Sunday, January 02, 2011

After tragedy hits Palestinian family twice, demonstrators try to bring it home to USA


AND HERE'S ONE THEY USED EARLIER. Lisa Goldman made this photo of a teargas canister fired in Silwan, in East Jerusalem, last September. Also made in the U.S. In Silwan, Palestinian residents are resisting the government backed takeover of their neighbourhood by settlers, and attempts to make it 'Arab-rein'. [photo from Mondoweiss]

ISRAELI campaigners protesting the killing of a Palestinian woman in the West Bank village of Bil'in have reminded the United States government of its responsibility by 'returning' the spent teargas canisters to the home of the American ambassador.

As Joseph Dana reports, 'Jawaher Abu Rahmah, 36, was evacuated to the Ramallah hospital yesterday after inhaling massive amounts of tear-gas during the weekly protest in Bil’in, and died of poisoning this morning. The tear gas used by the Israeli forces in Bil’in is manufactured by Combined Systems Inc.; a United States company based in Jamestown, Pennsylvania. This is the first protest where empty tear gas canisters have been returned to an ambassador’s home.

'Approximately twenty five Israeli protesters gathered in front of the residence of American ambassador to Israel, James B. Cunningham, around 1am local time. The protesters ‘returned’ loads of spent tear gas canisters collected in the West Bank village of Bil’in in protest of the murder of Bil’in’s Jawaher Abu Rahmah. The demonstrators also made noise throughout the Ambassador’s neighborhood informing residents of how American military aid to Israel is being used to kill unarmed and nonviolent demonstrators in the West Bank. They chanted, “one, two, three, four stop the occupation stop the war. Five, six, seven, eight end the funding (US) end the hate.”

Jawaher Abu Rahmah, was the second member of her family to be killed by the Israeli forces at Bil'in, and the third to be injured. She had been taking care of younger family members after her older brother Bassem Abu Rahmah, 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. 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.

This was one of the rare occasions when Israeli brutality in the occupied territories made it into the Western media. A young village girl who had been given a video cam by women peace campaigners saw and caught the incident on camera, it was released by human rights group B'Tselem, and seen inter alia on Channel Four news here. 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.

People from Bil'in have been demonstrating every week for the past five years against the Israeli separation fence, which they say comes between them and their lands. Their demonstrations have been joined by Palestinians from other areas, and by Israeli and international sympathisers. In 2007, the Israeli 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.

On Friday, about a thousand people rallied to the call from the Popular Committee in Bil'in that the last day of the decade should be the last day of the wall on Bil'in's land. Although the occupation forces had put roadblocks around Bil'in, people managed to reach the village centre on foot. After the weekly rally, at which speakers this time included Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the marchers proceeded towards the Wall, where they were told it was a 'prohibited area', and barraged with tear gas.

Small groups of protesters then spread along the Wall, while Israeli soldiers and Border Police fanned out to confront them. But the troops were unable to stop demonstrators armed with bolt cutters from trying to implement the announcement that this was the last day of the barrier crossing their land. The demonstrators managed to breach the 'security fence' in three places. In one place the protestors managed to carry off a large chunk of the fence in triumph, back to be displayed the village.

The military were not going to let this affront go unpunished, and reportedly fired record amounts of tear gas at the retreating demonstrators, and in the village. One protester was hit in the face with a tear-gas projectile shot directly at him, and required hospitalization.

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. They also deny that the gas used was more potent than usual. But they say the matter is under investigation.

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.

  • Five people were arrested at the demonstration at the American ambassador's residence. It is reported they may be charged with unauthorised possession of weapons - the spent gas cartridges. Earlier in the evening eight people were arrested during a demonstration by hundreds outside the Defence Ministry in Tel Aviv. Protesters manged to block Kaplan street, a main artery, for over one hour. The eight arrests included a a former Knesset member. There were also demonstrations in the West Bank as news came of Jawaher Abu Rahmah's death.

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