A Palestinian woman died yesterday morning after inhaling tear gas at a demonstration Friday in Bil'in. While Palestinians claim her death was caused by tear gas fired by Israeli soldiers, the Israel Defense Forces says the circumstances are not entirely clear.
Jawaher Abu Rahmah, 36, was a regular at the weekly protests against the separation fence in the West Bank village of Bil'in.
The family is no stranger to such incidents. The woman's brother Bassem Abu Rahmah died in April 2009, after being hit during the weekly protest by an extended-range tear-gas canister. In 2008, their brother Ashraf Abu Rahmah was filmed being shot by IDF soldiers with a rubber-tipped bullet while he was bound and blindfolded.
According to Israeli peace activist Jonathan Pollak, about 1,000 people participated in this past Friday's demonstration. He said soldiers began firing unusually large quantities of tear gas canisters at the crowd when it was still hundreds of meters from the wall.
Demonstrators also claim the tear gas used Friday was stronger than usual.
No one disputes that Jawaher Abu Rahmah was overcome by tear gas and taken by ambulance to a Ramallah hospital, but after that point accounts differ. According to the victim's family and the protest organizers, the doctors treating Abu Rahmah told her family that she was not responding to treatment. Her condition worsened overnight and she was declared dead at 9 A.M. yesterday.
A statement from the IDF Spokesman's Office, however, claims the Palestinians changed their version of events: "According to initial Palestinian reports, the injured woman was discharged from the hospital and died at home, later. Afterward the Palestinians changed their story and claimed she died in hospital. Our request to the Palestinians to review the medical report has not been granted. The circumstances surrounding the Palestinian woman's death are still being examined."
Sources in the IDF Central Command insisted yesterday there was no irregular use of tear gas at Friday's protest. Some officials suggested Abu Rahmah may have died from asthma-related complications and that had the tear gas used Friday been different from that dispersed in previous demonstrations, more people would have been affected by it.
"Why don't the Palestinians give us the medical report so we can investigate the incident thoroughly?" a source in the IDF Central Command asked. "For a year and a half there have not been any fatalities in the demonstrations against the fence, as a result of proper conduct on the part of IDF commanders."
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad attended Friday's protest to express support for the popular struggle against the fence. PA President Mahmoud Abbas and chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat yesterday denounced the IDF actions as crimes against the Palestinian people.