Thousands of Palestinians gathered Thursday for the funeral of Minister Ziad Abu Ein, who died a day earlier after Israeli soldiers confronted a peaceful march he led to plant olive trees on land confiscated by Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank.
Palestinian leaders have blamed Israel for killing Abu Ein, but Israel maintains that he died from an existing heart condition.
The funeral procession began at Al-Muqata, the headquarters of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in Ramallah, before heading to a nearby cemetery, local news website Maan reported. The military pageantry of Abu Ein's funeral could not disguise the fact that his death had reminded ordinary Palestinians that the security forces of the Palestinian Authority are incapable of protecting them from the Israeli military and settlers — a potentially worrisome development for Israel's security establishment, which has long relied on the PA's security forces as their first line of defense against Palestinians seeking to confront Israel.
Abbas called Abu Ein the victim of a "clear crime" and a "barbaric act," and Palestinian officials warned that the PA's security coordination with Israel would be suspended. But it was not clear whether that threat would be implemented, particularly given Abbas' recent statement that security cooperation with Israel was "sacred."
He decreed three days of mourning for the minister, whose work included organizing protests against Israeli settlements and the West Bank separation wall. On Thursday, schools in Ramallah were closed and posters honoring Abu Ein were plastered on walls throughout the city.
Israeli troops deployed ahead of the funeral because the cemetery is located near an Israeli settlement called Psagot, according to an Israeli army spokeswoman. All settlements built on Palestinian land occupied by Israel, including East Jerusalem, are deemed illegal under international law.
As the funeral began, Israeli and Palestinian pathologists disagreed Thursday on what led to Abu Ein’s death.
Following a joint autopsy, the Israeli doctor said the death was caused by the blockage of a coronary artery. The Palestinian doctor concluded that Abu Ein, 55, died as a result of a blow to his body, not of natural causes.
“The reason for the death of Abu Ein was his being hit by [Israeli] occupation troops and because of the heavy use of tear gas,” Hussein al-Sheikh, minister of civil affairs for the Palestinian Authority, told AFP.
Before Abu Ein’s death, an Israeli soldier was photographed grabbing him by the throat. An Israeli Health Ministry representative told Al Jazeera that there were “indications of light hemorrhaging and localized pressure” on his neck.
Witnesses told reporters that Israeli soldiers struck Abu Ein in the chest. A blow to Abu Ein’s face dislodged his front teeth and forced them to the back of his throat, Sabir al-Aloul, director of forensic medicine in the Minister of Health, told Maan news.
Al-Sheikh said the Palestinian leadership will decide what action to pursue in response to Abu Ein’s death. “If Israel admits to the murder of Abu Ein, there will be no need to go to the International Criminal Court,” he said.
This week, Palestine’s status was symbolically upgraded at the International Criminal Court, an indication that it is one step closer to gaining full status at the court, officials said.
With wire services