Debate over death of Palestinian woman in Bil'in

By Anshel Pfeffer, January 6, 2011

A Furious debate has broken out in Israel and across the blogosphere over what caused the death of a 36-year-old Palestinian woman over the weekend.

The villagers of Bil'in in the West Bank claim Jawaher Abu Rahme was suffocated by tear-gas shot, by Israelis soldiers. The IDF maintain she died of an illness that she was already suffering from.

Ms Abu Rahme died on Saturday morning, but that is just about the only detail that is not in dispute. Her family in Bil'in and activists who took part in the weekly demonstrations against the separation fence near the village claimed that she had started suffocating after inhaling tear-gas shot by Israeli security forces at the demonstrators on Friday afternoon.

Demonstrations in Bil'in have taken place every Friday for the past six years, ever since the separation fence cut the village off from a large part of its agricultural land. The Israeli Supreme Court ruled three and a half years ago that the route of the fence should be changed in the village's favour, but the Defence Ministry has yet to carry out the order.

Twenty-one Palestinians have died in demonstrations against the fence, but over the past 20 months, there have only been a handful of light casualties, mainly due to changed IDF procedures.

An IDF officer said under condition of anonymity that "we received the medical reports from the Palestinians only after three days and they were full of inconsistencies. An earlier report has her leaving hospital on Friday with no serious injuries. There is no proof that she even participated in the demonstration and we have information that she was being treated for cancer."

Michael Sfard, an Israeli lawyer representing the Abu Rahme Family, said: "Jawaher was suffocated by tear gas, and she did not leave hospital before her death. She certainly did not have cancer."

Last updated: 1:48pm, January 6 2011