A number of NGO and media sources alleged that Jawaher Abu-Rahmeh died on January 1, 2011, as a result of inhaling tear gas fired by the IDF during an anti-security barrier demonstration. Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat labeled the death a “war crime,” and others claimed that Israeli soldiers were using “tear gas chemicals mixed with phosphorus.” Initial findings by the IDF, as well as other investigations, point to significant inconsistencies regarding the factual claims.

This incident recalls the September 2000 Al Dura case based on unverifiable claims that the IDF “targeted” and “murdered” a Palestinian child. The questions in these and other cases highlight the lack of credibility in many NGO reports alleging Palestinian deaths and injuries caused by the IDF.

NGO Allegations

  • Jessica Montell, B’Tselem, Twitter, January 1, 2011: “Sad start to the year. Jawaher Abu Rahmeh died this morning after inhaling tear gas yesterday in Bil’in demonstration.”
  • Yesh Din: “Human rights group Yesh Din calls on the Israeli authorities to investigate the killing of Jawaher Abu Rahmeh, who died on Saturday, January 1st, 2011, after sustaining injuries in a protest in the West Bank village of Bil’in… When the authorities in Israel do nothing to investigate the killings of protesters – more protesters are doomed to the same fate.” (“A protester died in Bil’in: Yesh Din: lack of investigation assures more deaths,” Yesh Din, Press Release, January 1, 2011)
  • Gush Shalom: “Jawaher [‘Gem’ in Arabic] died in the first hours of 2011, after inhaling on the day before a large quantity of tear gas, whose precise nature remains unclear. It happened during the weekly demonstration against the ‘Separation Fence’ in Bil’in, which was this time larger than usual. It seems that military commanders decided to respond with huge quantities of gas. Jawaher collapsed in a cloud of gas and inhaled it for several minutes, before the Red Crescent medics managed to reach her.” (“A demonstrator killed in Bil’in – the first victim of 2011,” Gush Shalom, date unknown)
  • Physicians for Human Rights – Israel (PHR-I): “The killing of Jawaher Abu-Rahmeh is yet another harsh injustice of the Israeli occupation web… The use of Gas against civilians must be ceased, clear and simple. The death of Jawaher Abu-Rahmeh must be the last one.” (“PHR-I in response to the killing of Jawaher Abu-Rahmeh, which participated in a non-violent popular demonstration against the fence in Bil’in,” Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, January 2, 2011)
  • Michael Sfard (Israeli activist lawyer linked to Yesh Din, Breaking the Silence, Al Haq): “According to people I spoke with, [Abu Rahmah] was at the demonstration on Friday but not at the forefront of the protesters. After she was injured by the tear gas, she was taken to the village and then transferred to an ambulance. An operational investigation cannot produce reliable findings; therefore we demand a criminal investigation by the military police.” (“IDF: No proof Palestinian women died from tear gas at protest,” Haaretz, January 3, 2011)
  • Sfard: “Once again the (Israeli occupation) army is covering up the actions of its men, instead of apologizing and conducting a serious inquiry.” (“Lawyer slams army cover-up of tear gas death,” AFP, January 2, 2011)
  • Yonathan Pollak, Anarchists Against the Wall: “I saw that Jahawer take an active role in the protest…I saw how they put her in the ambulance that took her to the hospital. I know with certainty that she arrived there and stayed there, and later died at the hospital.” (“Did Palestinians lie about protestor’s death?” Hanan Greenberg, YNET, January 4, 2011)
  • International Solidarity Movement calls on companies to stop providing equipment that “Israel misuses to kill and maim unarmed protesters.”

Contradictions to the NGO version

  • “Witnesses however said that Ms Abu Rahma was some way from such a confrontation at the time. She died in hospital in Ramallah on Saturday. Ilham Abu Rahma, 19, a cousin and neighbour of the dead woman, said she was on a first floor verandah at her house when she saw Ms Abu Rahma standing on a wall across the street talking to a relative and looking down the hill towards olive trees where soldiers were confronting stone-throwing youths.” (“Palestinian woman dies after Israeli tear-gas attack,” Donald Macintyre, The Independent, January 3, 2011)
  •  “Jawaher was not present at the demonstration. She was in her home, approximately 500 meters away from where the gas canisters landed, when she suffered the effects of gas that was carried over the village by wind.” (“Woman dies of Tear Gas Suffocation in Bil’in,” PNN, January 1, 2011)
  • Anarchists Against the Wall’s Pollak claimed that he tweeted about the incident during the demonstration. However, his tweets from during and soon after the demonstration do not mention Abu-Rahmeh, only “mass amounts of tear-gas.” The first mention of an injury from “tear-gas inhalation” was Friday night at 8:16 PM, hours later.
  •  “Medical information handed over to Israel raises fundamental questions marks about the story…The information also reveals that Abu-Rahma was administered an unusual quantity of drugs, used to offer treatment against poisoning, drug overdose, or leukemia.” (“Did Palestinians lie about protestor’s death”)
  • Army sources revealed that “the deceased was recently treated at a Palestinian hospital….there was no clear cause of death, the burial was undertaken via an accelerated procedure, and no post-mortem was performed…Abu-Rahma may have not even participated in the protest in question.” (“Did Palestinians lie about protestor’s death”)
  • Contradictions within the medical report itself: “According the investigation, Abu-Rahmeh’s arrival to the Palestinian hospital was registered at 15:20, but she was examined at 14:45 – more than a half-hour earlier.” (“The killed women who didn’t demonstrate? ‘I saw her there and tweeted’,” Yair Altman, YNET, January 4, 2011)
  • The Israeli army suspects that “The gas was not the direct cause to Abu-Rahmeh’s death, and that she died from a deadly disease she suffered from, probably cancer. IDF is completing now days the investigation, from which it seems that Abu-Rahmeh probably died in her house – and did not participate in the said demonstration at all.” (“Yonathan Pollak on the demonstrator’s death: IDF is trying to evade,” Joshua Breiner, Walla!, January 4, 2011)