The death last weekend of Jawaher Abu Rahmah is a puzzling tragedy. The IDF,
however, has turned it into an example of how the occupation brings out this
country’s ugly side.
Abu Rahmah died after inhaling tear gas at last
Friday’s weekly protest against the security fence in her West Bank village,
Bil’in. She was 36. People are not supposed to die from tear gas in the
outdoors, and in the rare cases they do, they suffer, as a rule, from some
serious preexisting condition, such as respiratory or heart disease, that gets
severely aggravated by the tear gas. But the dead woman’s family and employer
say she had been basically healthy, and the only preexisting condition her
medical records turned up was an inner ear infection.
hospital where she died Saturday listed the cause of death as “lung failure
caused by tear gas inhalation, leading to a heart attack.”
If tear gas
was all that killed her, it would be extremely unusual. What’s more, about 1,000
people were at the protest, and while many felt the harsh effect of the tear
gas, none except for Abu Rahmah was hospitalized for it. (One other demonstrator
was hospitalized after being hit in the face by a flying tear gas projectile.)
It may be that Abu Rahmah wasn’t as healthy as her family and employer evidently
thought and her medical records showed. We may never know; citing religious
reasons, the Muslim family did not allow an autopsy before burial.
response, the IDF could have raised reasonable, legitimate doubts about whether
tear gas inhalation was solely responsible for her death. It could have acted
decently – and you would think that of all times for the IDF to act indecently,
this would not be one of them, because prior to Jawaher Abu Rahmah’s death, the
last fatal victim at the Bil’in protests was her younger brother, Bassem, killed
in 2009 when an IDF tear gas projectile hit him in the chest.
of presenting reasonable doubts, IDF “senior officers” are suggesting that this
woman wasn’t even at the demonstration. They’re suggesting she was never taken
to the hospital at all, that she might have died at home, and of
leukemia. They’re suggesting that a Ramallah hospital and Red Crescent
ambulance wrote up a bunch of false documents about her treatment, and that her
family, neighbors and others at the protest are just plain lying about seeing
her overcome by the tear gas, foaming at the mouth, vomiting, losing
consciousness, being taken by ambulance to the hospital and
“[S]enior officers sounded certain of their claim that this was no
[lethal] tear gas attack by IDF soldiers – but rather a fabrication and
provocation meant to harm Israel,” wrote Yediot Aharonot.
The IDF says
there’s no evidence Abu Rahmah was at the protest, noting that these
demonstrations are heavily photographed, yet there’s no photo of her.
SEVERAL people at the demonstration say they were standing near her, off to the
side of the crowd, away from the action, which would explain why she wasn’t
“I saw her around the start of the demonstration, and later
on I saw her being put in the ambulance,” Jonathan Pollak, the leading Israeli
activist in these protests, told me. “I know her family very well; I knew her
and I knew what she looked like.”
The IDF says that as of Friday night,
the Palestinian Authority was reporting no serious injuries in Bil’in, with two
people having been mildly injured, hospitalized and sent home. On Saturday
morning, these senior officials say, the story suddenly changed from two people
at home with minor injuries to a woman dead in the hospital.
That’s odd –
on Friday afternoon, or early evening at the latest, even I knew, just from
surfing the Web, that a woman had been critically injured in Bil’in. It was all
over the Israeli media that day; I even saw it on at least one American website.
The Jerusalem Post website wrote:
“Bil’in: Protester inhales tear gas, left
critically injured – A female Palestinian, Jawaher Abu Rahmah, was taken to
hospital in Ramallah after inhaling tear gas sprayed toward protesters in Bil’in
on Friday. The 36-year-old was in critical condition and did not respond to
Yet the IDF didn’t know anything about this until the
following day. I don’t know which is worse – if these senior officials are
lying, or if they’re telling the truth.
Another “contradiction” cited by
the IDF is that one document shows Abu Rahmah only being admitted to the
hospital, Palestine Medical Complex, on Friday at 3:20 p.m., while another
already shows her being given a blood test at 2:45 p.m.
To this, her
brothers told The New York Times that the earlier time was when she took a blood
test in the emergency room, while the later time was when she was admitted to
the intensive care unit.
But even without such an explanation, to take
what seems like a time discrepancy in two hospital documents as evidence that
hospital officials manufactured a paper trail for a dead woman they never saw –
that’s malicious. Hospital clerks, nurses and doctors fill out lots of forms and
are known to make mistakes. I watched a nurse at a major Israeli hospital weigh
my newborn son, then write down the wrong weight on his card – but, unlike these
IDF senior officials, I’m not a conspiracy freak so I didn’t run to the
The bit about leukemia is based on the drugs that her hospital
records say she was treated with – the IDF says they’re given for cancer of the
blood, or leukemia. But if these senior officials are suggesting that the
hospital papers were forged, that she never went to the hospital at all, then I
don’t see how they can at the same time use hospital documents as evidence that
Abu Rahmah had leukemia.
At any rate, Physicians for Human Rights, which
is going over this case very intently, has found no indication she had the
disease. “The IDF has not presented any evidence at all that she had cancer, and
we haven’t found any, either,” Ran Yaron, director of PHR in the occupied
territories, told me.
So enough of this garbage. The IDF is feeding the
worst kind of Israeli callousness and smugness – the kind that comes from
accepting anything that’s said against any Arab as God’s truth, while dismissing
anything that’s said in any Arab’s defense as the Big Lie.
standing beside Jawaher on the hill that is near the place where the
demonstration took place, when we were injured by a cloud of tear gas. Jawaher
began to feel unwell from inhaling the gas and started to move back from the
place; soon after that she vomited and collapsed. We took her to the nearest
road, and from there she was evacuated to the hospital, where she remained until
That’s from her mother, Soubhiya. The IDF is suggesting she
made that all up. The IDF is suggesting everybody made it all up, and by doing
so is demonstrating contempt for an innocent dead woman, for her family, for the
Palestinians as a whole.
“This is an attempt to delegitimize Israel,” the
senior officials told Yediot, and I’m sure they were unaware of the irony in
their words. Whether or not Jawaher Abu Rahmah suffered from a preexisting
condition, the IDF certainly does: blindness and numbness.