Awful start to 2011 – remembering Jawaher Abu Rahma

abu-rahmahOn Friday 31 December 2010 Jawaher Abu Rahmah, 36, was evacuated to the Ramallah hospital after inhaling massive amounts of tear-gas during the weekly protest against the separation wall in Bil’in , and died of poisoning on New Year’s Day 2011. Abu Rahmah suffered from severe asphyxiation caused by tear-gas inhalation, and was evacuated to the Ramallah hospital unconscious. She was diagnosed as suffering from poisoning caused by the active ingredient in the tear-gas, that was shot by IDF soldiers to disperse the crowd of demonstrators against the separation wall in the village. Doctors at the Ramallah Hospital fought for her life all night, but were unable to save her.

Weekly demonstrations against the wall have been held in Bil’in for the past five years; villagers say the barrier unjustly separates them from their lands. In 2007, the Supreme Court accepted these arguments and ruled that the route of the fence should be move, and some 170 acres of land be returned to the villagers. The IDF has yet to implement the court’s decision.

The weekly demonstrations against the separation wall set out from the village under the banner ‘The Last Day of the Wall.’ Although the IDF announced that the area was a closed military zone and set up a number of roadblocks around the village, hundreds of Palestinian, Israel and international demonstrators succeeded in reaching the centre of the village by foot.

Demonstrators reported that IDF soldiers shot massive amounts of tear gas into the village, and that they felt that the gas was especially potent. According to Israeli anti-wall activist Assaf Kintzer, ‘Jawaher came to every demonstration in the past five years. Yesterday unprecedented quantities of tear gas were used and Jawaher found herself in the midst of a large gas cloud. She was unable to get out, lost consciousness and inhaled large quantities of tear gas. We managed to locate her after several long minutes, because the gas made it difficult to find her’.

However, some IDF sources said that there was ‘no irregular use of tear gas at this particular demonstration’. They claimed that Abu Rahmah’s death may have been the result of an asthmatic condition compounded by the tear gas, and that ‘if the gas had been any different than usual more people would have been negatively affected by it’.

Jawaher Abu Rahmah’s brother, Bil’in activist  Bassem Abu Rahmah, was shot dead with a high velocity tear-gas projectile during a demonstration in the village on 17 April 2009. After a video footage showed he did not act violently and experts testified that the tear gas canister that killed him was aimed directly at him, in violation of military orders, the IDF ordered its criminal investigations unit to investigate his death. But although the investigation is ongoing, in November 2010 IDF soldiers quietly resumed the use of the prohibited tear gas canisters to disperse demonstrations in the West Bank.

Commenting on the killing, legal scholar Eyal Gross writes:

‘Thus started the new year. A Palestinian demonstrator against a wall which is illegal even according to the Israeli Supreme Court, part of an over 40 years illegal occupation, whosetwo  brothers were already shot by the IDF in seemingly criminal circumstances, one of them to death, died by inhaling gas intended by the Israeli military to disperse a demonstration. Occupying and dispossessing (illegally and immorally) and also arresging and killing those who protest against these acts. Thus acts a state which pretends to be a democracy (the only democracy in the Middle East)’.

And we must not forget the irony that the children of a people whose European ancestors were exterminated by gas are using gas against those who demonstrate against their illegal acts.