who defied their wishes about the funeral, and makes clear that police were acting to prevent the coffin from being carried away from the family. Video footage, meanwhile, clearly shows that the police were pelted by objects prior to using batons. 

To its credit, the Times of Israel updated its piece to reflect this information. 

The Erroneous Account

The earlier version of Boxerman’s story, which was titled “Police rush procession, beat mourners at funeral for slain Al Jazeera journalist,” stated:

Israeli police rushed the funeral procession of the late Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, beating mourners who raised Palestinian flags and nearly toppling her casket, as thousands of Palestinians arrived to grieve for the widely beloved correspondent on Friday.

[…]

Israeli police rushed the funeral procession of the late Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, beating mourners who raised Palestinian flags and nearly toppling her casket, as thousands of Palestinians arrived to grieve for the widely beloved correspondent on Friday.

Officers rushed the crowd, beating mourners in an apparent attempt to force them to take down the Palestinian flags. Police fired stun grenades in an attempt to disperse the crowd, including towards those carrying Abu Akleh’s casket, which almost toppled to the ground.

Police later claimed that mourners near the coffin had thrown rocks and objects at police during “violent riots.”

“Officers had to disperse and repel the rioters and make arrests in order to allow the funeral to take place,” Israeli police said in a statement, adding that six people had been detained.

In footage from the scene, no such stone-throwing is evident before police rushed the crowd, although some Palestinians were later filmed throwing objects during the clashes.

“They brutally attacked us because we bore the Palestinian flag and we wanted to carry her on our shoulders [to the Old City],” said one Palestinian witness, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Footage and Details

In fact, various video clips shows police being pelted with objects, including what seems to be glass bottles, prior to rushing the crowd.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post account includes other significant, substantive details that were missing from the Times of Israel story: 

By noon, a crowd of several hundred formed at the entrance to St. Joseph’s Hospital in East Jerusalem, where Abu Akleh’s body had rested overnight. In the minutes before the procession was due to leave the hospital, several dozen Muslim men lined up for Friday prayers, kneeling in the parking lot. Behind them, two mourners held up large floral crosses. Then the crowd gathered, with Palestinian flags waving.

“God is greatest,” some chanted in Arabic. “From Jerusalem to Jenin, God bless your soul, Shireen.”

But a group of men in the crowd prevented a hearse from backing up to the hospital door, saying they were intent on carrying her body on their shoulders. The standoff eventually prompted Akleh’s brother, sitting on a man’s shoulders, to beseech the crowd to let the hearse through. “For God’s sake, let us put her in the car and finish the day,” he said.

“On the shoulder, on the shoulder!” people chanted, and beat the hearse with sticks until it pulled away for a second time. The crowd cheered when the men eventually dragged the coffin out on their shoulders, followed by a stretcher carrying the journalist’s blue bullet-resistant vest.

But Israeli police at the hospital gate refused to let the crowd through and, within minutes, a squad in riot gear pushed forward, setting off stun grenades and beating back the mourners with truncheons. People scattered amid a cascade of thrown bottles and rocks. At one point, Abu Akleh’s coffin lurched toward the ground, but the pallbearers managed to keep it aloft.

With police standing post in the compound, the hearse sped from the hospital compound under heavy Israeli guard to the Cathedral of the Annunciation of the Virgin in Jerusalem’s Old City.

Whether the police handled the situation rightly or wrongly, accurate journalism requires that the order of events, and the relevant context, be reported correctly. 

Times of Israel Updates

The amended version of the Times of Israel story adds that 

A group of Palestinians at the hospital seized Abu Akleh’s casket in an attempt to begin the impromptu march, beating the hearse that would take her to the Old City with sticks, according to The Washington Post. Abu Akleh’s brother reportedly sought to calm the crowd and have them return his sister’s body to the hearse.

“For God’s sake, let us put her in the car and finish the day,” he was quoted as saying.

The updated piece also adds, 

Video released by Israel Police showed at least one Palestinian hurled an object at Israeli officers before the dispersal began. The footage then showed Palestinians throwing objects at police after officers had moved to disperse the crowd.

(In fact, as seen above, multiple videos showed multiple objects being thrown prior to the dispersal.)