Assessments made by IDF officials Monday determining that Jawaher Abu Rahma not
only did not choke to death by tear gas but did not even attend the Bilin anti-fence protest prompted the outrage of activists who participated in the rally and saw the woman with their own eyes. On Tuesday, criticism was also leveled by IDF officers claiming that army elements were quick to make assumptions before all the facts had been checked.
"In these types of events, matters should be examined in a thorough and level-handed manner instead of rushing to conclusions based on mere thoughts," an IDF officer said. He noted that unlike the manner in which the army conducts operational inquiries, the probe in this case was based on Palestinian documents which do not yield concrete conclusions but hypotheses at best.
The officer also addressed a claim raised by left-wing activist Jonathan Polack suggesting that the IDF's conclusions were primarily based on an error made by a Ramallah hospital doctor who made a mistake recording the hours in Abu Rahma's medical file.
"It's true the documents raise some question marks but one cannot reasonably assert that she never attended the demonstration solely based on the misunderstanding in the hours noted in the report, nor on the fact that no autopsy had been performed," he said. "One must hold back until matters become clear and are based on facts rather than evaluations."
Other IDF officers also found it hard to believe that Abu Rahma did not actually attend Friday's protest but noted that it was indeed possible that the victim's death was caused by a medical condition from which she suffered.
"In any case, it's best to wait until the Palestinians provide all the material and check it together with information from other sources and then form an accurate assessment which is not based on emotions and sensations."
Bilin protest last Friday (Photo: Yohanan Weiler)
The IDF claimed that based on the medical report no clear cause of death can be detected. It was further stated that her burial was done quickly without any autopsy being performed.
The army also said that an inquiry indicated that Abu Rahma had arrived at the hospital at 3:20 pm but underwent tests at 2:45 pm – more than 30 minutes earlier. The records showed that she was administered an irregular amount of drugs which treat poisoning or leukemia and that there is a possibility she suffered a drug overdose.
Following criticizing voices within the IDF, the Palestinian side asserted, based on eye witness accounts, that Abu Rahma did participate in the protest, was injured and later died of her wounds.
"I received the patient at the entrance to the road that runs parallel to the fence, while the protest was going on. She was partially conscious and answered questions. She said she was choking from the gas, and I immediately rushed her to the hospital," said Saher Basharet, the ambulance driver that evacuated Jawaher.
Friends, family surround Abu Rahma's grave (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
Dr. Muhammad Iyda, who heads the Ramallah medical center where Abu Rahma was treated, said that in complete contradiction to IDF findings, the woman died from the tear gas sprayed by the soldiers, and not due to a prior illness as claimed by the military.
"She died as a result of a systems failure caused by inhalation of tear gas, which also led to a heart attack," noted Dr. Iyda, adding, "Jawaher arrived to the hospital partially conscious, and then lost her consciousness."
Attorney Michael Sfard, who represents Anarchists against the Wall, whose members participated in the Bilin protest also harshly criticized the IDF's conclusions, stating it was an attempt to cover up the facts.
"It's interesting how brave officers that approach the enemy with a knife in between their teeth suddenly become cowards when dealing with a baseless rumor," said Sfard.
"Until this day, not a single document was presented to support the claims of these anonymous sources. At first they said she was released home in mild condition, then on Saturday she had asthma, yesterday it was cancer – and now she wasn't even at the protest. This is a false claim, because the IDF refuses to face the simple fact that a demonstrator went to a protest and came back in a coffin."
Yair Altman contributed to this report