Once a week, Palestinians stage a demonstration against Israel’s anti-terror fence in the West Bank village of Bilin. The demonstrations have evolved into something of a ritual, with protesters throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers and the mob eventually being dispersed. On December 30, the protest took place as usual. But the next day it was reported that a woman named Jawaher Abu Rahma had died in a West Bank hospital after inhaling tear gas. This rapidly became the latest “atrocity” perpetrated by Israel. Rahma’s funeral was a political demonstration:
News outlets around the world reported as fact that Israeli soldiers had killed Rahma with tear gas. The Washington Post:
A Palestinian woman from the West Bank village of Bilin died Saturday a day after inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli troops during a demonstration against Israel’s separation barrier, witnesses said. …
Witnesses said Jawaher Abu Rahma, 36, was hospitalized in Ramallah after choking on tear gas, and efforts to save her failed.
The New York Times:
A Palestinian woman died Saturday after inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli forces a day earlier at a protest against Israel’s separation barrier in a West Bank village. A hospital director, Dr. Muhammad Aideh, said the woman had arrived on Friday suffering from tear-gas asphyxiation and died despite hours of treatment.
The Guardian published the hospital report on Rahma’s death. It begins:
The above-named Pt. presented with H/O drowsenes change level of conciousness-salivation, frothy secretion, sweating after history of unknown gas inhalation by attack of Israilian soldier as family said…
Left-wing media outlets naturally hit the story harder. The Huffington Post:
A Palestinian woman died on December 31 after Israeli forces shot tear gas at demonstrators during a peaceful protest against the West Bank separation wall in the village of Bil’in. Israeli and Palestinian eyewitnesses, as well as staff at a hospital in Ramallah, say that Jawaher Abu Rahma, 36, died after inhaling massive amounts of tear gas fired by the Israeli military at the demonstration.
Jawaher Abu Rahma, aged 36, died on Saturday, after suffering the effects of tear gas inhalation fired by the Israeli occupation forces during the Friday weekly protest in Bil’in. Medical sources reported that the cause of the death was suffocation from tear gas chemicals mixed with phosphorus.
Hundreds of Palestinians, internationals and Israeli peace activists attended Abu Rahma’s funeral in a procession through the village of Bil’in on Saturday, in which residents released a statement condemning the death.
“The loss of Jawaher Abu Rahma makes us feel more determined to continue to resist against the illegal settlements and the apartheid wall, until the residents of Bil’in achieve justice and freedom and can live in peace,” the statement underlined.
Bil’in popular committee spokesman Jonathan Pollak said in a statement that Abu Rahmah arrived at the Ramallah hospital unconscious, after being poisoned by an active ingredient in the tear gas, and doctors were unable to revive her.
“She did not die because of a lack of medical treatment, but because Israeli forces used a lethal tear gas banned in several European countries,” Pollak added.
Although several sources reported that Jawaher was taking part to the nonviolent protest on Friday, local witnesses claimed that she was not attending the demonstration, as she was in her home, approximately 500 meters away from where the gas canisters landed.
Rahma’s death was the occasion for protests here in the U.S., like this one in Boston:
Dozens of American, Palestinian and Israeli activists gathered today (Friday) in front of the Israeli Consulate in Boston to commemorate the death of Jawaher Abu Rahma, a Bil’in resident who was killed as a result of tear gas inhalation during a demonstration in the village last Friday.
The event opend with a candle light vigil, and continued as a march in the snow towards the Boston Common, carrying candles and pictures of Jawaher and of her brother, Bassem, who was killed by a gas canister thrown by an Israeli soldier during a demonstration in Bil’in in April 2009.
The protestors chanted in support of the non-violent joint struggle, denouncing US military aid to Israel while calling for endorsement of the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign.
she died for us all
Jawaher Abu Rahma
that the last chains be broken
The narrative was always a little odd, though. It wasn’t clear whether Ms. Rahma was actually at the demonstration; nor was it apparent why she–who on any account was pretty far from the action–could somehow have inhaled a lethal dose of tear gas. From the beginning, the IDF expressed skepticism and said that it would investigate. That skepticism was reported by some outlets. This AP story is titled “Israel questions tear gas death,” but the article is devoted mainly to the Palestinians’ answers:
Israel’s military on Monday sought to cast doubt on reports that tear gas fired by its troops caused the death of a Palestinian protester, prompting fierce rebuttals from activists.
Jawaher Abu Rahma died overnight Friday after inhaling massive amounts of tear gas at a demonstration against Israel’s separation barrier, according to Israeli and Palestinian activists and staff at a Ramallah hospital.
But a high-ranking Israeli military official told AFP that the “army doubts the authenticity of that version, because the initial inquiry has uncovered many contradictions and improbabilities, which raise questions.” …
Activists and Abu Rahma’s relatives attacked the Israeli military for seeking to cast doubt on the death through anonymously given quotes, asking why military officials were not willing to address the issue on the record.
“Their claims are based on absolutely no fact. They bring absolutely no evidence to any of these claims,” said Jonathan Pollak, an Israeli activist who told AFP he attended the demonstration with Abu Rahma and saw her there.
“We, on the other hand, have the testimony of the doctors at the hospital. There were numerous witnesses who have seen her at the demonstration,” he said. …
Hospital director Mohamed Eideh told AFP that Abu Rahma arrived at the hospital with her parents, suffering lung failure.
“Her parents, who accompanied her in the ambulance, said she had inhaled a large amount of tear gas and said she had no pre-existing serious medical condition,” he said.
“The lung failure and the liquid that was coming out of her mouth when she arrived at the hospital were signs or symptoms that she was exposed to tear gas.”
The AP ended its rebuttal of the IDF’s position with this sinister image:
Photos showed clouds of tear gas billowing around stone-throwing protesters.
Fast-forward two weeks, and the truth finally begins to leak out. It turns out that Rahma may not have gotten so much as a whiff of tear gas, which, in any event, was not the cause of her death:
An IDF investigation has found that Jawaher Abu Rahma, who PA leaders accused Israel of killing, actually died due to a doctor’s mistake. The PA had claimed that Abu Rahma died after inhaling tear gas as PA rioters clashed with Israeli soldiers near the Samaria separation/security barrier.
The investigation found that Rahma was not at the demonstration, but was in a house nearby. Initial PA reports had implied that she was at the demonstration; however, when pictures of the protest did not show her presence, it was then reported that she had been overcome by tear gas at home.
However, the IDF found that Rahma was not taken to a hospital during or immediately after the protest, but only later in the day.
Once in the Ramallah hospital, Rahma was given unusually high doses of Atropine, a drug whose uses include countering nerve gas or speeding up a dangerously slow pulse. The drug apparently caused her death, investigators said.
Documents received by the IDF also provided additional evidence for the theory that Rahma had been seriously ill prior to the demonstration, possibly with cancer.
IDF commanders planned to meet last week with PA officials to brief them on the ongoing investigation. However, the PA canceled the meeting. PA leaders continue to claim that the IDF caused Abu Rahma’s death, and to label the death a war crime.
Of course. Why give up a perfectly good piece of propaganda? Jawaher Abu Rahma could be the next Mohammed al Dura. Who knows, maybe one of these days she will start turning up on postage stamps.