By now, the footage of Shireen Abu Akleh’s funeral procession being brutally attacked by Israeli police forces in East Jerusalem today has been broadcast around the world. Many will call it shocking: instead, I would call it chilling.
It was not shocking that the police forces used brutality on a peaceful gathering: this has been seen time and time again by Palestinians; and occurred on a daily basis during the escalation in violence during 2021.
It was not shocking that Israeli forces attempted to control and manipulate this significant event by imposing impossible rules: no flags, no marching, no chanting.
It was not shocking that they turned up in full riot gear, with horses, started restricting access to the site and ready to fight; in the grounds of a hospital.
It was not shocking that the end result was ‘clashes’, ‘scuffles’ – playground words, that diminish the reality of what happens. Not just today, but practically every day in some part of Jerusalem or the rest of the West Bank.
Instead, there were two things that made the event unbelievably chilling.
One was that the police forces didn’t see what the rest of the world saw. They didn’t see the many thousands of people distraught with grief, heartbroken with loss, who came out to pay their respects, peacefully. They didn’t see the right of a community, a nation, to mourn a hero.
They only saw an enemy. A sub-human, second class citizen of an enemy for whom it’s permissible to beat and if it comes to it, kill, when the rules of their system aren’t followed.
The second reason that the event was chilling was that the Israeli forces have such confidence in the clarity of their convictions, and impunity for their actions, that they are now willing to attack their enemy, in the cold light of day, in front of the world’s media. Can flying a Palestinian flag ever justify beating pallbearers to the point of them dropping the coffin of a notable member of society? On what planet is that a measure of a just society?
St Joseph’s hospital, where the mourners gathered, is at the end of my street. In the centre of Jerusalem. Next to most of the consulates and foreign missions.
The really shocking thing is happening in Government offices around the world. Words and headlines are no doubt being carefully selected so that they don’t cross a line, don’t upset the status quo, don’t deviate from agreed policy. It will be convenient to call events ‘shocking’. Registering surprise is one way to absolve yourself of complicity.
Shireen Abu Akleh has gone from being a highly effective journalist, who spent decades highlighting the injustices of the occupation, to a legend, who during her death has highlighted the injustices that face the Palestinian people.
As one local Palestinian put it, “even on our darkest day there is a total lack of humanity, reminding us today, like every other, we simply are not equal citizens and we have no rights.”
Her death will be remembered far beyond the headlines of the next few days. I want to be proven wrong, and to see actions accompanying the words this time.
As human beings, we need to be setting a higher bar for humanity.