Has Israel Lost the Battle to Convince the World It Did Not Kill Bil'in Activist?

According to testimonies, Jawaher Abu Rahmah was hurt by the tear gas fired at the anti-fence protest, but it's reasonable to assume this wasn't the sole cause of death.

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Among the soul-searching discussions taking place in the media over the circumstances of how Bil'in resident Jawaher Abu Rahmah died, one element is notably missing: proven and established facts.

This did not particularly trouble the Palestinian Authority, which rushed to describe Abu Rahmah as the victim of an Israeli war crime. And it also did not seem to disturb the Israeli media from ruling that Abu Rahmah died of leukemia and that the whole affair is a new Palestinian conspiracy aiming to transform a cancer victim into the separation fence's Muhammad al-Dura, who was killed in Gaza at the start of the second intifada.

In practice a single substantial document exists on this story: the report on the medical treatment of Abu Rahmah, a copy of which was given to Haaretz by her family members and was published Tuesday. Beyond that, much remains unknown.

It is unclear what disease Abu Rahmah suffered from (her family thought it was an ear infection ) and there are various versions about her health condition during the days prior to the incident, as there are about the events during the demonstration in which Palestinians claim she was hurt when she inhaled tear gas.

A Palestinian protester hurling a tear gas container back at Israeli troops during demonstrations near Bil'in on December 31, 2010.Credit: AP

Interestingly, during informal discussions Monday, IDF representatives were much more careful than the journalists. They only raised the possibility that she had leukemia, while the media presented it as the main cause of death. Even now, five days after the incident, there is no proof that Abu Rahmah had cancer.

According to testimonies from villagers and demonstrators, Abu Rahmah was hurt by the gas. However, it's reasonable to assume that this wasn't the sole cause of death. She had some health problem that caused headaches and dizziness, and stained her skin, but in the medical documents this is not described as the cause of death.

It is possible that there was a combination of factors. Beyond this, if it was the gas that killed her, as was claimed, one would have expected that others near her would have also suffered injury. A young woman that was near Abu Rahmah said that she was only lightly affected by the gas.

Another Israeli claim, that Abu Rahmah was not even at the site of the demonstration appeared to lack validity in view of the many testimonies by eye witnesses who claimed that she was not far from the marchers and stood near youths who were throwing stones. Moreover, there are a number of things worth noting:

The residents of Bil'in have a case. The defense establishment has delayed implementing a Supreme Court decision to alter the route of the fence crossing village lands. The Supreme Court ruled that the fence route in that particular location serves no defense goals but aims to enable the establishment of an eastern neighborhood of the ultra-Orthodox city of Modi'in Ilit. The Defense Ministry has said that the fence will be moved by March, three and a half years after the court's ruling. The length of fence that needs to be dismantled is 1,700 meters.

The use of tear gas does not constitute excessive force. The Palestinians view the struggle against the fence as symbolizing a "popular intifada" that is not violent. But the moment stones are thrown and efforts are made to destroy the fence, the police and soldiers need to take action to stop the demonstration. It is true that there were dead and wounded in demonstrations at the fence in the past, but it is possible to identify a restrained approach to demonstration dispersal by the IDF recently. Moreover, the use of tear gas against stone throwing is a reasonable response, and certainly more moderate a reaction than the firing of rubber bullets at short range.

The Palestinians are looking for a symbol. There is no doubt they are trying to leverage the incident for their needs. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who was in Brazil, was quick to condemn the IDF for the killing of Abu Rahmah, as did other senior Palestinian figures. Israel will now seek to convince the world that the IDF is not behind the death, but on the international level this is a lost battle. Abu Rahmah is already a symbol and few will care to listen to the Israeli arguments.



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