PA rejects IDF offer to help probe Bil’in protester death

Abbas sends condolences to family of Jawaher Abu Rahma who died allegedly due to inhaling tear gas used by IDF to disperse protesters.

bilin protest 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
bilin protest 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
The Palestinian Authority on Saturday rejected an IDF offer to jointly investigate the death of a Palestinian woman who had participated in a rally against the security barrier in her West Bank village of Bil’in. Security forces at the scene lobbed tear gas at a crowd in which Jawaher Abu Rahma, 36, stood on Friday.
Rahma died on Saturday morning, allegedly due to complications after inhaling tear gas. Her body was wrapped in a Palestinian flag, held aloft on a gurney and carried by chanting mourners to the Bil’in cemetery.
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They held up Palestinian flags and called out, “God is great,” “Oh Martyr, rest in peace, we will continue the struggle,” and “The gates of Al-Aksa are from iron [through which] only the martyrs can storm their way in.”
She was buried next to her brother, Bassem Abu Rahma. He was killed by the IDF in April, 2009, during an anti-barrier protest in the same spot, after he was hit in the chest by a high-velocity tear gas canister.
In 2008, her brother Ashraf was shot and wounded by the IDF while his hands were bound behind his back by soldiers. The incident was caught on video and highly publicized.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas called the Rahma family to express his condolences.
He said, “This new Israeli crime comes as part of a series of crimes carried out by the army of the occupation against our helpless nation.”
PLO chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said the killing of Abu Rahma was a “war crime.”
“We condemn this shocking crime committed by the Israeli army against participants in a peaceful protest,” said Erekat.
Palestinian Legislative Council official Mustafa Barghouti called on the international community to pressure Israel to stop using tear gas as a means to disperse demonstrations.
Barghouti also called on Palestinians “to document these incidents and these crimes so we can prosecute Israel in international court.”Muhammad Khatib, a member of the Bil’in Popular Committee, on Saturday said: “We are shocked and furious [over] Israel’s brutality, which once again cost the life of a peaceful demonstrator. Israel’s lethal and inhumane response to our struggle will not pass. In the dawn of a new decade, it is time for the world to ask Israel for accountability and to bring about an end to the occupation.”
Peace Now called on Defense Minister Ehud Barak to set up an external inquiry committee to investigate IDF conduct during the incident.
But the PA rejected an IDF request to receive Abu Rahma’s medical file so that it could determine the cause of death. It also rejected an IDF request to establish a joint commission of inquiry with the PA, which it has done in the past after similar incidents.
“This raises suspicions about what really happened,” one source said.
Central Command sources said that after the protest was dispersed, the IDF received a report from the Palestinians that two activists were treated for inhaling tear gas. The sources said that the IDF fired the tear gas to disperse a violent protest.
On Friday night, the IDF learned that the two Palestinians had been released to their homes and then on Saturday morning they received a report that one of them died.
But Jonathan Pollak, a spokesman for the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, said that Rahma was taken from the protest to a hospital in Ramallah, where doctors worked to save her life.
She was unconscious when she arrived and she never regained consciousness, Pollak said. Rahma suffered from severe asphyxiation caused by the tear gas, he said. She had poison in her body that was the same active ingredient in the tear gas, he added.
Palestinian, Israeli and international activists have held weekly demonstrations against the fence in Bil’in for almost six years, most of which have been dispersed by IDF tear gas and rubber bullets.
No other West Bank Palestinian village has rallied so long and so consistently against the barrier, although others have certainly held protests for protracted periods.
According to Pollak, since 2004, 21 people have been killed by the IDF, mostly from live ammunition, at anti-barrier protests across the West Bank.
Out of those 21, two were also killed from tear gas inhalation, one from rubber bullets and one from a tear gas projectile.
Pollak said that Friday’s demonstration was especially large because it was the last one of the year. PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad addressed the protesters at the start of the rally but then left Bil’in.
After his departure, the IDF shot an “unusual amount of tear gas” at the demonstration, Pollak said. “They did it to disperse the demonstration,” which was “completely peaceful,” he said.
Rahma “was caught in a cloud of tear gas, she stumbled and fell,” Pollak said.
Jerusalem Post staff and Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report.