On Friday morning, Jawaher Abu Rahma, 35, was looking forward to celebrating her cousin’s engagement that night and had already bought a carton of Coke to bring to the party.
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By Sunday, children in her West Bank village of Bil’in were busy putting up posters that described her as a martyr, after she was overcome by tear gas at an anti-security barrier demonstration on Friday. She was rushed to a hospital in Ramallah, where she died on Saturday morning, allegedly as a result of the gas.
Jawaher, who worked as a caregiver for children and the elderly, became the 21st activist and the second from her village to die as an apparent result of IDF actions at demonstrations throughout the West Bank against the barrier.
The first was her brother Bassem, who died in April 2009, when he was hit in the chest by an IDF-fired tear gas projectile.
Jawaher was very close to Bassem, a cousin told The Jerusalem Post.
On Sunday, their brother Ahmed, one of five remaining siblings in the family, sat by the graves of both in the small cemetery next to the village mosque. Tears ran down his check as he rested his hand on a martyr poster, which had been placed on top of Jawaher’s wreath-covered grave.
Posters of both Bassem and Jawaher were plastered Sunday onto a cement wall outside the small, bare, three-room home belonging to their mother, Subhiye.
Women and children, who came to comfort Subhiye, filled the rooms and the outside patio. Wearing a white head covering, Subhiye sat on a small bed that had been pushed against a wall, and for the second time, mourned the death of a child allegedly at the hands of Israelis.
A martyr poster of Bassem was fixed to the paintpeeling wall behind her.
Subhiye clutched a crumpled pink tissue as she described Friday’s events, in which she and her daughter had joined a large demonstration that began at the mosque in the village center, hours before the engagement party was due to begin.
After soldiers fired tear gas at the demonstrators, her daughter began complaining that she felt pain in her chest and could not breathe. Then she vomited, Subhiye recalled.
It was not the first time that her daughter had joined demonstrations against the fence, said Subhiye. Most protests are met with IDF tear gas, she said.
“We have gotten used to the smell of tear gas,” Subhiye said.
But watching how ill her daughter was, she suggested that she leave the gathering and go home. Jawaher was so ill, that she made it only as far as a cousin’s house, where she fainted. Someone ran to get Subhiye and someone else called an ambulance. In the ambulance, Jawaher lost consciousness, and she never regained it, her mother said.
From the start, doctors told Subhiye the situation was grave. Still, she held out hope that her daughter would live.
Muhammad Aideh, the medical director of Palestine Medical Complex in Ramallah, said that Jawaher arrived in a state of respiratory distress.
“She was admitted to the intensive care unit and was connected to the mechanical ventilator,” Aideh said. Her condition deteriorated and she died from “respiratory failure after gas inhalation.”
At Subhiye’s home, relatives and friends said that there was something different in this tear gas that caused Jawaher’s death.
But Aideh said that was “speculation,” and that people can have an adverse reaction, such as Jawaher’s, to tear gas.
He said he had turned her records over to the Palestinian Authority.
According to the IDF, the PA has not turned the records over to Israel, nor has it agreed to hold a joint investigation into the incident. The IDF has said it believed that Jawaher had been treated and released from the hospital.
It’s a version of events that was rejected by Aideh, Bil’in residents and Subhiye.
“It is painful,” she said of the death of her two children, “but we are continuing on this road to have freedom for all our lands and to get rid of the wall from all our lands.
“We hope to have peace,” she said, but added that she did not see how that was possible as long as Israel was killing Palestinians and taking their land. She and the other mourners said they were determined to continue the battle against the barrier.
Among the mourners was Jawaher’s friend and former employer, Iman Youness Titi.
With tears in her eyes, she described a woman who cared deeply for her friends and the people who she worked with, including an elderly woman in Ramallah.
“Jawaher was a babysitter for my twins. She was very excellent. She respected all religions. She always said that she wanted peace,” said Titi, who added that her children thought of Jawaher as a second mother.
A week before she died, she told them she had dreamed of her brother Bassem.
“I dreamed I was walking in paradise and my brother Bassem opened his hand, called out to me, and said, ‘Please come,’” Titi recalled Jawaher as saying.
But at the same time, Titi said, Jawaher dreamed of building a new house
for her mother, because in the winter the water runs into the floor of
the one she currently lives in, said Titi. She also wanted to go on a
pilgrimage to Mecca.
“I was shocked by the news,” Titi said.
“My daughters wanted to come with me today, but they are sitting exams. I
have a letter they wrote for Jawaher: ‘We love you very much. We miss
you, especially your stories and your songs,’” they wrote.