Eyewitnesses Counter Israeli Army's Description of a Palestinian Death

A Palestinian woman died on December 31 after Israeli forces shot tear gas at demonstrators during a peaceful protest against the West Bank separation wall in the village of Bil'in. Israeli and Palestinian eyewitnesses, as well as staff at a hospital in Ramallah, say that Jawaher Abu Rahma, 36, died after inhaling massive amounts of tear gas fired by the Israeli military at the demonstration. She died less than two years after her brother, Bassem Abu Rahmah, was killed when a tear gas canister fired by Israeli troops hit him in the chest while he participated at the same weekly peaceful demonstration in Bil'in on April 17, 2009.

To talk about Jawaher's death, Democracy Now! interviewed two people who attended the Dec. 31 demonstration. Via Skype from Jaffa, Israeli activist Jonathan Pollak told host Amy Goodman that he saw Jawaher at the protest, countering claims from the Israeli army. And interviewed by telephone from Jerusalem was Daniel Argo, an Israeli doctor who regularly takes part in the demonstrations against the West Bank separation wall.

Here is an excerpt from the interview transcript:

Amy Goodman: Unnamed Israeli military officials are now seeking to cast doubt on the claims. They are quoted in Agence France-Presse and the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz saying there is no evidence Jawaher died from inhaling tear gas or that she even participated in Friday's demonstration. Jonathan, we want to begin with you. Since unnamed sources in the Israeli military are denying that Jawaher was even at the protest, did you see her there?

Jonathan Pollack: I did see her at the beginning of the protest, and I did see the ambulance evacuating her. It's important for me to say that these are completely unsubstantiated reports coming from, as you said, anonymous sources. We have numerous eyewitnesses all attesting to her being there or attesting to her being hurt by tear gas. We have the ambulance driver who evacuated her saying that he evacuated her from the area of the demonstration and that she was semiconscious when she got to him and told him she had breathed tear gas, that her injury was a result of tear gas inhalation. We also have the medical reports that suggests -- that clearly say that she had died as a result of a cardiac arrest as -- a cardiac arrest caused by tear gas inhalation. We also know that she died in the hospital, from the hospital reports. I also know it personally, because I spoke to people at the hospital all night long.

This is outrageous, basically. What the army -- what the IDF is saying is outrageous. They're spreading rumor without any fact. If you ask me, this is not even newsworthy. And yet, people keep on reporting it.

Amy Goodman: Reporting that unnamed sources are saying this?

Jonathan Pollack: Yes. Well, unnamed sources in the army, and they're reporting it as news. This is the news that opened Israeli news last night. This is in all the Israeli newspapers, with front-page -- in the front page, a version that is completely not based on any fact and is only based in rumor. And the only reason that they publish it is because the army says so. And we, on the other hand, our version is completely backed by fact and by evidence, but it is only provided as a response.

Amy Goodman: Can you tell us who Jawaher Abu Rahma was, her brother killed a year ago in a similar protest in a similar place, protesting the separation wall in Bil'in?

Jonathan Pollack: Well, they were actually both killed in pretty much the same place, near the separation barrier in Bil'in. Unfortunately, I didn't know Jawaher herself very well. I knew the family pretty well. So I can't tell you much about her. I can tell you that her family, her entire family, is very involved in the struggle. As you said, her brother was killed last year after an American-made tear gas projectile, high-velocity tear gas projectile, hit him in the chest, a tear gas projectile that was shot, in contradiction to manufacturer orders, directly at him from short distance--killed him on the spot.

Her other brother, Ashraf Abu Rahma, was filmed also about a year ago--two years ago, actually, was shot--was filmed being shot by an Israeli soldier at the direct order of a high-ranking Israeli commander, when he's bound and blindfolded, shot with a rubber bullet from a very short distance that hit him in the foot. So, this is her family.

Amy Goodman: Dr. Daniel Argo, you are an Israeli doctor. You also were at the demonstration against the West Bank separation wall in Bil'in. In fact, you -- can you talk about the tear gas that was used?

Dr. Daniel Argo: Yes, of course. On Friday, the last Friday demonstration, the Israeli army shot, almost as usually, large amounts of tear gas at the demonstration from its very beginning. We know that Israel is using in Bil'in and in other villages and towns in Palestine tear gas, which is called CS, which is the oldest tear gas on the market. And this tear gas is well known, for the last 80 years, to cause -- that it may cause severe injuries and even death. The Israeli army, the same anonymous officers in the Israeli army, claimed in the last several days that they are not aware of any significant injuries or deaths occurring because of tear gas. But the facts are against them. They are very well aware of the history of this tear gas. They even know that there -- that the Israeli army itself published articles saying that this tear gas might cause fatal injuries. And unfortunately, that happened again in the last Friday.

Amy Goodman:Let me ask you about this issue, an Israeli official contending tear gas disperses rapidly in the air over open ground, it does not kill protesters, again questioning whether Abu Rahma was even at the December 31st demo.

Dr. Daniel Argo: This is against -- this is totally different from all the researches and all the reviews that are being made in the medical -- in different medical journals. Just a year and a half ago, one of the best medical journals in the world, the British Medical Journal, published a big article about the dangers of using different tear gases, and especially put emphasis on CS gas, saying that it might cause severe injuries and even death. From what I heard and from evidence that we had about the death of Abu Rahma, it seems as if--that her injury and her death was the consequences of tear gas injury. And that would not be the first case, not in the medical history, and unfortunately not in Palestine, as well.

Amy Goodman: Dr. Argo, considering how much tear gas we see they used, why would only she die or be affected in this way?

Dr. Daniel Argo: I think we can somehow compare it maybe to, for example, for different medications or to different toxins that are being used. Not every person who is being exposed to any compound would react the same way. Some would develop some side effects; some might not develop any side effects at all. Even more, a person can develop side effects to a tear gas, very slight side effects, and in the next week develop a much harder reaction to a tear gas. This is something that is well known. It depends also on intrinsic factors like a person's health history, his age, but especially it is dependent on the amount of gas particles per square meter and the amount of tear gas particles that the person is being exposed to.

We know that there is different limitations on tear gas use being implied in different countries. And until now, the Israeli army don't have any limitations on using this tear gas, as every Friday in Bil'in and in other villages in Palestine, Israeli army shoots large amounts of tear gas at the protesters, near houses, sometimes even inside the houses. And this is something that is well known as something that can cause severe injuries and even death.

For the complete interview, transcript and audio/video podcast, visit Democracy Now! Join us on Facebook.

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