Israel: Brutal repression at funeral of murdered journalist provokes Palestinian rage

Amnon Cohen

Millions around the world were shocked and outraged by the video footage of baton-wielding Israeli police attacking the huge funeral of Shireen Abu Akleh, beating pallbearers until the coffin nearly fell to the ground. Shireen, one of the Arab world’s best-known journalists, was shot by Israeli sniper fire while covering an Israeli special forces attack on the Jenin refugee camp – an area handed over to ostensible ‘Palestinian rule’ as part of the 1993 Camp David peace accords.

The initial Israeli government blaming of Palestinian fire for Shireen’s death was debunked within hours by analysis of video footage. Other Israeli right wingers suggested that Shireen was no more than a paid propagandist for Israel’s enemies, and from the moment she chose to enter a combat zone, she was fair game. But news coverage is a key battleground in the war. Video journalism of the kind pioneered by Abu Akleh has acted as a thorn in the side of the occupation, broadcasting footage of military atrocities and contradicting the official government narrative.

The Israeli state has tried to suppress such coverage. Over the years, many Palestinian journalists have been arrested for ‘incitement’, and TV stations have been shut down. At least 46 Palestinian journalists have been killed by the Israeli army since 2000. In May 2021, the Israeli air force destroyed the media offices of Al Jazeera in Gaza, which was broadcasting footage of devastation inflicted on ordinary Gazans by the Israeli military assault.

The footage of the Israeli police baton assault on Shireen’s funeral graphically illustrates the nature of the Israeli occupation, showing the brutality which Palestinians experience on a day-to-day basis. Israeli capitalism has failed to resolve the national conflict, and attempts to achieve through police and military repression what it has failed to achieve politically.

If the shooting of Shireen was intended to suppress coverage of the Israeli assault on Jenin refugee camp, it did the opposite, propelling it into international headlines. The ferocious attack on the mourners graphically displayed the authorities’ true attitude to Palestinians in general, and failed to deter tens of thousands who transformed East Jerusalem into a sea of rage and defiance.

A government of change?

The right-wing Benjamin Netanyahu regime was removed from office in June 2021. A Trump-like figure, his 12-year rule was marked by corruption and the ratcheting up of the national conflict to shore up his support at home. Weekly mass demonstrations demanded his departure. But, as the Socialist explained at the time, the crisis in Israeli society was not the result of Netanyahu’s personality. Netanyahu’s rotten regime was a reflection of the crisis of Israeli capitalism itself. A system run for the interests of the tycoons and corporations, which offered ordinary Israelis stagnating wages, the most expensive prices in the world and permanent warfare, could only shore up its base by a right-populist appeal to the most nationalist and racist elements in Israeli society.

Netanyahu was replaced by the so-called ‘government of change’ – a coalition led by former settler leader Naftali Bennett, spanning everything from the right-wing settler parties to the Israeli Labour Party, the ‘anti-occupation’ liberal Meretz party, and the Islamist United Arab list. The glue holding this unlikely coalition together was their rejection of Netanyahu, and it survived by its left wing making continual concessions. The minister of public security (which bears ultimate responsibility for the brutal behaviour of the police at the funeral) is Labour politician Omer Bar-Lev.

The rise of this ‘government of change’ ended the protests for the removal of Netanyahu, but it did not end the brutal repression of the Palestinians, nor attacks on the living standards of Israeli workers.

One month ago, Israeli police stormed the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem arresting 400 and injuring 160. And recently the Israeli high court authorised the biggest confiscation of Palestinian land since 1967, evicting 1,000 Palestinian residents of Masafer Yatta in the West Bank.

The miserable conditions of ordinary Palestinians have only worsened. This year alone, over 50 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli military, including eight children. And after a period of relative calm, there has been a spate of individual terrorist attacks which have killed 18 Israelis.

The most recent was an axe attack by two Palestinians in the village of Elad, which killed three. These attacks appear not to have been planned or organised by any of the Palestinian organisations, but are individual actions of enraged individuals.

Socialists condemn such individual terrorist actions, (as well as the Israeli state terrorism daily inflicted on the Palestinian masses). These indiscriminate attacks on Israeli civilians cannot advance the struggle to end Israeli oppression, but can only serve to deepen the racism in Israeli society.

Why is Palestine different?

Many Palestinians are asking ‘why are we different? The world is outraged by the carnage in Ukraine, but is silent when we are killed.’

But the ‘world’ in this context is taken to mean the capitalist and ruling class, who have no concern for the horrific suffering of ordinary people, whether in Ukraine, Yemen, Palestine, or in their own counties. Their expressions of concern for Ukrainians are part of their propaganda war against Putin’s gangster capitalist regime.

The brutal repression of the Palestinian masses will not be ended by the crocodile tears of capitalist politicians, by the United Nations, the so called ‘international community’ or ‘international law’. It will only be achieved by the mass struggle of the Palestinian masses themselves. The first ‘Intifada’ (uprising) in 1987 and the enormous turnout to the funeral show the courage, determination and power of the masses when they are prepared to fight.

Capitalism means permanent war, repression and impoverishment for Israeli and Palestinian workers alike. Only by reviving the traditions of the first Intifada, the Arab Spring, and the Israeli social movement of 2011, and building united working-class movements, can the capitalist regimes be replaced by socialist societies, which will end the murderous brutality of the Israeli occupation.