New army version on Bil’in death contradicts previous claims

Yesterday evening, just in time to make the eight o’clock news, the IDF has presented another “official” version for the death of Bi’lin’s Jawahar Abu-Rahmah during a protest against the security barrier near her village on December 31st.

This is from Haaretz:

Abu Rahmah, 36, was taken to the hospital after she inhaled tear gas fired by IDF forces during a demonstration in Bil’in against the West Bank security barrier at the end of December.

According to the IDF investigation, Rahmah’s condition deteriorated at the hospital after she received an incorrect diagnosis and inappropriate treatment.

The IDF findings, which were presented to GOC Central Command Avi Mizrachi, were based on hospital documents, some which showed that doctors believed Abu Rahma was sickened by phosphorous fertilizer and nerve gas. She was therefore treated with atropine and fluids, without Palestinian doctors realizing that she had in fact inhaled tear gas.

The investigation also found that Abu Rahmah was not present at the demonstration itself, but instead was near her house.

As Yossi Gurvitz notes, the army’s story was released (again) through unofficial channels, and not by IDF spokesperson. Harretz’s piece, as well as other reports in the Hebrew media, indicates that the source of the story was at Central Command. The fact that same story appeared on all media outlets suggests that Central Command’s CO Avi Mizrachi was personally involved in releasing it.

After the protest, Palestinian sources claimed that Jawahar Abu Rahmah stood on a hill near her home, not far from the protest, inhaled massive amounts of tear gas and as a result, collapsed. She was rushed to Ramallah’s hospital, where she died the next day.

In the following days, the army presented several versions for the event. It claimed that Abu-Rahmah died at her home, that she died of cancer, and that she wasn’t present at the protest or hurt from tear gas. An army source even spread a vicious rumor that Jawahar was murdered by a Palestinian for violating her family’s honor

The current IDF version contradicts all previous ones.

The army currently admits that Jawaher was hurt from the tear gas which was shot in Bil’in on December 31st. The IDF is only claiming that Jawahar wasn’t hurt that badly from the tear gas, and that it was the treatment at the Ramallah hospital that caused her death. This might be true – I have no way of telling. Yet there are two important points to make here:

(a)    The IDF failed to present any evidence that would back its recent story. Given Central Command’s total lack of credibility on this affair, even those who want to believe the army should take the current version with a little salt.

(b)    The common view is that a failed medical treatment does not exempt the injuring party from responsibility, both morally and legally. Speaking of the Abu-Rahmah case, Attorney Roee Rotman wrote on his blog that according to the Israeli interpretation of the Eggshell Skull Rule, at least some of the “late” damage to the injured party should be blamed on the injuring party – and on this case, the IDF.

I would like to illustrate the last point with something that happened to me last Friday in Bil’in. I was walking down the road with the other protesters, when the soldiers started shooting tear gas at us (by the way, at least one of them was shooting directly at us – I saw the canister flying right into our group). Most protesters immediately turned back and started running towards the village. I was running too when someone bumped into me from behind and made me fall flat on the road. I hurt my hands, my elbow and my knees; one of my nails broke, I had a couple of deep cuts and a few of my fingers were bleeding. It was unpleasant, but things could have been worse. The important point here is that according to the IDF’s logic, I should blame the guy who ran into me for the (very minor) injury I suffered. It’s an absurd idea, that wouldn’t stand a chance in court. The only relevant question is whether the army had the right to shoot at us, and whether it used “proportional force”. The same goes for Jawahar Abu-Rahmah: The fact that she was taken to the hospital because of the tear gas is the one that matters.

One last note, regarding the media: a few days after Jawahar’s death, Central Command held a special briefing for rigthwing bloggers who later posted the army’s version, including the most absurd rumors, word by word. I wonder how they feel now, when the army backed away from most of what they wrote.

This affair wasn’t a great success for the Israeli media as well. As it turned, some of the reporters that repeated the IDF’s version have never spoken to a Palestinian source or been to Bil’in. This is why they thought that Jawahar’s presence near her house means she couldn’t have suffered from tear gas inhalation – not knowing that the tear gas canisters are shot to the hill on the village’s edge, and the wind sometimes even carries the gas cloud all the way to Bil’in’s center. I can only hope that next time, these reporters would use more caution before repeating IDF’s stories. I am not saying that people should take the Palestinian version for granted – simply use the same amount of skepticism on both sides, and remember that the army is not an “objective” party, certainly not at events when it’s being accused of crimes.

related post:

IDF on Bil’in: spins, half-truths and lies