bilin - Reuters - December 31 2010
Palestinian, Israeli and foreign activists run away from tear gas in the West Bank village of Bil'in, December 31, 2010. Photo by Reuters
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Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad (C) takes part in a march inside the West Bank village of Bilin, December 31, 2010. Photo by Reuters

A resident of the West Bank village of Bil'in died on Saturday morning in a Ramallah hospital after she was exposed to tear gas that was shot by IDF soldiers to disperse the crowd of demonstrators against the separation wall in the village on Friday.

Jawaher Abu Rahmah, 36 years old, was the sister of Bassem Abu Rahmah, who was killed by an extended-range tear gas projectile fired at his chest by IDF soldiers at a demonstration against the separation wall in Bil'in on April 17, 2009.

Weekly demonstrations against the fence have been held in Bil'in for the past five years, where 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 moved, and that 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 center of the village by foot.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was also present at the demonstration in order to show support for the Palestinian popular struggle in Bil'in and throughout the West Bank. Fatah youth from various locations across the West Bank came to the village on Friday to participate in the demonstration.

Over the course of the demonstration, activists succeeded in tearing three holes in the chain-link fence that comprises the separation barrier in Bil'in, and in removing a section of it, which they later mounted on display in the center of the village.

Demonstrators reported that IDF soldiers shot massive amounts of tear gas into the village, and that they felt that the tear gas was especially potent. After Abu Rahmah choked on the gas, she was taken to a hospital in Ramallah.

The doctors that treated Abu Rahmah told her family that she was not responding to their treatment. Over the course of the night, her condition worsened, and she died at nine o'clock in the morning on Saturday.

The IDF spokesperson has yet to issue an official public statement regarding the incident, but some IDF sources have said that there was no irregular use of tear gas at Friday's demonstration.

The IDF sources say 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 who have been negatively affected by it.

The sources added that the incident was under investigation and that they are awaiting clarifications from Palestinian medical officials, as they have up until now received inconsistent reports from the Palestinian side.

Over a year after Jawaher Abu Rahmah's brother Bassem was killed by an extended-range tear gas projectile in April 2009, the IDF Military Advocate General ordered the army's criminal investigations unit to investigate his death.

The investigation was initiated after video footage was produced showing that Abu Rahmah did not act violently and experts testified that the tear gas canister that killed him had been aimed directly at him, in violation of military orders.

Although Abu Rahmah's death is still officially under investigation, IDF soldiers quietly resumed the use of the prohibited tear gas canisters to disperse demonstrations in the West Bank last month.

Ashraf Abu Rahmah, a cousin to Jawaher and Bassem, was also injured by IDF forces back in 2008. After being detained at a protest against the separation fence near the West Bank village of Na'alin on July 7, 2008, an IDF soldier shot him in the leg with a rubber bullet while he was bound and blindfolded.

The incident was caught on camera by a villager and released by the human rights group B'Tselem. The IDF soldier that shot Abu Rahmah told military police investigators that his battalion commander had ordered him three times to fire at the protester.