Covering Funerals Turned Protests
Late last month I covered the funeral of Mohammad al-Jawawneh for the AP. He was a 17-year-old Jordanian kid who was shot dead (along with another Jordanian man) by a security guard at the Israeli embassy after allegedly attacking him with a screwdriver.
Both governments swiftly issued gag orders on the incident, Israel claimed diplomatic immunity for a security guard, Jordanian police weren't allowed to question him, and the embassy staff were evacuated. This was in the midst of already high tensions around al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, which the Jordanian government was working behind the scenes to resolve.
As a result, many different accounts and rumors swirled following the killing - some said it was a knife, others a screwdriver, others said the boy hadn't attacked anyone at all. What I think is most likely is this: Jawawneh, working his summer job as a furniture delivery man for his family's company, shows up, and it dawns on him that he's working with Israelis. Already incensed by seeing the events in Jerusalem play out on the news, he does something rash and makes a bad decision. The security guard over-reacts, not only killing a teenager (rather than, say wounding him), he also kills an innocent bystander, the landlord for the building.
I'm thinking of this more now in the wake of the white supremacist riots that recently hit the quiet college town of Charlottesville, VA, and I can't help but think covering something like that would be much scarier to me. As I arrived for the funeral that morning, I was nervous, obviously not belonging there - in a crowd of hundreds of men, the only women I saw were those going in and out of the house, and watching from across the street.
But I started working, approaching people, asking questions, and it got easier. As more and more people gathered for the noon prayers, the other photographers from local media stood on the sidelines. They helped me find out when things were going to happen, where I should wait, and inevitably, wanted to chat about what kind of gear we were all shooting with.
This kind of thing happens just about weekly in the West Bank, but this is rare here in quiet Jordan, and the tension was palpable. It's something of a difficult position to be in as a journalist. Obviously, I don't think people should solve problems by attacking one another. But at the same time, I could absolutely see Jordanians' point of view - which is that two citizens were shot dead in their own country by a foreign assailant, and that person would never face a day in court, let alone jail. And of course I could feel for the family grieving the loss of their teenage son - his father entered the funeral tent absolutely in pieces, crying aloud.
After the prayers, the crowd began to march to the cemetery, some 300m away, chanting, waving flags and signs. When I was pushing my way through a crowd, inevitably someone would call out "make way, there's a girl here" and a path would be cleared. And guys helped pull me onto trucks so I could have a better vantage point.
They marched a few blocks, briefly confronting police at Middle East Circle in Wehdat. A couple of times, someone set off what sounded like fireworks, and we all ducked. And then it was over.
I sat down in a shady spot on the curb to quickly edit and file my pictures. Throughout the day, young boys had been dutifully coming over to offer me water or bring me a chair. This time, a boy, about 10 years old, approached me and asked, "Miss, can I see pictures of my brother?"
"Who's your brother?" I asked.
"The shaheed (martyr)," he answered.
That gutted me. His using the word "martyr" crushed something in me. That he had experienced this loss at that age, that something in his thinking had already, inevitably shifted as a result. I wanted to hug him, but as I apologized, he was already leaving.