IDF Scales Back Defense Over Death of Palestinian Protester

Circumstances surrounding death of Jawaher Abu Rahmah, sister of rubber-bullet victim Ashraf, still in dispute.

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

Meanwhile, four days after the death of Ashraf Abu Rahmah's sister Jawaher Abu Rahmah following a protest in their village of Bil'in, the military appears to be backtracking from its earlier assertions that she had passed away from leukemia.

Jawaher Abu Rahmah's death on Saturday morning, a day after the weekly protest against the separation fence in the West Bank, sparked a fierce argument between the Palestinians and the IDF over the circumstances of her death.

A protest against the separation fence in Bil’in in 2009. Jawaher Abu Rahmah can be seen in the second row in a black and white shirt.Credit: Hamadi Abu Rahmah

The Palestinians have stressed that Jawaher Abu Rahmah was seriously injured by tear gas inhalation, and was then taken to a Ramallah hospital, where she died the next morning.

The IDF, however, claimed that she was swiftly released from hospital and returned home, where she later died of an unspecified condition.

The army initially said she had died of complications related to asthma, and then a claim was made public that she suffered from some form of cancer.

This latter version of events was apparently circulated not by the IDF Spokesperson's Office, but by a senior officer.

As soon as the claim related to cancer reached the media, the IDF seemed to distance itself from the remark, saying the issue still amounted to mere "question marks" which arose from contradictions in the medical report sent over from the Palestinian side two and a half days after Jawaher Abu Rahmah's death.

Furthermore, although information that reached the IDF on medications the victim took prior to her death did indicate she could have been taking them for cancer treatment, there was still no concrete information on the matter.

Members of the Abu Rahmah family remained adamant yesterday that she did not have cancer or any other serious illness, and reiterated that her death had been caused by inhaling a large amount of tear gas.

"The IDF investigation into the death of Jawaher Abu Rahmah is not yet complete," the IDF Spokesman's Office said yesterday. "In contrast to earlier cases, the cooperation with the Palestinian side was not as good as before, which makes determining the facts more difficult."

"Initial information raised questions regarding the reliability of the Palestinian reports. The medical reports sent by the Palestinians also raise many questions," the statement continued. "One possibility being examined is that Abu Rahmah's death was not connected to the protest last Friday [in Bil'in] at all. Once the investigation, conducted at the Central Command, is complete, a proper statement will be made."

Brother Ashraf shot after hands cuffed and eyes bound

The military court is set to hold a sentencing hearing today for a Lt. Col. Omri Borberg, convicted of ordering a soldier under his command to aim a rifle at a bound Palestinian protester two years ago.

The protester, identified as Ashraf Abu Rahmah, is also the brother of Jawaher Abu Rahmah, the woman who died last Saturday following a protest in Bil'in Friday and the circumstances of whose death are in dispute.

Borberg, who was relieved of his post as battalion commander following the incident with Ashraf Abu Rahmah, was convicted of intimidation and of conduct unbecoming an officer.

The military court will also hear arguments for sentencing the soldier who fired a rubber-coated steel bullet at Ashraf Abu Rahmah, injuring him in the foot. That soldier, Leonardo Korea, who has since been discharged from the army, was convicted of illegal use of a firearm and unbecoming conduct.

In the hearings held since the verdict, a number of IDF major-generals have testified on behalf of Borberg, who today serves as an instructor at the Tze'elim training base. The generals said Borberg was sufficiently punished in being removed from his command, and that he understands his mistake. They have also urged that he be allowed to continue serving in the Israel Defense Forces and continue to be promoted through the ranks.

Prosecutors are likely to demand a demotion, which would effectively end Borberg's military career.



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