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January 8, 2011

EDITOR: The lies continue! Having caused the death of a female bystander at a peaceful protest in the West Bank (not for the first time) by tear gas, the IOF is doing its best to harm and hurt her family, by publishing lies:

Israeli military and Palestinians clash over death of West Bank woman: The Guardian

The death of Jawaher Abu Rahma, 36, who collapsed after inhaling teargas has sparked a war of words, threatening a controversy akin in scale to 12-year-old Muhammad al-Dura’s death in 2000

Mourners carry Jawaher Abu Rahma, a 36-year-old Palestinian woman who died overnight after being teargassed by Israeli troops at a West Bank protest Photograph: Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images

Mourners carry Jawaher Abu Rahma, a 36-year-old Palestinian woman who died overnight after being teargassed by Israeli troops at a West Bank protest Photograph: Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images The death of a Palestinian woman following a West Bank village protest in which teargas was fired by Israeli soldiers has become a battleground of competing narratives between the victim’s family, Israeli military sources and advocates on both sides of the conflict. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, described the death of Jawaher Abu Rahma last weekend as an “Israeli crime carried out by the occupation army against our helpless nation”. In contrast, unnamed Israeli military sources told Yedioth Ahronoth, a mass circulation newspaper: “This is the new Muhammad al-Dura story and an attempt to delegitimise Israel.” Al-Dura was the 12-year-old boy shot dead in Gaza in 2000 while cowering behind his father, who tried to shield him during a gunbattle between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants. Images of the terrified boy became a symbol of the Second Intifada.

Abu Rahma, 36, died on Saturday after collapsing as she watched a protest against Israel’s separation barrier in Bil’in. Youths had begun throwing stones at soldiers who responded by firing CS gas canisters. According to witnesses, Abu Rahma began vomiting, convulsing and foaming at the mouth. She died in hospital in Ramallah the next day. Her death has afforded extra potency as it followed that of her brother, Bassem, who was killed 20 months earlier after being hit by a high-velocity teargas projectile during a similar protest. Another brother, Ashraf, was injured in the foot in July 2008 in the village of Na’alin after an Israeli soldier fired a rubber-coated steel bullet at point-blank range. The incident was captured on video. The Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, branded Abu Rahma’s death a “war crime”. Hundreds of people joined a protest in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening, at which 11 activists were arrested. The Israeli Defence Force opened an investigation into Abu Rahma’s death. But on Monday, during anonymous briefings to Israeli journalists, military sources questioned accounts from the family, witnesses and the medical authorities. “We did not kill her, there is no proof,” senior officers in the IDF Central Command told Yedioth Ahronoth. “This entire story is very strange.

The Palestinian reports are full of contradictions. The medical reports were fabricated and withheld from us. We believe she suffered from cancer and that she took unusually high doses of medication.” The military sources suggested Abu Rahma may not have been present at the protest and that she suffered from a pre-existing condition likely to have caused her death. The family’s supporters issued a detailed rebuttal of the IDF claims, backed by documentation, and said the military was waging a smear campaign. None of the witnesses to the incident claimed Abu Rahma took part in Friday’s demonstration, but that she had watched from a distance. Her mother, Soubhiya, has said she was with her daughter on a hill at the edge of the village when they were enveloped in teargas. “Soon after that she vomited and collapsed,” she said in a statement to the Popular Struggle Co-ordination Committee. “We took her to the nearest road, and from there she was evacuated by ambulance to the hospital where she remained until her death. ” Islam Abu Rahma, a family member who was with Jawaher, also gave testimony: “The wind moved the gas in our direction, making our eyes itch and tear up. After that [Jawaher] began to cough and foam at the mouth. Soon after that she became weak and lay down on the ground … She became terribly weak, vomited violently and foamed at the mouth. She was having difficulty breathing and lost her sense of direction.”

The IDF has questioned the hospital records concerning Abu Rahma’s treatment. One medical report said a blood sample was taken at 2.45pm, but a separate form said she was only admitted at 3.20pm, they said. According to the family, the sample was taken in the hospital emergency room before her admission shortly afterwards to intensive care. The military’s claims that Abu Rahma was suffering from asthma and leukaemia, which could have caused or contributed to her death, have been vigorously disputed. Mohammed Eidh, the director of the Palestine Medical Complex in Ramallah where Abu Rahma was taken, said she “died from lung failure caused by teargas inhalation, leading to a heart attack”. An official report, signed by Eidh and two other doctors, logged her symptoms and vital signs following “unknown gas inhalation”. She had “no history of chronic disease”, it said. Abu Rahma’s family and doctors said she recently had an inner-ear infection, for which she was given a CT scan, the results of which were normal. The IDF said the gas used in last Friday’s demonstration was identical to that used in previous protests, and is considered non-lethal in an open-air environment. According to Mohammed Khatib, a member of Bil’in’s Popular Co-ordinating Committee which organises the weekly protests against the barrier, the Israeli army was “trying to evade its responsibility for Jawaher’s death with lies and invented narratives that have no basis”.

Michael Sfard, an Israeli lawyer representing the Abu Rahma family, said the IDF had committed a “cowardly act by anonymously spreading lies without any evidence”. He said he had no confidence that an internal military inquiry, based solely on the testimony of soldiers, would establish the truth of the circumstances of Abu Rahma’s death. “This is a proven way to whitewash what happened.” The IDF issued an official statement on Wednesday saying the inquiry into Abu Rahma’s death had yet to be completed. It added: “The initial information raises questions as to the reliability of Palestinian reports. The medical reports received from the Palestinians also raise many questions and doubts. A number of scenarios have been posited, among them the possibility that Abu Rahma’s death was entirely unrelated to the demonstration last Friday.” An army spokesman told the Guardian: “There’s something weird about the whole situation and there are many questions about the circumstances of her death.” He said he had “no idea” how long the inquiry would take “but we hope for answers as soon as possible”.

Twelve-year-old martyr

On 30 September 2000, on the second day of the second intifada, Muhammad al-Dura, a 12-year-old Palestinian boy, was caught up in gunfire in the Gaza Strip and killed as he cowered against a wall. His father, Jamal, who was also struck by several bullets, tried to protect his son as they sought cover. The shooting and the child’s evident distress were filmed by Talal Abu Rahma, a Palestinian cameraman freelancing for a French TV station, and were broadcast around the world. At the end of the clip, Dura is seen slumped over his father’s legs. The Arab world hailed the boy as a martyr. His image appeared on stamps and streets were named after him. The Israeli army initially apologised for the killing, but then backtracked after conducting a controversial investigation in which it cleared itself and blamed Palestinian gunfire for the deaths. Despite claims by some pro-Israel groups that the child is still alive and the incident was staged by the Palestinians, Dura’s death remains an abiding symbol in the Arab world and beyond.

From Bilin to Tel Aviv, outrage at killing of Jawaher Abu Rahmah: The Electronic Intifada

Joseph Dana, 3 January 2011

A photograph of Jawaher Abu Rahmah hangs at her funeral on 1 January. (Oren Ziv/ActiveStills)

“I am in shock, we are in shock,” Hamde Abu Rahmah told me as we stood outside the small cemetery in Bilin where 36-year-old Jawaher Abu Rahmah was buried on Saturday. One day earlier, on 31 December, Jawaher was killed after inhaling US-made tear-gas fired by Israeli soldiers at demonstrators in the occupied West Bank village. Jawaher’s brother Bassem was killed by Israeli occupation forces in a similar manner in 2009. “We simply did not think that this would happen. We deal with tear-gas on a regular basis but the amount that they used and the strength was something we have not yet seen,” continued Hamde, Jawaher’s cousin who has reported on and photographed Bilin’s regular demonstrations against Israel’s wall and occupation since 2008.

Friday’s demonstration, on New Year’s Eve, was enormous. Over 1,000 people — Palestinians, Israelis and internationals — joined villagers in Bilin to call for an end to Israel’s wall. Israel tried to stop the demonstration before it even began by creating a ring of military checkpoints on roads encircling the village to prevent non-villagers from attending. However, their strategy failed as hundreds of activists trekked through the rolling hills to reach the village. Even prime minister of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, Salam Fayyad, briefly joined the demonstration leading from the village center to the area of the wall. How Fayyad reached the village and why he left so quickly was unclear to everyone, some joked that the soldiers let him through the checkpoints because they consider him a Zionist. Once the demonstration reached the village’s agricultural lands, which are bisected by the wall, Israeli soldiers fired tear-gas in every direction including directly at protesters. Wave after wave of tear-gas surrounded demonstrators leaving nearly everyone gasping for air.

One of the demonstrators was Jawaher Abu Rahmah, who lost consciousness from gas inhalation and never recovered. Jawaher was a veteran of the Bilin demonstrations attending every one for the past four years, even after Israel shot and injured her handcuffed and bound brother Ashraf in the neighboring village of Nilin with rubber-coated steel bullets in July 2008, and her other brother Bassem was shot and killed with a tear-gas canister in April 2009. Bassem was killed when an Israeli soldier fired a high velocity tear-gas canister directly at his chest at one of the weekly demonstrations in Bilin. Despite clear video documentation of the murder taken on three different cameras, justice has yet to come for the Abu Rahmah family for Bassem’s death and Israeli soldiers have repeated their deadly repression of occupied Palestinians in Bilin with impunity. Now, an already grieving family has had to bury another one of their relatives after Jawaher’s shocking death on Friday.

Israeli soldiers firing tear-gas and rubber-coated steel bullets at protesters in Bilin on the day Jawaher Abu Rahmah was killed, 31 December. (Oren Ziv/ActiveStills)

Violent repression of unarmed demonstrators Unarmed resistance to Israeli occupation in West Bank villages like Bilin, whose land Israel is stealing to build the wall, has almost always been met with violent repression by the Israeli military. Since 2005, 21 unarmed demonstrators, 10 of whom were children, have been killed in demonstrations throughout the occupied West Bank (“Under Repression,” Popular Struggle Coordinating Committee, September 2010). Israel has developed a three-pronged strategy of military repression of Palestinian non-violence which includes the negligent use of firearms such as in the case in Bassem’s killing, cover up of criminal misconduct, and the use of the occupation’s legal system to crush Palestinian freedom of expression as in the case of Bilin leader Abdallah Abu Rahmah who has been sentenced to a year in jail for his role in organizing non-violent demonstrations. The US-based company, Combined Systems, INC, is the leading American supplier of tear-gas used by the Israeli military against Palestinian protesters. Israel uses a type of tear-gas called CS, which has been blamed for a number of deaths and serious injuries, according to Haaretz (“Protester death shows IDF may be using most dangerous type of tear gas,” 3 January 2011). The Israeli army has often responded to claims of negligent use of tear gas with repeated statements that the demonstration was violent because of stone throwing. They claim that the protesters “provoked” the use of the gas. However, such a claim cannot be made about Friday’s demonstration since Israeli soldiers fired tear-gas from the moment protestors entered their sight. It is obvious that for the army, the mere presence of unarmed demonstrators is reason enough to use chemical weapons against them.

Israeli police make arrests at a protest in Tel Aviv against the army's killing of Jawaher Abu Rahmah, 1 January. (Oren Ziv/ActiveStills)

Israeli solidarity with Bilin In response to Jawaher’s murder, on 1 January hundreds of people demonstrated across the street from Israel’s ministry of defense in Tel Aviv. Protesters chanted “Israel is a police state” and called for an end to the occupation. For more than one hour, protesters successfully blocked a main street in Tel Aviv beside the ministry by sitting in it and blocking traffic. Eight protesters were arrested in the demonstration including Mossi Raz, a former member of the Israeli Parliament. All were later released without charge. Later that evening, Israeli activists descended on the home of the US ambassador to Israel, James Cunningham, in the northern Tel Aviv suburb of Herzliya. The activists “returned” loads of spent tear gas canisters collected in Bilin by throwing them into the ambassador’s front yard. They also chanted, waking up neighbors, to demand a halt in US military aid to Israel. Eleven demonstrators were arrested, including two women over the age of 60. They have been charged with illegal arms possession and will remain in jail until their hearing on 4 January. More actions are being planned by Israeli activists in response to the army’s killing of Jawaher and in solidarity with Bilin.

The mother of Jawaher Abu Rahmah (center) mourns during her daughter's funeral on 1 January. On the right is a poster of Bassem Abu Rahmah, her other son who was killed in 2009. (Oren Ziv/ActiveStills)

A symbol of resistance Jawaher Abu Rahmah’s death is the latest evidence of Israel’s full-scale war against the defenseless Palestinian people living under occupation. Bilin has become an international symbol of Palestinian nonviolent resistance because of its six-year struggle against the Israeli wall in the West Bank. In 2007, villagers celebrated a small victory when the Israeli high court ruled that the route of the wall in Bilin was illegal and requested the army to change its path. However, the wall’s route has not been changed and as a result the protests have continued. In 2009, leader of the Popular Committee Against the Wall in Bilin, Abdallah Abu Rahmah, was arrested in his Ramallah home. Despite his recognition by the European Union as a “human rights defender,” the Israeli occupation’s legal system found him guilty of “incitement” and “illegal protest.” Abdallah has served his one year sentence in full, yet still sits in an Israeli jail cell because the state has filed an appeal asking for a harsher sentence. The judge has not given a date for his verdict on the appeal. The sadness caused by yet another victim of Israel’s occupation lingered in the air in Bilin on Saturday. However, the determination to continue the struggle was visible in the eyes of villagers as Jawaher Abu Rahmah was placed in the earth next to her brother. Leaders of various other popular committees in occupied West Bank villages like Budrus, Nabi Saleh and Nilin, attended the funeral in a show of support and unified solidarity to continue the demonstrations. They vowed that the unarmed protests will continue despite knowing that the violent repression of the Israeli military will continue as well. The protesters of Bilin and other villages understand that both history and justice are on their side. They have embraced the tactic of unarmed resistance and have opened their struggle to any one willing to join in respect and solidarity, even to an increasing number Israeli Jews. Their moral clarity should be a model for international civil society, which now more than ever needs to support the popular Palestinian struggle. Joseph Dana is a Media Coordinator of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee. Click here to continue reading “January 8, 2011″ »

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