Palestinians are hurt frequently in unarmed protests, even killed. But it took Israeli Jewish activists to get one tragic death any Western attention or the IDF’s admission of fault.
Jawaher Abu Rahmah, a 36-year-old kindergarten teacher from the West Bank village of Bil’in, died after inhaling tear gas shot by IDF soldiers trying to disperse a weekly protest. Her brother was killed two years ago after being hit by a tear gas canister to the chest. The family’s account and that of dozens of witnesses were quickly dismissed by the IDF through off-the-record tips to sympathetic blogs, and without a formal investigation.
Dogged Israeli activists have forced right-wing blogger, news media and the IDF to walk back misinformation aimed to exonerate the IDF, like whether Abu Rahmah even attended the protest, whether she participated, and (incredulously) whether she died quietly of cancer. The activists chronicling their work through the portal +972 Magazine deserve the bulk of the credit for being at the protest, debunking the rumors started by the IDF, and taking on the right-wing conspiracy machine.
Since the earliest vouchings of IDF’s innocence have proved hollow, the Israel-can-do-no-wrong voices have switched to a new line: “the Israelis killed her, so what?” Christian Zionist magazine Israel Today opined, “The point is that even if Abu Rahma died from inhaling tear gas, it is a non-story.”
Quite the contrary. Even while losing the proxy war on Abu Rahmah’s death, Israel boosters seem to miss the greater points:
First, the village of Bil’in has been protesting weekly for nearly five years, seeking the implementation of an 2004  Supreme Court order to move the security wall off their land. Wrote Chief Justice Dorit Beinish, “We were not convinced that it is necessary for security-military reasons to retain the current route that passes on Bil’in’s lands.” Yet the wall remains, construction on the new route only started after resubmitting the petition, and settlement encroachment continues to appropriate the farmland. Willful avoidance of court rulings prompted Beinish to reprimand the government in October 2009, saying, “rulings of this court are not mere recommendations, and the state is obliged to abide by them and to execute them with the necessary speed and efficiency.” Civil protesters demanding their own property are killed by a government avoiding its own court’s orders.
Second, the irony of unarmed, civil protests being outlawed by the IDF also seems forgotten. There is no security justification in preventing a weekly protest a full mile from any Israeli civilian. This policy is contradictory to Israel as a liberal democracy: Israelis protest in Rabin Square regularly, but Palestinians aren’t allowed to gather 500 meters from their own homes? We’re left to ask, “Okay, Israel, so how isn’t that apartheid?”
Thirdly, human rights groups — Israeli and otherwise — have documented the regularity of Palestinians injured and killed in the course of non-violent protests. Abu Rahmah’s brother died from a shot to the chest. (Or did he have a previous health condition?) Again, whether or not the IDF directly or indirectly killed this particular brother-sister pair could be beside the point, except for the extraordinary effort Israeli Jewish activists have had to expend to put a face to dozens of needless deaths.
So what is most tragic about the double-killing of Abu Ramah and her brother is that both were the result of repression of protests far from any Israeli civilians and exercising the most basic of civil liberties. As commented by TIME online about this incident, “unarmed Palestinian protests against the occupation are shifting the sympathies of Western public opinion.” Indeed. If Israel boosters want to frame Israel as a country of jurisprudence, then they better direct attention away from the background and onto Rahmah herself.
Our condolences go out to the Abu Rahmah family for losing two children. And our thanks to the tireless advocacy on their behalf by the Israeli activists on the ground. My salutes to you, friends.